(This article is for individual lawyers but especially for Managing Partners and Executive Teams, Marketing Partners and Directors, and leaders of practice groups and client teams).
We all know that a law firm is hardly the ideal environment for marketing. Typically, lawyers are more on the introverted scale: they don’t like socializing with people they don’t know. They also don’t like doing things they aren’t good at and very few law schools teach marketing. Many lawyers don’t feel that marketing should be part of their role…not really. They may equate marketing with ambulance chasing or used car sales – unprofessional, even degrading to their profession.
Yet those in leadership positions understand that marketing is a critical component to the business of law, and that all lawyers in the firm need to do their part in attracting new business to the firm. So how do leaders address the many challenges they may face in getting their lawyers to market?
This blog post looks at the top hindrances to marketing, and provides some suggestions on how to work on overcoming those challenges.
- Lack of Motivation
Lawyers either get the value of marketing or they don’t. If they do, it’s not too difficult to encourage them to market if you provide even the most basic support mechanisms. This might include funding, access to firm support materials (i.e. brochures, standard wording to help with marketing pieces, someone who can make website changes), access to marketing expertise when needed (either internally or externally), etc. For those who are less inclined to see the value of marketing (either because they really don’t see the value, they don’t know what to do, or they simply don’t want to do it), the only way to ensure they market is to legislate it by tying it in with their annual assessment – usually done in concert with a compensation review. For example, many firms require that each lawyer have a personal business/marketing plan. They are then assessed on the completion and results of that plan, often on a quarterly basis. For those who are capable but hesitant, the requirement of a documented plan and regular review process will be very helpful. It will force them to pay attention to marketing, and to implement on their plan through an accountability process.
Some firms have gone so far as to engage someone like me to help re-align their compensation system to better support those behaviours (such as marketing) that promote the firm’s best interests.
- Lack of Skill
Now that you’ve made marketing a requirement to the compensation review process, you need to support it. This often starts with the creation of an internal marketing training program. Six to 10 sessions per year can be planned to span a wide range of marketing topics and provide attendees with a basic understanding of each concept. If you want to go deeper, the firm can create a coaching program for those who want to improve specific marketing skills, or for those lawyers identified by the firm as needing extra help in this area.
- Lack of Time
I have frequently heard of time as an excuse for not marketing. Yet we all know very busy lawyers who none the less find time to market. Using time as an excuse is actually an admittance of an inability to plan or be efficient. (Or it’s a declaration that the lawyer doesn’t hold the same value for marketing that their firm does, which is also a problem). A good planning process or working with a coach can usually resolve this issue. I also often remind my clients of the concept of dollar cost averaging. This is an investment strategy whereby an individual would place a set amount of money each month into an investment, regardless of the changing value of that investment. Applied to marketing, this would mean that you would divide your marketing action items into reasonable monthly or weekly chunks and then ensure that you completed those items in that week or month. This way, no one week or month is overwhelming, and it’s much easier to get used to doing a little marketing each week. For someone who isn’t used to marketing, it’s daunting to face a list of 20 contacts you need to connect with every three months during the year. But broken down by month, that’s only 5 points of contact per month which is very doable.
- Experience/Marketplace Recognition
What if you simply don’t have the same experience or marketplace recognition as a competitor in your marketplace? First of all, if your firm isn’t a strong marketer then this is guaranteed to be the case, so time to fix it. Next, recognize that all marketing is part reality, part aspiration. When someone declares their brand, they are saying that they hope each interaction with their firm will re-enforce this brand. They still have to prove it. Also, consider (or develop) your differentiators. Strong marketing helps the marketplace to see the difference between you and your competitors. It sure isn’t “cost effective, experienced and approachable”, because everyone says those things. Instead, find an angle to your services that can set you apart. Are you a construction firm filled with engineers? Are you a cross-border corporate/commercial firm capable of practising in ten languages? Are you the full-service firm with unparalleled connections to the community? Don’t have a differentiator yet? Figure out what it could be and then start to build toward that reality. Remember, marketing is based on reality but is also aspirational. Also, get creative with your differentiator. Avis built a powerful and lucrative marketing campaign on the fact that they were #2 in the marketplace so they tried harder.
Having a strong brand built around a meaningful differentiator is a good starting point, but ultimate marketplace recognition comes from spending years doing good work. It’s also helped by telling people you’ve spent years doing good work. Have your marketing in place and continually remind the marketplace of who you are and how good you are. Write articles, speak at events, write white papers and blog posts, attend bar functions…do things that will get you positively noticed. And don’t start doing this at year 8. Start at year 3 and ensure that you have an external marketing plan every year for the next 20 years. That’s how you build an external reputation.
Most marketing funding issues arise in law firms due to a lack of understanding of how much should be invested in marketing…so here goes. Law firm marketing budgets should be 3.5% of the previous year’s gross revenues. How you allocate those funds may differ from firm to firm. Certainly, the bulk should be in institutional actions (website, sponsorships, marketing support) but many firms also allocate funds by practice group or individual lawyer. However, you do it, best practice is to allocate funds only to those with a plan, and to hold this individuals and groups accountable to that plan and the results. That means that if you are currently giving lots of money to lawyers who spend it without a plan or any accountability, time to change your funding process.
The bottom line is that there should be no excuse for not marketing. This is a basic business need that requires the contribution of every lawyer in the firm. A strong organization does not allow itself to be run by exceptions to the rule, or by excuses. Face them head on, find a way to overcome them, and don’t allow marketing to be optional.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org