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Cracking the code: Law firms try out technology marketing trend

Though they’ve been popular in Asia for years now, Quick Response, or QR, codes are starting to make their way stateside and into the legal marketing world.

The two-dimensional bar codes look like black-and-white scrambled images and contain access to a variety of information. Smartphone users can snap a picture of a code and, using downloadable code-reader applications or one that comes pre-installed, immediately tap into information about businesses, products and people.

This year, about 80 percent of law firms will start using the codes, according to projections from Vizibility, a New York-based online personal branding and marketing company.

Vizibility surveyed legal professionals last summer, including members of the Legal Marketing Association, about their use of the codes. It found that 85 percent of legal marketers are aware of QR codes and 35 percent already use them. An additional 45 percent of marketers plan to start using QR codes within the year, according to the company.

“It’s gradually being accepted by law firms around the country,” said Minneapolis legal marketing consultant Donna Erickson. “It’s been more widely used in retail, and law firms are just starting to find their way.”

Wisconsin firms experimenting

Two state firms have jumped aboard.

DeWitt Ross & Stevens SC, Madison, has QR codes on the back of business cards for all its lawyers and other professionals whose bios are included on the firm’s website. QR codes also adorn their advertisements at the airport, said the firm’s director of marketing, Michelle Friedman.

The business cards take smartphone users to a vCard that downloads the attorney’s contact information into a user’s smartphone, eliminating the need to key it in. The airport ads take smartphone users to the firm’s website.

The QR codes convey the message, Friedman said, that the firm is cutting-edge.

“We just relaunched a new brand and website,” she said, “and what better time to incorporate this new trend of QR codes?”

Though Friedman acknowledges maybe only two in 10 people might know what a QR code is at this time, the use will continue to grow.

“They’re still learning about them,” she said. “So now is a perfect time to have a QR code on a business card. Because the person might say, ‘What’s that?’ and it becomes a conversation piece.”

The back of business cards will be among the first uses of QR codes for Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner LLP, as well.

The codes will lead smartphone-clicking clients — and potential clients — to lawyers’ profiles or blogs, said Kyle Heath, Foley’s chief marketing officer.

The firm is not mandating the use of the codes within the 900-plus attorney firm, he said. So far, just attorneys and other professionals who’ve expressed an interest are featuring them on their business cards. Those interested are typically newer attorneys, Heath said, younger partners and/or those who work with a tech-savvy or consumer-oriented client base.

Tips for use

One of the most attractive features of QR codes is the cost, Erickson said.

Creating a QR codes can be done in about a minute, for free, using sites such as http://mobile-barcodes.com and www.qrstuff.com.

There are many other free applications available, she said, but some generate codes that aren’t readable, so testing is critical.

Options that allow users to the track use of the QR code are ideal, she said, because it will help to identify trends in QR code use. For example, if a sizeable number of seminar attendees use the code, the firm will know to continue and potentially expand their use for that purpose.

Users also should test the code’s readability across several devices, she said.

“It’ll be embarrassing if you create a code and it doesn’t work when the client tries to use it,” Erickson said.

The only expense with regard to Foley’s use of QR codes, Heath said, is the cost of the new business cards. Double-sided cards typically cost more than their one-sided counterparts.

But compared to the outlays for some other marketing initiatives, he said, it’s a relatively minor expense.


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