Although he rarely seeks the spotlight, Chip LaFleur is the intrepid leader and mentor behind the LaFleur Legal Marketing team. To put a stamp on the resolution of LaFleur Legal Marketing’s second calendar year of growth and success, we decided to sit down with Mr. LaFleur for a special interview to discuss what he’s learned so far and what he sees for the legal marketing world going forward.
LaFleur Legal Marketing: Let’s start with how you came to legal marketing. How did that happen, and why did it make sense at the time?
Chip LaFleur: It really started with a relationship I had with an attorney, which started two agencies back. I had worked with him at that agency, but he wanted something different that my former agency couldn’t provide. When I left, we worked with him at the new organization and we did better, but we still couldn’t provide everything he needed.
When I created LaFleur Legal Marketing, I started to kind of craft who I wanted to bring in based on what this client’s needs were. And the more we worked with them, the more we realized a generalized agency couldn’t effectively serve someone like that. There’s just too much nuance in the law, too many rules the bar associations give you, and too deep of an understanding that you have to develop over time.
So, working with that first client, having a lot of conversations to find out their needs and what they wanted to see in an agency — that’s really what shaped the company early on. And then we started to craft that approach further and formed LaFleur Legal Marketing to make sure the focus was going to stay on legal marketing.
LLM: When you started to put together an initial core team for a legal marketing agency, what were you looking for? What kinds of skillsets and personalities were on your radar?
CL: Well, the focus specifically was on finding great writers. People who were not just good writers but who had good training, who were well-rounded as writers — partially because I expected that the attorneys we work with would be very specific about what they want. They’re not going to want to find typos or grammar issues. So we wanted writers who could reflect the branding of the firms we work with and meet exacting expectations.
Also, that had been a point of contention at previous agencies on the occasions I had worked with attorneys. Previously I had worked at an SEO firm, and the biggest pushback there was often the quality of the content, because it was not written by someone who really had a deep understanding of the law or who could speak to the nuances. So it was this very surface-level, superficial content, and I knew we were going to need more than that if we wanted to succeed with a focus on content marketing.
LLM: When setting your vision for this company, were there things you knew you didn’t want to or didn’t need to do to create a successful agency based on your past experiences?
CL: In terms of culture, when you see this huge focus on working 50, 60, 70 hours a week, we don’t have that. I’m a big believer in making conclusions based on data, and there’s a lot of data that makes me believe you can get as much done in 40 hours consistently as opposed to working 60 hours week in and week out. The data says that after a couple weeks of that pace, you’re less productive than someone who’s working 40 hours.
LLM: There’s a big culture around that in startups, though. It’s almost a badge of honor or a rite of passage when it comes to putting in those 60-hour work weeks. It takes a little bit of courage to push back against that.
CL: I think it’s fair, though, too. I know what I want, which is to be able to actually spend time with my family and have my own interests and pursuits and things like that. The company is certainly my interest and my pursuit, but I like woodworking. I like spending time with [my wife] Sarah and [my son] Lucien.
LLM: I’m sure that, like any startup company, you’ve encountered challenges in these first two years. Can you talk about some of those challenges, especially those that you feel are unique to the legal marketing field?
CL: Well, quite a few of our clients work in personal injury law, and that presents a marketing challenge because personal injury law is not a fun thing. The attorneys we work with are there to help people, but their clients often come to them having just been through a terrible situation. And it makes sense that they want clients who have come through the worst of situations because that’s where they can do the most good. But it still doesn’t make anyone feel good when they go to Facebook and see that there’s a major wreck. So we want to make people understand, “Look, these are the people that can help you,” but at the same time, there’s a huge stigma around trial lawyers and personal injury. And I feel very strongly that that’s a manufactured stigma, but it is something we need to be aware of and sensitive to.
Another big challenge is that with personal injury law, anyone can get injured. Some of our clients have had clients who were VPs in major national corporations. Another client might be basically homeless, completely different age and background – the only thing that ties them together is that they’ve been injured. So it does make it more challenging to segment, although for many of our clients, we can narrow things down a bit based on certain types of cases they want. Even then, though, most of these things can happen to anyone, and it’s a lot broader audience than with a lot of other products and services.
Obviously for things like tax law and family law, you can get a little more specific, but in general, drilling down to find the audience in legal marketing tends to be one of the biggest challenges.
LLM: How do you address that, then?
CL: Well, we try to define the audience as much as we can, and one way we address that is by building referral networks. We still do paid media, we do display and search advertising — search helps, but it’s also prohibitively expensive for a lot of our clients.
But I think one of the things that we’ve done that’s most effective is building email lists, marketing to those lists, and just keeping the firm in front of people as much as we can. By doing that, we can continue to message them and be the attorney in their mind, so that when something does happen, they’ll say, “Hey, I know this attorney.” And that does help us define a client’s audience since it’s geographically targeted, and we’re able to reach them again and again, which isn’t feasible with something like paid search.
LLM: We tend to emphasize the holistic nature of our services here at LaFleur Marketing. Can you talk a little bit more about that — what it means to you, and whether you always had that understanding of digital marketing services?
CL: I think at the beginning, we kind of had people specialize in — you know, this person handles social and this person does content development; this person is on the paid search side; and so on — and we didn’t always have perfect communication between those. Over time, we’ve moved to bring social media underneath the content umbrella so we’re promoting content as we post it.
That’s just one example, and even though it seems like a given, it takes some coordination for the number of clients we carry, and I think we’ve got some good systems and processes in place to accomplish that. Using project management effectively, building out those processes —nothing ever works just because, right? Anytime you bring something to scale, it’s a challenge to get all the pieces to move and work together in the same way. We’ve got a great project manager, great project management tools, and great processes that have been rolled into that. I don’t take a whole lot of credit for that, necessarily, other than knowing I wanted that to be built and bringing in the right people who could help us build that.
Of course, the holistic approach can create a challenge, too. Because everyone naturally wants to be able to say, “Hey, what grade did you get, an A, B, C, D?” And we do so many different things that there just isn’t this one data point that you can look at and judge the success of what we’re doing. What we want to do is help our clients understand how we’re doing along all relevant metrics, where we can track the data appropriately.
LLM: So far, you’ve served as the de facto leader on the technological side of things for LLM. What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way?
CL: One of the big eye-openers at the beginning was marketing automation. That was one of the first things we rolled out that was new and different, and we took that really seriously right out of the gate.
That’s a big change for most law firms — certainly most small to mid-sized firms still aren’t using marketing automation. And it’s just been huge for some of our clients to be able to craft messaging at various points in the consumer journey that happen automatically and consistently. And it’s also a matter of looking at your audience and being purposeful about using the information you get [from analytics], and that’s been a learning curve for me.
LLM: What are some of the big successes you’ve seen at LLM — moments that made you say, “OK, this plan, this vision is working?”
CL: Just our growth in general, first of all. We’ve grown very quickly in a short time. Of course, there are a number of ways to measure growth — do you measure it by revenue, the number of people we have working for us? If it’s the number of people, I think we’ve built an amazing group of people that I love working with, and I feel really good about the way we’ve recruited and brought people in through extended networks and things like that, where we’re very confident right from the beginning about what they bring to the table. And with some of the additional team members we’ve added, our capabilities are skyrocketing.
Our client retention has been excellent, and that’s been very important to me. When we get people in, they generally stay with us, and we’ve had a very good track record with the established firms that have chosen to work with us.
And really, it comes down to client success. We’ve had a number of clients who’ve been able to rank for some pretty significant terms within a very short period of time, and organically. Things like that are what I come back to when I think about our success.
LLM: What are you excited about for the future — both for LLM and for the legal marketing field in general?
CL: I think the next thing on the horizon now is predictive analytics and machine learning, and we’re looking at a few different way to roll those out, and some of those marry up with marketing automation and help us to use that better and more effectively. But I think that’s going to change the landscape in such a huge way. Using predictive analytics and machine learning is going to allow us to hyper-target based on audience segment and on people who are actually in the process of making a decision, which we can determine based on certain patterns of web browsing and things like that. And attorneys right now are just not using this stuff ― even a lot of the big firms aren’t there yet.
Everywhere you look, companies that are implementing this stuff are begging data scientists to come work for them. And how cool is it that we live in a world where, like, this in-demand position includes “scientist” in the name? So I think that’s a huge change, and it might be a little scary for some people, but for me, I love technology, and it’s something I’m really excited about.