Most firms understand the value of having their lawyers market: they just don’t know how to make it happen.  So, they rely on the lawyers.  They create a marketing plan requirement (or tie in marketing activity with compensation review) as a motivator for action.  Then they sit back and wait until the end of the year to see how effective those plans were.  No need, I have a pretty good idea already.

The individual lawyers may embrace this marketing requirement with varying degrees of seriousness.  They may intuitively understand the value of marketing and so, proceed with good intentions and a strong desire to do this well.  What’s far more likely is that they’ll create a suitable document of loose promises to give the appearance of support, but in fact do very little meaningful marketing throughout the year.  I’m not suggest they do nothing!  They’ll speak at a conference, have lunch with a few clients, maybe write a blog post or two.  There will be no goals set for the activity, no follow-up, and at the end of the year, very little value to these events.  But hey, they’ll have accomplished some ideas from their “marketing plan” so job well done, right?

Last summer I met up with a colleague at a café. While seated in the outdoor area, I notice a car approach.  The lot was full save for the handicapped spot.   The couple parked there, although they didn’t have the appropriate decal on their window.  When they noticed me staring at them (a friend has a disability and I know how important those parking spots are to the people who need them), the man developed an exaggerated limp.  On the way back from getting their coffee, the Oscar-worthy limp had moved to the opposite leg, and miraculously disappeared when he was five feet from the car.

The message is: we rarely fool those around us.  And the biggest result of faking it is usually a loss of our credibility or reputation.  This is especially true in a law firm where individuals have strong bulls*** detectors.  Incidentally, faking it can happen at the individual but also the firm level.

Avoid Cheating Marketing at the Firm Level:

You can’t legitimately or strategically require your lawyers to do personal marketing if you haven’t set the foundation for it.

  • The purpose of marketing is to fulfill a firm’s business objectives. Your individual lawyers can’t understand what their own business objectives should be unless they understand what the firm’s business objectives are.  Yes, we all want lawyers to get more clients, make more money.  That’s about as effective a motivator as telling them they should also aim for world peace.  Good marketing is specific in nature.  In order for them to be specific, they need you to be.  Have the firm develop a list of business goals for the year, then broadcast those to all of your lawyers.  Their goal is to then ensure that within their own plan, in whatever way they can, they help to bring the firm one step closer to achieving its global goals.
  • Ask your lawyers to then follow a somewhat formalized marketing planning process. It’s not good enough to trust them to do what they need to do.  Have them develop their own list of goals, and a game plan for how they will achieve those goals.  Anything less is as valuable as gossip.
  • Asking your lawyers to create goals and a plan of action is not enough. Show you are committed to accomplishment of that plan by meeting with each lawyer every quarter. Go through
    • What their plan said they were to do;
    • What they did;
    • The results, and any lessons learned; and
    • What they will be doing in the upcoming quarter.

Demonstrate through your oversight actions that the firm is serious about this, wants to support the lawyer in these efforts, and is watching the actions and the results carefully.

Avoid Cheating Marketing at the Lawyer Level:

Despite how successful and effective you feel today, a formalized marketing process that you are dedicated to achieving will make you even more so.  Alternatively, if you feel your practice is under-performing in any way, stop blaming the economy/politics/clients.  Take real action.

  • Determine your business goals for the year. These could be financial and also could include practice management goals, new client goals, goals around recruiting more referral sources, etc.
  • Create a detailed marketing plan to show how you will go after all of those goals. It’s unlikely a single action item will accomplish a goal, so be realistic and aggressive with yourself in your planning.  What will it REALLY take to increase your work in a particular area by 15%?   What do you REALLY have to do to become more versed in a particular area of law?  What do you REALLY need to do to differentiate yourself in a marketplace?
  • Make marketing part of your weekly work life. At the beginning of each week, look at your plan and determine what you can do this week to move it forward, even a little bit.  A successful marketing plan isn’t the result of a ton of work done in the last three months of the year.  It’s achieved through bits of marketing done each and every week throughout the year.
  • Be thorough with your marketing. Let’s say you want to get more work from a particular contact so you invite them to lunch.  You could have that lunch and cross that action item off your list.  Or you could have a plan.  What do I specifically want from them?  What’s my value proposition?  What’s happening with that contact/client right now that I should learn about?  Who can they introduce to me?  What can I do for them?  What is my direct ask at the end of lunch?  How will I follow up afterwards?   Let’s say you’ve been asked to speak at an event.  You could speak there, throw away your notes and go on with your life or… could think about who will be there and what you want your speech to achieve for those targets, then write your speech accordingly.  You could research who specifically will be there and have goals around speaking with a number of them.  You could ensure you follow-up accordingly with any possible leads.  You could take your speech and turn it into a presentation for a select client.  Or an article for the website, or/and a blog post.   Don’t just phone it in…make the time you invest count by spending a bit more time to turn it from a barely marketing opportunity to a killer marketing opportunity.

It seems ironic to label lawyers as lazy.  For the most part, I find them incredibly intelligent, hard-working individuals.  But when it comes to marketing, they can work harder at avoiding it than doing it well.  This works against their business interests and wastes their time – not very smart moves for intelligent individuals.

Don’t waste time cheating marketing.  Lean into it.  You’ll be amazed at how effective it can be.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators.  She can be reached at