Ted Flett writes about how to go beyond slogans and search engine optimization
Reconciling strategic marketing with the Rules of Professional Conduct can be a journey through a landmine without GPS. Just ask personal injury lawyer Brian Goldfinger after a run-in with the Law Society of Ontario over questionable marketing.
“This has taken a massive toll,” says Goldfinger. “I feel like my reputation has been tarnished and a lawyer’s reputation is certainly very important.”
In 2018, Goldfinger found himself in a hearing before the before the Law Society Tribunal, bewildered by what he feels are trumped-up allegations of improper and misleading marketing. Among Goldfinger’s alleged misdeeds are advertising a specialization without the LSO’s certification and using the term “golden touch,” which implied superiority over other lawyers.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined when I started my own practice back in 2008 that this would happen,” says Goldfinger. “The rules are ambiguous to say the least and they leave room for lots of interpretation.”
While Rule 4.2, or the equivalent rule in other provinces, is worth reading and rereading, Goldfinger cautions junior lawyers to take great care against competing lawyers with a grudge, a law society determined to show it is tough on marketing misdemeanours and the vagueness of the rules. “The area of advertising remains grey and the law society has been struggling for decades and they’ve only ramped up the heat now in the past year or so.”
The rules require that lawyers keep their marketing and advertising in check to ensure, for example, that: past successes are carefully framed, testimonials lack emotional appeals and no offer of second opinions are made. And while I appreciate the honourable intent of 4.2, the rules strike a moderate, and even boring, tone in the consumer marketplace.
Clever and economical, Caryma Sa’d combats this without breaching the rules by using a series of innovative and captivating digital illustrations to market herself through a fresh medium. “I love art and I think that it has uses beyond its apparent value. I think it is a way people can absorb information,” says the second-year Toronto criminal lawyer. “It’s a way to reach people in the age of me. You can get information quick and it is easy on the eyes.”
Beyond digital marketing, Sa’d sees the bigger picture in profile building. “Any endeavour has the potential to be a marketing endeavour,” she says, citing networking and even her recent bencher candidacy.
“I conducted myself in such a way that if it did draw attention to myself or my firm it wouldn’t be off-putting,” she says of her bencher campaign and pro-Statement of Principles stance. “That wasn’t the primary motivation or purpose for running, but anything has that side effect and it has been a boost in terms of getting to talk to people who perhaps didn’t have me on their radar.”
Recognizing that this is a conservative profession that values the tried and true and appreciating that the law evolves over time, it’s a challenge to position myself as a fresh and earnest advocate. When a potential client calls, I speculate that they are more likely to hire a battle-scarred lawyer with a proven track record over a freshly minted lawyer like me.
Sa’d is notably unfazed by the comparison.
“I focus on the advantages of being a young lawyer,” she says. “Sure, you may not have the wealth of experience at your disposal and certain things might take longer, but especially when you’re starting without a client base, you have more attention you can devote to a file.”
Alex Jeremic, a solo immigration lawyer operating under Anchor Law in Toronto, complements his website — which he calls his “storefront” and which was his most significant single expense when starting up — with traditional networking. Jeremic’s marketing is strategic and moderate given the obvious constraints of a sole practitioner.
“I am cautious because, if it leads to more, I wonder if I could accommodate people or whether they would find me and I would have to turn some or many of them down,” he says. Jeremic also utilizes a listserv shared among Toronto’s immigration lawyers to raise his profile and find contacts.
Brent Clifford, marketing guru and managing partner at OKD Marketing, a full-service advertising agency, advises that junior sole practitioners focus on their potential clients.
“In our experience, we have seen legal professionals shy away from promotion and advertising because they fear how it may reflect among their peers,” he says. “Take the time to reflect on who you are reaching, and tailor your message to them.”
Clifford even notes the comparative freedom that a junior sole has as she has decades of practice before her.
“The junior sole practitioner should approach marketing with some curiosity, patience and the confidence to test different messaging, test different platforms and track the results,” he says. “At this point in their career they are building the foundation and reputation of their business from which their future career will be built. So while an investment in marketing and networking may not bring an overnight flood of clients, understanding the long-game, they will see the value over time, as their reputation and point of difference sets them apart from other lawyers.”
From navigating the Rules to positioning oneself as able to work a file to managing client inquiries, marketing for the junior sole practitioner is not for the faint-hearted.