Yesterday was the last day of July, and baseball fans know that this day is important because it’s the trade deadline. (Seamheads and baseball lawyers understand that it’s actually only the nonwaiver-trade deadline, but why take the fun out of it?) So I spent some time this weekend following the interwebs to see whether the Red Sox would do anything to improve their league-leading team (and even better, thwart the Yankees from improving at the same time).

At one point, there were reports that the Red Sox had traded for A’s pitcher Rich Harden. But the Sox scuttled the deal once they learned that the oft-injured Harden had a hospital bracelet tattooed on his arm to save time. (They ended up acquiring left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard, who is injured slightly less often than Harden.)

But as I was watching the annual trade-deadline special on the New England Sports Network after Sunday’s game (apparently, I have no life), I saw a laptop commercial that only a law firm could appreciate.

Whose ad it was and why it made me think of the sorry state of law-firm marketing, after the jump.…

The commercial was for Toshiba’s Satellite series of laptops. The ad starts with a bright red screen and a card saying “Toshiba: Leading Innovation.” Then a smarmy voiceover says:

Make a statement without leaving a mark. Toshiba’s fingerprint-resistant Fusion X2 finish. Just one of the many features of the fully thought-through Satellite Series. Learn more at us.toshiba.com.

I actually laughed out loud. Here was an ad touting the external finish of a computer. Seriously? Because that’s going to move those large, bulky, designless boxes off the shelves. Right…

And the clumsy marketingese slogan: “Leading innovation.” What does that even mean? I went to the website “to learn more” as the ad instructed, and I didn’t see anything about this magical exterior finish that must have been woven with elven hair and polished with unicorn tears. (Seriously: doesn’t “fusion” suggest that fingerprints stick (that is, “fuse”) to the case? It does to me. And what went wrong with the Fusion X1?) I did learn that Toshiba introduced the first laptop PC in 1985. Because I want to be thinking “1985” when I’m shopping for a computer in 2011. Mmm’kay.

They certainly thought long and hard over the clever intro line: Make a statement without leaving a mark.That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!” And I particularly love the claim that their machines are “fully thought out.” Implicitly, other PC manufacturers just slap features into their boxes willy-nilly. Or perhaps pell-mell? Helter-skelter?

Law firm ads, websites, and other marketing attempts follow this same pattern: A clumsy, obsessive focus on “features” and history, seasoned with goofball namby-pamby (I’m stuck on rhyming compound adjectives) marketing lines that mean nothing. Without naming the firms (they know who they are), here are a sampling of taglines from recent law-firm marketing:

  • Slow and steady wins the race. (So you’re slow, but steady? Squee.)
  • When Results Matter. (When they don’t, I should call someone else?)
  • Legal insight. Business instinct. (I got nothing here.)
  • What a difference a DAY makes. (Not revealing anything here, but the word “day” is in the firm’s name. Get it? Get it?!)

But even worse than the faux-clever taglines is the propensity to whack prospective clients over the head with the “features” found in the law firms. We have offices in Prague. We have 3,000 lawyers. Our lawyers went to this school and that school, and clerked for this judge and that judge, and wrote this article and that article, and handled this case and that case. We have this department and that department — no, wait, now it’s a practice group. We have the fingerprint-resistant Fusion X2 finish.

Last summer, LexThink’s Matt Homann had an awesome Venn diagram showing what clients looked for on a law-firm website, and what the websites actually showed. As you can imagine, there is very little overlap. (Matt’s diagram was inspired by a similar diagram of university websites on Randall Munroe’s excellent and unique comic site xkcd.com.)

Small firms tend to mimic their bigger counterparts when it comes to marketing and advertising, and that’s a bad idea. If you own or work at a small firm, you have an opportunity to help craft the marketing to focus not on what the firm has (the features), but on what the client wants (the benefits).

Instead of touting your firm résumé (oops, I did it again, I played with your heart, I spelled “résumé” correctly) in your marketing and on your websites, instead focus on your clients’ problems and how you can solve them — how you can make their lives better.

For an example of this, law firms (and for that matter, Toshiba) should look at Apple, who does this the right way. Check out this ad for the iPad 2, which doesn’t use the phrase “fingerprint-resistant finish” or mention any single feature of the laptop-killing device. Instead, it focuses on what the customers do in their lives, and how the iPad helps them do it better.

Your law firm might not be quite as cool as Apple, but the product you sell — professional legal knowledge — can make as much or more impact on your clients’ lives. Show them that in your marketing, instead of touting your fingerprint-resistant finish.


Jay runs Prefix, LLC, a firm that helps lawyers learn how to value and price legal services. Jay Shepherd also spent 13 years running the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at [email protected].


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