Just as you would leave no lead unfollowed in defending someone accused of a crime, you should also conduct in-depth investigations of other criminal law firms and lawyers to be competitive.
A competitive analysis is a process by which you evaluate how your competitors market themselves and potential clients perceive them. It involves understanding their services, reputation, and marketing tactics. This provides opportunities to create a legal marketing strategy that competes with their strengths and capitalizes on their deficits.
If your competitor uses flashy billboards all over town to advertise her criminal law practice and you don’t have the budget to do so, you may think you can’t compete. You wouldn’t be alone in feeling that way, as 57% of the small law firms surveyed by Thomson Reuters in 2018 reported that keeping up with competition from other firms in their practice area was a significant or moderate challenge. Instead of giving up, see how her website and content marketing looks or check out where she ranks in a Google search. Intel like this can help you decide how to market your criminal law firm so that clients find you when they need you.
The first step in performing a competitive analysis is figuring out who your competitors are. If you live in a small town with only three criminal law attorneys in the area, this step is pretty easy. However, what if you live in a larger city and it seems everywhere you look, from billboards to local television ads, you see criminal law attorneys offering their services?
To drill down further, divide the other criminal law firms into two categories: Direct and indirect competitors. Your direct competitors offer the exact same service as you, whether that’s a general criminal law practice representing all defendants or a niche focusing on allegations like driving while intoxicated or even murder.
Focus on your direct competitors, at least to start.
Where to Find Competitive Intelligence
Here are the six places for you to learn about your criminal law competitor and what to look for to perform a competitive analysis:
- Website – A criminal law website is a treasure trove of competitive intelligence. Read about the services they provide; their longevity, size, and history; and successes and awards. Pay attention to the website itself and notice if it looks sleek and professional or was put together 15 years ago by the attorney’s college-aged nephew. Is it outdated? Easy to navigate? Are there typos? Be sure to check out the news or press release area to get a sense of their content marketing strategy, including how frequently the attorneys write and appear in the news.
- Google Search – Think about the keywords a potential client would use to find a criminal law attorney and perform a search using them. See who ranks high and include them in your competitive analysis. Do a variety of searches using general terms like “criminal attorney near me” and more niche keywords such as “DUI attorney.”
- Social Media – Like a website, a criminal law firm’s social media profile will also contain details about the practice. However, social media profiles also offer a glimpse into how the firm or attorney is being received. Notice what they are posting about and how often. Check to see how many followers they have on each platform and how much those followers like, comment on, and share their posts. Importantly, look for reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, and Avvo.
- Presentations – Get a sense of your criminal law competitors’ communication styles, personalities, and knowledge by watching any seminars or workshops they present. These can be continuing legal education webinars or community presentations. These might be easily available online, but an opportunity to watch a live presentation could yield a lot of beneficial insight. Watching your competitor in court to see how he interacts with clients, families, the judge, and courtroom staff is another way to collect observations.
- Advertising – Often, you don’t have to look hard for criminal law advertisements. Notice where they are appearing, who they are targeting, what services they are providing, and even how they may come across. If the competitor seems smarmy, cheesy, or egotistical, and you’re not, you’ve just collected a useable marketing differentiator.
- Internal Sources – Client feedback from intake calls, your CRM, and other communications with past and current clients might include references to your competitors — specifically, what led your client to call you instead of one of them. Look back for that information and look forward for opportunities to hear about competitors from current or future clients.
How to Use Competitive Intelligence
You’ve researched, read, and observed, so now it’s time to take the intelligence you collected on your criminal law competitors and put it to use for you. Here’s how:
- Compare the services offered by the other criminal law firms and attorneys to yours. This includes not just looking at what’s offered, but how it’s offered. The tone, look, and feel of their marketing materials will leave you feeling positive or negative toward the service. Use that feeling to put yourself in a prospective client’s shoes and adapt aspects you like in your marketing and leave off those you don’t. Also, determine if the competitor is focused on specific niche areas of criminal law, potentially leaving opportunities for you to highlight in your marketing what you do differently or to expand your practices to fill a gap.
- A key part of a legal marketing strategy is knowing who your target audience is. Using what you learned about your competitors, create a profile of their target clients based on demographics, needs, income levels, etc. This analysis will show who you could also be potentially marketing to and who you shouldn’t bother with because that market is already saturated.
- A value proposition is what differentiates you from your competitors. It shows your value to potential clients to entice them to choose you over your competitors. Competitive intelligence is foundational in creating a value proposition.
- Like a value proposition, an elevator speech can also be informed by competitive intelligence. It may be that a major selling point to your service is that you are different than the competitor. This information comes from those feelings you had when reviewing competitors’ websites, ads, presentations, and other materials.
- Reviewing competitors’ content on their websites, social media channels, and Google searches will help you determine what people are interested in. If there are topics that generate a lot of interest, write about those, too. Likewise, if there are topics you think are critical or interesting and no one is writing about those, then you’ve identified an opportunity to stand out.
- Look objectively at your website and ask if it competes with your competitors’ websites. If not, it might be time for a new website or a website refresh.
- How well criminal law competitors rank in Google searches is based on search engine optimization or SEO. Compare your website content to theirs to look for ways to incorporate more keyword-rich information so that you can boost your SEO.
Knowing what your criminal law competitors are doing right and wrong can give you a lot of direction in creating your own legal marketing strategy. Competitive analysis should be performed regularly to ensure your practice is staying relevant and visible in what is likely an already competitive market.