Given the current circumstances associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19), a law firm has three choices when it comes to executing on their 2020 event calendar: cancel, postpone, or just change the format. My vote would be for you to change the format wherever you can to stay top of mind and relevant to your client base and referral sources while still practicing a responsible form of “social distancing.”
In-person business development and communication through event marketing involves creating an experience that attendees look forward to, get value from, and associate with your brand. Through hosting various types of business development activities, you can set your law firm up as a networking hub for diverse practices, become a thought leader in your legal niche, and establish a history of credentialing activities that will keep you top-of-mind in your legal community. Virtual events for law firms can, and will, do the same.
It is known that law firm marketing has evolved rapidly in the last decade. In a recent study, 67% of legal marketing professionals and 45% of attorneys listed firm-hosted events as one of the most effective ways to get new clients. Even with all of the new marketing strategies and techniques, face-to-face connection remains one of the most effective ways to network and gain new clients. In the time of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is requiring all industries, even the legal industry, to take a second look at how they will continue to operate effectively under quarantine conditions, law firms need to be flexible in how they market. Event marketing can still take place in the spring and summer of 2020, it will just look a little different than originally anticipated. Excluding large luncheons, parties, and galas, for the most part, technology can allow a law firm to move forward with most of their planned events.
Virtual Business Development Events for Law Firms
Every type of business development event attracts different stakeholders, networking opportunities, and ways to strengthen your law firm’s market dominance. Some types of business development activities for law firms that can be transformed into virtual events include the following:
- Seminars. Conferences that provide training or updates on legal changes in your area of practice. Many seminars and conferences have scheduled downtime and social time, allowing attendees to network and nurture connections that may lead to future referrals. This networking aspect of a seminar can be done in a virtual manner through private chat rooms or even through a special area of your website that allows for “booths” to be created for information sharing.
- Legal CLE events. Continuing legal education is an essential part of attorney growth, and since continuing legal education is required for lawyers in most parts of the United States, these events offer clear value to attendees. Speakers at continuing legal education events also have the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, strengthen their image as an authority in their field, and connect with others in relevant areas of practice. CLEs have been webcasted and recorded for years and the coronavirus outbreak really should have no effect on your law firm’s CLEs schedule. All that is necessary to proceed is to tell your audience it will be a webcasted program rather than a live program, hire a professional videographer, and then add then video and handouts to your website.
- General education events. These events strengthen a firm’s credibility within the community and demonstrate the firm’s expertise to its target client base. For example, an immigration attorney could host an online Q&A seminar through their Facebook page on recent changes to immigration laws and invite affected community members to attend through that medium. An estate planning attorney may host an informal brown bag luncheon that is webcasted on long-term care options to caretakers of aging family members.
- Brown bag lunch and learns. Lunch and learn events take advantage of the fact that many attorneys have extremely busy schedules. These events last between 30 and 60 minutes and take place over the lunch hour, letting attorneys fit education or networking into their busy day. Brown bag lunches can also take place in a virtual environment. Attorneys can provide a memorable brown bag experience online through the sharing of relevant documents beforehand that they will go over and using screensharing to direct attention of attendees. Law firms will want to make sure that they pay special attention to small things such as consistency in their lawyer screen names and the background portrayed in their videoconference (i.e. what is behind you or what is around you that the other participants will see and does this portray your law firm in the best way possible).
- Panels. Panel discussions let attendees learn from multiple experts simultaneously. Question-and-answer sessions provide additional value, allowing attendees to get answers to specific, relevant questions. Panels are easy to convert to a digital format. Be sure to have your moderator use the first name of the person that they are addressing when a question is asked as the conversation has to be directed a bit differently than it would in person when you can connect with body language and eye contact. Also, the audience should know beforehand how their questions can be posed and if they are required to have their computer on mute to control outside noise.
- Collaborations. Collaborating with businesses relevant to your area of practice expands attorneys’ opportunities for networking. For example, an estate planning law firm may collaborate with a senior activity center to help attendees better understand the needs of aging clients, or an intellectual property law firm may run a seminar with a venture capital firm. These types of collaborations can be moved into a digital format by prerecording them for the audience. The business can easily gather questions that come up from attendees and send them to the attorney or law firm afterward so individual phone calls can be made to the guests as follow-up.
Rather than seeing the need to change the format of their existing events to be virtual as a problem, marketing savvy law firms are seeing this as an opportunity. They are utilizing their existing commitments to being modern law practices with functional, time saving technology to continue to connect with their audience. They are using videoconferencing, webcasting, and video recording to continue to host relevant programming for their community. The real challenge in pivoting an event marketing strategy to be entirely digital for the next 3-6 months will be working with the right type of marketing and videography professionals to engage the audience and drive attendance.
Preparation and Follow-Up
Event success, even for virtual events, is more than just choosing the event for your audience. It is critical to have a clear strategy about how to prepare for your event, execute a successful activity, and follow-up to ensure that it is doing the business development work you expect it to.
Know what success looks like. Prior to the event, you should know which benchmarks you want to reach and have ways to measure those. For example, you may want to hit a certain number of attendees, have representatives from a set number of firms, or yield a specific number of networking connections.
Promote your event strategically. Look into different ways to promote an event including traditional invitations through mail or email, social media, and broadcast or print advertising. Be sure to create a custom hashtag to encourage social media engagement before, during, and after the event.
Expect the unexpected. From technology glitches to presenter snafus, being underprepared can end up turning your potential networking opportunity into a PR nightmare. Make sure to give yourself time to work out all the kinks well in advance of your event date and hire a professional to guide you through the process.
Strategize follow-up activities. Following up with attendees after an event provides valuable information on how successful the event was and whether or not it is worth repeating. Some firms use automated email sequences to gauge the results of an event. Reviewing social media engagement, lead generation, attendance numbers, and other metrics provides valuable insight into the success of the event.
Event marketing in 2020 will need to look a little different for law firms but it still remains an effective tool for fostering professional networking and client connections. With the wide range of events to choose from and also the technology available to today’s law firms, there are many options to help firms continue with their previously planned activity calendar. In addition, when law firms are strategic about how they structure, prepare for, and follow up from their virtual business development event, it can be an incredibly powerful form of marketing that is inexpensive, engaging, and memorable.