Should My Law Firm Keep Advertising in a Recession?


When the coronavirus crisis started, some law firm partners viewed it as a time to “mend the nets,” taking a moment during trying circumstances to position themselves for future growth.

If you want this kind of forward-thinking mindset during challenging times at your firm, here’s one of the first questions to ask: Should I keep advertising in a recession?

From economic recessions and legal practice area downturns we’ve witnessed at Firmidable—past experience says yes.

It can seem counterintuitive, but people who go against the prevailing pessimism often emerge as leaders.

In this blog post, we’ll break down 4 reasons why lawyers should keep advertising when the economic climate is tough:

  1. 1. Because it’s a chance to help more people
  2. 2. Because you can increase your market share
  3. 3. Because losing market share is risky
  4. 4. Because there’s value in setting yourself apart

No. 1: Because Your Law Firm Can Help More People

It’s worth remembering that times of economic distress mean more people need help.

Keeping your television advertising and digital marketing in force helps more people find you.

Our legal marketing agency has talked to workers’ compensation lawyers anticipating more cases, and possibly different kinds of cases, because of the pandemic.

Recession ripple effects create demand for bankruptcy attorneys. Medical malpractice attorneys say people staying home or not working have more time in a downturn to reflect on bad experiences with doctors and seek financial relief.

Social Security Disability lawyers typically see increased calls and cases when unemployment shoots up—as people whose health is already fragile give up on working and seek government benefits instead.

Your law firm could be a crucial resource in a time like this. It’s not the time to pull back from the market—and people—you serve.

No. 2: Because You Can Increase Your Law Firm’s Market Share

When the coronavirus pandemic first started shutting down the United States, television audiences soared, but many advertisers retreated. That freed up air time and lowered advertising rates, creating an opening for law firms.

In an environment like this, you have more power to increase awareness of your firm among your potential clients.

You may need to move quickly, however. In the case of the coronavirus, TV ad rates started recovering by about a month into the crisis.

One Firmidable client who had stopped airing television ads returned to the airwaves early in the pandemic’s spread in the United States.

After seven weeks, the firm saw strong signs of increased market awareness from the TV presence.

Visits to the firm’s website from general web searches rose 23%. And the number of people searching for the firm’s name and finding its Paid Search ads increased by 414%.

The firm decided to stay on TV indefinitely.

During a different kind of slump several years earlier—a practice area slowdown in Social Security Disability law—another Firmidable client held steady on marketing as others dropped out, and our client emerged as the dominant name in their market.

That firm continues to see increases in new case intakes, up 25% in a recent five-year span.

“You can get exponential growth in market share” by keeping strong marketing during a downturn, said Alex Ludwig, account supervisor at Firmidable. “You can come out really strong in the end.”

This isn’t just the experience at our law firm marketing agency. During the Great Recession in the late 2000s, the Harvard Business Review called marketing a “good cost” that generates revenue.

“On average, increases in marketing spending during a recession have boosted financial performance throughout the year following the recession,” the article said.

You can’t achieve this just by putting your advertising on auto-pilot, however.

Downturns are volatile. You’ll need to calibrate your advertising placement and message to changing conditions.

TV viewers and internet browsers during the coronavirus, for example, could reject messages that seemed to take advantage of a painful situation.

Legal marketers like the team at Firmidable study these dynamics and fine-tune advertising strategies for law firms—so you strike the right chords during hard times and increase recognition that you’re the firm to call.

No. 3: Because Losing Market Share Is Risky for Your Firm

If lower revenue pushes you to decrease advertising during a slowdown, you can always ramp everything back up when your revenue recovers, right?

It’s not that easy.

When you back down, you’re the one creating an opening for someone else to gain a higher profile in your market.

Here are three reasons that pulling back could hurt your firm:

“You can buy advertising again after a recession,” said Doug Cardinale, Firmidable senior account executive. “But you can’t buy market share. If you lose it, you can’t just buy it back.”

It takes data, analysis, strategy and time to build a prominent image in the minds of your prospects.

“Advertising has a snowball effect,” Doug said. “You want to keep building on it all the time.”

Account supervisor Alex added that cutting advertising has a slippery effect.

It’s easy for a firm to cut a little. Then a little more. And a little more again.

When they look back after years of cutting, Alex said, it’s not unusual for law firm partners to discover that their cumulative decline in market position is steeper than they realized.

“It progresses over time,” he said. “They end up cutting themselves out of the market, slowly but surely.”

For local or regional law firms, another risk of letting up on marketing is that you may lose ground to out-of-town or national competition, Alex said.

During a downturn, a large firm could decide to spend more in your market—an amount that might be comparatively small to them—and take over.

But local firms also might get a rare opening to gain ground. Large firms experiencing the same economic pressures as everyone else could back down.

Online, on TV and through any other marketing channel, a legal marketing firm like Firmidable can deploy strategies that solidify your local credentials and appeal.

No. 4: Because There’s Power in Setting Yourself Apart

With rough conditions likely impacting everyone in certain branches of legal services, if not the entire legal profession, you can be certain that your competitors feel similar concerns as you.

Going against the crowd in the way you respond can give you an advantage.

“During a downturn, people are inevitably going to cut back, because they’re psychologically geared to worrying about the now,” Alex said.

“If you do what everybody else does,” he said, “you’re going to get results like everybody else.”

The goal of law firms that work with Firmidable, Alex said, is not to mimic everybody else: “They want to grow.”

“When things are going badly, the guy that doesn’t take his foot off the accelerator is the guy who three years from now—everybody knows his name.”

How to Get a Legal Marketing Strategy that Resists a Recession

If cases have slowed and it’s time to “mend the nets” at your law firm, it’s also time for a calm, confident approach to your growth strategy.

The Harvard Business Review discussed how marketing often seems like a relatively painless item to cut during economic turbulence— but cutting when conditions are tough brings more pain later when the economy rebounds.

Henry Ford said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”

And Firmidable’s own Doug Cardinale put it another way, “You either go out of business, or you go out and get more business, and advertising is how you do it.”

If you want expert reinforcement for your plan to counter a downturn at your firm, talk to us at Firmidable.

Firmidable has been a national expert in legal marketing for almost 30 years. It brings law firms customized, data-driven marketing strategies and services, including online and traditional media for a wide range of legal practices. From Maine to Hawaii, it has transformed the lives of attorneys—and their clients.

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About the Author: Mark Waller

Mark WallerMark Waller is Writer/Editor at Firmidable.

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