Most firms are under-utilizing one of the most effective marketing tools of their future: their Associates.  This results in increased pressure on the rest of the firm to build business and may potentially jeopardize a firm’s stability in the future.  Law firms need Associates to step up and market, for everyone’s sake.   To steal from Gerry McGuire, here’s how you can help them help you…

I’m always nervous broaching the subject of Associate marketing as some firms believe that only Partners can and should market a firm. Or there are the firms where Partners feel that the marketing department should market the firm and leave lawyers (including Associates) alone to practice law.

Here are Heather’s truths about law firm marketing:

  • In today’s marketplace, everyone in the firm is responsible for marketing the firm.
  • No one should market the firm without a clear understanding of the agreed-upon marketing goals.
  • Very few lawyers today can effectively market a firm without training.
  • The way that your senior or founding lawyers marketed the firm “in their day” will no longer work. The world has changed too significantly.  That’s why so many marketing mentoring programs don’t work.
  • Most lawyers don’t really like to market. That’s not why they got into the law.  You’ll need to find a way to entice them.
  • About 1% of lawyers are true rainmakers. When you have one, nurture them.  They are worth their weight in gold.

Where do Associates fit in with all of this?

Your non-rainmaking, senior-most lawyers are reaping the benefits of their very successful earlier marketing.  But the fact is that if they had to start from scratch today, many of them wouldn’t be able to build up their client base again using those same techniques.  We are in a new age where clients have more information, choice and thus, power than ever before.  Many purchase decisions are made before a client even picks up a phone to speak with the lawyer.  Brands and social media speak for lawyers before they can speak for themselves.  Marketing today requires internet savvy, fearless conversation and a general assertiveness that many more senior lawyers aren’t comfortable with.

Marketing departments should continue to ensure the firm has dictated business goals and a marketing direction, Partners should continue to work their existing resources, and Associates should learn how to and be supported for marketing in this new age.

How to prepare Associates for Marketing:

  1. Ensure they are well-versed in the firm: its brand, its differentiators, its practice areas. You can’t sell something you don’t completely understand and appreciate.  Educate them heavily on these areas.
  2. Allocate time within their hourly expectations for marketing. Ensure they track that time in your time keeping system and value those efforts at review time.  I encourage lawyers to put in 225 hours of marketing to every 1500 hours of billable expected (or 15%).  Admin, by the way, is not marketing.  Nor is education.  Those represent additional non-billable time over and above billing.   Lawyers who are putting in under 15% of their time on marketing and are low on billable hours should be encouraged to see the correlation.
  3. Give them a marketing budget. Either give them access to general firm marketing funds so they can do what they need to do or issue them a budget that they need to manage for their marketing initiatives.  They should be accountable for the funds they use.
  4. Ensure they build a marketing plan and meet with them regularly to see how it’s going. These actions come under the words “support” and “accountability”.

What Should Be in their Plan?

  • Every good plan starts with over-arching goals. For an Associate, more often than not those start with:
    • Hit my billable targets;
    • Maximize use of my non-billable time (don’t just put in the time, ensure every hour is working towards something I identified I want to accomplish);

Thereafter the plan can include big picture goals that focus on some of the items listed below.

  • All lawyers should be constantly working on their network. Associates can start that process by making a list of everyone they know (law school buddies, friends and family, acquaintances, clients) and placing them in an ABC list.  A is a good target.  C is a maybe at best.  B is somewhere in the middle.  They should then develop a plan for connecting (ideally regularly) over the coming year with the A’s, touching base periodically with the B’s, and looking for opportunities to touch base with the C’s.  The purpose is to build up a network either for direct work, or for possible referral sources.
  • All lawyers should be aware of, thanking and building on their referral networks. Associates can start by developing a list.  Depending on the Associate’s year of call, a good portion of those referral sources might be the lawyers from their own firm, and that’s OK.  The list of more senior Associates would hopefully include some internal lawyers but a number of outside people as well.  Next, determine how to maintain existing relationships.  For target referral sources, build a plan for winning them over.
  • A section of their plan should be dedicated to what they are going to do to support and promote the business/marketing objectives of each practice area, industry group or client team they are in. This might include education/marketing cross-over activities such as writing an article or blog post, speaking at a conference, or assisting a Partner with any of those tasks.  It also might include going to lunch with some more junior members of a client’s company to expand and solidify those relationships.
  • A plan should include ways in which the lawyer will work on their own credibility and reputation in the coming year, so they will continue to increase their value to the marketplace and thus, to the firm. It’s not good enough for them to simply do their work each day, however brilliantly.  People need to know how brilliant they are!   Where will they be published, speak, etc.?
  • An Associate plan should ideally include some marketing buddy tactics: attending a conference or a client event with a Partner to get exposed to the client or association, see how that Partner works a room, etc. This could also serve as the start of a succession plan.
  • The Associate should consider the type of marketing they want to do/feel they might be good at and put those ideas into their plan. Allow them to experiment a bit.  Their idea might pan out and if not, trying is still a valuable lesson.  Or they might come up with an incredibly successful idea.  Who knows…you might have discovered the firm’s next rainmaker.
  • If feasible, looking into getting some marketing training or coaching for the Associate.

Associates are in the best position to market in this internet world and protect the future of long-standing client relationships.  But Associate marketing won’t occur by happenstance.  The expectation, targets, structure and support must be in place to guide your Associates through the process.

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