When creating your marketing plan, it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture so you’re aware of some of the legal trends that could impact your law practice and your clients’ businesses in the foreseeable future. A situation analysis looks beyond your clients and competitors to your industry as a whole and tries to uncover opportunities for business growth and threats to your business. It takes into account the following trends:
- Economic Trends – What are the major economic factors that are influencing your practice? These can be anything from how inflation rates, taxes, or unemployment levels are affecting your business to pricing issues like what is keeping your overhead high and your price levels where they are. It also takes into account the needs of lawyers in the firm. As more women join firms, there is more need for maternity leave, work/life balance, and flex time for parents. (Law firms still have a long way to go, as the recent firing of prominent blawger, Denise Howell, demonstrates.) For many young lawyers, paying off student loans and mortgages takes priority over retirement plans.
- Social Trends – How does the public perceive lawyers? In April 2002, the American Bar Association found that many Americans think lawyers are “greedy, manipulative, and corrupt. Personal experiences with lawyers substantiate these beliefs. Consumers tell stories of lawyers who misrepresent their qualifications, over-promise, are not upfront about their fees, charge too much for their services, take too long to resolve matters, and fail to return client phone calls.” (see Summary of Findings (PDF), Full Survey (PDF).
- Political Trends – What issues are politicians pushing that effect your market? For instance, every election year, tort reform seems to become a big issue. Issues like globalization, immigration reform, cyber laws, and corporate policing also keep coming up.
- Regulatory and Legal Trends – According to the previously mentioned ABA study, “Americans also believe that lawyers do a poor job of policing themselves. Bar associations are not viewed as protectors of the public or the public interest, but as clubs to protect lawyers.” This was a huge issue in New York, which proposed sweeping restrictions in 2006 on how attorneys can market themselves and what should be done to deter unethical lawyers. In addition, there was also the question of whether lawyers should be allowed to pay a referral fee to non-lawyers for referrals. How these changes will be imposed and what they mean for the rest of the US is up in the air at the moment.
- Technology Trends – Finally, technology is making it much easier for lawyers to do business. Many firms are considering paperless options, blawgs and client extranets have become popular, and lawyers are integrating technology to communicate with clients on the go through iPhones and audio/video conferencing.
These are just some of the issues you may want to consider when putting together your marketing plan. For any situation analysis, you want to look at the macrocosm – the entire legal profession – and the microcosm – the market for legal services in your city or area of practice.