Market Focus: Lawyers
No ordinary jury of your peers, attorneys can be tough customers—and even tougher prospects. They rank among the nation’s most highly educated professionals, have notoriously meticulous gatekeepers and, for those in positions that bill by the hour, time literally is money. But before dismissing this audience altogether, it’s important to weigh the evidence in its favor. For countless B-to-B companies, the legal community is a vital customer, and American Bar Association (ABA) List Sales Operations Manager Rick Vangundy calls attorneys “an untapped market” for consumer companies.
The verdict? If you’re willing to invest time and effort into making your case, marketing to lawyers can be a winning proposition. But there are a few things you should know before jumping in.
Relevance Matters: The Demographic Profile
As you might expect from a profession so often focused on cold, hard facts, lawyers tend not to like generalizations, observes Patricia Wood, senior director, membership services for the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), a voluntary group with more than 70,000 members. “They relate better when you show that you know something about them and their practice.”
According to Diane Bruhl, director of the ABA’s Membership and Marketing Division, there are 1.1 million lawyers licensed in the United States, including those practicing in its possessions and territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
Interestingly, gender distribution among attorneys differs by age. “Younger lawyers tend to be more evenly divided between male and female, while older attorneys are predominantly male,” says Kevin Vermeulen, vice president and group publisher of ALM, one of the largest legal journalism providers in the world. “In law schools, it’s about 50-50, but at the partner level it becomes more male dominated.”
The majority of attorneys—around 76 percent of ABA members, says Vangundy—are married. “They have families and spouses, and the groups around them also have consumer wants and needs.”
On a professional level, lawyers are more diverse. “Few attorneys today can claim to be general practitioners,” explains Wood. “There are dozens of areas of practice.” Among the New York State Bar Association’s membership, real property; business law; corporate law; litigation; and wills, trust and estate law rank among the most popular practice areas. But this can vary by geography. The majority of attorneys practicing in Delaware, for example, specialize in corporate law, says Bruhl.
Even within practice areas, lawyers tend to focus on specific aspects of their field, adds Richard Martin, the NYSBA’s senior director, marketing and information services. The challenge for marketers targeting lawyers is to research and understand the different types of lawyers and how their interests differ.
Finding Your Target
The scope of offers that appeals to lawyers might surprise you. There are, of course, the usual suspects: industry periodicals, books, seminars, office supplies and equipment, legal hardware and software, legal research, and other industry-specific products and services. Martin says timing and billing software, employee search services, and offers related to disaster preparedness and recovery also are of particular interest.
On a more personal level, Bruhl suggests marketers dealing in financial services, business periodicals, high-end travel magazines and services, and upscale catalogs are good matches for the legal market. Even fundraisers have experienced some success using the American Bar Association’s Donor List, which comprises more than 50,000 individuals who have contributed to the ABA’s Fund for Justice and Education.
“For some reason, mailers don’t think of lawyers when it comes to consumer prospects,” Vangundy continues. “It takes a lot of selling to get them to cross that barrier, but they usually find decent success when they use our file.”
With offers specific to certain aspects of law, finding the right target is relatively straightforward. “Area of practice is probably the biggest selection we offer on our legal files because if you are marketing to a securities lawyer, whether it be a book or a seminar, you want to make sure you are reaching a securities lawyer,” observes Monique Braban-Adams, vice president at NRL Management, which manages lists for Aspen Publishers and American Corporate Counsel Network, among others.
For more general offers, practice area may or may not be a consideration. “Certain lawyers are more ‘in demand’ than others and make higher salaries,” explains Braban-Adams. “You might want to go to a partner as opposed to an associate, depending on the value of the offer.”
Vermeulen says higher income earners often work for large national or international firms. In addition, litigation trial lawyers, corporate lawyers, mergers and acquisitions lawyers, and securities lawyers all tend to be “large revenue generators.”
But, for consumer offers, the availability of a home address may be the most important factor. “We don’t get a lot of orders for lawyers at their home address … but for about 50 percent of our members, we have a home address. It’s amazing that there isn’t that knowledge in the broker community that lawyers [and their spouses] are available to be reached at home,” notes Vangundy.
Of note: “At home, they’re not as likely to have a gatekeeper to review all of their mail before they get it,” stresses Bruhl.
Reaching Lawyers: What Works?
Marketing to the legal community is not necessarily the best time for trial and error. “Lawyers are slow to change,” says Vermeulen. “They are a very skeptical audience and tend to trust [what] they are familiar with.”
In terms of media, lawyers are—like most other professionals—avid e-mail users. But e-mail address availability by list rental can be a problem. “Our clients in the legal marketplace currently are not releasing their e-mail addresses,” says Braban-Adams. “They do e-mail promotions themselves, but they’re not putting their e-mail lists on the market. It’s strictly a mail medium at this point.”
For organizations with in-house e-mail lists or those able to find an appropriate list of lawyers who have opted in to receive messages, however, e-mail can be highly effective.
“Lawyers have the best gatekeepers around, so it’s tough to reach them by direct mail or phone,” explains Johnson Cook, president and CEO of Impact Media Solutions, a Georgia-based company that partners with legal associations to market online, continuing legal education programs. “E-mail is the best avenue we have. It’s cheap, you can track their interaction with it, and it usually goes directly to them.”
Just be cautious about e-mail volume and be sure to honor opt-out requests. Recipients who frequently work outside the office may rely heavily on their mobile devices. You wouldn’t want to clog up their BlackBerries and create a negative experience, advises Martin.
Print advertising also can be effective in reaching lawyers. There is no shortage of legal newspapers, magazines and newsletters that offer print ad space. Because many titles focus on vertical fields, “you can even target by specialty area doing general print ads,” says Bruhl.
In addition, law school alumni organizations, legal publishers, bar associations and other groups provide ample opportunity for brand building or connecting with lawyers face-to-face through conference exhibitions, sponsorships of awards and receptions, or more creative options, such as sponsoring the New York State Bar Association’s “Cyber Café” at its January annual meeting.
However, Cook cautions that event marketing is best suited for companies most directly related to lawyers’ work. “Lawyers, by nature, are intensely focused on one thing at a time, and they’re not likely to ‘browse’ looking for what’s new and exciting,” he says. In other words, to have a successful presence at a work-related event, be all business.
For softer sells and “off the clock” purchases, consider exploring opportunities for relationships with legal associations, reveals Cook. “Most associations have affinity programs and are open to partnerships through which their members get discounts. It helps them deliver more value through their memberships,” he concludes.
Amy Syracuse is a London-based freelance writer.