Australasian Law Firms Missing Opportunities to Win Work in a Digital World

10 November 2015

Australasian law firms are relying on traditional methods for winning new business for their firm, missing online opportunities and resisting improving their marketing and business development capability, according to new research by the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and Julian Midwinter & Associates (JMA).

The 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in a Digital World research benchmarked traditional and digital marketing and business development strategies and practices at 153 law firms across Australia and New Zealand and found significant room for improvement.

“It is clear that few Australasian law firms are firing on all cylinders from a business development perspective. Firms spend too much time trying to avoid the ‘S’ word—Sales—and they have lost sight of the need to refine and improve their lawyers’ baseline skills and their firms’ performance in this area,” ALPMA President Mr Andrew Barnes said.

Law firms reliant on traditional methods for generating new business

Referral networks and personal relationships are rated as the most highly effective form of generating new business enquiries for most (70%) Australasian law firms, followed by client relationship management strategies (34%) and firm seminars (30%).

“I suspect these ratings reflect a legacy view. Potential clients for generations have preferred to buy legal services from people they know or firms that are recommended to them by people they trust,” Mr Andrew Barnes, ALPMA President and CFO at the Lantern Legal Group said.

“But the markets are changing. Online disruptors are building their own lead streams from non-traditional sources, customers are increasingly willing to compare and purchase legal services online and most law firms are missing out on this business.”

“Generating new business enquiries is only half the battle,” Mr Barnes said. “Once a new business enquiry has been received, most respondents (57%) believe their firm is only somewhat effective at converting this into new work—but what is the magic formula to improve conversion?”

Firms must work their digital presence harder

“There is a significant opportunity for Australasian law firms to work their digital presence much harder, so that it becomes an important source of new business, supplementing and supporting those generated by traditional methods,” said Ms Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner at JMA.

“Law firms wanting to generate leads online and reassure potential clients who are shopping around that they are a great choice, should focus on improving their website content and amplifying that content through social media. By having a content rich website, with regularly updated material, you can stay top of legal consumers’ minds in what is a long and complex sales cycle.”

“With so few firms doing online well in Australia and New Zealand, it can be a smart way for firms who really embrace digital to position and differentiate,” she said.

  • Only 13% of law firms rate their website as effective in generating leads.
  • Two thirds of respondent firms do not have a blog, a key platform for providing high value content to prospective clients and referrers.
  • 50% of firms do not use any kind of paid advertising (e.g., search engine marketing (SEM), or search engine optimisation (SEO)).
  • 29% of firms do not have any social media accounts for their firm.
Firms resist building marketing and business development capability

“Despite openly acknowledging their weaknesses in this area, most law firms continue to resist building the overall marketing and business development capability of their lawyers and firms” Mr Barnes said.

“Successful lawyers know how to work their networks to attract new work and law firms have relied on their personal skills and reputation as a key component of their own firm’s brand. But not all lawyers do this naturally. Those firms now taking market share are doing so by being different and by engaging experienced professionals to help to set them apart,” said Mr Andrew Barnes.

  • 47% rate their firms’ business development and marketing capability as ‘under-developed’ – up 3% from last year
  • 56% do not provide marketing and business development training for their lawyers
  • 58% do not have a systematic approach to tracking and managing prospective client data
  • 44% do not have a firm-wide marketing and business development plan.
Client satisfaction a missed opportunity

While 77% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed their laws firm is focussed on client satisfaction, only 35% have formal processes in place to measure client satisfaction.

“It’s just so obvious for law firms that it’s far easier to obtain more work from existing happy clients than to try and generate new leads by other means, so the results on formal client satisfaction feedback are really disappointing,” Ms Amy Burton-Bradley said.

“It’s a wasted opportunity, not just from a client satisfaction perspective, but for market intel and as means to uncover unaddressed client need and create new revenue streams. For example, we know a firm who has used regular client feedback to develop and refine a new service around mortgage refinancing with great success,” she said.

Winning Work in a Digital World Research

The 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in a Digital World research was conducted via online survey in October, 2015. 153 respondents from a broad range of Australian and New Zealand law firms completed the survey.

The research report benchmarks traditional and digital marketing strategies and practices at law firms and highlights:

  • what marketing and BD approaches and activities law firms are finding most effective in generating new business enquiries
  • how successfully firms are converting enquiries into clients
  • the most popular and effective online, digital and social media marketing and BD techniques and approaches
  • how focussed firms are on client satisfaction
  • in-firm culture and attitudes towards marketing and BD.
2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in a Digital World research report is available now.

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The Australasian Legal Practice Management Association, (ALPMA), is the peak body representing managers and lawyers with a legal practice management role.  ALPMA provides an authoritative voice on issues relevant to legal practice management.  Members of ALPMA provide professional management services to legal practices in areas of financial management, strategic management, technology, human resources, facilities and operational management, marketing and information services and technology.