© 2014 The Texas Lawbook.
By Mark Curriden – (November 7) – Two decades ago, most Texas law firms were just experimenting with the concept of legal marketing.
Hughes & Luce had Deborah McMurray. Akin Gump had Katherine Kurtz. Lawyer-turned-TV journalist Mike Androvett was just opening his PR firm.
The mantra at most full service law firms was simple: No advertising and no talking to the media. Business simply walked through the door on the basis of referrals and reputation. In fact, many corporate law partners found marketing – and those who did it – distasteful and unprofessional.
Today, more than 100 chief marketing officers, directors of business development and public relations managers from law firms across Texas gathered in Dallas to compare notes and learn lessons to improve their craft. There were sessions on preparing better RFPs for clients, ways to improve internal law firm communications and innovative approaches lawyers can use social media to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Their place in the legal profession has changed dramatically during the past 20 years.
There are now more legal marketing professionals employed in Texas than public librarians, state court judges or licensed tow truck drivers. Some CMOs make more money than a majority of the lawyers at their law firms. Law firm leaders who only a few years ago scoffed at legal rankings, such as Texas Super Lawyers, now hire full-time professionals whose sole mission is to improve their lawyers’ standings in those rankings.
An analysis by The Texas Lawbook and The Dallas Morning News shows that lawyers and firms in the state will spend an estimated $70 million to $80 million in 2014 on marketing, business development and public relations efforts.
“There’s no doubt that legal marketing has evolved significantly,” says McMurray, the CEO of Content Pilot and the Dean of modern legal marketing and business development in Texas.
McMurray, who was the head of marketing at the now defunct Johnson & Swanson from 1987 to 1992 before jumping to Hughes & Luce, says the law firm leaders wanted their marketing professionals to focus on branding, brochures and websites from the late 1990s until the recession hit in 2008.
“Now, nearly all of the focus is on business development,” she says. “Firms want their marketing people to grow clients and revenue. Traditional marketing and branding is gone.”
Larger full service law firms now employ 30 to 40 people to design and maintain websites, create brochures, write and distribute press releases, research potential clients, purchase advertising space, set up blogs, host client parties, seek positive media attention, place lawyer-authored articles in magazines, nominate lawyers for awards and get partners placed in those never popular Texas Super Lawyer rankings.
The Texas Lawbook, which interviewed managing partners, lawyers and non-lawyers at more than three dozen firms – large and small – in Texas during the past few months, estimates that there are about 1,200 marketing, PR and business development professionals in Texas who focus most or all of their time on the legal industry.
As former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, once told a gathering of the marketing department at his old law firm, Vinson & Elkins, “You people are everywhere. What the hell do all of you do?”
Texas law firms – large and small – have demonstrated a willingness to spend money on legal marketing.
Larger Texas law firms pay CMOs between $240,000 and $500,000 annually. Two law firms, according to lawyers at those firms, inked multi-year compensation packages with CMOs that top $600,000 a year. Directors of marketing, communications and BD typically earn between $125,000 and $240,000. Even mid-level marketing and PR managers earn $85,000 to $120,000 annually.
Then there’s the category of crazy spending. Two of the largest law firms in Texas conducted internal studies of how much money and lawyer time their respective firms spent annually on lawyer rankings, such as Chambers, Best Lawyers and so forth.
One firm spent more than $650,000 and the second firm spent $780,000, according to partners at those two law firms.
Outside marketing and public relations firms, including Jaffe, Sheley Marketing, Bernstein & Associates and CM2 Marketing, offer a plethora of marketing and communication services to Texas lawyers and have firms flourished, too.
When I became the legal affairs writer at The Dallas Morning News in 1996, the business editor, Chuck Camp, told me there were two people I needed to know in the legal marketing world: Deborah McMurray and Mike Androvett.
Androvett runs the largest and most successful legal communications shop in Texas. He and long-time colleagues Bruce Vincent and Amy Hunt have grown their operation to nearly 20 full-time professionals. They represent about two-dozen lawyers and firms, including prominent plaintiff’s lawyer Frank Branson, litigation boutiques AZA, Caldwell Boudreaux and Gruber Hurst, and large national law firms Thompson & Knight, Winston & Strawn and Gardere.
“When I started, there was a definite cultural disconnect between lawyers and marketing professionals,” Androvett says. “Lawyers were risk-adverse and felt the need to protect every single bit of information about their client.”
Androvett says many marketing professionals are still struggling to get a seat at the leadership table of their firms, but that more and more lawyers understand and appreciate the need for the services marketing leaders can provide.
Other legal marketing leaders agree.
“Generally, there’s a greater understanding of the need for marketing; and therefore, a heightened commitment to it,” says Thompson & Knight Chief Client Services Officer Becky Jackson. “While partner attitudes toward marketing can be affected by the nature of his/her practice, the individual’s comfort level with promoting his/her expertise, and how other firms are marketing their services (overall, the awareness that differentiation is of the utmost importance), motivates many attorneys to market.”
The increase in the number of law firms in the Texas market competing for the same work “means the ability to differentiate yourself is more important than ever,” says Jackson, who has been at T&K for 16 years.
“For this reason, law firms are employing a broader mix of marketing and business development tactics to communicate to clients how they stand apart from the competition,” she says. “This mix may include the tried and true tactics of 15 years ago, as well as newer web-based marketing and social media tactics.”
Allen Fuqua, the chief marketing officer at Winstead, says that law firm leadership has become more savvy in how they approach marketing efforts and how they spend money.
“I think branding and communications are still important and a significant emphasis, but there has been a big shift toward business development during the past several years,” says Fuqua, who was the director of marketing at Jenkens & Gilchrest for eight years.
Still, turnover among CMOs and other senior level marketing leaders at law firms remains high.
The primary reason for the high turnover rate, according to law firm partners and CMOs, is the disconnect over expectations.
“The expectations of both firm leaders and marketing executives are largely unspoken and thus are not met,” says McMurray. “Many lawyers don’t know what the responsibilities of the marketing folks are. Do they bring in clients or do they simply make brochures or do they research potential clients and their legal needs prior to the partner meeting with the client?”
Androvett says that marketing leaders need to have a “strong sense of self and no fear of intimidation” in order to survive the law firm environment.
But he also cautions, “There are just some lawyers you will never be able to help because they have unreasonable expectations or because they simply will not let you help them.”
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