Since the Law Society of England and Wales first allowed lawyers to advertise in 1986, the UK legal sector has grown to become the largest legal services market in Europe, valued at £41bn in 2021, second only to the US globally. As competition intensifies, law firms need to catch the eye of clients and stand out from the crowd, making effective PR and communications more critical than ever.
This begs the question; how can a law firm establish itself a positive reputation? Here are a few tips:
1. Be realistic: Ask yourself key questions from the outset – “By whom do we want to be known?”, “For what do we wish to be respected”, and “Who do we have that can best deliver our message(s) to our preferred audience(s)?”
2. Be clear and concise: Use audience-appropriate and unambiguous language that is comprehensible to the intended recipient. If speaking to the general public, avoid legal jargon or technical terms that may confuse or intimidate readers of non-specialist publications. If speaking to peers in the profession, legal detail and nuance may not only be appropriate but a requirement.
3. Be professional: Consider your tone and avoid derogatory or inflammatory language (no matter whether using personal or work accounts as the two are increasingly considered indistinguishable). Always maintain a respectful demeanour irrespective of provocation and especially, when addressing controversial topics during interviews (whether on or off-record). It’s best to believe there’s no such thing as off-record these days, given the combined effects of pressure for scoops; the ease in which those with ‘off-message’ views can be cancelled and the omnipresence of self-style ‘citizen journalists’ armed with only a mobile but who can do their worst for clicks. One unfortunate slip-up can result in career-threatening consequences.
4. Be accurate: Ensure that all statements made to the media are accurate and verifiable. Avoid making unfounded claims or exaggerating the facts as this could come back to haunt you.
5. Be transparent: Where it is feasible to do so, be open about your law firm’s activities, goals, and values. Avoid misleading or unnecessarily withholding information from the media as this could lead to a breakdown in your relationship with the journalist/outlet should the full facts become known. In a PR prep call before an interview Learn to politely side-step an unwanted inquiry where appropriate – but, as a guiding light, consider authenticity as the best policy.
6. Be strategic: A strategy for building your reputation is important and it starts with knowing your audience and how to reach them. Thereafter it’s about being efficient, responsive and giving good counsel. A great example of a solicitor who has successfully utilized social media to build a unique brand is Akhmed Yakoob, the director of Maurice Andrews Solicitors in Birmingham. With his engaging personality and savvy use of social media, Yakoob has amassed an impressive following of 100,000 on TikTok. His distinct public persona, which includes driving a bright yellow Lamborghini and signing off his videos with the catchphrase, “So always remember: there is a defence for every offence,” has been effective in capturing the attention of his preferred audiences and conveying his own message. While Yakoob’s specific tactics are not for everyone, there’s an art to developing a specialist brand that speaks to your firm’s chosen goals and values. The strategic purpose is to differentiate yourself from the competition and attract both clients and talent.
7. Be agile: Be responsive to media inquiries and requests for information. Promptly address any inaccuracies or misunderstandings that may arise in the press to nip them in the bud and avoid a crisis unfolding. Understanding the prevailing media zeitgeist and proactively engaging through your own lens and experience, shows fleet of foot and encourages media to seek your counsel when the next opportunity arises. Repetition of the brand name in the public sphere helps with recognition and appreciation.
8. Position yourself as a thought leader: Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge through writing articles and speaking at industry events, to establish yourself (and by extension, your firm) as a credible and authoritative voice in your area of law. Applying yourself in this way, helps garner your reputation as an ‘expert’ in an area for which the firm wishes to be known. After all, people often google-search their prospective lawyer to get an understanding of their expertise prior to making the decision to instruct. And this media presence helps with directory listings too, which is never bad for an individual’s career prospects and benefits the firm more broadly too.
The media establishes a law firm’s reputation: positive coverage enhances images and increasing visibility, while negative coverage can erode public trust.
A law firm can only build and then maintain a positive reputation in the public eye by putting in the hard yards. But the benefits are self-evident: as it attracts clients and talent while setting itself apart in a highly competitive industry.