Key Findings from Marketing Partner Forum Survey: Getting Buy-in from Your Lawyers

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Leadership, Legal Executive Events, Marketing Partner Forum, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Thomson Reuters


The Annual Marketing Partner Forum — most recently held in January 2019 at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, California — provides an opportunity to check in with peers, hear about the latest law firm marketing and business development trends; catch up on how the latest software can help firms improve client retention, matter management, knowledge management, and pricing; and to generally learn from others.

One of the highlights on opening day is to hear the results from the Marketing Partner Forum annual Marketing and Business Development Survey.

The survey’s annual data demonstrates the year-over-year progress law firms are making on initiatives, strategies, and tactics focused on all areas of marketing and business development (BD), including communications, general marketing, business development, and sales. Reporting includes which implementation tactics are garnering more of the marketing and business development budget than others.

Over the past five years we’ve seen changes in a few areas: reporting structure — many marketing chiefs are now reporting to managing partners; budgeting — budget dollars previously were focused on web sites, branding, and communications, and now are more so on business development and direct client contact activities. Over the past three years in particular, the results show that firms are savvier than ever about tracking return on investment on marketing and BD dollars and activities. This is a key finding and strong result based on the new tools that allow for more data analysis by the department’s team.

The one constant the study reports year over year, is the challenge of lawyer engagement. That is, getting lawyers to engage with the various marketing and business development initiatives and activities, and the resources the firm provides towards this goal. What’s the solution?

Let’s start with the fact that lawyers are paid to work on client files, and to bring in business to the firm. So, the rainmakers and the big billers become the key stakeholders. For the most part, while the big billers should care about marketing and business development, if they are billing 2,500-plus hours, there is little time to think about entering data into a customer-relationship management (CRM) system, or preparing to network at a table-sponsor event or other marketing activities that don’t connect directly to them getting work out the door.

The rainmakers often have more exposure to the marketing and BD resources; and they know how to effectively work with this resource to help retain and grow existing clients and develop new business. Other marketing and business development initiatives may be a priority to the marketing and BD team, but may also take a back seat to both stakeholder groups’ priorities. But there are ways to facilitate lawyer engagement.

Provide firm leadership with important messaging about a specific initiative or activities the department believes are priorities — This messaging has to be delivered at various firm meetings to underscore the importance of the resources and investments the firm is making and how these can impact and support the activities the lawyers engage in.

Visit key stakeholders to discuss why their support and leadership is important — Nothing garners more success than success at the top. Select some key stakeholders and make it a priority to discuss the key initiatives and the importance of their support to help facilitate firm-wide awareness and adoption. If the initiative requires lawyer input or lawyer time, ask how the marketing and BD team can help minimize the time.

Recently a London partner of a Global 100 firm said: “The marketing department is always telling us what to do. As lawyers we are trained to break the rules, be skeptical, and find work-arounds. I’m a big fan of our marketing team but they need to learn how to work with the lawyers given that framework.” Interesting feedback when you think about it.

It is clearly not easy to visit every key stakeholder or every partner to provide individual support. As long as lawyer engagement continues to be the biggest challenge to marketing and business development success, it is important to individually engage as many partners as possible. This tactic should become a part of every marketing and BD team’s plan.

Indeed, this type of lawyer outreach will help to close the gap that often exists between the partners and the marketing and BD team.

Further discussion of the annual Marketing and Business Development Survey will no doubt continue at the 27th Annual Marketing Partner Forum, scheduled for January 2020, at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami, Fla.