Benchmarking: Eliminating Law Firm Marketing Nightmares

May 4, 2023

Patrick Carver

Hi, I’m Patrick Carver / CEO, Constellation Marketing

I hope you enjoy listening to this podcast.
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Key Takeaways: 

  1. The Problem Right Now: Bad Communication Between Marketing Agencies and Law Firms
  2. The Importance of Benchmarking
  3. How Do you Benchmark?
  4. What Benchmarks Should You Use? Structured way to measure progress. 

Benchmarking: Eliminating Law Firm Marketing Nightmares

benchmarking your law firm marketing Eliminating Nightmares

Welcome to the Optimized Law Firm Podcast where we help you run a more profitable and enjoyable law firm. Today, we’re continuing to discuss the importance of metrics and attribution in your marketing efforts. 

A basic concept that truly goes a long way: Benchmarking. Tune into this episode with Constellation founder, Patrick Carver,  to learn more about how to avoid common pitfalls. 

And while we give you all this insight, truly, it should be your marketing agency holding themselves accountable. If you are ready to work with a true growth partner, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Read The Interview:

Welcome to another episode of the Optimize Law Firm podcast. This is the podcast where we help you run a more profitable and enjoyable law firm. My name is Patrick Carver. I am your esteemed host for today’s podcast. I’m also the owner of Constellation Marketing. We work exclusively with lawyers, work with over 75 law firms throughout the United States. Really excited to talk about this topic today, which is what I’m calling eliminating law firm marketing nightmares with benchmarking. I’m going to cover in detail what benchmarking is and how you can utilize it in your marketing campaigns and really get a better relationship with your marketing company, whether that’s us or someone else. 

Today really continues the progression of some other topics we’ve talked about in this series that often don’t really have anything to do with marketing strategies necessarily. It’s more about the glue or the infrastructure associated with your marketing campaigns and efforts. I’d like to talk about these because I think it’s really the root cause of a lot of animosity and strife that goes on between the marketing industry and law firms or any service provider, really in that sense. I think the problem as I see it is that there’s this disconnect between these two groups and that often leads to problems.


That’s what creates what we call this nightmare scenario. I think with a little bit of planning, a little bit of understanding as you go into your next relationship or taking this and looking at how you can improve maybe your current marketing relationship, you’ll not only have a better experience where you’ll get more value out of it, but you’ll also make more money and it will ultimately help your result if you can adopt this approach or create something similar that works for you. 

Common Problems in the Relationship Between Law Firms and Marketing Companies 

Without further ado, let’s get into it. I’ve gotten this broken down into about four parts. The first one I’ll go into what I see as the problem right now between our two warring groups, the marketers and the attorneys. But in reality, I talk with law firms every day, and I do get this sense that there’s a tremendous amount of frustration from the legal side, from law firms, and generally speaking, their relationship with marketing companies. I think that lack of performance or lack of having a good relationship is a key reason why we’ve been able to grow. Basically, we’ve doubled every year since we started about six years ago. I like to think we have great results and great people and stuff like that.

But I think a big part of this is that we do a good job of communicating and delivering results. We are able to succeed where I think others fail. For me, the problem is the current relationship between marketing companies and law firms because that typically does not look great. What specifically I’d like to highlight as to what makes that not look very healthy or good is that I see a common scenario playing out, which is that attorneys are busy. They know that they need to get help with marketing, and so they go and do their best, do due diligence, try to talk with a bunch of folks, hear from different people, friends and colleagues. They then go down this process of talking with firms and ultimately making a decision. I think going through some of that gives people a little PTSD where they may not like the sales process. They may not really care that much about marketing. No, they have to do it, but don’t really want to get into the details, and don’t want to learn so much. They want to practice law, which is totally, totally understandable and reasonable. But after that, I think that is where the problem comes.


I would suggest that when there’s a gap between that initial honeymoon period and then there’s really not that much scrutiny or, I guess, detailed check-ins and communication between the two groups in that first 30 days or first 60 and 90 days. 

I think that’s really where it breaks down because the scenario that I hear often with potential clients coming in, they will give me some version of this as where they’re coming from. They’ll say, I talked with this marketing company. They promised me all this stuff. They said that it would be easy. We’d have all these great results. I did my part, I was patient. I gave them six months or I gave them a year, and then nothing happened. 

Now you’re upset because you’ve wasted a bunch of money, you wasted a bunch of time, you feel deceived. I totally get that. I completely understand that. Look, I’m a business owner as well, so I completely understand that same feeling because we pay for marketing ourselves. Because there are things that we don’t do that we want help with, and it would be better to have people who are experts in it do those things as opposed to us trying to do it ourselves.


We are not immune from this. We have those same sorts of challenges with service providers. You, at least, or at some point, have probably been burned by a marketing company, whether that was… I break these down into a couple of different types of failures. You have different ones like dishonesty, right? But then you also have other people who are just ineffective.

Then the third one, I would say, is bad communication. No doubt, the people you’re working with or the people that you’ve had a bad experience with have fit into one of those three groups. Because I think based on my communication with attorneys when I have these discussions with them, I honestly think that a good portion of the firms that they’re working with that they ultimately leave unhappy about, I don’t think there’s necessarily deception or malicious  intent with them. I think it’s partly the fact that they were overly ambitious or they’re out of their area of expertise and ultimately the campaigns that they were running were ineffective. They simply were not able to get to the threshold of what you would consider success. Now, I know that that’s frustrating for a different reason, but I have to give the marketing industry just a little bit of assistance in terms of what I perceive is that the vast majority of people are deceptive and really just out to get a retainer.

I will not dispute that. There’s plenty of people out there who see lawyers as a big financial target. They’re willing to spend money. It makes a great area to focus on. But I think with this approach that we’re going to get into that this is going to be a better way that will help you. 


Importance of Benchmarking for Law Firm Marketing Success

Let’s get into the importance of benchmarking, explain what it is, and we’ll be able to map out how you can do this with your law firm as well. Benchmarking is essentially a measured trackable process for evaluating your performance of a marketing campaign. This is super important because ultimately, marketing is a gamble to some degree. Good companies will make it significantly less risky because they’re good at what they do. 


They have developed repeatable processes that allow them to get relatively predictable results. But when we’re talking about things that have lots of different variables that could go in any number of directions. There is an element of it being a gamble, and it’s more of an art than a science. The thing to remember overall when we’re talking about benchmarking is that you as a law firm owner should have an expectation that you are going to get to certain metrics that correlate with success, the success of your business in terms of revenue, in terms of exposure, the things that will then feed into getting you those new clients.


But it’s also not a straight line. If someone tells you that they can absolutely predict results, that they can guarantee placement on Google, that they can… Those sorts of things. They’re probably overly confident and maybe not lying, but they don’t have a real firm grasp. I think most serious marketers who do a good job with their work have some element of humility in the way they talk about their work, that they have a predictable repeatable process that generally gets good results. But that does not go without saying that over time during the course of a campaign over 3, 6, 9 months or a year, changes don’t have to be made to look at the facts on the ground, make adjustments, and ultimately get those results.

When we’re talking about why this is so important, you have to think about it because otherwise, you’re flying blind. There’s a number of benefits at the beginning of your relationship with your marketer to have these discussions where you ask questions like, Well, what does success look like to you? What are some of the key metrics that you think equate to success? By just setting this up and then putting them into a really simple schedule, you’re going to be able to tap into these benefits.


How Do You Benchmark? 


I’ve highlighted three here that I think are the most valuable associated with this benchmarking process that you go through with your marketers. So first, I would say that it allows you to avoid bad relationships and ultimately frustration. Think about the scenario I talked about at the beginning. You have picked someone and you put it on autopilot, did the set and forget method. Then nine months in, you’re like, Wait a second, I’ve spent all this money, all this time, energy, went into selecting these people, they’re supposed to be doing their job, and I haven’t seen a dollar back from it. You get a lot of your time and energy invested, but you’re not getting any real return. This type of process allows you to avoid those bad relationships, really, to begin with, because if they can’t prove whether you’re starting a new relationship or you have one and you’re simply trying to improve it, if they can’t create or implement these type of metrics, then you’re already in a bad situation. I would argue that you have no business working with this person in the first place because if they’re good at what they do, there should be some level of analysis and performance monitoring for what they do.


Because if not, they’re really just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping that the things that they believe work are going to work in your case. The other part of this is that it allows you to make good decisions quicker. Once you’re actually into a relationship and you do have some of the benchmarking items set up, this will allow you to hit the eject button sooner than later. Imagine, again, we go back to that scenario of you get in and you spend a full year with a company or God forbid you are working with Fine Law or another company that is going to put you into a one, two year, I’ve seen three year contracts where basically you have no recourse over whether or not they’re doing a good job or not. In any other relationship, for instance, we provide monthly contracts for this exact reason so that you have flexibility and can make these decisions quicker. You should not expect that if you are starting a website from scratch or just starting your practice that you’re going to get into a SEO campaign and in month three, you’re going to be ranking for the most competitive terms in a major metropolitan area.


Simply will not happen. But you can absolutely look at benchmarked results to see whether or not you’re on the right track. I’m going to go through an example of this in just a minute to paint the picture a little bit better. But you can lock on to those things and follow along the progression, whether it’s at month 3 or 6 or whatever. From there, then you really have a good feeling about, Okay, we’re on track or we’re off track. Instead of by month 9 or month 12, you can get that data within Month 3 or month 6. You’ll probably know whether or not it’s on the rails or not. The final benefit of this is empowerment in your business. I think a big part of the frustration with working with marketing companies is that for a lot of lawyers, it’s not in their wheelhouse. They are not experts or maybe tech savvy. It’s really hard to understand how some of this actually works, especially with search engine optimization. With ads, I think it’s a little bit more straightforward for most people to understand. But with SEO, it’s a little bit like black magic. I understand why there’s a lot of frustration about what people are doing with it and how it works and stuff like that.


The good thing with benchmarking is that you don’t have to worry so much about the method of how it’s actually working. You can tie yourself to the results. Then as a business owner, you don’t have to put on yourself, put the burden on yourself of becoming an expert at SEO or advertising. And instead, you are just an expert at operating your business. And so whether it’s the same framework that if you have with an employee or employee is the best description or example, you’re going to give them benchmarks. So you’re going to develop some way to figure out if they are doing a good job beyond just your gut sentiment. That’s what you want to apply here. I would highly recommend you work with your marketing provider to get those and then reference other folks, people who you trust and other lawyers to see if that matches up with what they’re seeing as well. With that, you’ll get so much more confidence within your business that you know what’s happening, you know why it’s happening, and you’ll be able to comfortably know whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. I think that’s really one of the biggest things with this is that it gives you that confidence, gives you that empowerment so that you can ultimately make better decisions.


But before we get into how you benchmark and what you should actually use, I will say there’s two things that you need to think about on your side. This process is absolutely a two way street. It is certainly the responsibility of the marketer to have all of this and provide it and really be thinking about it and working on it because it’s their job. But on the flip side, you need to also have goals for yourself. You need to have goals for your business and you can really just keep it pretty simple by just looking at how many new cases per month that you want or if it’s a specific revenue goal or something like that. That really makes it black and white in terms of the metrics and the benchmarks that you should be looking at. If we were to go back and look at how that would play out for a year, we would want to have basic benchmarks. By month 3, we want to have one new case in or three or five or whatever the number is through the marketing efforts. And then by month six, we want 10.


And then by month 12, we should be producing 15 or 20 or whatever that number is. You want to have just some level of identification of what that would be. You may change that. You may adjust it over time, or that may be ultimately unrealistic. But by just going in and saying, Well, we want as many as you can get. I want as many as I can get. I’m not going to say it’s a cop out for marketers or something like that because I don’t think that’s not what I’m trying to say here. But it creates this situation where the success is binary and you are then coming back at six months, at nine months, whatever that is, and you’re basically saying, Is it good or bad? If you’re not watching the video, I’m doing the thumbs up, thumbs down Gladiator signal. It’s just  you determine, often, what I’ve noticed by gut feeling like, Well, it was good, or it was bad. And you don’t really have any specifics that you can attribute that to. So you need to think about your goals and what you feel like is reasonable. Your goals may not be reasonable with the amount of money that you’re prepared to invest.


It just depends on your practice area, on your market, types of cases you’re going after, all sorts of stuff. But with that said, once you bring your part to the table, then the marketing team should have the plan for how they are going to accomplish that and in what time frame. It may change or get adjusted over time, but that is what you are essentially asking for them to provide to you. You are going to have the goals, they’re going to have how it actually gets done. Let’s move on to how you actually go about doing this in a practical sense and how you can benchmark a free business. I’ll tell you how we do it. It’s going to vary based on the company you work with, but we’ve essentially created a structured way to measure progress, and we do this on a monthly, quarterly, [00:21:52.460] and yearly basis. The first part of what we do is set up basically introductory questions when you’re coming in. What we’re asking for are things like, how many cases are you getting currently? Where do you want to grow? What types of cases? How many cases do you want to grow in the next month?


What Benchmarks Should You Use? Structured way to measure progress

benchmarking your law firm marketing Identify Metrics


What would be a big win? Are certain cases better than others? All that stuff. Then what would you like at the end of a year? What would a great success look like? Then based on that, we essentially have our status quo metric and then our goal metric. Then on a monthly basis, we are filling in that data to determine whether or not we are at, are we beating, are we missing out on the goal that the client has described? Then we do that on a quarterly and yearly basis so that we can look back at that initial goal and say, Okay, you told us you wanted two extra cases per month, and it looks like we’ve done that in all but… We’ve done that in five or six months or something like that. It looks like we’re trending in the right direction. The SEO is starting [00:23:13.570] to work. The past two months, you’ve gotten three and then four cases. Yes, we’re moving in that direction. You told us by the end of the year you wanted to have 10 new cases per month, and we are at five right now, and we’re moving in the right direction.


That’s a very simple way to just go and track every single month that you have a conversation with the marketer and then put that down into a quarterly and yearly structure. Like I said, these things are going to change. It’s more of an art than a science. The reality may be different than what both parties thought. The market may be more expensive, things like that. You want to build in a little bit of flexibility, but ultimately, you should be utilizing a marketing company who has experience doing exactly what you’re after, whether that’s improving your criminal law business, your revenue, or if it’s immigration or whatever that is, they should have credible, repeatable experience doing that, and they can give you a much more accurate benchmarking set up or a number set of numbers [00:24:32.410] for your benchmarking process than somebody who’s just going to say, Well, we’re going to do really great. We’re going to get you a bunch of cases and go from there. When you’re getting into it, have that idea in the back of your head, but also ask your marketing company for this stuff and say, Look, here’s my goal. What’s a realistic path to get there?


How long do you envision it would do that? Let’s map out this next six months together and you tell me what is reasonable. Then you have your built in accountability for the marketing company because you are not coming in and saying, I want the moon. You are getting them to produce what they feel in their experience is going to be an achievable goal. Then from there, hold them accountable for it. Set calendar events. If they don’t do a monthly or quarterly check in with you, or they’re not doing reporting or something like that, set your calendar up on the first day as soon as you sign that contract. Set up some increments that you feel comfortable with, whether that’s monthly, bi monthly, quarterly, to go in and have those more [00:25:53.570] detailed checkpoints. You should now be armed with all of the data that you need. Put that into your calendar. Go ahead, set the calendar event up well in advance. That way you don’t have to think about it. You can basically focus on the other parts of your business until that next meeting. Moving into the fourth section, what benchmark should you actually use. 


I see lawyers often making the mistake of coming in and trying to become the experts on SEO or  ads. Now, I do think there is value in understanding this. The famous phrase I hear, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this is, I know enough to be dangerous. That’s helpful, but not really a lot of the time. But what I want to stress here is that as the business owner and operator, you should not be spending your time going line by line and assessing deliverables. That is not the way to assess the value of your marketing company. It’s a waste of your time. It doesn’t really always translate to the outcomes and the results, which is ultimately what you should be after. Your benchmarks [00:27:20.370] really should just be a reflection of your revenue, ultimately. That is for us the most important part of what we’re reporting on. We want to actually connect that line and make a straight line from our marketing efforts, whether that’s SEO or advertising or social media, all the way to the point where you get paid because that’s the clearest  way that we can show value.


We’ve made the mistake in the past of focusing on leads or focusing on other metrics like keyword rankings and stuff like that. It’s a big mistake for us because we didn’t get into the details of the actual revenue. In certain situations, we thought we were doing a really good job, but we saw our clients’ websites just lighting up with new leads. But ultimately, the leads weren’t the type of leads that they really needed or wanted. It was this false sense of security or false sense of accomplishment with it. Over time, we have evolved because we’ve made that mistake. People have left and been unhappy, rightfully so, that they didn’t get the result they wanted. That’s why you should not be focusing on a lot of the metrics that I see get thrown around in marketing company reports, [00:28:50.520] you’re going to see stuff like impressions and overall keyword rankings and things like that as the bottom line metric. Now, there is a place for these metrics, but what often happens is those get equated with success themselves. That is not what you want. Those other types of metrics and the way we think about this is in three phases.


If you think about the marketing funnel, you have the top, what we would call visibility, and that includes keywords. Overall keywords, keywords on the first page of Google, just overall presence on Google and in ads on social. You have this top layer visibility that drops down to actual traffic. It doesn’t do you any good if people go and see you in the search results, but then they don’t actually click on your page to go to your website or go to your ad. We have that traffic layer. Then we have leads below that. That is even another step below in terms of importance. But ultimately, we want to know one tier below that and to actual attributable clients and the amount of revenue that that produced because that’s ultimately what we want to know at the end of every single month with our client strategists. We want to know how [00:30:17.170] much revenue our efforts produce for you and is there anything else we can do to improve that number and get it even higher for you and accomplish your business goals? Going back to how I set this up at the beginning, you want to have benchmarks.


If you’re starting a new relationship with somebody and you don’t have a website, you’re just getting started with your new firm or something like that, you are not going to be able to month one get a ton of results. If you’re doing ads and stuff like that, that’s a little bit of a different beast. You can absolutely get good results doing ads in the first month. The point I’m making is that with something like search engine optimization, it takes time. It takes time, especially if you are starting from scratch. So if you’re doing it, which it’s a great idea, it helps you build a really solid foundation for producing business for years to come. But you don’t want to simply evaluate it on whether or not it produced clients in the first three months. There are specific benchmarks that your marketer can give you to show you the progression of what you should be [00:31:32.290] looking for or expecting on that three, six, nine year timeline. You have to evaluate the whole funnel to get clarity on whether or not it’s a valuable endeavor and whether or not you’re getting the results that you have. In this scenario that I’m talking about throughout this discussion, the new law firm, you’re starting from scratch and you are building a website, you’re doing SEO, you’re doing advertising, you’re doing the work.


You want to have multiple benchmarks. So if you’re doing advertising, you’re going to want to be getting clients basically in the first month. That’s what we strive for. We want to get you a client. Our goal is always to get you a client in under 30 days. If not by 60 days, absolutely, you should be getting that because they should be a value weighting that campaign on a daily basis and helping you adjust it to get it dialed in and get you exactly the type of client you want. Now, on the flip side, for SEO, your benchmark will look a little bit different. You should start getting keywords found on Google. Then by month two, you should maybe have some on the second page. Then by month three or month six, maybe that’s translating into 50 users or 25 users or something like that. Then you also want to have a lead by then. Then by month nine is [00:33:07.990] when things really would start to progress in terms of being able to get you the actual business. When you’re thinking about SEO and benchmarking for success, you want to give it about a year’s timeline in terms of when you will start to really get your investment back.


Then it will start to really amplify and get those compounding benefits that you think about the stock market with it. Set it up a little bit differently for those two. But again, talk with your marketing provider about this from the beginning, and they will be able to set you up with some reasonable estimates. It’s also on you to be realistic and be reasonable with those outcomes. Now, you have to and only you will be able to determine how much lease you should give these folks. And is this in the normal range of fluctuation of performance? Or did they set this up and they were just completely wrong with what was reasonable or what they’re actually able to fulfill? Definitely [00:34:29.490] put time into it. Think about it, be methodical about it, but also be a little bit flexible. Then you’re going to have this nice path to be able to get, capture as much value as possible from your marketing company and ultimately get the results that you want so you can grow your business. 

Thank you for sticking around with me. I know this got into the weeds a little bit, but I think this type of discussion is so important because it sets the tone for how you will be able to grow your business and ultimately allows you to make smart financial decisions and the decisions that are going to propel your business forward.

benchmarking your law firm marketing Developing Insights

Final Tips


A couple of final tips with this in mind. Number one, don’t sign long contracts because this is going to eliminate your ability to have any recourse if they are not meeting those benchmarks. Number two, start small and then upgrade as you get more knowledgeable. We will often start clients who are maybe skeptical about marketing or been burned with a smaller plan. So we’ll start with advertising and then move into SEO after we’ve shown we’re able to get you a return on your investment and can use some of that cash to invest in the things that will provide a longer benefit. So don’t worry about trying to jump all in at once because companies should be able to accommodate you. If they’re a good company who stands on the results, they’re not really worried about maximizing the amount of revenue that they’re going to get from you in month one because they’re going [00:36:09.780] to stand on their results and they’ll know that they can then continue to upsell you as you go and as they’ve proven value. It’s a two way street. The other part of this is number three, make the marketing company lead the discussion instead of trying to be the expert.


I see companies coming in often and they don’t have a marketing background. They’re not extremely knowledgeable. They’ve heard, they’ve tried to do their best to learn, but then they come in and say, Well, I want to know when I’m going to be on the first page for 100 keywords. Some arbitrary number that they’ve heard is important. I think that’s a mistake because it can let the marketing company off the hook because they come in, it’s like, Okay, yeah, we met your goal. But is that the right goal? Is that the goal that is going to lead to increased revenue for you? I think often it’s probably not, or it’s not the best one to look at. The final part is to be accountable and consistent. Be consistent in terms of speaking with your marketing company, checking in on those benchmarks, and having a conversation with them to better understand it, see what they’re seeing, and [00:37:25.320] then ultimately you can apply that pressure to them so that they know you are going to be there and want to talk about this stuff. They’re going to be on their P’s and Q’s and make sure they’re actually performing to the degree with which you’re expecting and you both mutually agreed on.


But also be accountable on your side because I also see a challenge, too, that lawyers have when they sign up, they set it and forget it. They go focus on cases for the future, and then they come back and they’re like, What happened? I’ve spent all this money and nothing’s really happened. As a business owner, it’s on us to go and hold people accountable and focus on that. I hope you see with this discussion that it doesn’t have to be some big enormous time suck or process that you need to be able to create benchmarks and do that benchmarking throughout the year.  Best of luck as you go through this process. If you have any questions regarding what your benchmark should be or get another perspective on your current marketing efforts, I would love to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time today [00:38:43.310] and best of luck with your firm.


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