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The Drum

How digitally effective is the UK’s legal sector in 2021?

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Hit Search share findings from their report looking into digital effectiveness in the legal sector during COVID.

While some UK law firms have been fairly digitally capable for years now, others were undeniably lagging behind in their online presence and marketing strategies. 2020’s pandemic and subsequent lockdowns meant most of the new business leads coming from the legal sector’s traditional marketing channels and lead generation tactics disappeared overnight.

Networking events were cancelled, direct mail or coverage in the print media sent to offices had no staff there to see it and offline visual advertising saw a huge reduction in footfall eg bus shelters, billboards etc. Covid-19 essentially pushed law firms in the UK to focus online because it was and is still the only real way to bring in clients during this period of time.

Hitsearch are specialists in the legal marketing space, and we wanted to see just how well some of the UK’s biggest legal businesses are adapting to a much more digital focus. At the start of 2021, we took a deep dive into how effective the top 50 law firms in the country (by turnover) are in their online presence and activity and we’re now ready to share the somewhat surprising results of what we found.

What do we mean by digital effectiveness?

Essentially, we view digital effectiveness as a measure of how well a business are utilising technology and digital marketing to reach their target audience. For the purposes of our study, we looked at areas including:

  • Mobile optimisation of the law firm’s website

  • Content marketing

  • Email marketing

  • Search marketing (organic and paid)

  • Social media activity

  • Website user experience

  • Website speed

  • Accessibility

We developed a scale for measuring effectiveness in these areas and more, and scored each law firm based on their performance in each area, which enabled us to arrive at a digital effectiveness score overall for each legal business.

What did the study find?

You can download our free report to see the full findings and the league table of firms based on their overall digital effectiveness scores.

To give you a taste of what we discovered, some of our findings include:

  • Accessibility was a major issue for quite a few law firm websites, with one having over 130 accessibility errors on their homepage alone. Failing to make their website inclusive to online audiences with varying ways of accessing online information and content, law firms could be missing out on potential new clients as well as failing to meet the basic needs of many website users.

  • Website speed was another major issue that several big law firms fell short on. Not only does this turn off users but it’s also a strong ranking signal; even more so with May 2021’s Core Web Vitals update from Google.

  • SEO was clearly a priority for most of the law firms included in our study, as you’d expect, but only 20% of the legal businesses got full marks across the board for their search marketing efforts.

  • All of the top 50 law firms optimised their homepage for mobile browsing, but service pages (where organic searchers are probably more likely to land on the site) were a different story for some.

  • None of the ‘Big ten’ firms in terms of turnover actually appeared in the top ten of our digital effectiveness results.

What does digital effectiveness mean for the future of the legal sector?

Whilst the UK lockdowns have driven most legal services almost entirely online, this won’t always be the case. However, some things may be permanent, such as the expected rise in hybrid working, where previously 100% office-based staff are likely to instead split their time between the office and remote working on a permanent basis, as the current pandemic has shown that different ways of working can be beneficial to businesses and their workforce and customers/clients.

People who pre-pandemic were perhaps more likely to visit a local law firm office in person have been forced to meet their solicitor over a video call. Whilst for some, going back to the old ways of doing things are important to them, others will have found video calls more convenient and probably less daunting than in-person meetings, which might mean they would choose this route again and it now won’t matter where in the country their law firm are based.

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has been a huge disruptor of the legal sector and the ways in which law firms reach their existing and potential new clients. Law firms that have embraced these changes quickly and wholeheartedly are in a strong position as the pandemic situation continues to evolve and into the future.

Don’t forget to download the full report into digital effectiveness in the legal sector to find out more about our research and how UK law firms have fared in the study.

Andy Donaldson, director at Hitsearch