The Challenge of Marketing Cannabis Work

September 9, 2019

With legalization of recreational cannabis becoming a reality in many parts of the country, law firms working in this space, which is valued somewhere near $10 billion, must confront all kinds of challenges in their efforts to serve clients. Not the least of which is the fact that while this lucrative work is legal at the state level in some places, selling cannabis—or advising someone on how to run a business doing it—is still considered a criminal enterprise by the federal government.

Cannabis clients, from growers and processors to investors and retail outlets, are running their businesses in a legal gray area and face an acute need for reliable counsel to help them navigate ever-changing regulations. While most of the BigLaw firms have so far judged the cannabis sector too risky, many mid-size firms have seized this rare opportunity for a totally new revenue stream, in some cases creating entire practice groups focused on the work.

As firms going after cannabis clients strive to offer valuable expertise and sophisticated business strategy to their clients, they also need to think about how they will market their legal services to prospects. But in an increasingly crowded space (and one in which almost everyone is fairly new to the game) how can you differentiate your firm?

The most effective communications strategy for cannabis work will take two tracks:

First, your firm must communicate about its technical capacities, including lawyers across practice groups like healthcare and regulation, banking, tax, and corporate law, as well as making the case that your lawyers will approach this novel (and tricky) work in an interdisciplinary way, with an up-to-the-minute grasp of changing regulations.

Second, and just as important, many of these companies found success in cannabis because they were not afraid to take a risk in a new industry that arguably still carries some stigma. A stuffy, business-as-usual approach is probably not a great fit here. Instead, make the case that your firm thrives on creativity and embraces an entrepreneurial culture that will help you meet the unique needs of these clients. And make sure your most important communication tools, like your website, firm newsletter, and any practice-specific outreach, matches this message in content and tone.

The legalization and social normalization of this former drug has in some ways made the cannabis industry just like any other big-business sector—legal work is legal work. But a generic approach to marketing and communications strategy always falls short. Good marketing is about understanding precisely what your prospective client wants, and then expressing how your firm is uniquely positioned to provide it.