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Why Lawyer Advertising Is a Bad Bet

Billboard saying This Lawyer Advertising Costs More Than It's Worth | Vanguard Communications Law Market Link | Denver, CO

Content marketing for law firms – costs way less, works way better

Is traditional lawyer advertising the right choice for law firm marketing? As attorneys often say about the law, it depends, but probably not.

Is it a big firm with a huge budget? Is it a firm that uses personal injury advertising to funnel in the best of those cases plus other business, then farms out not so profitable cases?

Then yes, it may be. Those firms, and others that would emulate them, are why lawyer advertising is a billion-dollar-a-year business (“How lawyers’ TV ads became a billion-dollar-a-year industry,” CBS News, February 13, 2022). One problem is a lot of those ads are not so good, with many suffering from lawyers-talking-too-much-about-themselves syndrome.

Instead, the vast majority of law firms would do far better to avoid the very pricey shotgun advertising approach of TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers.


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Ready, fire, aim! type of lawyer advertising

Traditional advertising is a paid attempt to talk to people – all the people, most not in need of a lawyer at all.

How many people watching a TV ad for a slip-and-fall attorney have slipped and fallen recently? How many who have been T-boned by a semi are driving by a billboard for a personal injury lawyer focused on big-rig accidents?

Very small percentages, of course. Even if we’re generous and say 5% of ad viewers are potential clients, that’s still a lot of wasted advertising, also known as money down the drain. While advertising campaigns can have the benefit of inducing name recognition for possible future clients, that’s not a long-term game most law firms can afford.

Even then, the odds are slim. You have to spend big for the right ad space and time. What’s worse is that 96% of people say they don’t trust ads and the advertisers who churn them out. Even the American Bar Association advises those looking for a lawyer to be careful about believing claims in legal advertisements.

So, if only 5% of viewers may need an advertised service and 96% of them don’t trust ads … you do the arithmetic.

Aim true with content marketing for lawyers

We all know where a lot of people with a need for legal services are going to find information about law and law firms: the internet. Estimates range from 36% to 96%. Either way, those are great numbers.

What people do first is look for information on their legal need, like child custody battle. Aiming at those online searchers is called pull marketing because the internet user is pulling relevant information toward him or her. (Billboards and TV ads are push marketing because they push messages at everyone.) That information foraging comes before the foragers look for a lawyer to represent them.

Get your information in front of those pre-qualified prospective clients, and your law firm has a dramatically improved chance of landing them as clients. Content marketing for lawyers beats traditional advertising for cost efficiencies hands down. We’re experts at it, with almost 30 years’ experience.

One of the best advantages of content marketing via your firm’s website over traditional advertising is that content we produce is up there nearly forever. But a broadcast, billboard, or online ad only runs if you keep paying for it. The ROI on content marketing is impressive.

Related reading: Digital content marketing

The goal: high placement on the search engine results page (SERP)

Content marketing for lawyers – for anyone – is essentially how you leverage consumer-friendly content so search engines list it at the top of their search engine results pages (SERPs). A SERP is the list of webpage results Google, which has 91% of the search market, returns to an internet searcher, usually in the millions. Search engines rank quality, consumer-friendly content high, if they think your webpage answers the question of the typical searcher.

If someone searches for divorce lawyer in Los Angeles and your webpage comes up at the top of the list, that’s gold. It’s like a lineup of 100 billboards on I-5, and the first one is marked “The Best Law Firm for You” the next billboard has “Second Best Law Firm for You” and by #10 it’s “Fuggedaboutit.”

Organic search results: the gift that keeps on giving

At the top of SERP listings are those marked “Ad,” a placement earned by buying a Google or Bing ad. The spots below those are known as organic search results. Consumers know these are what they are looking for and routinely ignore listings with the Ad demarcation. They know Google is far better at returning valuable search results. Eye-tracking studies have found that only about one-third of internet searchers even look at the online ads.

With the right content and search engine optimization (SEO) – both specialties of Vanguard – organic search result can provide long-term benefits. The site above it with the Ad has to pay for that time and time again. As you might imagine, online ads for lawyer services cost through the roof these days.

The SEM (search engine marketing) and PPC (pay per click) option

The flip side to SEO is SEM (search engine marketing), which is a hybrid of SEO and advertising. This is purchasing ads on Google or Bing or another search engine that will show up in the SERP for a searched term above organic search results earned through SEO. If you’re going to advertise, this is a better option than the traditional shotgun approach. Vanguard advises this option as part of law firm marketing.

The metric for costs of this popular form of online advertising is PPC, or pay per click. When a viewer clicks on an SEM ad to go to an advertiser’s website, the advertiser pays a price for that click. No clicks, no costs; 10 clicks cost 10 times the PPC cost for the keyword term in the ad. The more popular the keyword, the higher the PPC cost.

Related reading: Law firm marketing FAQ

Following are some examples, which vary day to day and by location because PPC advertisers bid against each other for that term. Google determines which PPC ad gets top billing using various factors in addition to bidding price. These costs are for estimated top of page placement of the PPC ad:

  • Lawyer – $18 per click.
  • Divorce lawyer – $34.
  • Personal injury lawyer – $200.
  • Personal injury lawyer New York – $102.
  • Car accident lawyer – $265.

Pretty pricey. “Lawyer” is cheap because it is too broad to be of real help.

The truth about lawyer advertising in numbers that really matter

Here are interesting facts about the strength of organic search results, provided by FirstPageSage, updated for 2023. These involve analysis of the click-through rate, which is the percentage of times all searchers click on a link shown to them in a Google SERP. The position number refers to placement on the SERP, with #1 being the best.

  • Organic search result position #1: 39.8%.
  • Ad position #1: 2.1%.
  • Organic search result position #2: 18.7%.
  • Ad position #2: 1.4%.
  • Organic search result position #3: 10.2%
  • Organic search result position #10: 2.2%.

Would you rather be at ad position #1 for four days or organic search result position #1 for four months?

Looking for a better way to get more clients?

Talk to us about building your legal practice. The Vanguard team has shown consistent, measurable results for nearly 30 years in building professional practices through our digital marketing program. In fact, we guarantee growth – 15%-30% in one year.

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