From filing and serving legal documents, to acquiring a master’s degree in journalism and working as a project manager in a law firm, Carrie Swiggum has tried out a variety of roles before settling on one that combines the skills from all her previous positions.
We sat down with the principal consultant of Case Space Media to talk about the origins of her marketing company, the importance of online visibility in the legal market, and what law firms can do today to get themselves noticed.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into the legal field.
CS: It was kind of a fluke. When I was 20, I started working full time for a legal courier company in St. Paul, Minnesota. I just wanted to ride my bike at that time and ended up cycling to the courthouse several times a day. The company served all the major law firms in town and the government centers and at all levels and types of court. Meeting so many different people in different parts of government opened my eyes to situations that I wasn’t aware of, and I was able to gain knowledge of personal experiences. Sometimes I would get a job request where I was copying entire case briefs in the copy room at the Appellate Court and I would quickly scan the details because the stories were fascinating. It got me interested in law.
Q: It’s been almost two years since you founded Case Space Media. Where did the idea to create a company that specializes in legal marketing come from?
CS: At the time, I was working closely with a change management consultant at a family law firm in downtown Vancouver. I was the point of contact for the firm and he taught me how to do pretty sophisticated work in Excel, which is something I’d always avoided. He gave me the inspiration to keep managing projects as a consultant, armed with the knowledge he taught plus my previous experience. With the efficiency that I learned as a journalist, I knew I could take on more than one client and that’s what I set out to do.
Q: Most companies put effort into marketing their products. Is the kind of marketing that law firms need different from what product-based companies need?
CS: Yes, it is service-based rather than product-based, so you’re really talking about promoting people’s experience and education. You’re gaining trust rather than trying to sell something. That’s the biggest difference.
It’s about trying to help people be more of who they already are and let more people know about what they do, their backgrounds and the professional cases they have taken on.
Being authentic in this day of remote work means a lot of things: being comfortable in front of a camera; being more personal in social media. Just like your website, users will judge based on first impressions and will assume the quality of the site links to the quality of the services you’re offering. Poor audio quality or video with a client or addressing the court in “virtual hearings” is frustrating for all parties and could harm the reputation of the firm. We focus not just on the content, but how it’s being perceived.
Q: Do law firms recognize that they need professional marketing services to become more visible?
CS: Definitely. I’ve seen that firms with more than 30 lawyers all have in-house marketing services. The mid-size firms are now also getting up to speed. Their partners are recognizing that they need to stand out more and look beyond the boundaries of who they can see face-to-face. That’s really what we’re doing, creating digital connections, that may or may not already be present in the real world.
Q: What benefits will the law firms get from increasing their online visibility?
CS: It takes a little bit of time, especially if you’re starting at zero, but if you have a good network already, you’re reinforcing those connections and relationships by being online. If you are posting regularly, you’re going to be top-of-mind for a lot of people in your network, and it will also help you to bring in new people that wouldn’t have known about you otherwise.
Q: What do law firms need help with most at the moment?
CS: A major difficulty for traditional law firms will be transitioning from millions of pieces of paper stuffed into file cabinets to digital organization. You can’t get away from storing documents for legal reasons, but I expect that more lawyers will be submitting thumb drives to the court rather than eight binders that share the same information. My experience with helping firms streamline processes and incorporating new software tells me it is not easy–this is a culture shift, right?
We help to streamline the firm’s digital presence and prevent it from becoming overwhelming. Most people who have tried to do this themselves while doing legal work for clients understand that this does take work and they don’t have the time to do it consistently. In my view, we’re really helping them save time and money for their law practice.
Q: What are the first steps when you start working with a client?
CS: First, we need to figure out what the objectives are. Some companies don’t know where to start and that’s fine too. Once we set out a game plan, usually trying to reach a certain, targeted audience, we take a look at social media, all of the digital collateral that’s out there, and the front end and back end of the website. The first meeting is also when we determine whether or not we are the right fit. That’s something that’s really important to us because we work closely with our clients and we want it to be a two-way street. We want you to view us as partners in your firm.
Q: You promise a customized approach to every client. What does that mean?
CS: That’s when we pose the question, ‘What are your goals?’ Not everybody has the same goals, although we all want more business visibility. We’re taking into account your existing clients and where you want to be positioned in the market. We work out a plan together and before we change or publish anything, we get approval.
Q: Once you’ve had that initial meeting, what kind of support can the law firm expect from you?
CS: We keep our client base small so that we can work effectively with each firm. Although we work remotely, we are tuned in to our clients and often respond within minutes. I also like to speak to the whole firm when we get started to get people motivated so everyone’s on the same page about the project and how it might affect individual practices and career development.
Q: How do you keep track of the work that you do for them?
CS: Every month we send out a detailed report that shows the work we’ve done on the back end of the website. It shows the content we’re producing and what kind of effect it has on the target audience. We also send out six-month reports so clients can see the gains we’ve made, add some things, drop some things, and decide if we’re on the correct strategic path. In this industry, we typically don’t see a lot of results in the first few months of getting started on a campaign so long-term commitment of at least a year is needed to get an accurate picture of strategy and progress.
Q: Do you work with different media platforms?
CS: I’ve personally worked with video, audio and print. My strengths are as a writer, interviewer, creative strategist and my professional network runs wide and deep. Video or SEO is not my main platform, which is why there are other people working at Case Space Media to help me out.
Q: How has your background in journalism helped you in this job?
CS: It helps me every day. When I was getting my masters degree in journalism at UBC, we were taught to think about the story we were telling and the best medium to use to tell it. Would this make a visually arresting story, or would this work better in audio? Whenever I’m talking to clients about framing a story a certain way, it’s fun to think creatively about how best to put the story together to get the most traction.
Besides learning production along the way, journalism has helped in terms of synthesizing complex textual information into an accessible format without dumbing it down. When I was in journalism school, I also took law classes which also increased my familiarity with the law.
Q: Can you share some tips with us? What can law firms do today to improve their online visibility?
CS: A quick thing to do is put your settings in Incognito Mode and Google your firm name or your own name because often you’ll see that your name is in places you didn’t know. That’s something we also do at Case Space Media to control your brand.
On social media, follow what interests you, and then consider how you can incorporate what others are doing, into your own online presence.
Q: There are a lot of social media outlets out there. Which ones would you recommend for law firms to use?
CS: LinkedIn is by far the best tool. Twitter in BC is also very active. With LinkedIn, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to persuade younger people to click on your site or older professionals because they’re all on there. Clients are also increasingly looking at LinkedIn when they’re searching for law firms too so that’s the first place where I would create a strong profile.
Q: A lot of lawyers use social media and could be persuaded to handle the social media duties for their law firm. What are the common mistakes people with experience in personal social media make when they go into corporate social media?
CS: When people think about social media, they look at it as something that they update every once in a while when they have something special to say. With clients, we build out a content calendar that guides our posts. Having a calendar is something that will definitely up your game a lot—not just by being organized, but for effectively scheduling diverse content. Consistency is an element that’s very important when talking about social media, so it helps to have someone doing that for you. It’s worth it to have professionals working with the client to craft the posts to make sure that they’re going to get seen by as many people as possible.
Q: Has online visibility become even more important for law firms during COVID-19 restrictions?
CS: What I have seen in the last few months of the pandemic, when people were working from home, is that viewing articles and other online activities went up a lot for our clients. The use of LinkedIn itself saw a big rise. What we need to recognize is that these platforms aren’t going away. They’re pretty embedded, especially among the younger generations. They just find this to be the natural way to talk to each other, through social media, so we’re going to see it more and more. And it’s not a scary thing. It is the perfect time to get onto these platforms.