A Low-Cost Approach to Growth for Small Law Firms

Updated December 20, 2023

Small law firms face headwinds this year and into the future with various factors emerging as obstacles to growth. However, these practices also have a number of advantages over larger competitors that could help them grow despite these hurdles. 

The competition is putting pressure on small law firms, Thomson Reuters found. Of the respondents to a survey of solo attorneys and firms with between 2 and 29 attorneys, 78% stated that acquiring new clients presented a challenge. And 27% called that challenge “significant.” A strong business development strategy can help ease these pressures and fuel growth.

Differentiating your law firm from the competition

Every business development strategy needs a brand to build off of, and your brand should tie into what differentiates you from the competition. 

Small firms face competition from all over. But one place to start is how you can differentiate from larger legal providers. After all, 46% of respondents to InterAction’s Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Survey noted facing competition from larger firms. It’s not uncommon, but it should be relatively easy to figure out the differences. 

Advantages over larger law firms

So what’s the key to differentiating from firms with dozens of attorneys? Your ability to be agile and offer fast, personalized service to existing and potential clients. 

You don’t have to jump through hurdles to adjust pricing, change or find new software vendors or identify and engage with new target audiences. These things and more can actually be easier for small firms because they’re able to be more nimble in how they adapt. 

For the most part, the advantages small practices have over larger law firms come down to customer service. Small businesses of all sorts can offer a personal touch that larger ones cannot. Consider this: The ABA Benchmark Study on Law Firm Intake Process found that 42% of lawyers take three or more days to follow up on leads. Fewer than 10% of potential clients actually get to speak with a lawyer. 

You can counter this trend by offering fast, personalized follow-up to leads. Additionally, live chat can improve customer satisfaction. In fact, with an 87% customer satisfaction rating, live chat beats out email support, social media support, and help center articles as the preferred way to learn more about a business. By employing a chat solution on your website you can ensure that every website visitor has the opportunity to speak with someone right away. 

This is especially helpful for small law firms that can offer personalized service but maybe stretched thin more easily. 

Differentiation is key: What do you offer that the competition doesn’t? 

The most successful small businesses are able to differentiate not only from behemoth corporations but also from their industry peers. The same is true for small law firms. Pointing out that a five-attorney practice can offer more personalized service than a 50-attorney legal corporation is easy. But how are you different from the similar-sized practices in your area?

The answer to this question is less simple. The contrasts between large and small firms are clear. But differentiating between two smaller-sized practices is more nuanced. It’s up to you to determine this based on your services, your location, your target audience, and the culture you’re cultivating. 

3 law firm business development strategies that work

When you can define your firm’s value proposition (the added value you offer that the competition does not) you’ll be in a strong position to build out your business development strategies. 

There are a number of options that work for most law firms. Employ even just a few of these and growth will start coming easier. 

1. Leverage relationships to identify opportunities

Using relationships within your network to identify opportunities is a low-cost and effective way to find new cases and clients. 

You can start with existing clients. They’re easier to convert than new ones. Do you have any that could use your help again in the near future? Reach out to see how they’re doing and offer your assistance. 

Other law firms with whom you maintain relationships may also provide leads you can follow up with and convert. Larger law firms often turn down cases that don’t fit or that don’t offer much earning potential. However, these prospective clients might be perfect for your practice. 

2. Manage customer relationships with a legal CRM or intake software

Most businesses should have some sort of customer relationship management platform. These tools help you keep track of existing and prospective clients and, as their name implies, manage relationships with them. 

The good news? Many law firms already do use CRMs. The bad news, though, is that utilization rates tend to be low due to the fact that these CRMs are not dedicated legal platforms. Practices should look for CRMs or intake tools that are made specifically for law firms. 

In fact, after the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms that used the legal CRM Clio experienced year-over-year growth relative to firms that did not use any CRM technology, according to the CRM provider’s 2020 Legal Trends Report. 

“These firms saw as much as a 6% year-over-year difference in April, 7% in July, and 9% in August compared to firms not using client intake and CRM solutions,” the report explained. “These firms also achieved positive growth in matters from June onward.”

3. Use content marketing to build trust and bring in website leads

Content marketing is an increasingly popular inbound marketing tool for law firms. Basically, it’s the production of digital content – blogs, videos, social posts, etc. – that draws in prospective clients. As they engage with your content they’ll grow to trust your brand. Whether they’re in need of legal services now or down the road, when the time comes they’ll know who to reach out to. 

Before we go any further, though, a little primer on inbound marketing and why content can help you perfect a low-cost inbound marketing plan. Traditional marketing involves going out into the world where prospective clients are in order to communicate your message. The inbound alternative is defined by bringing prospective clients to you. More often than not, this is done with a blog. 

This is so effective for law firms because one-third of all attorney searches begin online, according to Clio. By producing searchable content you can ensure your website is the end destination for those services. 

Additionally, you can share content via your social media channels and produce short, engaging videos that direct people back to your website or blog. 

Making this advice fit your unique practice brand

All of the advice above can be combined for a great recipe for low-cost marketing and lead generation. Of course, there’s not a one-size-fits-all application for these tips. So much of how you utilize the above business development strategies depend on your firm and the clients you hope to attract. 

Plan for your unique needs and growth goals in order to identify the best and most affordable path for scaling your practice. 

Want to get more leads from your marketing efforts? Learn more about live chat for law firms.