Should law firms stop marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic?

I’ve been on this earth for a good few years now and have already lived through some famous events of the type that the history books are made of, some of which I can remember pretty well, some I can remember bits of and some not at all – The Vietnam War, man landing on the moon for the first time, The Cold War, Mandela being released, then coming to power in South Africa and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

I haven’t though, lived through anything like the time we are experiencing at the moment. The total paralysis of the world. A time where there is a sense of trepidation every time a trip to the supermarket is made because it just doesn’t feel right to be out and where the majority of us are now working from home, or not at all. Conversely, it’s a time where some people are working round the clock in horrendous conditions, at huge risk to themselves, to save our lives.

Life has turned upside down for us all. The reality of illness, death, and grief from this hidden killer is with us. NHS workers have rightly become our national heroes. So too have supermarket workers, taxi drivers, dustbin men and a whole host of other ‘key workers’. All of a sudden as a society we are feting those who do the hard, dirty work and for so comparatively little in the way of remuneration.

As for the rest of us, we are a motley crew. For those of us that habitually work from home, maybe, like me, sitting in front of a PC writing words for a living, life is much the same as it was before, save for the fact that for many of our clients, it’s anything but the same as was. Businesses that could have actually allowed remote working for their employees before, but haven’t, have had to quickly adapt to the new reality – home working for all or shut up shop. Many are understandably finding the going, challenging.

In reality, business isn’t exactly carrying on as normal, for anyone. For those of us that are freelancers, we’re only as good for our incoming work, as our clients are for theirs.

In the world of this legal profession that I am able to view a little more dispassionately, than I did when I had my law practice, it has been interesting, but not always in a good way, to watch how things are unfolding.

For instance, it’s not necessarily small to medium/small solicitors’ firms that have been the first off the blocks in letting staff go – furloughed or redundant. Some of those who have been quickest out of the starting blocks in saying ‘goodbye’ to their workers have been of the larger, City variety. Others still, have been ones who, until the crisis hit, were busy buying out smaller companies: the movers and shakers of the legal world.

For some firms, purely from a marketing point of view, this could seem to be a time of opportunity – for instance, the views of employment lawyers are suddenly in high demand with both employer and employee keen to know where they stand on a daily basis.

There’s been a surge in people wanting to get Wills in the past few weeks. Grim? Yes. Being practical and organised? Well, yes.

So, should those lawyers who have relevant knowledge and skills to match up with this fresh demand for that knowledge, up the ante with their marketing?

Absolutely they should, as long as it is marketing that is subtle and tasteful. Blogs and articles setting out relevant, useful advice on matters that coronavirus has impacted, will be welcomed and those who provided that advice, bookmarked for future reference.

The reason I was so forthright, in saying; ‘absolutely they should,’ is because where possible, I think business should carry on as normal. My field is the legal profession and I think solicitors should carry on marketing and trying to bring in new business. To not do is a recipe for disaster down the line.

Some would say that this type of marketing is ‘cashing in’ on the crisis: that advertising will-drafting services, for instance, is in bad taste when so many people are dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. I don’t believe that it is. If I am a wills and probate expert and more people than normal are looking to get wills drawn up, then why would I not try and make sure that the public is aware of the service that I offer. I want to try to get my name at the forefront of their minds.

Life has to go on and if we accept that as many businesses as possible should carry on trading, as surely they must, even if they are doing so remotely, then advertising their services is part and parcel of carrying on that business. After all, if new business leads, enquiries and instructions dry up, ultimately so too will the company!

What about advertising personal injury services at the moment? Again it comes down to being subtle in any form of marketing that’s undertaken. I personally think this may not be the time to be doing sponsored advertising, such as Facebook ads or Google ads.

Having said that, I’ve noticed that No Win, No Fee personal injury ads have been ever more evident on my Facebook page timeline in recent weeks. Some of the comments underneath the adverts have been ‘earthier’ than normal (and ‘normal’ still isn’t nice for those types of ads at the best of times.) I wouldn’t feel comfortable running them, even though personal injury claims do not involve making claims against the NHS. Personal injury claims and medical negligence claims are two different areas of law entirely. I’m not sure that some of the public recognise that distinction though!

I do however think that personal injury firms that use content marketing in the form of blogs and outreach articles to improve their website rankings, should continue to write and publish new material. Quality, useful content informs and educates. The best websites get plenty of page 1 Google rankings. First page rankings lead to new business enquiries.

There are personal injury firms that I know that are just settling down to do the best job that they can for their existing clients, whilst only taking on new business that comes into them, organically i.e. without them advertising for it. They think that now is not the time to be advertising for accident claims. I fully respect that altruistic approach.

I’m not an expert in medical negligence claims. At the moment, I’m probably glad of that. I’ll outline my thoughts about medical or clinical negligence and where it might go in the future, in more detail in a later blog. At the moment, it surely isn’t appropriate to be running any form of clinical negligence adverts whilst the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers of the NHS are working all hours on the front line of the battle against coronavirus? End of.

I personally think that this is a time where real caution needs to be exercised in legal marketing. Law firms, like many other businesses, are in a battle to survive as lockdown continues. The temptation to market hard for the work that is still out there may be tempting.

However, this is not the time for hard marketing. On the contrary, one false move could, in this day and age of ‘viral’ social media posts and comments, lead to a PR disaster. Keeping the powder dry on that advert or social media post, maybe the best marketing move you could make right now.