DANA POINT, Calif. — The 26th Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum, held this past week at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel resort, gave attending lawyers, partners, corporate legal officers, legal academics, and legal service innovators a lot to think about as to where the legal industry is heading and how they can best position themselves for success within that ecosystem.
With wide-ranging panel topics including pricing strategies, compensation models, next generation leadership, regulatory and risk concerns, sales teams within law firms, and data usage, among others, there was a lot to take away from the event no matter what your role.
So, whether you attended or should have, here’s our take on the Top 5 Takeaways from the Marketing Partner Forum:
1. Be conscious of how you’re grooming your leaders. In a panel titled, “The Kids Are Alright”: Coaching the Next Generation of Law Firm Partners, one panelist made a great point that many law firm leaders look first to explain why things likely will not work. A few others take the viewpoint that they don’t really see a good reason not to try something that could be innovative. As law firms look to develop their next generation of leaders, they need to be conscious of whether those future leaders are being groomed to foster innovation or favor the status quo. We’ve heard it over and over that clients want law firms who are innovative. That will require leadership within those firms who are willing to let innovation happen.
2. Make diversity a priority. A Forum breakout session titled, Great Expectations: Enhancing Associate & Diverse Lawyer Representation in Business Development, shed light on a topic that ran like an undercurrent throughout much of the Forum. That is, diversity is not only is it more reflective of who we are as a society, it makes good business sense. The panel discussed how diversity as a form of business development will create more successful strategies in the marketplace, though panelists grappled with how legal departments can best collaborate with outside counsel to ensure diverse talent is supported and presented a path to success. Panelists agreed that it is not enough to recruit and hire diverse candidates, but those candidates also must be set up for success. How? Provide ongoing mentorship and encourage junior associates with meaningful client interactions and future opportunities to ready themselves to be leaders.
“Law firms who effectively embrace and leverage diversity as a business development strategy strengthen the firm fabric and culture, undergird talent management, and align with client interests,” says legal consultant Jan Anne Dubin, who chaired the panel. “An integrated diversity and inclusion program allows a law firm to distinguish itself by creating innovative approaches that support the unique strengths of individuals and the organization by providing stronger diversity of thoughts, outcomes, and solutions.”
3. Don’t hold your breath for standardization of outside corporate guidelines. If we learned one thing from the corporate legal officers that comprised the panel, A New Republic: Toward a Standardization of Outside Counsel Guidelines, it’s that general counsel and their teams have very strong feelings about outside corporate guidelines, especially in regard to their rights to impose them. Far from being an afterthought or a boilerplate document, much thought and strategizing goes into producing these guidelines, one panelist suggested, adding that “outside counsel needs to respect that.” Another panelist summed up why he doesn’t think standardization of outside corporate guidelines is happening any time soon. “They may be a pain in the neck, but every individual company has the right to create their own guidelines for outside counsel to follow.”
4. Want your firm to stand out? Make the client your ‘Luke Skywalker’. Think about stories you’ve heard through your youth — Homer’s The Odyssey, J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or ever George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. What do they have in common? The “hero’s journey” — a familiar narrative framework of struggle, challenge, and ultimate perseverance that resonates with each one of us for various reasons. And, according to Adrian Dayton, CEO of Clearview Social, who led a morning talk on story-telling, this narrative can be used in the law firm marketing space as well. You can utilize this same approach with clients, Dayton says, adding that stories can help personalize your interactions and strengthen relationships. Most important to remember is that your client — not you or your law firm — is the hero, the Luke Skywalker in the narrative. Your job is simply to provide them with the tools to achieve that goal, whether to slay a dragon, save the universe, or simply win a court case.
5. Clients will tell you what they want (especially if you ask). This was not a new point, but it was reinforced quite clearly by numerous panelists at the Marketing Partner Forum. Clients are very particular and very unique about what they expect from their outside counsel; but for the most part, they don’t have a desire to hide the ball. They are happy to share with outside counsel what they expect in terms of service, outcome, cost, or any number of other factors. They share some of this through their outside counsel guidelines, but they also expect law firms to ask. Law firms that do ask and then put what they hear into practice are the firms that will be more likely to deliver high-quality service and ultimately win a larger share of business.