What`s Hot In Law Firm Marketing

By Deborah McMurray
Published in Texas Lawyer

It's Not Enough to Rely on What Works for Others. Your Plan Must Be Unique to Your Firm.

Finding new clients is often the hardest thing for law firms to do. We can generally determine why our existing clients continue to hire us, but why does someone new walk in the door and say, I understand you can solve my problem? Why would they choose us instead of that big, national firm down the street or that tiny boutique that only practices XYZ law?

There are dozens of reasonable answers to the question why. Don`t concern yourself with why, however, focus initially on how and what. How can you prepare your firm to attract new business (and be ready for it when it walks in the door), and what can you do to differentiate your firm and set it apart from and above the competition?

Lawyers shouldn`t devote much time to catching up with the latest `trends" in our industry. After all, "trend" only means, "the general tendency or course ... of events; or, a vogue or current style, as in fashions." Once something has the trend moniker, you are too late. Evaluate the trend and, considering your people and your firm`s objectives, choose to add it to your marketing/business repertoire, or identify something that would better fit your needs. Remember, your competition is defining what these trends are—are they the best folks to dictate the direction your firm takes? Do they know your markets any better than you do?

Remember, too: What`s hot today may fall out of charm`s way next year or the year after. So, whatever you decide, build variety into your marketing mix and "ladder the maturation of each approach, so dig your methods and targets don`t and retire at the same time. Every strategy has a shelf life; before you incorporate it into your plans, understand its, beginning, middle and end.

What`s Not Hot

I asked several well-respected marketing directors of law firms and consultants in NALFMA. (National Law Firm Marketing Association) what their most and least favorite tools are for marketing to new clients. Sharon Morris, at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, NJ, replied to the "what`s not hot" question: "Any activity that is not directed at a well-defined target audience has significant potential to be ineffective and, thus, unsuccessful. Given this fact, I think that advertising is an activity that is frequently deemed “unsuccessful."

Susan Saltonstall, president of Saltonstall & Associates, agrees that the shotgun and reactive approaches don`t work. She says, “Examples of `marketing driven` (as opposed to market-driven) activities that are ineffective if not part of a strategic plan include: brochures, a home page, a newsletter, standard seminars, press releases. While each of these marketing strategies can be particularly effective, many firms are doing them in isolation without a clear sense of their purpose and without a direct tie-in to the marketplace.”

Deborah Brightman Farone, at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, believes that advertising is fine for general awareness, but that most firms are not doing themselves a service by using it as the sole method of getting new business.

It`s definitely not hot to do things blindly, Peggy Abrahams, marketing communications counsel for Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant et al., in Santa Monica, Ca, points out that development of costly brochures without a specific application or targeted marker is a waste of money.

Debra Scala, with Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein, Wolf & Schlissel in Mineola, N.Y., states, "Untargeted blanket mailings of newsletters and reprints to a mass audience of prospective clients" will produce little, if any, return on investment.

"Everyone sends `junk mail` these days and no one has time," she says. "Material should be written for a specific audience and less should be sent. When doing mailings, less is more. A handwritten note is worth more than 2,000 newsletters sent to faceless names.”

According to Biff Maddock at Altman Weil Pensa in Newtown Square, Pa, another unsuccessful "trend" is the hiring of non-lawyer salespeople to make cold calls, or any other call for that matter. Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates in Wayne, Pa., agrees that these professional business developers and cold calls are not the way to get your foot in anyone`s door. Both agree, however, that it could work, given the right supportive environment.

According to Maddock, “A law firm would need to establish ground rules that would appeal to a professional sales person; this means a supportive infrastructure and a financial arrangement with a future. Most firms aren`t willing to commit to a long-term new business development strategy. In-depth knowledge of the law and how law firms work would also be critical. Unlike the Big 6 accounting firms who have experienced some success hiring professional sales talent from industry, law firms have had limited, if any, success with this."

Don`t be discouraged if your entire plan has just been obliterated by the marketing professionals quoted above. Remember, that ANY method can be unsuccessful (not just those mentioned) if it isn`t implemented well and a part of something greater, i.e., a comprehensive marketing plan.

What`s Hot

Everyone wants to know about the Internet. The World Wide Web is here to stay, although no one can imagine what it will look like two years from now. This strategy for reaching new sources of business is clearly being welcomed and embraced by the legal monoliths, the boutiques, plus all the medium-sized firms in between. As of August 1996, there were as many as 2,500 law firms with some type of home page on the Internet. Is this vehicle successful?

The marketing directors and consultants I surveyed agree that it`s too early to tell. Universally, however, lawyers are curious. They are interested in what other firms’ home pages look like and they are wondering what these firms know that those without a presence don`t. Is it magic? Is it prohibitively expensive? While having a well-designed and thoughtfully conceived Web site has a very high "cool" factor, no one I surveyed can yet say that Web sites have brought in new business for their firms.

By nature, the Internet is a high-maintenance marketing tool. By the very fact that the: information is instantaneously available, the serious site visitors expect the offerings to change regularly - they expect more than an “electronic brochure.” Managing the expectations of thousands of site visitors is an impossible task however. An Internet action plan that addresses the maintenance, expectation management of visitors and your lawyers is critical to its success.

Marketing directors` hopes for the Internet are high, however, so constant evaluation of the "hits" and analysis of the Internet’s ultimate business-generating value will continue to be meaningful.

Wendy Weisbrod Loder at Winthrop, Stimson in New York says the most successful tools she uses are “[a] client bulletin - a weekly single-issue newsletter on a hot case; breakfast briefings for clients and prospects on the most important bulletin topics; advertising with a response mechanism to generate ‘qualified leads,’ prospect-centered proposals; and meetings about value-added services our firm can provide.” Weisbrod Loder gauges the success of these through new matters opened and inquiries generated.

Saltonstall and Denney see their clients doing any number of successful things to attract new clients. Saltonstall says, "The more focused I can get my clients, the better ....we form niche-practice or industry groups based on existing client clusters and skill sets. We devise plans which capitalize on existing client contacts and trade/association opportunities for leadership and visibility."

Denney says the most successful tools he sees are "[s]eminars, newsletters and supplemental client memoranda or `white papers’ on specific subjects. Roundtables at a firm work well - invite a small number of target prospects to hear an informal presentation on a subject of interest. These are very effective if the outside speaker is other than an attorney. Do this over breakfast or lunch; it shouldn`t last more than 2 hours.” (I`d go out on a limb and say no longer than 90 minutes.)

Many agree that networking is valuable, although most agree that with exceptions, bar associations aren`t as effective as industry and business groups. Joining any organization will fall miserably if the attorney does it as a resume’-enhancer, always arriving late to meetings and leaving early. There are several critical "musts" that need be in place if you want "joining" to lead to new business:

  • You must have some passion about the mission of the organization. Your enthusiasm will be inviting and other members will want to know you because of it.
  • You must devote the energy to serving on smaller subcommittees that actually, “do” something.
  • You must look for opportunities to lead.
  • You must realize that you are selling only yourself in this environment. If people like and trust you, they’ll want to know more about who you are and what you do.
  • You must be patient. Groups of volunteers are, by nature, slow-moving. While you can influence the manner in which things happen, you may not be able to increase the speed.

Debevoise & Plimpton`s Farone uses "[s]eminars and building on existing relationships. Our whole program emphasizes client service at its core." Sharon Morris’ firm "places primary emphasis on marketing tools that promote opportunities for direct contact with the potential client or referral source, such as speaking engagements, involvement in legal, trade and business organizations. Other activities, such as the publication of newsletters on current legal issues, placement of articles in publications, advertising, etc., are undertaken, but are viewed as secondary in terms of importance and value to new business development efforts.

Victoria Spang, at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen in San Francisco, focuses on "highly customized proposals” and Peggy Abrahams’ firm “invests resources and energy maintaining and building relationships with referral sources in industry groups, and employee organizations by giving seminars, writing articles, etc.” They hope to be top-of-mind when a potential client comes along. Abrahams determines success via “business reply card surveys, sent out with targeted newsletters and client questionnaires that track the source of the referral.”

How else can we measure the success of our efforts, our ideas and the dollars we spend? Ask your new clients (but don`t forget the old ones) and your firm`s attorneys. The lawyers are out in the trenches—they hear compliments about a firm event, a mailing or some community effort; but sometimes they don`t hear anything. In music, silence is as much a part of the medium and message as the notes are; so it goes here. If you have just exhausted your resources with a marketing strategy designed to attract new business ... and you do not hear a thing ...from your attorneys ... or the audience for whom it was designed ... listen.

Celebrate and build on your firm`s strengths, yet understand how its weaknesses get in your way, and don`t waste time trying to create a "me, too” marketing program. If other firms are successful" employing a strategy, it`s probably because it works for them. It may not work for your firm. Seek strategies that will uniquely work for you because your firm has exactly the right mix of talent, leadership and goals. Design your new programs around your existing clients. If you listen to what your "old friends" have to say, chances are, you will be more successful attracting new clients than you could ever imagine.


Have an article to recommend?

We invite clients and friends to contribute to the
CP Press Room by sharing their favorite articles,
blogs or books. To contribute to the CP Press Room,
contact Blake Davis or send an email to pressroom@contentpilot.net