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What’s the Difference Between Legal Marketing, Business Development, PR, & Advertising?

legal marketing
Law Firms

Legal marketing, business development, public relations, and advertising are all distinct strategies that work best together.

Think of each as the parts of a tree:

  • Marketing is the roots, providing nourishment and stability by creating an understanding of the market and building strategies to attract potential clients.
  • Business development is the sturdy trunk that allows the law firm to grow and expand through lead and relationship nurturing.
  • Public relations is the leaves that give the law firm its identity and visibility.
  • Advertising is the flowers — pretty additions that further boost the law firm’s profile, though not all trees have them.

Here is a deeper look at what legal marketing, business development, public relations, and advertising mean and some best practices for law firms and lawyers for using each.


Marketing refers to the overall process of promoting and selling products or services. It involves understanding the clients’ needs and preferences, conducting market research and competitive analysis, developing legal marketing strategies, and implementing a legal marketing plan with tactics to reach the target audience. Legal marketing encompasses various activities, including practice development, pricing, distribution, branding, and communication.

Legal marketing begins with setting a goal. Often for law firms and lawyers, that goal is business development. But it can also be any number of other goals, such as establishing better relationships with the media, building a network of referral partners, or attracting lateral hires. In setting a legal marketing goal, factors such as budget, timeline, and target audiences must be considered. Creating and implementing a legal marketing strategy is an important first step in launching any marketing initiative.

For law firms, some of the most effective and common legal marketing strategies and tactics include building and maintaining websites that are professionally branded and designed. The website’s content should be keyword-rich for SEO and contain a lot of useful information that is consistently updated (like blogs or videos). Content and thought leadership, social media, and virtual or in-person presentations are all also examples of legal marketing activities that help law firms and lawyers meet their goals.

Business Development

Business development involves activities aimed at identifying and creating new opportunities for growth and expansion. It focuses on forming and strengthening strategic partnerships and relationships, exploring new markets, developing new services, negotiating deals, and expanding the client base. Business development professionals work to identify and capitalize on potential business opportunities to drive revenue and increase market share.

If legal marketing is “one to many,” business development should be thought of as “one to one” (or even “one to a few”). Individual attorneys leverage their relationships with existing or potential clients and others in their network to create business.

Whether through in-person meetings or online interactions, like being active and responsive on social media, there are many effective legal business development tactics to choose from. The key is to be helpful and consistent without being overly persistent.

Law firms that utilize a client relationship management (CRM) platform or some other type of lead-nurturing digital pipeline have a business development advantage. CRMs provide a centralized contact data center to track and manage all leads at every point in the business development journey. Analytics and reporting show interactions, such as when a potential client opens and reads a firm legal alert. This information is useful to both business development and marketing because it illustrates what tactics are working and which aren’t.

Public Relations

Public relations is concerned with managing and maintaining a positive public image and reputation for a company or organization. PR activities include building relationships with the media, creating and disseminating press releases, pitching stories to reporters and editors, drafting and submitting editorial award nominations, organizing events, managing crises, handling public inquiries, and engaging with internal stakeholders. PR aims to create a favorable perception of the law firm, enhance credibility, and maintain good relationships with the public, clients, and others.

PR publicity carries a lot of credibility. People trust that journalists provide information that is important, impactful, and true. When a reporter interviews a law firm partner for commentary or writes about their trial verdict, the underlying message to the reader is that that partner is an expert. Receiving coverage in the media is the most valuable publicity there is (plus, it’s free — minus the costs of the PR professional who wrote the press release or pitch and created a connection to the reporter). Plus, being mentioned by a news outlet online is a great way to boost visibility in search rankings.

However, unlike many marketing communication strategies or advertising, the message cannot be controlled by the law firm, lawyer, or PR professional. Also, what may seem big or important to a lawyer may not rise to the level of “news.” Be sure the news release, pitch, or award submission is newsy by showing how the development or work made an impact. Whether it’s a big award that brought justice for someone who really deserved it or an argument that broke new legal ground to better the community, be sure the story is worth telling before wasting a reporter’s time.


Advertising is a specific subset of marketing that focuses on creating and delivering promotional messages to target audiences through various media channels. It involves the creation of advertisements (such as print, television, radio, or online ads) to generate awareness, interest, and desire for a product or service. Advertising typically aims to reach a large audience and is paid for by the law firm.

Before spending money to create and place ads, knowing who the target audience is and where they would most likely see the ad is key in a successful advertising campaign. Next comes clear and concise messaging and strong visuals. With digital advertising, including pay-per-click, there are metrics available to show what works best to ensure a good return on investment (ROI).

With advertising especially, but also for any marketing communication, be sure the content follows the state’s rules of professional conduct for attorney advertising.

If you’re ready to plant your legal marketing tree and grow your firm, Scorpion is here to help!