We Are the Same, But Different. How do marketing department trends for accounting and law firms compare?

Marketers for accounting and law firms often network together and attend the same conferences. We all share a passion for helping practitioners move beyond their technical expertise to build marketing programs and develop business.  And we often compare stories of our experiences from working with our firms.

So just how similar are the marketing department trends between accounting and law firms?  Two recently published studies give us a chance to do a quick comparison.

After a high-level comparison of these studies and some other industry data, here is what I found.

The Largest Law Firms Are Significantly Bigger Than the Largest Accounting Firms

The first comparison to note is the relative size of the firms in each industry—and law firms are bigger.  The American Lawyer magazine publishes The AM Law 200, which ranks the top 200 national law firms on gross revenue.  The 2014 list includes law firms ranging in annual gross revenue from over $85 million to over $2 billion.  Compare that list to the Accounting Today Top 100 and Regional Leaders or the IPA 100 and 200, (both ranked by U.S. net revenue) where firms range in size from about $14 million to just under $14 billion.  While the very top accounting firms are larger than the very top law firms, there are more, larger law firms than accounting firms as you go down the list of top 200 firms in each industry.  Which loosely translates to law firms having more money to spend on marketing and business development.  That might explain why the top law firms tend to have larger marketing departments and bigger marketing budgets, according to the two studies.

Accounting Firms Are Niching Their Practices, but Law Firms Are Niching Their Marketers

From working with clients, we know that accounting firms are trending toward building industry niche practices.  But the role of the marketer is still mostly a generalist, with team members taking responsibility for the varied types of marketing projects.  Of course, the largest accounting firms do hire marketing specialists, but that seems to be reserved for the top 10 to 20 accounting firms. By contrast, the J. Johnson Executive Search study highlighted a significant trend that all top law firms are hiring marketing specialists. Roles include marketing technology, event planning and creative services, just to name a few. One explanation for this difference in the makeup of the marketing department could go back to the relative size of the firms.  Since law firm marketing departments are bigger, they probably have more room to hire marketing specialists.

We Spend Marketing Dollars in Very Similar Ways

According to the two studies, both accounting and law firm marketing budgets have advertising and sponsorships as their two largest categories.  Both studies also note that events and content development are big budget items for both industries as well.  I believe those findings demonstrate the importance of building relationships and developing thought leadership as critical success factors for both accounting firms and law firms.

I encourage readers to check out both studies to learn more details about trends in accounting and law firm marketing.  You may also want to check out the Top Five Accounting Marketing Trends for 2015 by Sarah Johnson Dobek, founder and president of Inovautus Consulting.



Comparing Accounting and Law Firms At-A-Glance

Below is a side-by-side comparison of results from the two surveys mentioned in this article.


*According to “Special Report: Big Law’s Reality Check”, Aric Press, The American Lawyer, Oct. 29, 2014

**Segmented by firm size.  Small average = $4.9 million; Medium average = $16.9 million; Large average = $114 million

*** Reported that nearly one-third use outside support for lead generation.


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One Response to “We Are the Same, But Different. How do marketing department trends for accounting and law firms compare?”

  1. Jeff Lear

    Many years ago, I applied for a job to train users to do tax research for
    a major online legal research company. I screwed up the answer to a simple question. “What’s different between training lawyers to use this vs. training accountants?” I forgot the crappy answer I gave a long time ago, but I never forgot what I should have said. Lawyers connect to tax law through code, regs and cases. Accountants connect to tax law through tax forms.

    That line is not as bright as it used to be, but it’s still relevant. Accountants get an annual touchpoint with their tax clients where they can say, “Hey, I saw this on your return and there are legal steps we can take to reduce your liability in the future.” A niche accounting practice may be even better at that, because the partner can say, “I noticed you’ve treated this as [x], but many of the construction companies we serve are doing [y].” The same is true of audit clients. Accountant marketing focuses on creating the ongoing relationship that positions the firm to sell more work to clients based on the knowledge gained from tax return preparation and, for larger clients, the audit.

    The work of attorneys isl more transaction-based. Many businesses have a go-to firm for basic contracts and such, but that work does not give the type of insight that recurring accounting work does. Marketing for attorneys needs to focus on making sure that potential clients know who to call when they want to plan something different than they’ve done before, or when something unexpected happens. And that marketing includes networking with accountants so that they will know whom to recommend when they see something in the course of return or audit preparation that requires an attorney’s expertise.


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