An Internet Marketing Strategy – Some Implications

November 1, 1998

General Principles

Similar general principles arise in each case. The first is that the practice must consider its definition of ‘marketing’. It has been described as ‘the management of the relationship between the firm and its clients, existing and potential, so as to achieve the partners’ practice objectives’.

The development of a relationship must involve two-way communication, management of the exercise, and the subsequent relationship with the client. Communication and information are essential to any marketing strategy.

When marketing, a practice must consider the services it wishes to provide, how, and who is, to provide them, how it will charge and how it will promote them. In marketing terms, these are known at the famous four Ps – Product (service), Place (location), Price and Promotion.

How will the practice organise itself to develop its marketing strategy? The initiative should originate with, and be driven by, those at the head of the organisation – the partners. In turn, the partners will need to gain the commitment, understanding and participation of the staff.

The practice will then need to consider its marketing strategy. There are various types of strategy and the marketing plan should identify a number of promotional activities with specified objectives in a specific time span.

The key point is that only promotion which is useful to the client is likely to succeed and that marketing promotion which does not address client need will probably be unproductive.

The Internet

In the case of an Internet marketing strategy, the practice will need to consider, in addition, its technology. The technology must be supported by, and included in, the business plan of the practice. The practice may need to review its existing technology, identify technology that is needed and assess the awareness of its staff, the strengths and weaknesses of any current systems and the human resources available to operate it.

The practice must also assess the needs of the clientele it intends to reach in implementing its (Internet) marketing strategy. The practice will need to focus on those needs and (reasonable) aspirations. Communication is an essential element of client care. Different clients require different levels of communication and the practice will need to assess the type and degree of communication needed to achieve its objectives. Before embarking upon any strategy, therefore, the practice must identify its target clientele, ascertain its needs and define its objectives in terms of meeting those needs.

Internet Technologies

Broadly, there are four components of the Internet technologies with which legal practice will be concerned:

  • e-mail

  • the World Wide Web

  • intranets – a way of linking an organisation’s computers together upon which knowhow and information within the organisation is stored

  • extranets – closed site access by certain external parties relevant to the organisation.

All these technologies are important in the context of marketing because they involve communication and information.

E-mail enhances communication because of the instantaneous nature of communication that it offers.

Web sites provide information. A marketing plan will need to determine why the practice wishes to invest resources in a Web presence and will want to look at the clientele to whom it wishes to direct its Web strategy. An attractive informative Web site is an effective and convenient way to achieve online interactive communication and obtain valuable client feedback. The curiosity of the client can be fed to create information exchange and turnover, attracting attention and increasing frequency of use.

An intranet offers an opportunity for the organisation to assemble and collate its know-how in a manageable and accessible way, enabling quick, accurate and up-to-date advice to be offered to clients.

An extranet networks the client – enabling participation in the conduct of instructions – for instance, amendment and approval of documents – enhancing and facilitating the working relationship. The extranet may be particularly important, therefore, for the management of a particular client relationship.

Two emerging technologies require mention – ‘push’ and ‘pull’ technology. ‘Push’ technology enables information needed by end-users to be sent pro-actively – ‘pushing’ information onto the desktop, such as time-critical information. ‘Pull’ technology offers information or services that ‘pull’ the user into the relationship.

These technologies enable information to be tailored – for example, customised publishing where information is specifically tailored for a particular group of visitors.

Internet Marketing in Commerce

Customers visiting Web sites want information and data but, primarily, instant gratification. A site should, therefore, be entertaining, educational, useful and enable personalised transactions.

This provides feedback so that information is acquired about customers that might be of potential use to the enterprise. The effect is that a potential global market begins to break down into a number of more personalised markets. Individual markets can then be identified. More information emerges and the enterprise, having control of this information, can tailor its services and products to meet specific customer needs. This may be referred to as personalisation.

An interesting example at the Internet World UK ’97 Spring Conference was that of the Durex Web site. Health care is a critical issue. Speaking at the conference, the new media manager for Durex explained that the company wished to portray values of trust, reliability, proven standards, forethought, understanding and an appreciation of customer needs. The company decided to broaden the scope of its Web site to include educative and consumer interest issues, promotional material, market research information, exhibition information and conference advertising opportunities. The idea was to create a customer relationship through the products and services offered by the company.

This ability to provide promotional advice or information and simultaneously provide goods or services through a Web site, effectively, fuses promotion with the provision of the service. This may be referred to as ‘fusion’.

Marketing on the Internet, therefore, involves not only management of the relationship through the provision of promotional information, but also includes the service itself.

Internet and Legal Practice

Communication and information are essential for the provision of legal services. Considering this, it is surprising that a relatively small percentage of practices have Web sites.

The content of these sites varies from the provision of basic information about the practice for general browsers, to the provision of some legal information with a degree of interactivity where clients can pose questions or where answers to frequently asked questions are posted. A small number of firms now offer specific legal services through their Web sites.

The growth of the Internet in the legal profession is likely to be driven by market forces. There is a deflationary influence upon fees arising from the need to deliver high quality legal services at lower cost. One method of meeting these demands is through the speed and increased efficiency offered by technology, which, in turn, reduces unit cost and facilitates competitive advantage.

The Internet technologies have the potential to introduce new concepts of practice. For instance, at an Internet Seminar on 24 June 1997, ‘Getting to Grips with the Internet’, David Osborne described the use of Internet technology as introducing a new business model. He suggested that the old model of ‘hierarchy’ is replaced by the new model of ‘networks’; ‘self-sufficiency’ is replaced by interdependency; ‘individual achievement’ is replaced by team work; ‘task’ is replaced by process; the ‘local market’ is replaced by the global model; ‘cost’ is replaced by a new model – (reduction in) time; ‘profit’ is replaced by client retention; ‘capital’ is replaced by information.


Although the Internet offers obvious opportunities for developing and enhancing client relationships through personalisation, a number of constraints arise. These apply generally to any enterprise undertaking Internet marketing and there are also specific difficulties which face legal practices.

Lawyers will be aware of issues that arise over the publication of content containing information or advice and disclaimers, and problems that can arise over the formation of contracts. Particular difficulties arise where Web sites are linked to one another and information is obtained from a linked site. How far is that information deemed to given by the original site?

The global nature of the Internet gives rise to problems of jurisdiction and also the potential difficulty of disseminating information on a Web site where the content or the manner in which it is published may infringe civil or criminal codes.

Statute also provides some constraints. Any organisations supplying goods or services will need to take account of consumer protection legislation and will be bound by the principles embodied in the data protection legislation.

Significant difficulties arise over the question of security and confidentiality. Encryption software is available but, so far, does not seem to have the confidence of the marketplace. Linked to confidentiality are problems as to verifying the identity of both sender and receiver of e-mail.

If services are to be offered over the Internet, the question of electronic payment systems arise. These are embryonic and subject to a lack of confidence in their security. They also carry certain weaknesses. Card details are available over the Internet; central processing inevitably involves costs; market penetration in the developed world is possible but a vast number of people have no card; and there is a risk of exposure of expending pattern.

For law firms, there are particular additional problems – for example, observance of the Solicitors Publicity Code; The Law Society’s Code of Advocacy; the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion; the Solicitors Overseas Practice Rules; and the International Code of Ethics of the International Bar Association.

Up to now, there has been little evidence of any action taken upon any (alleged) infringement of these regulations and there is little or no evidence available to date of difficulties that have arisen on the more general issues of law that have been described. This may be because the novelty of the technology has not yet given rise to difficulties that have needed resolution through the courts.

Conventional and Internet Marketing – a Comparison

Conventional marketing strategies commonly involve lectures, seminars, sponsorship, direct mail and similar types of activity. The belief is that these events provide clients with updated information in areas of law which may affect their personal or business lives. The types of promotion will be geared to what is considered to be most effective to meet the client’s interest. However, conventional marketing strategies have certain disadvantages in terms of cost, expense and the commitment of those concerned in their implementation. More importantly, in the context of Internet marketing, the direction of the approaches are frequently generalist in nature and may not be specific to client need. Further, the generalist nature of the exercise makes it difficult to draw specific conclusions upon its effectiveness. Conventional marketing strategies are directed at a target audience but the content of the information may not be specifically tailored to the needs of the client for it to be of added value.

By contrast, the Internet technologies, through e-mail, Web site content, intranets, extranets and ‘push’ and ‘pull’ technologies, enable personalised information tailored to the needs of the client to be delivered electronically. The fusion of promotion and the provision of the service tailored to individual need personalises the customer/client relationship in a way in which conventional marketing cannot match.

However, conventional marketing is certainly free of some of the constraints affecting the Internet: there is a reasonable certainty of the law, its application and enforcement; there is a reasonable certainty of jurisdiction because of the absence of the global element; security issues are absent because the activity is promotional; there is no fusion of the promotion and provision of the service, so issues of confidentiality do not arise; and the application of codes and professional regulations is definitive and identifiable.

Potential Organisational Changes

Personalisation (through the Internet technologies) enables client-specific information to be delivered. This raises the question of how far a practice might wish to concentrate on meeting the needs of particular clients through the personalisation process and the consequential change in the relationship.

Legal practices may need to reconsider the nature of the relationship they have with clients. Do they continue with general conventional marketing strategies (which may not address the needs of the client)in which they find clients for the services they offer – or do they focus more closely on the personalisation process, providing services which meet specific client needs.

If they choose the latter, legal practices may find themselves handling fewer clients but in a far more personalised way. This may require a re-evaluation of the management structure of the organisation, because, while traditional markets treat customers (clients) the same, the personal marketing plan evaluates needs.

This may involve, in turn, for example, development of a specific client management structure. Clients may be valued by groups based upon their similar needs and assigned a manager to each portfolio. The manager’s responsibility might be to manage each relationship, supported by another manager whose task would be to decide how to tailor the firm’s production logistics and service delivery to meet the needs of the client. This has been discussed, in terms of commerce, in ‘The Enterprise – One to One’.

This gives rise to a problem for those firms which choose to develop a personalised clientele. While their expertise in the provision of services within their niche area will be a distinct advantage in the personalised marketplace, there will be various areas where clients require assistance which are beyond the expertise of the practice.

The impact of the Internet may result in two types of clientele. There will be a tier of clients whose services are so specialised that marketing and provision of services over the Internet are the most appropriate. There may be another tier of clients for whom a more generalised knowledge base will be desirable (not necessarily legal knowledge) and in this respect one is reminded of the latent legal market foreseen by Dr Richard Susskind, which, he says, ’emerges from the countless instances in domestic and business life which would benefit from legal input but where this has been too costly or impracticable to achieve in the past’.

Whatever the outcome, the Internet technologies promise to impact in a variety of ways upon the way legal practices develop their relationships with their clients.

This contribution was drawn from research undertaken as part of a Masters Programme in Advanced Legal Practice.

Rupert Kendrick, a non-practising solicitor, has recently completed a Masters Programme in Advanced Legal Practice. He may be contacted on 01234 845720.