Marketers and lawyers may come from different worlds, but there’s no reason they can’t work together successfully – all it takes is a little understanding.
Greg Fleischmann, chief marketing officer at Lowenstein Sandler in New York, has spent 20 years advising and working with lawyers, both in-house and as a consultant. He shared some of the things he’s learned over his career on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Here are a few insights he covered with host Sharon Berman:
Build trust by showing off your skills.
Lawyers love to look at the qualifications of their colleagues: the law schools they’ve attended, the matters they’ve worked on and how long they’ve been practicing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — attorneys want to assess the expertise of the people they work with. However, this can lead to some resistance or apprehension when a marketer starts offering advice. Even if you know what you’re doing as a legal marketer, you might need to convince a skeptical lawyer of the same.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that legal marketers need to run out and get a J.D. You can build credibility equally well by emphasizing the parallels between marketing and law. Marketers know how to sell, build relationships, manage projects and generate profits — all things that lawyers need to do, too. Highlight your similarities and the skills you bring to the table, and you’ll create more trust with the lawyers you work with.
Learn how to make cold calls — then stop telling your lawyers to make them.
Cold calls are one of the most dreaded and difficult marketing tasks, but it’s important that every marketer has experience making them. There’s no faster way to learn about sales. Plus, that experience will make you more empathetic when you ask lawyers to get out there and network or follow up with leads.
In reality, cold calls are pretty far down the list of “things that drive business.” Marketing officers shouldn’t ask or expect their lawyers to spend their valuable time calling a list of strangers to have vague conversations that will probably go nowhere. Instead, marketers should encourage lawyers to think about their networks and initiate warm calls and meetings with prospects. Not only is this strategy less stress-inducing, but it’s also more effective — a win for everyone involved.
Don’t push new technology too soon.
So many of the technologies considered essential today didn’t exist just a few years ago. Marketers are constantly pressured to modernize their firms, and in turn, they push their lawyers to not only use technology, but also to promote their use of it to clients. If you’re not talking about and implementing new tech, it feels like you’re not in sync with the greater conversation.
However, as tempting as it may be, it’s typically not a good idea for marketers to come into a new firm and update everything immediately. In general, lawyers are independent people, and are essentially running their own businesses. Making firm-wide changes in this environment isn’t easy, and it certainly can’t be done overnight. Instead, marketers are better off spending their first months at a firm building one-on-one relationships, learning what individual lawyers are doing and understanding what leadership wants to achieve. Change can and should happen if it needs to, but not before you fully understand what you’re working with.
Treat lawyers the way you want them to treat clients.
In the legal world, lawyers don’t call someone for the first time and wind up with a contract. Instead, it’s about long-term relationship building. Marketers are constantly advising attorneys to dig into a prospect’s business and figure out how they can deliver value to them. It’s not easy, but we ask lawyers to do it because it works. So, shouldn’t we treat the lawyers we work with the same way?
Just like their clients, lawyers are busy, and they don’t enjoy feeling like they’re being asked a favor. Don’t try to force lawyers to do something — instead find ways to connect and help solve their problems. Can you share a relevant article about their business? Crunch some numbers and tell them something new about their client base? Not only will these helpful touches benefit your lawyers’ business, but it models the exact approach you want them to take with their networks.
For firm success, lawyers need some direction.
Even though lawyers need autonomy, law firms still need to have some control for long-term success. The solution to a client’s problem isn’t always going to fall completely within the expertise of one lawyer in one practice area. That’s when firms need to step in and incentivize (or perhaps mandate, if possible) teaming across firm silos. This not only delivers the most value to clients, but it also grows revenue across the entire client base. Decentralized firms are great from an entrepreneurial perspective, but this isn’t always the best solution for a client, and it doesn’t position the firm to win in a highly competitive situation.
The necessity of a command-and-control structure might be less apparent when business is good, but that’s exactly when firm leaders need to put these structures in place. By the time the firm starts scrambling for work, it’s too late. Marketers and firm leadership need to find a balance between entrepreneurship and gentle guidance before times get tough.
Marketing and business development departments haven’t always had an easy relationship with law firm leaders. But according to a recent survey from the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO), about half of marketing and business development professionals now report that they have external-facing roles — a sign that they’re finally being seen as a trusted part of the team.
Beth Cuzzone, co-founder of LSSO and Chief Business Growth Officer at Boston law firm Goulston and Storrs, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to discuss the survey results and her predictions on where law firm marketing and business development are headed. Here are five of the trends we covered:
There was a time when marketing and business development departments spent a lot of energy trying to claim their territory and distinguish themselves from one another. Over time, however, professionals working in these disciplines have embraced their interdependence and many firms have merged these departments (or encouraged them to work closely).
Now, the same thing is happening with marketing and sales. Firms are realizing that there’s no end and no beginning to the business cycle, and sales is closer to marketing than ever before. Here’s why this makes sense: there’s no doubt that marketing drives sales, and sales should inform marketing. Expect to see more firms take a collaborative approach and break down the walls between sales, marketing and business development.
Over the last decade, content marketing has overtaken “traditional” marketing, which was centered on branding and touting firms’ successes and winning track records. Moving to a more client-centered approach was an important and exciting shift for marketers. Now, another shift is happening, this time to content selling.
Content selling is using substantive, individualized information as a selling tool. Rather than walking into a client meeting with lawyer bios and a whitepaper or two, attorneys are now coming prepared with deal points, matrices and personalized industry knowledge on how the client should move forward. Content selling assumes that clients — the majority of whom do at least some research before contacting a firm — already know about the firm’s expertise and accomplishments, and it takes the sales cycle to the next level.
Content selling is yet another sign that business development, marketing and sales are merging. To work well, the content needs to be packaged by marketing — you can’t have one without the other.
Firms are starting to make the first move when it comes to closing deals. Historically, business development pros and rainmakers focused on building relationships and pitching when the time was right. Then, it was up to clients to make the final call. Although genuine relationships are still important, firms are recognizing that they aren’t the be-all, end-all and a bolder approach may be warranted.
Now, rather than waiting for clients to reach out with a problem, law firms are asking the questions first: “Are you thinking about cybersecurity?” “Have you considered your insurance risk?” “Have you taken preventative steps to avoid litigation?” They’re starting the conversation and driving sales, rather than waiting for clients to come around. It’s a much more proactive strategy than what firms have used in the past.
This approach ties perfectly into content selling, too. Once you identify a potential client’s needs, it’s not a huge leap to provide that client with useful information (and a taste of what they can expect if they hire you).
Business development and client growth executives of the future will need to take a holistic approach to the job. They should not only have an understanding of their firm as a complete entity (not just individual groups), but they also need to understand the landscape the firm exists in, too. Which practice groups have higher utilization? Where are there industry pricing pressure points? Is the competition growing around a particular service? Business development executives should have the answers to it all.
It’s also important that executives take an outward-facing perspective. Although business development pros should know every aspect of the firm, they can’t spend all day, every day talking with their colleagues. The essence of the role is to connect people, thoughts and ideas — and you have to be out in the world to make those connections. That way, no matter what influencer or decision-maker you start a conversation with, you’ll know exactly what your firm can do to help them.
There’s always something new and exciting in the legal marketing world, whether it’s client service teams, podcasts or a new social media platform. When hot new trends come out, it’s tempting for marketers to jump on the bandwagon, justifying it by saying, “We need to stay in line with what’s going on, or at least not fall behind.”
A good marketer is aware of trends, but a great marketer knows which ones will and won’t work for their firm. The industry in general is slow to change, and individual firms may be even further behind than others. If your firm is still heavily invested in traditional marketing, don’t try to leap to content selling; experiment with content marketing first, even though the new buzz is content selling.
Jumping into trends too quickly is what leads to “musical marketing executives” and a revolving door in the marketing office. When a firm adopts a trendy strategy too quickly and it doesn’t work, it leads to frustration for both marketers and lawyers. Marketing and business development professionals should understand where their firm stands — and they should be invited to the decision-making table, so everyone is on the same page.
In a recent survey, 80 percent of marketers agreed that when they added video to their website, it increased the amount of time visitors spent on the site. Clearly, video can have huge benefits when it comes to converting potential clients.
There is one caveat: if you’re going to invest in video, professional filmmaker Richard Clayman says you must do it the right way. Richard leads Cloudwalker Videoworks based in Los Angeles and is an expert on developing marketing videos for professional service firms. He joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to answer our questions about using video as part of a marketing strategy. Richard’s key takeaways follow below.
The vast majority of consumers start their search for an attorney by gathering three or four referrals, then going to each firm’s website to learn more. Which means that there’s a lot riding on “about” pages and attorney bios. Based only on some words and photos, potential clients will decide if you seem trustworthy and someone they want to work with.
Videos help make this first impression more meaningful and dynamic by giving clients the opportunity to see you in action as yourself (with a bit of editing so you look and sound your best). Essentially, videos function as a first meeting, and they make clients feel as if they already know you when they walk in the door. This is much more impactful than a headshot and a few paragraphs about your career history.
If someone watches your video and decides not to contact you, no harm, no foul. In fact, it saves you time in the long run because you’re not meeting with prospects who ultimately aren’t a good fit. What happens more often, however, is that videos do convince prospects to reach out — and since videos create a sense of familiarity, the initial in-person consultation effectively becomes the second meeting. Clients have already decided they want to work with you, and they’re ready to get down to business once you meet.
Thankfully, you don’t have to figure this out alone. A good filmmaker will be able to draw out your best side. Everyone has qualities that “walk” on camera: the aspects of your personality that stand out the most. However, you also need to address the important characteristics and messages that aren’t conveyed on camera as easily.
For example, Richard worked with a labor and employment lawyer who seemed warm and understanding on camera. Obviously, those are two great characteristics for an attorney to have, but it might have left viewers wondering if she was tough enough to handle their cases. To address this, Richard filmed her talking about her NFL linebacker sons and showed the framed pictures of them in their uniforms in her office. This preemptively resolved any doubts in clients’ minds — how could a mother who raised linebackers be a wimp?
Presenting your best self on video comes down to knowing what you want to convey. Make these qualities “walk” on camera by anticipating any questions or doubts your viewers might have and finding interesting ways to fill in the missing pieces.
Many attorneys resist being on camera because they’re embarrassed or afraid they won’t do well. But creating videos for your law firm website doesn’t need to feel like pulling teeth. It might put lawyers at ease to know that filmmakers and videographers often need just a few minutes (or even seconds) of useable footage. Between takes, attorneys can walk around, take deep breaths or do whatever they need to feel comfortable on camera. Usually, the process is much easier and the results are much better than they ever imagined.
It’s also best to knock out several videos at once so you get them done. You will be more efficient if you already have the setup ready to go and have carved out time to be focused, rather than trying to squeeze in a video shoot every few weeks.
Not all professionals who provide video services are created equal: there’s a difference between videographers and true filmmakers who have experience writing, producing, and directing movies and TV shows. That experience is vital when it comes to making engaging marketing videos. Even though an attorney bio video would never be in the same category as a summer blockbuster, the principles behind both are essentially the same.
To determine whether you’re working with an experienced filmmaker, ask about their writing and storytelling skills. An inexperienced videographer will conduct lots of time-consuming interviews with no clear story in mind. Then, they’ll try to cobble all the disconnected pieces together into a sensible whole. A filmmaker, on the other hand, will be able to create a story arc and momentum from the get-go.
Another mistake of rookie videographers is making videos too long. They should be about one minute. Much longer, and people simply won’t want to watch. Something about a minute-long video feels doable, no matter how busy the viewer is. Importantly, short videos also create an underlying subtext that you respect your viewers’ time and don’t want to interfere with their busy schedules — one more point in your favor.
Marketers in every industry latched onto video seemingly overnight. They’re used for everything these days, but there’s still room for the industry to grow, and there are lots of holdouts who have yet to dip their toes in the video waters.
The problem is that some lawyers are still using poorly made videos, and an even greater number are using mediocre ones. Lawyers and law firm marketers would never provide services, launch a website or implement a marketing plan they thought was “just okay.” For some reason, however, many professionals seem to think that “just okay” videos are an option. There is a huge opportunity for videos to improve, but professionals need to work with the right people and stop accepting low-quality work product to make that happen.
Every legal professional knows the importance of branding, yet few firms do it successfully. Determining your brand and internal culture is no easy task, but it is essential if you want your firm to thrive.
Mari-Anne Kehler, chief marketing and strategy officer at the Los Angeles accounting and consulting firm Green Hasson Janks, has spent her career guiding professional service firms in refining their brands. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to discuss four reasons why developing firm culture is important, which we’ve outlined below.
Anyone who’s ever worked in the professional world has, at one point or another, contributed to a strategic planning process, only to see the resulting document tucked away in a drawer until it’s time to revise it again a year later. Completing a visioning process is a big undertaking, so it’s no wonder why busy lawyers only want to think about it when absolutely necessary. If your business plan is gathering dust somewhere, you’re doing a disservice to your firm.
Instead, firms should have living, breathing visioning processes that inform day-to-day activities. Leadership needs to meet on a regular basis to check in on progress, collaborate and challenge each other to keep striving for their goals. These check-ins are also an opportunity to test new ideas and incorporate industry changes into the strategic plan in real time.
This visioning process is also critical for branding. A vision statement isn’t just a sentence or two; it’s the heart of your firm and is where your branding and culture flows from. A dynamic visioning process can help you refine your vision statement and, from there, transform your whole firm.
If you stack law firms up against each other, the surface level differences often start to slip away. Firms may differ in terms of size, practice area or industry focus, but essentially they all do the same thing: offer legal services. The one thing that can differ? Why each firm exists. Every lawyer has different goals and driving forces that impact everything from the clients they choose to work with to the type of service they provide. Whether you know it already or not, there is a reason why your firm exists, and that reason differentiates you and your team.
Determining your firm’s “why” can be an important tipping point for your marketing and branding efforts. Green Hasson Janks went through a year-long process to identify their why, and it was tremendously helpful in differentiating them from their competitors. It also facilitated the hiring process. Being able to tell the story of why your firm exists and lay out exactly what sets you apart from others helps attract top talent. Your why impacts everything you do, so figuring out what it is can only serve to improve your firm.
Firm culture isn’t a campaign or a tagline. Culture won’t magically arise from a website redesign or new logo. Although many firms default to these tactics, they aren’t sustainable; they’re just ways to gloss over inauthenticity. Culture goes much deeper, and developing it takes a dedicated commitment from leadership with guidance from the CMO or head of marketing. Sometimes, it means deviating from the plan or putting the brakes on. For example, Mari-Anne had to convince leadership at her own firm to put a website redesign on hold until they understood their brand from the ground up.
Therefore, hiring an outside branding consultant isn’t always the best option. Although skilled professionals can help, they’re only effective when leadership is prepared to take a close look at its values and make hard decisions if necessary. An outside consultant can’t force you to fundamentally change the way your firm operates — that’s up to you.
Doing marketing, branding and business development well takes skill, experience and critical thinking. It’s a science and an art, just like practicing law. Unfortunately, some firms don’t recognize this. Lawyers are considered “professional” and everyone else, including marketers, are “admin.” This is a shame, because if you’re hiring marketing rock stars, they’re also highly trained professionals — and if you embrace their talents, your marketing efforts will be that much better.
For marketing and branding strategies, investments and initiatives to succeed, they must exist within firm priorities, not in addition to them. If the CMO or head of marketing isn’t being invited to the leadership table, it can be difficult for them to do their job to the best of their ability. However, when the marketing team can work together with leaders across all areas of the firm, it supports all other activities, from hiring and retention to client conversion and service.
Wondering why your law firm isn’t getting the same media attention as competitors? The reality is that reporters don’t always interview lawyers who have the most interesting thing to say —they interview lawyers with good PR people.
So, what constitutes a good PR professional and how can they get their clients the media attention they want? Brandon Jacobsen, a former producer for the CBS Evening News, who spent time reporting in Washington, D.C., says there are certain things PR pros can do to get on reporters’ good sides and score those A-list placements. He shared 6 insights on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast and we’ve recapped them below.
Personal relationships are key when it comes to getting your message across. The media is all about who you know. Keep in mind journalists are busy people and they can’t always accept invitations to coffee dates or networking events. Instead, build those relationships while you’re working together.
During interviews or press conferences, prep your expert ahead of time so you can make the rounds with reporters and socialize a bit. Once the interview is over, don’t take off with your client to debrief immediately; stay with the journalists for a few minutes and make sure they have everything they need. From there, it’s simple to segue into a more personal conversation. Ask them about what else they’re working on or how they started in journalism. Before long, you’ll have a social relationship with the reporters you see frequently, which can benefit you when you pitch stories in the future.
If you don’t already have a relationship with a news outlet, sending a story idea cold is still acceptable — if you do it right. First, know exactly who you want to pitch. Generic newsroom email addresses are a black hole, so always zero in on one or two reporters. Grab their attention with a sexy subject line and don’t be afraid to stroke their egos a bit by complimenting them on their past reporting. Then, keep your pitch short and sweet.
Don’t get in the weeds worrying about exactly who to pitch. Anyone can be a great person to pitch if you catch them at the right day, time and situation. Whether it’s TV, print or online, all newsrooms have at least one editorial meeting per day where everyone shares their story ideas, so there’s no silver bullet reporter to target. What matters more is that your pitch is perfect, because if you get someone’s attention and send them a bad pitch, it will be a lot harder to get their attention in the future.
Lawyers can’t have multimillion-dollar verdicts every day, so law firms and their PR professionals need to be realistic about where and how often they get in the news. Let’s say a new Supreme Court pick is announced and you have a lawyer who argued before the nominee 10 years ago. That’s probably not enough of a connection to get your lawyer on the CBS Evening News. However, it could be enough to get an interview with a local CBS affiliate. You can’t always get the top tier media placements, but if you’re willing to go narrower, you can still secure some great attention.
Think about degrees of separation. You don’t always have to be intimately connected to the news of the moment. If there’s some connection, even five or six degrees away, you can still find a creative pitch — it just requires a bit of spin.
Scheduling can also be on your side. If your lawyer only has a loose connection to a story but they are available for an interview right away, she might beat out the lawyer who’s more connected but can’t do an interview until the next day. Reporters can’t wait around, so connecting them with lawyers who can talk ASAP is sometimes all it takes to secure the interview.
It can be more difficult for smaller firms to get national visibility, but that doesn’t mean they need to resign themselves to second-rate media coverage. Local news can be just as valuable as national outlets, and, truthfully, PR professionals should be targeting the locals first. National reporters are always looking at local news to, for lack of a better word, steal their stories. Oftentimes, national reporters will use local stories as-is, using the same quotes and sound bites or inviting the same expert to do a TV segment. Don’t discount local stations and newspapers, because they could be your ticket to a national story.
Just because you’ve secured the interview doesn’t mean your work is done. Preparing your client for an interview is just as important as the interview itself. The first thing PR pros should do is tell their lawyers to keep the jargon to a minimum. Although the ins and outs of a legal topic are fascinating to a lawyer, reporters and the public don’t understand it and probably don’t care about it. Think macro, not micro, and stick to short, colorful sentences that would work well as sound bites.
Many lawyers worry that reporters are looking for a “gotcha!” moment. If your client is representing the “bad guy” in a polarizing story, it’s very possible that the reporter will take an adversarial stance. But whether the interview topic is controversial or not, being kind and friendly to the reporter is the number one way to ensure the interview goes well. A little charm goes a long way, especially considering the interviewer has the power to control how your client looks in front of the masses. Advise lawyers to treat reporters like they would a juror who’s watching them argue a case.
The absolute worst thing you can say is “no comment.” The second worst is not calling a reporter back. These are the two most egregious sins any PR professional could ever commit because they make the client look like the bad guy who has something to hide. It leaves the door open for the reporter to track you or your client down and try to get answers when you’re unprepared. You don’t want to get TMZ’d and get peppered with questions when you’re leaving the gym or going to dinner.
It’s always better to say something, even if you have nothing to say. Give reporters three sentences, even if they’re totally meaningless, and call it your official statement. In the best-case scenario, your statement would be well-crafted and thoughtfully show your client’s side of the story, but if that’s not possible, a throwaway statement is better than radio silence.
Law firm leaders, whether they’re managing partners or marketers, have to be in a constant state of improvement. They should always be on the lookout for industry trends, firm innovations and better ways to communicate.
Iris Jones, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at McNees Wallace & Nurick, has experience on both sides of the fence; she was a practicing lawyer before she segued into business development. Iris shared her wealth of experience on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Here are some of the areas we covered:
Attorneys today compete with so many equally capable competitors that it’s not enough just to be a good practitioner. They need to be good relationship builders, too – and that means relationships with prospective and active clients. Just because a client has retained you, that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a strong relationship. Trust and rapport need to be fostered over time.
One way to build better relationships? Hone your listening skills. Use the 20/80 rule (ask questions 20% of the time and listen 80% of the time) to ensure you’re really hearing people and not just what you’re saying. Listening to your client explain their opinions, needs and expectations in their own words will tell you more about their business than a Google search ever could.
These conversations need to be genuine and sincere. You won’t learn much from a client (or strengthen your relationship with them) through an interrogation. Instead, you need to create opportunities to spend time with them and have authentic conversations. Law firms sometimes spend millions of dollars courting their clients with events and fancy dinners, but over-the-top tactics don’t work for everyone. If someone would rather go to a Yankee game, you may not want to invite them to the Met.
Although marketing leadership has become established over the years, CMOs and other marketing professionals at large firms seem to be making more moves lately. Jones thinks this case of “musical marketers” is due to a disconnect between expectations and what CMOs deliver. For marketers to succeed, there must be clear communication from executives to eliminate any dissonance between what firms say they want and what they get.
Marketers can’t just be order takers, either. They need space to be innovative and creative. They need to be able to recognize the firm’s immediate needs and be bold enough to make sound recommendations – including recommendations that leadership may not want to hear. When marketers aren’t capable of doing this, whether it’s because they lack the necessary skills, or they haven’t been given clear expectations, it can lead to a breakdown in the relationship.
It’s no wonder that CMOs can easily feel undervalued. They may be invited into the room, but they aren’t always heard, and marketers must be included in the conversation if they want to deliver results according to the wishes of the firm. Communication and support, both financial and managerial, are key for marketers to succeed at law firms.
If your relationship with leadership has gone off the rails, there’s always an opportunity to salvage it. The first step is getting candid feedback. Start with an approachable mentor or champion and ask them for advice about who else you should talk to at the top, perhaps the chair, managing partner or executive committee members. Speak to those folks and find out what you haven’t delivered on or been able to do and try to accept their criticisms with an open mind. Then, you can work on refining expectations and finding a solution.
Through this process, you may find out that the problems were just caused by miscommunication. Speaking with leadership gives you an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and work out a plan. If the issues are deeper than that, a solution is still possible – if everyone is willing to participate in it. But if you’re totally checked out and your heart’s not in these changes, it may be time to move on. Until you reach that point, though, any relationship can be saved with honesty and dedication.
Teamwork within departments is critical for the successful functioning and operation of the firm. However, even though law firms have been using client teams for 20+ years, there are still people who think using teamwork to serve clients doesn’t work. For many reasons, the industry has allowed attorneys to own relationships instead of firms, often to their detriment.
This mentality won’t fly anymore. First, because it’s not realistic to think that one person can address all of a client’s needs. They can’t, and limiting clients to one attorney means that other valuable business goes by the wayside. More importantly, clients are starting to demand teams, and ultimately the client rules. Generally, if three or more practice areas at a firm are serving a client, the firm is less likely to be terminated. When a client works with multiple attorneys, the relationship is deeper. This can’t happen if firms don’t have strong internal teams and aren’t willing to change their ways.
Teamwork is clearly the next logical step for law firms, but the traditional compensation system impedes lawyers’ ability to embrace it. Tradition is hard to overcome for people who have been in the industry for decades. Law firms truly looking to make a change can start with law school students, who have an entirely different approach to life and the practice of law.
At McNees Wallace & Nurick, Jones implemented Strategic Collaboration for Summer Associates, an award-winning program designed to foster teamwork among future lawyers. Through the program, summer associates work together to develop a presentation on how to best engage a prospective client. After a few weeks of research and collaboration, teams present their findings to the firm.
By working together in this program, summer associates are being exposed to a new way of doing business that’s not always seen in law school or at some firms. They see first-hand the value of teamwork and hopefully that lesson stays with them throughout their careers. The lawyers who observe the summer associates learn a valuable lesson, too: that collaboration works and should be an important aspect of competitive intelligence.
Click here to listen to Iris’ Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast episode: Building Better Client Relationships with Iris Jones, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC. Make sure to download/subscribe.
If you’ve always thought that lawyers have different brains, you’re right: research shows that lawyers are skeptical and independent, two traits that make for great attorneys. They’re also often sensitive to criticism and resistant to change and risk — both of which happen to be hallmark characteristics of not so great managers.
The good news is that, even if managing doesn’t come naturally, all lawyers can improve their managerial skills, which is critical for a successful and happy professional life. Throughout their careers, attorneys have to mentor, guide, diffuse conflict and communicate with the people they work with. Management skills are essential, even for lawyers who aren’t in formal leadership positions.
Marcia Watson Wasserman, President of Comprehensive Management Solutions, Inc., and Andrew Elowitt, Managing Director and Founder of New Actions, both based in Los Angeles, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast and explained how lawyers can become “champion managers.” Here are the top six characteristics of champion managers:
Recognizing the importance of management, much like other non-billable business activities, can be difficult for lawyers. Many think it’s a necessary evil that prevents client work from getting done. But the best lawyers know that a law firm is a business and management has real consequences for the bottom line. Good management turns revenue into profits; without it the firm just floats by, like a ship with no one at the helm.
Part of what makes management so important for law firms is its impact on retention. A well-managed workplace has high levels of trust, collaboration, communication and engagement — positive qualities in any office. A successful manager removes barriers to allow everyone to work at their highest level, which helps retain and attract top talent. Champion managers use their skills to create a sought-after workplace and build an effective team.
No one ever said management was easy and it’s particularly difficult in an industry where 99% of people don’t like to be managed. Yet champion managers don’t let that deter them and they find creative ways to fulfill their duties. They actively participate in all aspects of people management, from hiring and onboarding of new firm members, through training, supervision and development. They’re willing to resolve conflicts when they occur and they get into the nitty gritty issues that come up in any workplace. It’s no easy task, but champion managers embrace it.
One challenge unique to law firms is that attorneys may have to manage peers who are equal to them. In some instances, they may even manage lawyers with more equity in the firm, more experience or a bigger book of business. Attorneys who find themselves in this situation can’t shrink or go into control mode; they have to find the right balance and be mindful of the relationships in the firm. Champion managers understand this.
The most successful lawyers aren’t just book smart — they have emotional, social and conversational intelligence, too. They’re able to navigate tricky situations, sympathize with their peers and build genuine relationships. However, many people, especially analytical people like lawyers, don’t naturally have these qualities. What’s an attorney to do?
Luckily, social and emotional intelligence can be developed through self-awareness and practice. Attorneys who aren’t interested or fully invested in making a change will never improve, but the champion managers who make a commitment to cultivating their skills can see massive change. They use tools like peer feedback and career coaches to identify areas of improvement. This skill is critical for all attorneys, whether they have a formal leadership role within their firm or not.
It doesn’t do any good to ask others to work hard, act with integrity and treat others with respect if you aren’t setting the example. Champion managers truly walk the talk. They know there can’t be a disconnect between what they preach and what they actually do.
The heart of this comes down to vulnerability and authenticity. Lawyers who are willing to openly talk about their mistakes, apologize when necessary and share their struggles, create trust between them and other firm members. These attorneys make the most effective managers because their reports feel accepted and have a better understanding of the motivations behind what’s asked of them. Being a closed-off authoritarian won’t cut it anymore, especially when working with millennials, who prefer a more egalitarian, open management style.
Lawyers generally aren’t known for their patience. A sense of urgency is a good thing when a client has an important issue on the line. In a managerial context, however, a nagging taskmaster doesn’t do much for firm morale.
Despite lawyers’ natural tendency to push forward, champion managers know when to sit on their hands, zip their lips and let others figure things out. In a rushed environment, attorneys might be tempted to just hand the solution over and get on with it. But a champion manager recognizes that swooping in with the answer isn’t healthy in the long run because it creates an over-dependent team. Lawyers need to be challenged, and champion managers allow their peers and reports to flex their problem-solving capabilities.
Anyone can read a management book or go to a leadership conference. A champion manager, however, puts their learning into action. They practice their skills and have the wisdom to know which skills to use, with which people and in which situations. They recognize that there are infinite ways they can improve. For example, law firms are doing more virtual work than ever before. Today, lawyers should be comfortable leading virtual meetings; in a couple years, they should be virtual-meeting masters — and they should be learning about the next big development in law.
One interesting thing to note is that hardly any champion managers think they were born leaders. Instead, they attribute their success to a growth mindset. They learn through hard work, practice over and over and embrace their mistakes. They seek out feedback and self-correct as they go along. This desire to learn is what sets a champion manager apart from the rest.
For lawyers trying to expand their practices, their first instinct is to broaden their marketing efforts and client base. It seems like a simple numbers game: offer more services to more people and you’ll always have a steady stream of clients, right?
Not so, according to Nathan Darling, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Beveridge & Diamond. Instead, he says lawyers should dig deeper to find specific areas they can focus on and excel in. As a recent guest on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, Nathan talked about the importance of specialization and why finding a niche can make your marketing and business development efforts soar.
Here are his five tips on how to find your specialty and leverage it:
No matter the industry, there are always new companies opening and old companies innovating. Your specialty can develop organically just from helping clients evolve and adapt to the changing marketplace. Where are your clients’ industries headed? What services can you offer that will help them for years to come? Doing a bit of research, even if that just means setting a few Google alerts, can help you better understand your clients’ industries and refine your specialty.
Another way to find your niche is to draw on the core strengths you already have. Look to the left or right of your current practice and consider the related industries as well as companies and clients that have an unfilled need and consider how your strengths might benefit them. This allows you to explore new niches from the relative safety of your existing practice.
Narrowing your practice, rather than trying to be all things for all clients, works for lawyers in all stages of their careers, but it can be especially helpful for young lawyers establishing their practice. Developing a niche creates more opportunity and helps you stand out from the pack, even if you don’t have a ton of experience yet.
For example, an up-and-coming employment lawyer might be particularly well-placed to help small, family-run companies. Narrowing down his ideal client gives him a foothold in a crowded field and it gives him a brand distinct from his peers. When he’s asked what he does for a living, instead of saying, “I’m an employment lawyer,” he can say “I help growing family businesses with compliance matters.” It’s much more interesting and it gives people a better sense of what he’s all about.
The happiest and most successful lawyers are the ones who have chosen to practice in an area that aligns with their personal interests. If you do work you can get excited about, you won’t just be a better lawyer, but a better marketer, business developer and client manager. Clients can tell when you genuinely care about the work you’re doing for them. These passions can point you toward a specialty you can thrive in.
Your interests can also be a personal or humanitarian cause. If you’re passionate about women succeeding in business, you might orient part of your practice toward representing women, or you could offer free or discounted services to female entrepreneurs. Even if your passions aren’t enough to base an entire specialty on, they can be an important part of your pro bono work, networking activities and philanthropy, which all connect back to your overall marketing and business development strategy.
Having a specialty helps you stand out and get those all-important referrals. When asked for a reference it’s easier for your colleagues to say, “I know a lawyer who does exactly the type of law you need,” rather than point someone toward a garden-variety lawyer. Your specialty differentiates you and keeps you top of mind among clients and peers.
A niche is also a great networking tool. Almost every large professional organization, especially for diverse and minority lawyers, has subcommittees and practice affinity groups. Joining groups that align with or complement your specialty can help you find referral sources you’ve never tapped into before. The key here is to participate in professional organizations with an attitude of giving. How can you help someone? What needs can you fill for other people’s clients? It might sound self-serving, but in truth you’re helping your peers and building a strong referral network.
If an organization or practice affinity group doesn’t already exist for your specialty, you have an opportunity to create one. It doesn’t need to be in person, either; there are lots of virtual ways to share your expertise and connect with people across geographical boundaries, from LinkedIn groups to blogging.
In the coming years, Nathan predicts we’ll see a return to the time when lawyers were trusted advisers and the client experience was king. Rather than differentiate based on legal services, attorneys will differentiate themselves based on the client experience they provide. The most successful lawyers will develop practices that are highly tailored, molding themselves to accommodate every client’s individual needs.
Technology will make it easier for lawyers to provide the specialized service that will be so important in the future. Consumers today are used to controlling their every experience, from customizing their coffee through an app to choosing their specific seat in the movie theater. Savvy law firms will take note of this and use technology to provide customized services to their clients.
Recently, I was planning a trip to Munich. During the trip, I wanted to visit a few law firms to learn about their marketing and business development, so I researched firms online. However, I didn’t select firms to visit based on the information I read. Instead, I did an experiment: I intentionally looked at each website in German, not English, and made my choices based only on the visual impact of each site. I wanted to see if website design would influence my opinion of the firms I saw during my research.
After looking at several firm websites, it was clear that they varied quite a bit, and I found myself drawn to certain law firms more than others based solely on the way their websites looked. The sites fell into three distinct categories:
This was an eye-opening exercise for me; it drove home that a poorly-designed website has very real consequences. I could have been looking at the website of the very best law firm in Germany, but if it was dated, I counted it out. On the flip side, I was drawn to the firms with vibrant websites even before I knew about their credentials and experience.
Your website, for many different reasons, immediately communicates a message about your firm and that message isn’t just conveyed through words. Colors, images and fonts all influence the way your firm is perceived. Prospects quickly form an impression of you, even without being aware of all the factors they’re reacting to. Your website design plays a huge part in this first impression, for better or worse.
What do you think your website communicates? If you’re not happy with the answer to that question, maybe it’s time for an update.