Last week, I participated in Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute’s 22nd Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. What a great conference. Outstanding speakers, valuable and practical content, lively interaction among the participants, all in breathtakingly beautiful setting. I was delighted to be part of it.
I was particularly struck by two experiences at the Forum.
The first was the very talented group of professionals I encountered. Approximately 250 marketing leaders attended the conference, including marketing partners, marketing directors/managers, and marketing advisors. As reflected in the panel discussions and informal conversations during the conference, they are creative, energetic, optimistic and dedicated. Equally important, they have deep experience at marketing in the context of legal service and a pragmatic outlook on the opportunities and challenges they confront.
I came away from the Forum with an enhanced belief that American law firms have it within their grasp to staff their marketing functions with extraordinarily capable people.
The theme of the Forum was Building Collaborative Strategies across the Firm and with Clients, and this was evident in the second striking experience I had: The need for collaboration among the lawyers, particularly the partners, to enable marketing plans to succeed. In nearly every session, regardless of topic, the discussion raised this need for collaboration to get done whatever the panel was talking about.
What I inferred from the focus on collaboration was this: Law firms need more of it. While the panelists didn’t raise the issue by way of complaint (most of the time) it would not have come up so often if it weren’t a problem. This comports with my own experience with law firms; lawyer engagement—and especially partner engagement—with the firm’s marketing plan is not nearly as substantial as it needs to be.
So, what can law firms do to increase lawyer engagement in the firm’s overall marketing plan? Here are three suggestions:
Articulate a Compelling Brand
For lawyers to be engaged, they need to believe in the mission. A key to such a belief is a compelling expression of what the firm stands for—what it offers to the market. That expression is commonly called the “brand” or “value proposition” and is intended to inform and attract the market to the firm. But is equally important in motivating the firm’s own people to action.
The “brand” needs to be grounded both in the reality of the firm and the needs of the clients. It must express how the firm is truly the right choice to be retained for the legal service and the client relationships that it seeks to obtain.
Far too often, law firm brands are bland and generic, promising “expertise,” “client focus,” and “teamwork,” rather than distinctive and specific benefits that the firm will deliver. If you want to engage your lawyers, adopt a brand they can get excited about.
Empower the Marketing Team
Most firms are blessed with top-flight marketing professionals. If they are not, they certainly could be, given the available talent pool.
The marketing team, by definition, is an active participant in most marketing activities. That’s why they know more collaboration is needed. It also means they could generate more collaboration if they had some clout.
So, give them some. Words won’t do it. It will take action. Demonstrate, publicly and meaningfully, that the marketing team is respected. Act on their recommendations. Accord their views of lawyer marketing efforts real weight in performance evaluations. Credit them when successes are achieved. Include them in important management committees and meetings, and listen when they speak.
Give the marketing real standing in the firm’s authority structure. It will enable them to lead the lawyers to greater collaborative action.
Measure Results and Hold Everyone Accountable
You are what you measure, as the saying goes. Lawyers are particularly motivated by performing to the rules of the game.
Firms should set objectives for marketing, measure performance against those objectives, and hold everyone, marketing team and lawyers alike, accountable for the results. Not only will this generate better outcomes and return on investment, it will motivate the lawyers to do their part. Once they believe they are being measured by their contribution to the marketing plan, they will dedicate themselves to earning a high mark.