As a profession, legal marketing is still in its infancy. In fact, words like sales, marketing and business development were virtually shunned as nonsense and “ambulance chasing” just a decade ago. Back then, attorneys enjoyed longstanding institutional clients, handshake deals, unquestioned bills, and significant leverage in the attorney-client relationship.
But how times have changed. With an increase in partner laterals, the advent of increasingly sophisticated procurement teams, greater transparency into pricing models, and more law firm mergers every year, the dynamics have certainly shifted. Attorneys can no longer simply wait for their phones to ring and to expect million-dollar books of business by executing and providing superb client service. That ship has sailed, and client expectations have been raised across the board.
Clients both expect and deserve more in 2019, and they are getting it in many forms, often driven by the marketing and business-development teams. From complementary in-house CLE trainings and future issue spotting sessions to dedicated client and industry teams, client feedback programs, attorney secondments and other tactics, we have created a more symbiotic relationship between lawyers and those they serve. And that’s a good thing.
But it’s also separated the wheat from the chaff with differentiation, so to speak. The ability to specialize in key industries or issues and provide value beyond the matter to sell legal services is now, unquestionably, a mission-critical skill in today’s highly competitive and specialized legal environment. To their credit, Am Law 200 law firms have taken notice over the last 10 years by ramping up their training, building deep marketing functions and investing in new technology to enable their attorneys to provide greater value.
But a key disconnect remains in that most attorneys are new to the marketing game, and accordingly, neither understand the breadth of in-house resources nor how an increase in communication with these teams internally can benefit them. The most successful lawyers understand that their marketing departments are true sales enablers, and understand that taking the time to provide information and key client takeaways ultimately helps them and their fellow partners to gain new clients and grow their practices.
Let’s take a look at five components of this puzzle:
1. Improving Internal Communications
Once the engagement letter is signed, it’s difficult to think about anything else besides getting the deal/trial underway or across the finish line. That said, it’s critical to keep internal teams in the loop around what it is you’re doing throughout the matter lifecycle (confidentiality issues notwithstanding). Whether that is filling out a matter intake form with proper industry/SIC coding or alerting the team when a deal is completed, communicating at key stages helps immensely. It not only enables the team to build complete client and experience lists for future pitches, it also helps the firm to understand client metrics (matter velocity/lifecycle/etc.), and it enables them to more effectively publicize the win before it becomes old news. Be sure to check out the smart technologies that can automate these steps for you.
What’s In It for You?
- Avoiding the stress of emergency firmwide emails before last-minute pitches with accurate and complete experience lists.
- Increasing attendance and open rates for events/alerts/communications by creating a better intake and conflict process that enables better contact/audience segmentation.
- Improving pricing/resource projections and anticipating client spending lifecycles as you will have more accurate matter close dates.
- Tying client contacts to specific matters to glean greater insights on relationship strength between attorneys and firms.
- Getting more interviews, press mentions and speaking opportunities as you communicate wins and deal closings to the public in a more timely manner.
2. Getting Media Placements More Effectively
Most attorneys tend to develop ideas in isolation from their marketing departments, then craft articles rife with legalese that contain numerous citations. Marketing departments are frequently sent articles like this with the expectation that we can just send it along to someone who will publish it. But it doesn’t work that way. Each publication has their own framework and requirements for submissions, whether it’s word counts, citations, or the like. The main problem is that nobody has considered the audience — not only which publication, but who is reading that publication. How can you know what to write if you don’t know who it’s for? Hint: The answer isn’t “everyone.” Let us help you. Start by floating us two to three sentence abstracts, and letting us perform some simple SEO research, then allow us to shop the idea around first. You’ll save time and headaches, and improve realization as you return to billing clients.
What’s In It for You?
- Saving time in rewriting and editing as you will understand the audience and the article framework (word count, citations)
- Increasing readership as you allow the marketing team to search for terms/topics that you can own and that have been shown to resonate with the best audiences.
3. Using Research and Technology
When attorneys first join the firm, I make it a priority to not only discuss the roles and responsibilities of each one of my team members, but also to walk them through our technologies so they know the right questions to ask.
Simply asking for intel on ACME firm before a client meeting is great, but we have the ability to do so much more than just pull company profiles and personal bios. For example, I can tell attorneys that we used to get 40% of the trademark litigation work in SDNY from ACME, and now we get 23%, and that we are losing it to Smith Law firm, because they not only have a blended rate, but they tend to settle 60% of the time in 23 less days on average (over the last 12 months). From ACME’s perspective, they are getting more efficient service, and we need to obviously explain this disconnect through more clear selling propositions and messaging. That’s actionable information that wins pitches. So set up a time with your marketing folks, and make sure to explain the why behind the request- you may be amazed with what they can do.
What’s In It for You?
- Saving time and effort as you minimize the back and forth so prevalent in the attorney/marketing relationship
- Improving actionable intelligence as you gain deeper understanding of the limits and opportunities with their research capabilities and available technologies.
- Maximizing efficiency through developing more streamlined processes and level-setting expectations on deliverables (taxi reports versus full dossiers, etc.).
4. Coaching and Planning
Attorneys often tell me that our team’s greatest value lay in the business development advisor/coach role. I often liken myself to a gym trainer, marrying psychology, inspiration, and sometimes a kick in the butt to help my attorneys to win. But in some firms, attorneys want to conduct all of the client and target reachout, set up the meetings, and then still manage their other jobs of billing, admin, collection and (gasp!) actual client work. I see this changing in the legal industry, but it’s often very helpful to work out a schedule and a gathering of the minds with your team. Maybe your teams can screen and identify target companies, or maybe they can conduct the first line of reach out with a value-added deliverable and start to set up meetings. Their only interest is in growing your originations.
What’s In It for You?
- Developing systemic approaches to be more organized, more accountable, and more proactive in building your book of business.
- Maximizing billable hours as you can scale the use of the Marketing Department up or down to your liking/culture.
- Gaining confidence and sanity as you more effectively distribute work to those who do it best, enabling you to focus on what you do best.
When I worked at a Big 4 consulting firm, we had a steadfast rule that we would never respond to queries that were partner-led “dump and runs;” those that left a voicemail or a cryptic note that they needed a deliverable yet provided little to no context. We aren’t trying to waste your time with asking questions around the genesis of the opportunity and the nature of the relationship. Take the time to spend 5-10 minutes to explain everything you know, and you will easily save five times that much on your document and pitch review. Plus, these discussions often lead to secondary or tertiary ideas that may not have originally been considered!
What’s In It for You?
- Developing a more thoughtful pitch strategy and creating accompanying documents that can both increase win rates and elevate the overall brand.
- Creating a consistent message that is better aligned with the firm’s, enabling you to leverage the firm’s brand equity.
- Saving time and valuable resources on the back end of pitch review as the deliverables will be much more aligned with your vision and client needs/cultures.
Hopefully, these tips have been helpful as you deepen your relationship with your marketing and business development teams. Understanding the capabilities of this partnership will enable you to optimize the firm’s skill sets and increase your brand and win rates. Good luck!
Mike Mellor is the firmwide director of marketing and business development for Pryor Cashman, a 190-attorney firm with offices in both NYC and LA. In this role, he works to identify, develop and execute strategies to both drive new business for the firm and increase brand awareness.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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