How Law Firms Can Bring Empathy Into Their Client-Facing Content
BY Tony Chiaramonte
From a law firm’s perspective, the COVID-19 crisis has affected prospective clients – whether that be a person, family or business. With over a million confirmed cases and 60,000 lost lives, many are dealing with direct impact of the corona virus. However, even for those who have not contracted the virus themselves and who are fortunate enough to not have lost any friends or family members, the pandemic has still had a measurable impact on their lives or businesses.
During these very difficult times, the need for legal marketing has not evaporated. In fact, for many practice areas, the pandemic may actually have the long-term effect of bringing in additional business. To capitalize on the potential for new business, law firms will need to be cognizant of their content and how it relates to those impacted by the crisis. By focusing on making content more empathetic, law firms will cultivate an image as being genuine, caring members of society, which is exactly the type of attorney many clients want working for them.
Before delving into how to effectively bring empathy into legal marketing content, it is essential to understand exactly what empathy is – and what it is not. Empathy is understanding someone’s feelings or thoughts from their perspective. This is different from sympathy, which is understanding and perhaps even experiencing someone else’s hardships. Essentially, sympathy is feeling pity for someone, whereas empathy is actually feeling what the other person feels.
Why Empathy Is Important
People want to be understood. Not just by their friends and family members, but also by those that they interact with. During periods of crisis or isolation (sound familiar?) it is easy for people to curl up into themselves, shutting out the outside world. Empathy has a way of putting people at ease and making them feel more comfortable. Sympathy, in some cases, can seem disingenuous and may turn potential clients away. Similarly, offering positive or encouraging comments can come off as insensitive if they are not delivered by someone who truly feels the recipient’s thoughts and feelings
While some may claim that legal marketing content cannot break down the barriers that are erected as the result of loss, anxiety or isolation, it certainly can help. Lawyers are in a unique position, having helped people overcome potentially life-changing issues, whether it be in the personal injury, criminal or business context. Perhaps better than many other professionals, lawyers understand what someone else is going through, because they have likely seen something similar hundreds of times before. But understanding what someone is going through only gets us part way to empathy. To be truly empathetic, we need to feel it.
To address the elephant in the room; lawyers are not known as empaths. In fact, a true empath would have a difficult time practicing in many areas of the law. Attorneys frequently deal with death, debilitating injuries, divorce, heartbreaking child-custody issues, the possibility of imprisonment and more. Lawyers cannot – and should not – take on their client’s feelings, as it would become difficult to be an effective advocate and may eventually lead down a path to depression. Thus, many lawyers consciously avoid being empathic, not because they are uninterested or uncaring, but because they know that doing so is counterproductive to both their obligation to the client and their own health.
Lawyers writing marketing content can, however, take a few steps to make the content they create appear more empathetic. This is not about being disingenuous, but about connecting with prospective clients on a level that they will understand and appreciate, even if the lawyer will eventually need to re-draw those boundaries in the future.
Find an Image of Your Target Audience and Try to Understand Them
The next step in bringing empathy into any type of content is to picture the target audience. You cannot feel what another is feeling if you do not understand what it is they are experiencing. While mentally bringing up a picture of the person in your head can be helpful, it may be even better to actually pull up a picture of a person going through the same issue as those in the target audience. This exercise can help an attorney fully process the situation from the client’s perspective, and may result in a more empathetic mind when writing content.
Create a Concrete Goal or Intention for the Piece
Perhaps the best place to start when thinking about bringing empathy into legal marketing content is to set a goal or intention for the piece. Take a few minutes and write out a few sentences at the top of the page (that can be deleted later). This will help give purpose to your work, and may make the writing process easier by providing a reference point that you can look to if you get stuck at any point in the process.
Use Personal Stories, Touching Testimonials or Fitting Anecdotes
Most who are experienced in legal marketing understand the power of a testimonial. Testimonials, by their very nature, are easier for potential clients to relate to. Reciting how an attorney might be able those dealing a certain legal issue may come off as dry and disconnected. However, by discussing a touching success story, client testimonial, or relevant anecdote, the reader will be more likely to connect with the content.
Focus Less on Promoting Your Firm, and More on Educating the Client
One of the keys to SEO content in general is to downplay the “marketing” aspect of the content. The same can be said when creating empathetic posts. Readers do not want to realize that they are the target of a marketing campaign, especially in the current climate. Thus, any content created around COVID-19 may be more effective if it eschews a marketing theme and instead focuses on providing prospective clients with the information they are looking for.
Read Things Other Than Legal Writing and Marketing Content
A good lawyer must be able to convincingly and passionately tell their client’s story. Yet, one of the first things law students learn in a legal writing class is that legal writing is not creative writing. To a large degree, lawyers write according to a formula and thinking outside the box is discouraged. And often, the same can be said for marketing content. To better understand prospective clients, and to feel what they are going through, attorneys should consider reading more non-legal writing. Non-fiction literature, in particular, is a good way to better understand the human condition, which may help attorneys connect with prospective clients.
Regardless of the type of law a firm practices, legal marketing is crucial to bringing in business. During the current crisis facing the country, many law firms’ physical offices are closed, but once society starts to open up, many firms will have the potential to capitalize on pent-up demand for their services. Some practice areas may even see an increase in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, firms should not pause their legal marketing campaigns, and instead firms can focus on bringing more empathy into their content in hopes of drawing in clients, many of which have suffered deeply over the past few months.
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