Happy holidays! A marketer’s reflection on the legal industry

The state (and future) of the legal industry is drastically different from what it was 10 years ago. The rise of legal tech and social media platforms like LinkedIn are changing the way law firms operate and market their services to clients. Meanwhile, the role of firm culture in recruitment and retainment is shifting priorities for in-house marketers and business developers. What can legal marketers expect from 2023?

In this episode of Spill the Ink, Michelle Calcote King and Kevin Aschenbrenner, the Senior Director of Public Relations at Reputation Ink, discuss the evolution of the legal industry and the trends that will shape the next decade of marketing and branding. 

Michelle and Kevin also talk about how a firm’s legal marketing department can help keep them afloat during a recession, strategies for working with influencers to expand reach, the importance of niching down, and more.

Here's a glimpse of what you'll learn

  • What trends shaped legal marketing and public relations in 2022?
  • What are non-media influencers and why are they an important target for firms who want to grow their brand?
  • How can firms communicate their culture to help with recruitment?
  • Why recessions are great times to invest in marketing
  • Social media strategy considerations for 2023

About our featured guest

Kevin Aschenbrenner is the Senior Director of PR at Reputation Ink. Kevin is a seasoned PR and communications consultant with more than two decades of legal industry experience. Kevin has worked with firms from across the United States and Canada, as well as in the EU, UK and China. His clients range from boutique, specialty, or mid-level firms to members of the Am Law 25. He has represented Fortune 500 consumer products companies, colleges and universities, start-ups and technology companies, non-profits, authors and speakers. 

Resources mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink.

Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms. 

Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more.

To learn more visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.


[00:00:00] Michelle Calcote King: Recessions — like real estate investing— recessions are when you really get ahead if you can make that investment, it's time to invest in marketing. The winners, if they can do it, will be the ones that keep their foot on the pedal and honestly do more during a recession. Because marketing is just such a long-term game and you can get further because a lot of companies do cut back during a recession. There will be less competition for your voice during a recession.


[00:00:39] Welcome to Spill the Ink, a podcast by Reputation Ink. Where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show.

[00:00:56] Michelle: Hi, everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King, I'm your host, and I'm the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for law firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink, that's Ink with a K.com. 

We're changing things up a little bit with this episode and with Spill The Ink in December. I've invited members of my own team here at Reputation Ink to come on the show and interview me and overall just share in a great conversation about the state of PR and marketing and professional services industries. 

Today, I'm going to have a gentleman who has extensive knowledge in the legal field. I'm welcoming Kevin Aschenbrenner to Spill the Ink. He's going to talk about the legal industry trends and we're going to discuss our favorite strategies for securing placements for law firms and legal services providers. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Kevin, he's our Senior Director of Public Relations. He has been working with law firms for most of his entire career, more than 20 years. He and I have a long history together. We've worked at another agency together. Kevin knows the legal PR world inside and out. Thanks for joining me.

[00:02:20] Kevin Aschenbrenner: You're welcome. Nice to be here on this side of the mic.

[00:02:26] Michelle: Yes, this will be fun.

[00:02:28] Kevin: Usually, I'm setting up clients to do this thing, so it's nice to be doing it myself.

[00:02:36] Michelle: I know people always think PR people are extroverts and I'm like, "No, we're the people in the background putting the extroverts on the stage," right?

[00:02:44] Kevin: Exactly. Exactly. Yes.

[00:02:46] Michelle: You're going to interview me about the state of legal PR and marketing.

[00:02:53] Kevin: Yes, exactly. Why don't we start off by taking a look at 2022 and some of the trends that shaped legal PR and content marketing over the past year?

[00:03:06] Michelle: As everyone knows, it's been an interesting couple of years with COVID, then we think COVID's over, and then the return to the office and all of this. Law firms aren't immune to any of that. Certainly, there's been a couple of things happening in the legal world. One that we've seen is niching down, it has become more and more of an important strategy from a marketing and PR perspective, and also just from how law firms operate.

The law firms that we work with that seem to really get the most attention from the press, who do well on social media, and just really get the most ROI for their efforts are those who have figured out niching down, meaning really becoming known as an expert in a particular area of the law whether it's an industry or a certain practice. It's a very effective strategy. It's just a busy world right now. Even sophisticated legal buyers, they want to know that they're speaking to the person who holds all that expertise in a particular area so sourcing. I know you've seen it quite a bit with your clients.

[00:04:23] Kevin: I have. I think to the extent that the more strategic you can be and focused in your efforts that way it increases measurability, you can be more effective because you're only focusing your efforts and your limited amount of time, bandwidth, and budget to a specific effort, and you can measure it better, and then you can ensure it's aligning with the rest of the strategies for your firm.

Let's say if you have a really strong intellectual property practice, you want to be focusing on that. It's where money is coming in, business is coming in. If you put effort into that, then you can also measure it and see it grow in ROI, and that looks great for the executive committee, and everyone can be assured that time and money is being spent in the right place.

[00:05:19] Michelle: Yes, absolutely. I think some of the other trends you and I were brainstorming earlier about is consolidation in the media with fewer media outlets. Where do you see that? I don't mean to turn the table back on you, I know you're supposed to interview me, but where do you see is that? If we have consolidation, what does that mean for law firms? What do they have to change about their strategies?

[00:05:42] Kevin: I think you just have to be pitching really good stories. That has always been the case. There are fewer reporters at fewer outlets covering fewer things. They, like everyone in the digital space right now, they're governed by clicks, they're governed by interest, and they really have to ensure that they're providing their audience with value and with information that they're going to come to see and pay to see if they're behind a gate, a paywall.

I think you really have to be pitching quality stuff. It was never the case for me and anyone that I ever worked with that we would pitch stuff that just wasn't relevant to a reporter just because we had to pitch it. I think that's, even more, the case. You can't waste their time, they're very busy. I think I saw a stat, it came from Cision the other day, that I think that only 3% of pitches get read or result in the story. There's a lot of noise out there and you really have to be focused and just get to know the key people who cover you, your firm very, very well and what they will cover and what they won't.

[00:07:02] Michelle: Along the same lines, the media consolidates, but we're also seeing— I think it's very much due to the rise of social media, is non-media influencers. These are people that have really developed a strong reputation in a particular area, who have a strong following on social media. People tend to take what they say very seriously. I know that we've been doing a bit of that, helping our clients identify who are the people in a particular space. I think the next one we're going to talk about with legal tech but this is especially so in legal tech we're really seeing a lot of influencers pop up and it's important to include that in your strategy as well.

[00:07:49] Kevin: It really is. Also, include them properly. Influencers aren't media. Their job is to build their own brand and they've spent a lot of time putting effort and money to grow their audience and grow their reputation. It's not like they're a reporter where they're getting paid to publish something. When you work with an influencer, you can't just approach them and expect that they're going to lend you their name in recognition just because you asked, there has to be a bit of a quick pro quo.

They have to get some ROI from it too. I know there are some things that we've been encouraging, you in particular encouraging clients to consider, which is work with influencers on specific projects. Do a research study together, do a research project together, do something where you're going to generate news, you're going to generate data and then you can both share the awareness bump out of it. Do something that benefits both sides. With influencers, you really, really have to do that.

[00:09:04] Michelle: Absolutely. That goes to the next point I wanted to make in terms of this year. Legal tech just continues to explode. I know it didn't just happen last year, but last year seemed to be a year where legal tech really took hold in the media's focus. I know that for some of our clients, CLM; Contract Lifecycle Management was a big topic. This is going to continue to be an area that gets really heavily covered. If you're anywhere near this space, it's important to keep track. We've written a couple of blog posts with some guides on podcasts and blogs to read up on, but it's definitely not going away and it's going to continue in importance.

[00:09:57] Kevin: I think so definitely. Also, the legal media are paying more attention to legal tech. There are outlets devoted to legal tech, Bob Ambrogi's LawSites and Legaltech News from ALM, but there's also more like the straight legal media is paying attention to legal tech. Yes, CLM was quite big this past year. We saw massive funding announcements and massive acquisitions. That may cool a little bit now, and it has cooled with the rise in interest rates, but once that stabilizes we'll probably continue to see that as well.

That's a niche in a market that's going to continue to experience growth and change definitely.

[00:10:58] Kevin: Yes, that was the year-end review, some big touchpoints from the year-end review. What are you hearing as you talk to legal marketers, clients, other folks, legal tech companies, what's keeping them up at night right now?

[00:11:15] Michelle: Yes. I talked to a lot of legal marketers, and actually, I had the pleasure of sitting in on managing partners' round table and hearing from them. I'm hearing a lot of talk about recession. Will there be one? Would that result in layoffs? We've already seen reports of layoffs at some firms, it's this idea of stealth layoffs. 

As marketers recession talk, it's always the fear that marketing's going to be the first thing to take a hit. Even if you're not worried about your job, marketers are worried about the hit that that will take to the long-term health and performance of marketing because marketing — honestly it sounds so self-serving to say it. I hate to say it sometimes because it does sound so self-serving but really recessions — sort of like real estate investing — recessions are when you really get ahead if you can make that investment. It's time to invest in marketing. The winners, if they can do it, will be the ones that keep their foot on the pedal and honestly do more during a recession because marketing's just such a long-term game. You can get further because a lot of companies do cut back during a recession. There will be less competition for your voice during a recession.

[00:12:48] Kevin: Yes. I've also found too— I mean I've been through a couple of downturns now 2008, which was devastating for law firms. You and I both have been through that one. Also, the 2020 dip was pretty devastating for law firms too. There were a lot of furloughs, layoffs, that kind of thing. I think that in recessions it is important not to lose ground. Also in recessions, everyone in a firm, everyone in a company becomes very focused on marketing. Marketing tends to become a huge focus number one because it's got to show ROI for the money being spent. Number two, because everyone's like, "We don't have business, now we have to market." Suddenly people who have never paid attention to marketing within the firm or company are all about marketing. They want to know.

[00:13:45] Michelle: And it's the worst-case scenario.

[00:13:48] Kevin: It really is.

[00:13:49] Michelle: You don't start marketing whenever you need business because it's just--

[00:13:53] Kevin: No, it's a consistent thing. I like your point about staying focused on the long-term, the horizon. Don't lose ground now. Yes, you might have to trim. Yes, you might have to be a little more focused in your efforts, but keep doing what works and what has worked for your firm, I think.

[00:14:16] Michelle: Yes, absolutely. What was interesting to me was at the LMASE which is the Southeastern conference of the Legal Marketing Association. Their theme this year was on culture. A lot of it was about what's the role of marketing in law firm culture? And is there a role? I was part of the committee. I think marketers have a big role in culture.

If anything, they're the ones communicating that culture to prospective clients, to prospective attorneys, and how you present that culture is important. You have a good handle on what that culture is and make sure it's a positive one before you start promoting it. I thought that was pretty interesting that that's— I think it comes from a place of other trends that have been at the forefront. Things like diversity, things like environmental, social, and government topics; ESG. Those things are pushing law firms to not be just so focused on the billable hour and how much money everyone's making, but really making this an environment where people can thrive and people of all backgrounds can thrive and present their full selves. Then also things like mental health took a forefront as well. This is an industry that has a very bad track record in mental health. All of those things come together. I think marketing still sits at the forefront. I know many marketers who are tasked with quantifying diversity for their firms, who have to showcase diversity in RFPs. All of those softer topics are really taking center stage.

[00:16:09] Kevin: Yes. I think it's really been driven because law firm clients are demanding it. They're demanding to know what's going on with diversity. They're demanding to know, "Okay, am I not just working with a partner who's going to talk to me and then I'm going to be given to lower level associates for all the work?" But also are you training up those lower associates and senior associates and younger partners to have continuity if I bring you business? If the rainmaker goes away is the work left and what happens to the quality of work for the client? 

I think that firms that are really focusing on culture and not just giving it lip service. We've had so many years where diversity was given just lip service and equality and inclusion, and nothing was actually done. You did not see associates getting into partner ranks. 2020, I think that brought all that into focus. I hope and I believe that a lot of firms are doing very practical things to increase diversity amongst new hires, amongst associates, and then foster a path. I think it's up to marketing to help communicate that and show it because it's all through recruiting. It's a recruiting thing, it is a recruiting benefit to show you're walking the talk and you're taking action. That often falls on law firms to communicate about recruiting and efforts and show that the firm is serious about these things.

[00:17:59] Michelle: Yes. That goes to another trend that we're seeing, and I'm seeing it in other industries too, where recruiting and marketing are overlapping. Because recruiting nowadays, people take a look at the website, they look at social media, they have more tools, just like a prospective buyer has more tools to self-research and self-select through and figure out, "Is this the firm I want to work with?" A prospective attorney or other professional is going to look at the marketing and that's going to drive a lot of their decisions. HR and marketing have to really work in tandem because that's a very important audience in today's recruiting environment where it's a tough one. There's a real overlap. 

Then I know going back to the recession point, I think there seems to be more concern in legal tech a little bit— I'm just seeing that from an outsider's perspective here, but about what does a potential recession look like in terms of funding? There's been a lot of funding that's flooded into the legal tech space, but what will a recession do to that? That always puts greater pressure on marketers to make sure that they're showing ROI as well, whenever that becomes squeezed.

[00:19:34] Kevin: Yes. I think in some clients I talked to in the legal tech space, they're thinking that that market is going to be a little flat for 2023. Depending on how a recession shakes out, people are not going to be as free with money and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe there are companies that are operating effectively, marketing effectively will be distinguished by that. It might be a bit of a crucible time for some companies. I think just the same thing goes, don't slash your marketing budget. Don't fire the marketing team, they're actually useful, and they're going to ensure that you have business through 2023 into 2024 and whatever comes next.

[00:20:25] Michelle: To use the term that I borrowed from another guest, they are your revenue-enablers.

[00:20:32] Kevin: They really are. I like that term. I like that term your revenue enablers. 

We've covered 2022 and what's worrying legal marketers. How should people prepare for the year ahead, for 2023?

[00:20:54] Michelle: We've touched on this but like I said recessions are a great time to stand out. There are going to be companies that cut back. This is the time to show that you are healthy, you're an active firm that is doing deals and winning cases, that you've got the expertise, you're keeping a pulse on trends and issues that your clients are facing. This is the time to really continue to get that share of voice which we've talked about on our blog but meaning that you're really making sure you share voices to the level that you need it to be to get the reputation that you need to build that business.

Continue to focus on niching. Niching doesn't mean rearranging your entire legal practice, your entire law firm but it means more strategically thinking about what areas might bring in more work and then focusing your marketing dollars there. Not spreading everything out. Certainly, if you've got a marketing budget like GEICO does and you can hit every area but most firms don't have like a consumer products budget and so they have to pick and choose and that's where being more strategic and thinking through where are we likely to see more work? Where can we really carve out a reputation as a deep expert in an area? That's going to get you more ROI than really spreading yourself across the thing. 

Then going back to the discussion around culture, I think marketers should be the people that really are constantly talking to their lawyers, clients, and thought leaders and they're really keeping a pulse on what's happening in the industry. They should be the one bringing to partners and senior leadership that clients are focused on diversity or clients are focused on ESG, whatever it is. As a marketer, you should make sure that you're doing that regular canvassing and talking to people as well.

I wanted to touch-- Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

[00:23:13] Kevin: No, go ahead. Go ahead.

[00:23:14] Michelle: I wanted to touch on Twitter and social media. Social media is here to stay. I'll never forget a conversation I had early on in my business where a very senior, senior person said to me that social media was a fad. Every now and then I think back to it, this was like 11 years ago but social media is how we communicate nowadays. It's no longer this new thing that the young folks are on. It's really how we communicate as people. You've really got to have a presence there. 

Right now we're right in the middle of the Elon Musk experiment with Twitter. Keep an eye on that. It might mean that if Twitter has been a key focus for you, you might have to switch. LinkedIn's always going to be critical for any law firm. 

Think about how you can encourage your attorneys to not only network which is critical but also share the content that you're creating. As you know, LinkedIn favors individual posts and individual interaction. Enable your attorneys by sharing content that they can share on the platform, make it easy for them to do so in as much of an authentic way as possible. Then keep learning about the softer things that we talked about. Diversity and culture and all of those things are going to continue to be trends. All the social upheaval that we went through in the last few years. All of the Me Too stuff, that's not going away. It's going to continue to shape perceptions and reputations.

[00:25:12] Kevin: I also think with Twitter, a lot of firms do use Twitter. I think it is worth watching right now and see where it ends up. There's a lot of concern around it. Last Friday was supposed to be the end of Twitter and it's still up as far as I know. It might not still be up now when people are listening to this podcast but as of right now it is up. I think there's also some other platforms emerging like Mastodon which seems a bit tricky and you have to you be a little tech-savvy to know how to use it just yet but I think it's always important to see what's going on.

Then also make sure you keep tabs of what's going on and where people are going because if Mastodon hits then people are going to be on Mastodon. You have to follow the pack but follow the pack in a way that makes sense for law firms. LinkedIn is still the granddaddy of where to be for law firms. I agree with you. I think you really need to as much as possible encourage people to engage with your page content, share it, provide thoughtful commentary.

LinkedIn really rewards that. It's becoming a bit of like the Business Facebook. The more personal and human and additive can be in terms of information, I think it's better. Just encouraging that. It is hard but I think you also focus on folks who are actually going to do it. There's going to be a lot of people who for whatever reason do not want to engage on social media or LinkedIn. It's just not part of their thing. It's not what they want to do, so focus on the people who actually do it and are doing it well and then they can even more easily integrate it.

Also to your point of continuing with what works, I think 2023 would be a really bad time to make any really abrupt changes. Like don't do anything abrupt. Make sure that you're just continuing on, don't change for change’s sake. I think there's a real danger in times like this to try everything and change and whatever and that's not the best, I don't think. Stick with what's worked, make adjustments as needed but maybe reach out to a few more lawyers to add to the input call rotation.

Start looking at those older associates and younger partners as people you want to start to cultivate and have them start doing— Like, the older associates can write by-lined articles. The younger partners can start doing interviews and start building that pipeline. I think, too, really put effort into building up the next generation, particularly with IT diversity. Make sure that the people you're offering to media, that you are working with shows the diversity of the firm, and demonstrate that. I think that's a really important right now I think and it's always important to bring up the younger folks. I always say, too, like when lawyers or associates they're expected to disappear and do the work and as soon as they are partners, they're expecting a subtle market. They don't know how. Take this time to invest in that. Bring them along and establish a pipeline for all your associates.

[00:28:55] Michelle: Yes, it's a really good point about the dichotomy of the expectations at the different levels there.

[00:29:01] Kevin: It really does show up at a time when new partners are dealing with so much. They're all of a sudden responsible for so many more things in the firm. Their income is now related to the performance of the firm as a whole rather than just their own performance. Then marketing is added on top of it as if they automatically know how to do it because it was covered in the last year or in year two, and it wasn't. [laughs]

[00:29:30] Michelle: Completely, yes. It's interesting. This has been fun. Kevin and I talk all the time about these topics but it's fun to bring our audience into this. That's a wrap on our show today and thank you again for joining me, Kevin.

[00:29:46] Kevin: Thanks very much. This was really fun. I hope we can do it again, maybe next year.


[00:29:51] Thanks for listening to Spill the Ink, a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.


Featured Guest

Kevin Aschenbrenner

Reputation Ink


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