Storytelling is a pivotal component of any successful marketing strategy, especially in the legal sector. Whether it’s through direct client testimonials or detailed descriptions of representative successes, a firm’s story and stated mission are critical to attracting potential clients. While there’s always an emotional component to any marketing strategy, some firms that we encounter may handle more emotionally charged matters than others, including cases involving trauma.
In these situations, there’s a heavy measure of responsibility that we must consider when deciding how to craft our marketing strategy. It’s nearly impossible to market a firm properly without highlighting its work, but when that work involves sensitive situations, it’s essential that we approach the task with the utmost sensitivity and empathy.
Empathy is the foundation of effective communication in legal marketing, particularly when dealing with traumatic stories. Clients who have experienced trauma require not only legal assistance but also emotional support and reassurance. As marketing professionals, it’s our job to approach our task with an understanding of trauma-informed branding and how it can benefit our clients and their audience.
What is a Trigger?
Trauma is a complex experience that can manifest differently in each person who goes through it. For our purposes, it’s important to understand that people who have been through trauma may be unconsciously sensitive to certain words or images that trigger or remind them of that trauma and make them less likely to trust a brand that includes them.
It’s impossible to avoid all potential triggers for a firm’s audience, but if we take the time to understand our clients, we can craft a message that both achieves our own goals and maintains sensitivity.
While there certainly is no one-size-fits-all approach to trauma-informed marketing, there are best practices that we can remain aware of in moving forward.
Share Success Stories Tactfully
Firm success stories are a critical component of legal marketing. They convey a firm’s ability to handle complex matters with talent and sensitivity, especially when covered in the media. But, depending on the area of law that your marketing is focused on, you may have to take extra care in the way that you write your copy.
I can speak to the complexity of this task firsthand. Having previously worked in-house for a high-profile employment law firm, I never had to search too hard for case successes and media references for our website. Clients were often profiled heavily in the news and spoke very candidly about their experiences, allowing me to flesh out their stories in great depth. But many of these clients were speaking about experiences that were traumatic, often involving sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.
It's one thing for a client to share their experience in their own time because ultimately, it's their story to share. But when we enter the picture as a third party, we have to focus on the facts of the story and avoid any unconscious sensationalism. We must ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve in sharing any particular story and what we want our audience to take away from it. Once that’s understood, we can craft a narrative that effectively communicates a client’s story without deterring anyone in our audience from considering our services.
Humanize the Firm
Humanizing a law firm’s brand means portraying it as compassionate, understanding and approachable. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to use empathetic language that focuses on the client and their experiences in a positive way. For example, if you’re working for a firm that represents individuals who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, describing their clients as “survivors” rather than “victims” puts a measure of power back in their hands.
One of the most important things to avoid is portraying (even unintentionally) the firm as “results-at-all-costs.” For some areas of law, that approach might be beneficial, but for others, it implies that the attorneys aren’t tuned into their clients’ emotional needs.
Encourage Sensitivity Training as a Business Development Opportunity
In line with humanizing a firm’s brand, it’s worthwhile to encourage your firm to invest in sensitivity training for the staff. It can be difficult to navigate the emotional complexities of trauma — while attorneys can certainly be well-meaning, they might not know the best way to approach it.
In marketing a firm, it’s important that clients feel confident that they can speak to an attorney openly and candidly without fear of judgment. When considering that perspective, sensitivity training provides benefits all around: Not only do clients feel more secure, but the firm can add another credential to its marketing toolbox.
Always Lead with Consent
For most legal marketing professionals, this seems obvious given the nature of our work. But when interacting with high-profile matters involving clients who have been upfront about their experiences in the media, it's easy to forget that their willingness to be open does not unlock the door to freely using their stories.
In my own experience, this has mostly come into play with visual advertising. Explaining a client's story on a firm website to demonstrate their success is one thing, but it's another to use a client's image, especially if that image depicts them in a pivotal moment of their case, such as walking into a courthouse or testifying before Congress. Although it might be common sense for some, you can never overemphasize the importance of consent.
Support Stories with Educational Content
One of the best ways to demonstrate a firm’s commitment to their clients and their experiences is to supplement marketing content with educational information and relevant nonprofit outreach. Sharing and supporting resources that might be valuable for clients experiencing trauma is a way for firms to "walk the walk" and prove that they have a vested interest in their clients’ stories beyond what those clients add to business.
For example, in my previous experience at a firm that often worked with survivors of sexual misconduct, we gave financial support to women's organizations and shared resources on our website that were specifically tailored to sexual abuse. Not only did it benefit both current and potential clients, but it gave the firm more credibility.
Remember Your Responsibility
It's sometimes easy to forget the responsibility that we bear as marketing professionals when working with firms that handle less emotional matters. But when we do have the opportunity to work with a firm that handles emotionally charged cases, we need to be prepared to approach its marketing strategy with a trauma-informed lens that considers the needs of its potential clients.
Approaching these stories with empathy, respect and ethical consideration is not only the right thing to do, but also the key to building trust and credibility in your legal marketing efforts. By prioritizing compassion and understanding, you can connect effectively with your audience, provide valuable support and make a positive impact on the lives of those you serve.
It's crucial to emphasize that a trauma-informed approach can have a far-reaching impact not only on individual clients but also on the broader legal community. When a firm adopts a compassionate and considerate stance, it sets an example for others, promoting a culture of respect and understanding within the legal profession.
Furthermore, it's essential to acknowledge that trauma can affect not only clients but also legal professionals themselves. Lawyers and marketing teams may also be exposed to distressing narratives and emotions when handling such cases. Providing resources for the well-being of legal staff and attorneys, such as counseling or support groups, can contribute to a more resilient and empathetic workforce.
Trauma-informed legal marketing is not just a strategy; it's a commitment to ethical, empathetic and responsible representation. By following these principles, firms can build lasting trust, stand as advocates for their clients and contribute positively to the legal profession as a whole.
Do you need help drafting a trauma-informed marketing strategy? Contact me, Candace Baker, at firstname.lastname@example.org.