E-marketing for barristers – Part 1

Online news and e-marketing are generally neglected by the Bar. Most Bar websites are static brochures, and emails about seminars mark the limit of other e-marketing. For chambers with the motivation, there is therefore plenty of opportunity to stand out.

To make any progress, you will need an e-marketing plan. This should complement your existing marketing plan and cover three key questions:

Where are you now? If you have tried any e-marketing, what has worked best? Do you have any useful feedback from clients or online visitors? What can you gather from website and other statistics?

Where would you like to be? Can you set goals in relation to the clients you wish to target, or how e-marketing should contribute to chambers?

How will you get there? Is action needed in relation to training, resources, systems? What steps need to be taken, and what is the timescale?

There is one golden rule of marketing to remember: acquiring a new client costs more and takes longer than strengthening existing client relationships. E-marketing offers many opportunities to improve client loyalty.

What is e-marketing?

The e-marketing shopping list includes a wide range of activities. In this article we cover your website as the starting point, online news, extranets, marketing emails, e-zines/bulletins and viral marketing. In Part 2 (in the next issue) we will cover e-publishing, podcasts, various types of partnerships you can set up, social networking, blogs, text messaging, web awards, banner advertising, pay-per-click and search engine optimisation (SEO).

Your website is the starting point

Is your website robust enough to support all your other e-marketing activity? Before you do anything else, carry out a thorough health check:

  • Does your home page make an impact?
  • Is the look and feel right? What image does your site convey?
  • Do you keep the home page looking fresh and different?
  • Website or cobwebsite? Is everything up to date?
  • Is the site user-friendly and easy to navigate?
  • Do you have useful relevant content?
  • Is it accessible for users with disabilities? (The W3C/WAI website provides online guidance about disability and accessibility.

Keep your website in mind as we explain how other e-marketing techniques can work for you.

Online news/media relations

Online news updates are the best way to keep your home page looking fresh, to show off skills and achievements, and to maintain prominence in search results. Members’ cases make the best material.

When my company LawComms surveyed all 252 chambers websites in June 2008, 52 per cent of their home pages had nothing but static brochure-style information; they lacked even the simplest updates. One in five Bar websites lacked updates of any kind anywhere on the site. Only a quarter carried news about members’ cases – the lifeblood of the set’s reputation.

The home page should feature news and should include updates about member’s cases. This gives all visitors immediate information about the set’s activities, and ensures that the home page is regularly refreshed, creating a different impression each time a regular user visits your site.

Relegating news updates to another page, out of sight, means that visitors are much less likely to see them. Some Bar websites in the survey included a menu on the home page linking to “News”, but in quite a few instances, news could be found only from a subsidiary page, such as “About Us”, two or three clicks from the home page.

Some sites use scrolling headlines but these can be too slow or too fast, take too long to load or tell the visitor too little to tempt them to read the full story.

A better option uses a panel on the home page which carries a series of headlines with short summaries of each story and a link to full information on a news page.

Some sets have opted to use a news feed from a third-party provider – presumably because there is no-one in house with the time to write material. This has a double disadvantage: it tells visitors nothing about the work and qualities of the set itself; and it tempts them to go off to another website to follow up a story.

The following Bar websites demonstrate a variety of good approaches to the presentation of news:


Extranets use the web to provide exclusive access to selected users. An extranet can provide: privileged access to information free of charge to registered users; access for an individual client to documents and information about their individual matters; or a paid-for e-commerce service.

1 KBW is one of relatively few sets with a client extranet and generally chambers seem not to have considered their use.

Marketing emails

Email is widely used by barristers and clerks to communicate with instructing solicitors, but its use in marketing seems restricted to seminar announcements.

Although an obvious e-marketing technique, there are many questions to address if you are to make the most effective use of email as a medium:

  • Which email database is most suitable? If you have one of the chambers’ practice management systems, can it actually generate emails? Many sets use a separate marketing database instead.
  • What will ensure that recipients will actually open your message and read it?
  • How do you write a compelling email?
  • Which is the best day and time to circulate emails? Wednesday lunchtime is reported by one online magazine as the peak time for downloads.

Key guidelines for effective email campaigns include the following:

  • Make the subject-line relevant and interesting.
  • Keep your email short.
  • Get straight to the point – start with your strongest point.
  • Include a clear “call to action” inviting the recipient to take a further step.
  • Send from a named person and give full contact details.
  • Include a greeting/salutation.
  • Avoid attachments (which usually get ignored).
  • Link to a “landing page” on your website which is specifically relevant to the email.
  • Include the http:// in web addresses (not all email systems interpret web links correctly if this is missing).
  • Provide opt-out instructions.
  • Double-check accuracy of dates, phone numbers, web links and so on. The best way to do this is to send the email to yourself (before sending it to anyone else), print it out and read it carefully!

E-zines and bulletins

The most effective e-bulletins (emailed newsletters) provide key points, written succinctly, in a format that makes it easy for recipients to scan quickly and identify information of practical relevance to them.

Bland brochure-style text is unlikely to be read, because recipients lack the time and patience.

HTML and PDF formats can be made visually attractive. But recipients may opt not to open, download, print, or read your HTML or PDF pages. Plain text emails, with simple punchy information and with links to detailed material on your website, may work more effectively.

Garden Court’s Housing Law and Immigration Law update emails provide only a link to the full magazine-style PDF, with no indication of the contents or highlights. In contrast, Daniel Barnett’s employment law emails provide a summary in the email itself, so you can decide whether to go to the source document.

Consider whether you have the time and resources to support regular publication, and whether your e-zine fills a need in the market. Starting, and then discontinuing, initiatives of this sort do not inspire confidence!

Viral marketing

Viral marketing involves people spontaneously emailing friends and work colleagues with links to online videos, games or jokes that they think are cool or funny. You need to create strong and original content to attract this kind of attention. Probably not for the inexperienced to attempt!

To be continued in the March/April 2009 issue.

Gerald Newman runs LawComms which specialises in marketing communications for lawyers. Gerald formerly practised as a solicitor, launched major communications and online projects for the Law Society, and was Practice Director with Cloisters Chambers in the Temple.

Email gerald.newman@lawcomms.com.