What is the role of a young lawyer in marketing his or her firm?

Posted on: December 21, 2003

(A version of these notes was produced originally for delegates at a Law Society Young Solicitors Conference in July 2003)

What you know about and do in marketing terms is dependent on the type of firm you are in and how close you are to partnership…

The first issue to tackle is whether your firm is a marketing ‘traditionalist’ or a marketing ‘sophisticate’. If you are in a traditional firm then marketing will be close to blasphemy. The older and more senior partners will talk about it not being very professional and the focus will be on brochures, modern brochures (web sites), logos on ties and excellent client entertaining (e.g. prestige golf events, lunch or dinner at fine restaurants etc). A more sophisticated marketing firm may have some in-house marketing resources, marketing plans, a marketing/business development training programme and a clear vision of what it needs to do and why.

Marketing is relatively new for the legal profession. It was only just over a decade ago when ‘advertising’ rules were relaxed. It was only last year when the rules against ‘cold calling’ in legal business-to-business situations were changed (the rules still prevent cold telephone calls to private individuals).

There is much confusion about marketing in the legal profession – some see it as purely the promotional and communication elements that include brochures, web sites, logos and corporate identities, seminar and ‘parties’. This is not incorrect – it is simply one facet of marketing – the tangible, promotional aspects. But effective marketing requires more than creative campaigns – it requires sound analysis (of your markets, your aims, your strengths and weaknesses, your competitive position, your need for growth and profitability, your current client base), careful choices about where to concentrate effort and resources and planning of what must be done and by when to ensure maximum effectiveness. It also requires sustained and continuous effort from lawyers to implement the plan and make marketing part of they daily lives. Marketing results often take a while to emerge so impatience and occasional, ad-hoc marketing efforts will frustrate inexperienced enthusiasts.

Marketing is partly science (there is a huge body of professional and research knowledge) and partly art – there are no guaranteed panaceas. The types of marketing activities you adopt will depend not only on the attitude towards marketing within your firm but the type of legal service you are promoting and the market you are targeting (private client and commercial client markets are significantly different). It will also depend on your personality and personal preferences with regards to different marketing activities.

If you are in a larger or more sophisticated (in marketing terms) firm, the chances are there will be a marketing department. Get to know them. Some firms have marketing departments that can only provide administrative support to help you organise your contacts list, prepare brochures or electronic promotional materials and undertake the logistical arrangements for client events. Other firms have marketing teams with professionally trained marketers who can help you analyse your current clients and work, articulate your aims and develop a realistic and cost-effective campaign to achieve them.

Whatever help your marketing team can provide, you should take the time to help them understand your aims, skills and clients so that they can provide their assistance most effectively. If your marketing team is limited to providing administrative or communication support then use that and involve them in your more strategic activities so that they too can learn and evolve their roles and contribution to others in the firm.

Getting started

The first step is to analyse your own practice in a structured way. Use a marketing plan to guide you through the essential steps of a) where am I now? b) where do I want to be? and c) how will I get there?. The similarity to a personal career development plan will not escape you.

You will need to undertake a structured analysis of your existing clients, prospects and intermediary/referrer contacts. Maintaining this information in a database of some kind will pay dividends later on – so find out what central facilities there are within your firm before investing time and effort in setting up your own. Being able to share your client and contact information with others in the firm will also be valuable to you so avoid being ‘protectionist’.

A key decision will be the extent to wish you aim to generate new clients or the extent to which you want to increase the loyalty and share of work from your existing clients. Your marketing programme will be quite difference depending on whether you are focused on new business generation (selling) or existing client development (account management).

Whether you are in a commercial or private client market, you will need to segment your market to identify a particular (and manageable) group of clients and prospects which have common needs and where you can offer something more than or different to your competitors. This process of segmentation underpins the very successful niche strategies of many modern law firms. Segmentation might also identify ways in which you can develop new legal services or new ways to deliver or price those services – again, providing you with a way to differentiate your offering from your competitors.

Popular marketing techniques

There are many marketing techniques available – some will sit well with the nature of your clients and practice and your personality and personal preferences whilst others will not. You need to find those methods with which you are comfortable.

You should also recognise that the best marketing approaches for private client marketing (and there are differences again for low income and high income clients) and commercial client marketing are different. In commercial client marketing, the approach you adopt will depend on whether you are targeting large commercial organisations with in-house legal teams or smaller organisations where the non-legally qualified directors are the main purchasers of legal services.

As a young solicitor, you should consider some of the following most popular types of promotion:

Internal communication

Your colleagues in other departments are often overlooked as a source of new business. Make sure that the lawyer in the other offices and departments of your firm are familiar with you, the services you provide, your clients, how you differ from your competitors and how you can help their clients. Attending other teams’ regular meetings, joining in with their marketing activities (e.g. by providing talks at their seminars, writing articles for their newsletters or co-hosting their entertainment programmes) and developing joint client development plans are undervalued but highly effective and inexpensive activities.

Seminars

Most research into client expectations and satisfaction will reveal that clients value seminars as both part of an added value service and as a method for the firm to explain other areas of legal expertise and to introduce other lawyers. Putting together interesting seminar programmes and managing the numerous logistical arrangements such as compiling an invitation list, mailing invitations, preparing materials and the venue etc can take a huge amount of time and experience will help you avoid many of the most common pitfalls.

Giving presentations and speeches

The skills involved in preparing a specific presentation, preparing relevant and interesting audio-visuals and presenting in a professional, entertaining and client focused way is a special skill in its own right. Preparation and rehearsal are key. You should also think carefully about how the materials you have spent so long preparing for a seminar, presentation or speech could be recycled for other marketing activities such as mailings to existing clients, as articles for the media, as promotional materials for potential clients and as high quality content for your web site.

Media relations

Although most lawyers will first think about the legal magazines, you should also think about the large number of regional newspapers and magazines and the hundreds of specialist media in trade/technical and consumer markets. The Internet means that there are also many high quality media which are content hungry. Focus on those media that are most likely to be read by your target audience and where there is less competition from other lawyers. Working with journalists does require patience and an understanding of how the media works (i.e they are there to report on news and items of interest to their readers, not to promote your firm or to regurgitate large tracts of dull new regulations) but it can be a relatively inexpensive (although time intensive) way to raise the profile of your firm, your practice group and yourself.

Unsolicited pitches

Most commercial clients will report that they are relatively immune to general marketing approaches from lawyers. However, most indicate that if they receive a carefully researched proposal with ideas that are relevant to their particular organisation then they will be willing to meet with a lawyer even if they are relatively satisfied with their existing advisers and have never met you before. However, it takes a large amount of time to undertake the necessary research and creative thinking to prepare really good pitches of this kind, so make sure you have really identified the most appropriate targets (see Getting started section above in relation to the marketing planning process).

Intermediary programmes

In private client and transactional commercial markets, you may find it is more effective to concentrate your marketing activities on key intermediaries in the market. You must apply the same analyses and targeting approaches as if you were considering end user markets. Reciprocity will be important and where this is not possible you will need to consider carefully what is in it for those intermediaries you are courting for leads and referrals.

Account management

If your aim is not so much to raise your profile and generate new leads, but to get more from your existing clients then you will need to focus your attention on what is variously known as CRM (Client Relationship Management), major client management, cross selling initiatives or key client accounts. This is a large and growing area of law firm management with many implications for culture, systems, reward systems, research and benchmarking. However, taking time to analyse the historical relationship and current situation of your major clients and building a plan of action focused on the clients needs (rather than what you want to sell) is the essence of a successful approach.

Networking

Joining the relevant professional, technical, trade and commercial organisations and associations and attending their meetings regularly can be a good way to raise the profile of yourself and your firm, to make new contacts and to gather valuable market and client information. Some personalities enjoy the social interaction that networking requires whilst others will be less comfortable. There are a multitude of training programmes and books that can help you enhance your networking effectiveness.

These are just a few thoughts on the large and increasingly sophisticated area of law firm marketing. They have been selected in terms of their likely appeal to younger solicitors who are relatively new to the idea of marketing.

 

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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.

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