Standing Out in the Legal Industry: Insights from Helen Burness, Co-founder of Helen Squared

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In this interview, we dive into the world of legal marketing with Helen Burness, co-founder of Helen Squared. With a wealth of experience and expertise, Helen shares valuable insights on daring to be different, keeping up with social media trends, and harnessing the power of personal branding. Join us as we uncover the secrets behind her successful journey in the legal industry and discover the strategies that can help legal businesses thrive in the ever-changing marketing landscape.

So, Helen, can you tell us the story behind your journey into the exciting world of legal marketing? Any interesting twists along the way?

I’ve had quite the adventure in legal! It all began when I joined a national law firm that was expanding internationally, and I had the opportunity to travel globally working with their international offices. I learned a lot about marketing working across all teams – from business development to communications and events – but I wanted to move to a smaller business where I could have a more visible impact and found myself at the commercial bar. Working for barristers was a unique experience in itself!

Then, I had my son and realised I needed more flexibility. Flexible working wasn’t widely embraced back in 2011, especially in the legal industry, so it was no easy task. I was lucky to find a role alongside two female legal founders who saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between private practice and in-house legal. It was a virtual law firm which embraced part-time and flexible working, which was pioneering at the time. And I stayed with them throughout their business journey helping them scale to exit.

With the experience of a small law firm and the start-up and scale-up journey experience, I started Saltmarsh Marketing to provide marketing consultancy to smaller and disruptive legal businesses. It turned out there were a lot of clients in legal looking for a solution! That’s when I teamed up with Helen Foord, founder of legal marketing agency ELE, and together we created Helen’s Squared, to provide fixed fee end to end marketing programmes to businesses and teams in legal looking for that perfect mix of strategy and delivery. I also helped co-found a global community called She Breaks the Law, for senior women in legal to come together and support each other on their change journeys in legal. So, my consultancy work has turned into running quite a few initiatives!

That’s quite a journey! Let’s dive into the challenges faced by law firms and legal service businesses in terms of marketing. How do you tackle those challenges?

The biggest challenge is knowing where to invest your efforts. It’s easy to get caught up in the tactics, thinking that just being visible is enough. But cutting through the noise and reaching the right people requires a strategic approach. Law firms and legal businesses, regardless of their size, need to be bold, different, and brave. The conservative nature of the industry and the regulatory constraints can stifle marketing efforts, but it’s important to find ways to stand out.

Another challenge is that marketing in the legal industry is often led by lawyers rather than marketers. This can dilute the effectiveness of marketing initiatives, especially when it comes to copy and branding. Time is also a challenge, as there’s never enough of it. So, my approach is to help clients prioritise their marketing efforts, focus on strategy, and find innovative ways to differentiate themselves.

Can you share a favourite success story where you’ve made a significant impact on a law firm’s online presence and impressed everyone?

When it comes to success stories, some of my favourites are always to do with individuals discovering the power of their personal brands, which is a core part of what I do. I help founders and their teams harness the power of online visibility and feel confident and purposeful on platforms like LinkedIn. The biggest reward for me is seeing individuals grow personally during their online journey. I love witnessing their transformation from initially hesitating to fully embracing their authentic selves online, standing up for what they care about and are interested in. Witnessing their success is not only gratifying from a marketing perspective but also from an individual growth standpoint.

Where do you usually go to stay ahead of the curve in the evolving world of legal? Are there any blogs, podcasts, or communities you would recommend?

The Marketing Meetup is an excellent resource for marketing. They offer seminars, webinars, and training sessions that I highly recommend. As someone deeply engaged in social media, I constantly consume various types of content on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even TikTok. I tend to favour client events over legal marketing events themselves, as this gives me a deep understanding when it comes to clients in legal and how we might be able to create solutions that work for their businesses. I am a big fan of Legal Geek events which help me stay in touch with the legal innovation community. It’s all about understanding my clients and staying connected to their needs and the evolving trends in the legal industry.

If you could have one game-changing piece of advice to legal businesses to level up their marketing, what would it be?

Be bold, brave, and dare to be different. In a crowded market, it’s crucial to stand out and make a lasting impression. Taking risks and thinking outside the box can lead to significant marketing breakthroughs. Being distinctive makes a huge impact.

Content is often regarded as king in marketing. How does it apply to the legal industry? What is your perspective on the power of content marketing for law firms and its role in enhancing their cases?

Great content is at the heart of great marketing. In the legal industry, content is particularly crucial because it allows professionals to demonstrate their expertise. As lawyers, we are selling our wisdom, insights, and knowledge of the law. It is essential to clearly communicate that this is what clients are truly buying.

But the legal industry can struggle with content creation. We tend to produce dry and inaccessible content, often written for other lawyers. This approach may not resonate with other buyers. We need to create content that not only highlights our expertise as lawyers but is also accessible to businesses. We can demonstrate the invaluable role that legal services play in wider business. There are still brand perceptions and misconceptions surrounding lawyers and legal matters. We need a better narrative to change these perceptions and communicate the true value we provide.

That’s an interesting perspective. Now, let’s talk about Helen Squared. What sets Helen Squared apart from other players in the legal marketing industry?

Well, apart from the fact that we are all named Helen and we have a fondness for animal print, our secret sauce is collaboration. Helen Squared thrives on genuine collaboration. We came together not with the intention of building an empire, but to provide effective solutions for our clients. Our focus is on finding the right solutions and acting as a hybrid agency and in-house partner.

Many clients have expressed frustration with previous agency experiences, where they felt a lack of control and faced frequent turnover. With Helen Squared, clients don’t need to micromanage us. We adopt a hybrid approach, almost becoming a part of their team. We aim to be true business partners rather than simply another service provider. We particularly enjoy working with disruptive individuals and organisations who are challenging the status quo.

Let’s shift our focus to the future of legal marketing. Are there any exciting trends or strategies that you foresee?

For me, the ongoing development of social media is always intriguing. I have a keen interest in the direction of social platforms, especially TikTok. I’m curious to see if law firms and the legal industry will embrace it further. TikTok has already witnessed significant growth for legal content, particularly in the United States. However, it seems that B2B engagement on TikTok is still a challenge, with B2C interactions being more prevalent.

I would love to see a shift away from traditional and outdated marketing practices within the legal industry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed a rapid digital transformation, but there is a risk of reverting to old ways of doing things.

Of course Threads launched last week and everyone is enthusing about this as a platform – but I am long enough in the tooth to watch fairly wisely and see what happens. It’s fun right now – as new platforms often are – but was launched without enough thought to accessibility and there are, as always, some DP horrors lurking, so let’s wait and see.

Lastly, I’d like to know more about you on a personal level. What motivates you each day and keeps your passion alive in the work you do?

What gets me fired up every morning? Well, it’s the people in the legal industry. It’s a truly remarkable community that has supported me throughout my 20-year career. I have the privilege of working with fantastic clients who are genuinely great individuals. Additionally, being part of Helen Squared allows me to enjoy the variety and versatility that comes with working across different legal fields. It’s incredibly fulfilling to help empower and grow businesses through effective marketing strategies. Ultimately, seeing the positive impact we can make is what keeps me passionate about what I do.

If you are a legal business feeling like the Helen Squared approach is the missing piece in your marketing puzzle, reach out to us to secure your spot in our upcoming Five Steps to Five Star Marketing programme. You can contact Helen B here.

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