As Covid-19 spreads across the United States, so too, have all kinds of pitches and programs and promotions by law firms and the vendors who serve them.  Some of these programs are free and purely informational – covering topics such as employers’ obligations and liability during a pandemic or the mechanics and ethics of getting online to work remotely and stay open during the crisis. Other offerings I’ve seen come with a price tag – counseling and mindfulness sessions to ease stress in these uncertain times and law firm promotional discounts on estate planning or bankruptcy services.  

Which raises the question:

Do Covid-19 related offerings provide a valuable public service to users or brazenly exploit catastrophe to sell product at a time when many are hurting financially?

Let’s begin with the free programs. It’s difficult to argue that anything free can be exploitative. Still, as my inbox overflows with registrations for free programs, in some case, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth.  On the one hand, many of these offerings include useful materials such as webinars and cheatsheets on going remote which can help lawyers and firms that haven’t made the leap to the ether. On the other hand, seeing all of these resources flowing like manna in a time of crisis prompt me to ask – hey guys, where were you three years ago? Because maybe if companies had made information freely available back then, many lawyer and firms wouldn’t find themselves in the sorry predicament they’re in now.

Second, free often makes me suspect.  And that’s coming from someone who spoke about the power of free a decade before it was widely used as a marketing tool. Plus, I’ve personally benefited from numerous free programs that provided value without forcing me to click on a “buy now button.”

Other programs are pretty clearly set up just as lead generators for a pricey product or service.  And even there, many people, myself included, are still willing to ignore the upsell as long as the program itself is free because after all, you can always say no.  What annoys me are those programs that are just an hour-long teaser that ultimately require payment to get to the meat.

Don’t get me wrong. Free programs if done properly can provide substantial value without offense.  If you are considering offering a free program or discount to clients or colleagues, bear in mind that the services don’t need to be directly related to the services that your firm provides either. For example, a law firm can help clients figure out how to e-sign documents or find small business loans even if the firm doesn’t handle cases related to those services. A firm can also offer discounted fees on legal advice directly related to dealing with Covid-19 at a time when many consumers and businesses need this kind of assistance but feel the stress.   You’ll easily make up the cost difference when good times return because those grateful clients bring you more business and referrals.

Tone counts too when promoting free services to address Covid-19. Be tasteful and sensitive to avoid having your promotion viewed as exploitative. I’d avoid headlines like “PROFITING IN THE TIME OF COVID” or “Discounts on Wills – Because Covid Kills!!!!!” If you offer products in the spirit of helping others rather than turning a quick buck, your authenticity should come through.

As for those of you considering free or discount program on marketing, going remote or practice management, stick with reputable companies that have always offered free materials even before Covid hit. And if you’re tempted to make a purchase after having obtained value from a free program, consider these tips before buying.

Tough times lie ahead for solo and small firms which often experience cash flow dips even when times are good.  I’d never want to begrudge an innovative firm or vendor from figuring out a way to make money especially if it’s needed just to stay afloat. Still desperate times don’t necessarily demand desperate measures.  Before you start promoting a program to respond to the pandemic, ask yourself whether it provides value and reflects your firm’s values.  And before you purchase a discounted law practice program, make sure it’s something that will not only enrich the vendor but you or your firm as well.