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Marketing for PI Lawyers in Challenging Times, ROI and Why Content is Still King - Carl Waring, Aware Marketing

17/09/18. For Personal Injury solicitors and barristers, these are increasingly difficult times. They have been so, ever since LASPO 2012 came into force on 1st April 2013 and the screw has been continuously tightening for claimant PI solicitors with referral fee bans, the slashing of RTA portal fees, the RTA portal limit portal being increased to £25,000 and portals being introduced for EL and PL claims. All these ‘reforms’ were introduced with an accompanying fanfare of Government led soundbites such as ‘compensation culture’, ‘the scourge of fraudulent claims’ and with the insurance industry getting in on the act by promising that if these scourges could be defeated, they would ‘commit to a reduction in motor insurance premiums.’ In response, the claimant lawyer lobby have been increasingly asking what this all means for ‘access to justice.’

Fast forward a few years; intervening years that have seen Legal Aid pretty much consigned to the history books, a lack of clarity in relation to the discount rate, lots of talk of fixed fees for medical negligence claims, PI firms going to the wall in frightening numbers, and we are now ready for a breather – sorry, sadly I’m only kidding! The Civil liability Bill is now going through the reading stages in Parliament and that will bring in fresh ‘reforms’ – a new fixed tariff for whiplash claims and a new £5000 limit for small claims. Alongside this, the government are developing an online portal type system so that Joe Public can do his own claims. The ongoing development and implementation of this online system is causing the government a few headaches it would seem, as it has caused the implementation of the new the ‘reforms’ to be put back until 2020. Claimant lawyers may be ruefully reflecting whether this is because the instruction manual is going to be written in Japanese!

However, the Government have confirmed that part two of the bill, changing the way that the discount rate is calculated, will not be delayed and so expect that to come into play in 2019.

You may be asking questions as to what all this has to do with content marketing. Please bear with me. We are getting there – slowly, but we are getting there.

Despite all the aforesaid doom and gloom as the past 25 or so years have proved, PI lawyers are a resilient lot. They will still be plying their trade in 2019 and onwards.

However, there is no getting over the fact that if there are less claims and therefore reduced fee opportunities both in terms of numbers of new cases and the amount of fees achievable on those cases, then the competition to bring in new instructions will increase still further and the battle to do so at a better marketing ROI, will be intense.

So how can that ROI in marketing for new work, be best achieved by PI lawyers going forwards?

Let’s first take a look at some of the marketing methods being used by PI lawyers.

  1. Recommendation fees

Before LASPO came in, many solicitors relied for their PI work on CMCs. For a fee they could acquire new claim leads from CMCs. Many firms’ models were based almost exclusively on paying referral fees to CMCs and regular new instructions, often in great volumes, ensured that profitable practices were the end result, albeit at no little cost in terms of financial outlay on the referral fees for the solicitor’s practice. Then LASPO came in and with it the ban on paying referral fees. End of that particular model of firm.

Well, not exactly, because although referral fees were banned, it has still been possible after LASPO came into effect, by a modification in the way such leads were received from the CMC, for the solicitor to pay the CMC a fee for the introduction of a new lead. ‘Recommendation Fees’ thus came into being and the MOJ, CMCs regulatory body (until February 2019, when the FCA take over the role), have been quite happy to allow such agreements.

However, whilst paying a CMC a fee for a lead is still, subject to conditions, permitted, many firms are finding that with the increasing restrictions on recoverability of meaningful costs, this method of obtaining new work is less and less viable.

  1. Recommendations from existing clients

Still the best way of receiving new client instructions and dare I say, always has been. Do a good job for a client, that client passes on the word to all his or her friends and when they need a PI lawyer, those friends come to you. However, unless the firm is pretty small (and even then) this source of new work is unlikely alone, to be enough to keep the firm viable. Great to receive new clients by way of recommendation, but as one source – not the only source.

  1. Advertising

Leaflet drops, adverts in newspapers and magazines both national and local, radio and TV advertising are all methods of bringing on board new clients and all capable of achieving results. However, to be done effectively this often comes at a considerable cost outlay. Even doing regular leaflet drops can be hugely expensive and the ROI is often discouragingly low.

  1. Online advertising

Facebook Advert and Google AdWords have been popular amongst solicitors for a number of years now. A good online marketing expert can drill down on the ROI for both forms of advertising, but nevertheless, both can empty the marketing budgets coffers pretty quickly. When the adverts run out of budget, the ads stop and so do the flow of leads, if indeed there was a flow in the first place. Advertising on social media is becoming increasingly competitive and results are often expensively disappointing. Nevertheless, again this is a source of marketing that cannot be discounted. Just keep an eye on cost.

All the above forms of marketing, or a mixture of some of them, have their role to play in the marketing plan of a forward think PI firm, as do networking, stands at exhibitions and conferences, local events and involvement with charities applicable to the area of PI law that a firm specialises in.

What about ensuring that you have a great website with quality content and blogs on it?

A survey commissioned by Thomson Reuters as long ago as 2014 revealed that customers are most likely to turn to the internet to find and research a lawyer before instructing them. That survey revealed that 38% of people surveyed said that they would use the internet to find a lawyer, as opposed to 29% who would ask a friend or relative, dropping down to 10% or less for other means of finding the right lawyers to solve their legal problem.

As the use of internet and the means of access to it increase on a daily basis and at a rapid rate, it’s a fair bet that those percentages today in 2018 are far more skewed in favour of the use of the internet in finding the right lawyer, by potential clients. That suggests therefore that getting your firms web content visible on the internet should be a priority for any PI firm.

Content is King

Bill Gates coined the phrase in an article that he wrote in March 1996. If you read a blog, article or webpage online, you want it - nay expect it, to have great content. If it doesn’t, then it’s not going to hold your attention and you will quickly click to another page.

In writing great legal content, keywords are important because they are the link between what people are searching for and what content writers are writing to meet that need. However, some years ago, in order to get a website or blog moving up the Google rankings, it was considered that stuffing the article full of keywords or phrases was the way to go. So, it was possible to fill an article with lots and lots of keywords, even if in doing so the readability of the article was clunky and didn’t make sense. Your website, full of unreadable content, could conceivably get onto page 1 of Google!

That hasn’t been the case for a long time.

What does “Content is King” actually mean?

For us it has three main components;

  • The content must be well written. Grammar and spelling are a given. Sentences must be concise where possible. In our opinion, being well written also means that the writer has a writing voice that keeps you wanting more.

  • Ok, so it’s nicely written. It still has to say something though. The content has to be interesting. Even a web page about, let’s say, ‘bed sore compensation claims’ has to have high quality, totally authentic and unique content that is useful, entertaining and interesting, to truly count as ‘content that is king.’ (Bed sores is a tough one, we’ll grant you that!)

  • The content has to be well researched and written with authority, by someone who clearly has a grasp of the subject. It has to be obvious that they know what they are talking about. They need to have access to research tools, such as Lawtel, Westlaw and PI Brief Update. They are tools of the trade. They don’t make the content great (sorry PI Brief Update). They help a writer to get his or her facts right. ‘Written with authority’ means more than that. It means that the writer’s gravitas and complete confidence in what he or she is writing about, shine through and create a lasting impression on the reader.

In my view, the three components above, combine to make ‘Content that is King.’ Get that right and you will soon see some very positive results in terms of search engine ranking and super importantly, you will get new clients on the phone to you.

Googles ‘Medic Update’

On the 1st August 2018, Google published something that has been colloquially called ‘the Medic Update.’ Dale Davies from a company called Exposure Ninja has written a blindingly good article about the update. For the purpose of this blog, let’s just say that the updates at the moment particularly affect websites that Google calls ‘Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)’ websites. These are defined as pages that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users” and they include:

    • Shopping or financial transaction pages

    • Financial information pages

    • Medical information pages

    • Legal information pages

    • News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry

For websites that have a beneficial purpose, such as those listed above, it has long been considered that the amount of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness the domain (website) possesses, is very important.

The recent change in the guidelines brought in a significant change in that it was indicated that medical advice content must be written or produced by people or organisations with the authority to back up any claims made in the written content. The qualifications and experience should be listed on the website or around the article, by way of a bio or some similar description of the writer’s expertise. The penalty for not doing so is likely to be a fall in your website rankings and indeed Dale Davies research undertaken just after the new medical advice guideline came into force on the 1st August suggests that that was indeed the case.

Davies suggests that ‘If you are hoping to gain a user’s and Google’s trust, you’ll have to use writers who are experts on your given subject matter’, and considers that this should ‘be taken as a standard across all industries.’ To add weight to that argument it’s worth adding, that although websites offering some form of medical advice were singled out for particular attention in the guidelines, eagle eyed readers will notice that listed under the YMYL heading above, comes the topic of ‘Legal Information Pages.’ Are they the next in line?

In Summary

  1. The next few years are going to be challenging ones for PI lawyers.

  2. More than ever before, lawyers are going to have to spend their marketing budgets wisely to get the best ROI possible.

  3. Statistics point to the fact that increasingly, would-be clients are looking to the internet to find a lawyer to help them solve their legal problem.

  4. Based on those facts it makes sense that it is vital to have a website that not only looks good but that is full of well written content (both webpages and blog). A website that is interesting, easy to read, full of useful information, whilst at the same time containing the relevant keywords that will see that firm’s website and blog pages pushing their way up to the top of the Google rankings, to ensure that they get noticed.

  5. It is an essential component of a good piece of copywriting that the person undertaking it speaks (from the page) to the reader, with a writing voice that oozes knowledge and authority.

  6. The recent Google guideline updates give the impression that content writers are increasingly going to be required to outline their qualifications and experience and show that they are experts in the field that they are writing about. That would indicate that a lawyer’s website and blog content should be written by a lawyer. If your firms’ lawyers either do not have the time to write such content (or are not really confident in their ability to write both great content whilst also making it search engine optimisation (SEO) friendly), then that content writing needs to be outsourced to a suitably qualified legal content writer.

  7. Content marketing provides great marketing ROI for lawyers. Even if you have to outsource to a very good legal content writer, having say 4 pieces of very good legal content written for your firms blog or website per month will cost in the region of £400 or £4800 over the year. Well before the end of that year, done properly, your frequently added to web content, in conjunction with promoting that content by way of your social media pages, will be reaping great rewards for you in terms of new enquiries.

The author, Carl Waring of Aware Marketing still maintains his practising certificate but now writes legal blogs, webpages and other legal copy for lawyers. He also practised as a solicitor for a very full 20 years and was a partner in two firms, before setting up and running his own national multi office solicitors’ practice which he sold in 2004. Carl has been steeped in law from a practising, business and writing sense, for over 30 years.

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