James Sokolove is a successful trial lawyer. Right? Wrong. He’s a marketing expert that generated 950,000 in-bound calls and 12,000 new cases last year. He distributes these leads to firms described as “affiliates” and accounted for more than $700 million in billings last year. He doesn’t try cases; his Wellesley Massachusetts-based firm is a highly specialized marketing agency.
Here’s an excerpt from a profile in Boston Magazine that’s cited in the Above the Law blog (the Boston Magazine article is no longer available online).
Despite his prodigious success and his omnipresent image as a bulldog attorney, Sokolove hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom in nearly three decades. Truth be told, he’s argued only one case before a jury; it was back in the early 1970s, and he lost. It wasn’t tenacious lawyering that allowed Sokolove to build a legal empire, but rather his prowess as a businessman and an innovator.
Many years ago after taking over his father’s law practice the firm was struggling financially. He needed new business so he decided to advertise. That’s what most businesses do, but not law firms. In the staid world of law, advertising was a radical idea. A distasteful idea. In fact, Sokolove continues to be criticized for the vast amount of advertising that he purchases. The target market isn’t very fun to think about — most of his ads are for medical negligence, personal injury and product liability — but there’s no questioning his business acumen. He saw a gaping hole in the legal landscape and he filled it.
He developed a brilliant business model based on presenting the image of a one firm and one brand, but reaching scale by creating a network of affiliates around the country. With this scale he can buy high volumes of advertising and have a network of lawyers who can take on the demand. The exact structure of business relationships isn’t published, but it’s likely that Sokolove gets a fee per lead and a percentage of fees collected. Unquestionably it’s a lucrative business.
If you go to Sokolovelaw.com it looks like a huge law firm with James Solove as its public face. Their real mission isn’t apparent until you click on the subtle “for lawyers” link at the top of the page. This is where you can find the amazing stats and information about their marketing engine. Here’s an excerpt:
As the nation’s #1 plaintiff case generation firm, Sokolove Law shares your vision and your success. We have the extensive experience to manage lead generation and case qualification – so you can focus on what’s most important to you: litigation.
And here’s the intro video that explains their marketing services in more detail.
This is all very interesting as a business story, but how can it apply to your sales and marketing efforts? It seems there are several take-aways from the Sokolove phenomenon that apply to all businesses.
Scale matters. When it comes to promotions and advertising, the bigger the better. Although recent trends are towards more targeted keywords and interests, it will always be more cost effective to buy in bulk. It’s easier to build a brand when you’re buying media across the country or throughout the world.
Marketing is a specialized talent. Sokolove filled a void with his marketing services, but he’s still good at finding what resonates and he still tunes the message over time to create optimal response. He (and his staff of 140+ people) have a full in-house digital agency and keeping refining their craft. For more details, read this article in Boston Business Journal about their expansion into digital marketing.
Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest. It’s hard for good lawyers to be good marketers. For many it makes sense to outsource marketing to Sokolove. They can focus on what they’re best at: trying cases. This isn’t unique in the business world. Franchise owners enjoy the benefits of specialized marketing and branding conducted by the parent company. Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Jiffy Lube, and thousands of other franchises work well because they can focus on operating their franchises rather than spending time with marketing.
Don’t accept convention. Lawyers don’t advertise. That’s what everyone believed. Sokolove saw it differently. He was willing to break with convention and help provide a much-needed service that’s worth millions. If someone tells you “we just don’t do that” don’t be afraid to ask why and test what happens if you go in a different direction. The best promotions and the best products are the ones that surprise. It’s difficult to move in opposition to the herd, but that’s where the greener grass can often be found.