It's Not About Marketing the Law Firm Anymore - Part Two: What Marketing and Leadership Must Do

[Part One of this post may be found here.]

Today’s Legal Marketing Professional Should…

Ask “WHY” a lot.  Your marketing leader should have an innate sense of curiosity and a mind that continually asks questions.  “Why” gets to the purpose and qualifications of a program or activity, while “how” questions demonstrate a desire to learn and a self-motivation to solve.  Such a proactive personality is required to stay abreast of digital activity and innovations.

Create an overarching plan for meeting goals – as outlined by firm leadership – an umbrella, if you will.  To the marketer, this is a straight-forward step.  Yet, inside a firm, a lack of leadership support for developing a marketing/business development initiative and for the execution and communication thereof across the firm will result in inertia.  Inert firms face extinction more quickly these days as more nimble competitors take advantage and move ahead.  A clear “umbrella plan” can provide guidance for communications activities and help maintain a budget by serving as a benchmark against which future opportunities are gauged:  Should we undertake Project X?  Does it conform to our business goal for the (year) and the message we must convey to clients and prospects based on what we know about their needs?

Ask topical questions.  If you interview a prospective marketer (full-time, part-time, or consultant), whether for a role dedicated to social or a more general or managerial role – they should ask something like these example questions, to demonstrate a knowledge about today’s interactive environment.

  • How does the Firm keep up with Social?
  • How does the Firm keep up with clients on Social?
  • In what ways does the Firm obtain feedback online?
  • How does your Firm obtain analytics and measure online activities?
  • How do you follow up on the data you obtain (from analytics)?
In other words,  What's the Plan, Phil?  (Photo:  ABC,  Modern Family )

In other words, What's the Plan, Phil? (Photo:  ABC, Modern Family)

Be pro-active on your behalf.  Your marketing leaders should do more than take direction and fulfill project requests.  They should bring ideas that build upon practice/firm initiatives, they should research data proactively to support those goals.  Marketing now occurs 24/7 and your marketing arm should have a 24/7 awareness.  (This does not mean they must work around the clock, merely that their awareness should be heightened and perceptive to leads whenever they might occur.)  Marketers’ activities should not replace the research performed by attorneys, but rather function as a supplemental source to watch out for relevant client and prospect data and information.  They should seek to improve their own education and bring back to the firm what they learn.  Thus, interview for and hire (work with) proactive learners.

The other side of this coin, however, requires that marketing leadership be integrated with firm leadership meetings – directly.  Meaning:  include your marketing leaders in your partner and attorney meetings.  They do not have to participate in a full meeting, but perhaps the portion dedicated to business development and cross-marketing conversations.  Hire well, but don’t handicap your professionals’ ability to produce results.  If you aren’t confident about your marketers, find training opportunities to strengthen their abilities, or trade them for more skilled players

Moneyball,  player trade.  Via CBS.

Moneyball, player trade.  Via CBS.

Leadership Support Essential

Leadership must support digital marketing plans, from development through execution, to realize success.  Now, more than ever, that support (or lack thereof) will be visible through firm culture, online and in real life – and will affect communications to the public.  A plan may be as simple as encouraging all attorneys to have a LinkedIn profile.  (Firm-wide use of LinkedIn would enhance results of profile searches and increase presence/mentions of the firm online.  Helpful:  the Firm needs its own profile, too, where Firm news and attorney activity content are posted.)  A robust plan might integrate a variety of social platforms, the analytics to measure activities and results, and a follow-up plan for what to do with the results.  With either approach, the more comprehensive the engagement, the more successful the presence. 

Do Not Force

One size doesn’t fit all and the firm should have a plan B for non-adopters (will non-adoption be accepted and to what extent).

Independent Streaks.  If compatible with firm goals (remember, use the overarching umbrellas as a guidepost for questions), then it may be easier to encourage and promote those who are independently successful either as zealots, fully engaging with digital and social tools, or as traditionalists retaining more stadard means of business development. 

If a digital plan has: 

All On Board.............the Firm benefits, and attorneys benefit

Some on Board.........the Firm benefits a little; the message may be disjointed; Attorneys benefit individually to the degree they participate

  • Those who get it (are motivated to participate) will market themselves into popularity and niche practice, and potentially away from the firm (depends on how they are managed).
  • Those who don’t (use digital marketing) will eventually be left behind.  They may be left out of cross-marketing and business development activities.  This can lead to rifts and discord affecting culture, and/or they may be dropped from the firm.

Caveat:  a rare few will retain standard marketing methods and survive.  I know of a senior partner who did little if anything online, including email, but successfully maintained business development by the phone.  You may want to note that he is close to retiring…

Open the Floor

When employees have a voice within the organization, whether to suggest ideas or to provide content for blogs and social media, they tend to experience greater job satisfaction.  I suggest engaging an open atmosphere of communication within the firm that welcomes ideas and suggestions from all employees, not just attorneys.  Be sure to implement with a clear communication strategy for responding to people so that they feel heard, even when a suggestion may not suit the present need.

 The Big Squeeze

  • What has changed in the last four years?  There has been an increased potential for non-law firm entities to step into the legal market through automation and generalized legal solutions.
  • What has changed in the past year?  There has been an increased potential for non-lawyer ownership of firms.
  •  Last few months?  In May 2015, seven people passed a Washington state examination to become the first licensed legal technicians in the country.  
  • What hasn’t changed?  Pressures for leaner law firms, driven by the 2008 economic downturn, continue and requests for Alternative Fee Arrangements are on the rise.

2008 ushered in the era of pressure to design Alternative Fee Arrangements.  This pressure came from outside the firm, from clients and prospects.  In the last few years, non-traditional legal service providers added another outside pressure point.  More recently, the possibility of non-law firm ownership stands to exert pressure internally.  Plus, I suggest that the fast-approaching need for more staff to address the digital age will add another internal pressure on firms’ plans, budgets, structure, and profitability.

I depict these pressures along a “reverse bell curve” – when you consider the related impacts to social and digital media.  For example:

Traditional marketing included large expenditures on advertising, sponsorships, and other means of pushing out messages to targets.  The advent of social media enabled free and low-cost means for networking and building contacts, and more focused interaction.  The need to measure that activity prompted the engagement of analytical tools and data storage and management tools.  Those tools led to our present period of high-activity and data production, and the increased need for staff with expanded and deeper skills to analyze, manage, and leverage the information – for more tailored approaches to business development.

Again, it is no longer about “marketing the law firm.”  It’s about an authentic message, understood by all within a firm – such that all can contribute to your unique story and client service…as well as listen for client feedback.  And, it's about anticipating meeting the growing avenues and requirements to deliver that message.

Want to Learn More?

  1. Tomorrow’s blog post:  Does Your Law Firm Really Need a Full-Time Marketer?
  2. Read past posts on our blog for topics related to law firm and attorney marketing and business development, social and digital strategy and training, analytics, social media platforms, and information from other legal thought leaders and legal marketing (thought leaders).  Follow us on Twitter: @FlipCatLLC.
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