Publicity Payoff

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: California Law Business

Attorneys who accept the need for marketing can use it to pull in clients and prestige.

Legal marketing has recently begun to come into its own as a recognized necessity for law firms and lawyers. Marketing is no longer the four-letter word it once was, equated with selling used cars. And even among conservative lawyers, a reaction of disbelief to the idea of marketing is more often the exception than the rule. For the most part, there is an understanding that law firm and attorney marketing are critical to success. The profession of legal marketing is growing and becoming accepted.

Yet, several things about lawyers in the marketing realm continue to amaze me. The most puzzling thing is that associates don’t understand how critical it is to their own lives and career success that they market and begin to build their own client base or “book of business.”

It has nothing to do with shooting for partner. It’s simply vital—whether or not you want to make partner. Having your own book of business means that you are no longer a commodity. You add value to your firm and gain your colleagues’ respect.

It also gives you confidence. But the most important thing is that it gives you much greater control over your own life. Having a book of business means you have options and leverage. Without it, you are what many associates complain about being treated as – a fungible commodity. What is the difference between two associates, both without business, even if they both went to top-notch schools? The ability to perform is expected. The difference between the two is often not readily apparent.

Associates often complain that they are treated like drones. If you don’t want to be treated or seen as one, step out of the rut. Identify and develop an area of expertise that interests you and is valuable to your firm. This is one way of marketing— becoming a client magnet so that your expertise attracts potential clients. Make yourself stand out so that your colleagues see you as apart from the pack.

In a Northern California law firm, a bankruptcy associate was hired by a firm right out of a Top 10 law school. He diligently worked his way up to partner and was a partner for several years. He was a valued member of the team and everyone knew they could count on him in a pinch. If someone needed to pull an all-nighter to get things done, he was the man. Then circumstances arose which required the firm to change its name. When it was between him and another person, who got the nod? Not Mr. Reliable! It was someone who had been with the firm a much shorter time, but had brought in four times the business Mr. Reliable had.

But some associates still count on being Mr. Reliable. I hear them say that they are making themselves valuable by all the hard work they’re putting in and their willingness to go to the mat to get things done. Yes, this can certainly make you stand out in some circles; but in most circles, it’s expected. So don’t count on being Mr. Reliable. What really differentiates you is the business you can bring in, or at least bring up to the door and let your partners help you bring through the door.

Another phenomenon in legal marketing also surprises me. Whether it’s a partner or associate, there’s a fear of trying something different in marketing and being seen as “unprofessional.” Most people will not disagree that lawyers, as a whole, tend to be conservative. Not just marketing, but anything out of the box or breaking the mold tends to be viewed as “unprofessional.”

Yet they yearn to have their marketing stand out and be different, which does not mean that it is unprofessional. If you only venture into a new marketing arena once everyone else has done it, you’re living up to the tag line “last to be first” and you’ll never be able to create the fresh marketing approach you want.

I truly applaud those who are willing to try something new. There’s always an element of a risk to marketing. You have to see how something flies, and if it seems to be worthwhile, continually refine it.

Another thing that amazes me are the groups who boast proudly that they don’t do any marketing, that their marketing is all through good client service which generates word of mouth referrals. I just smile and nod. Then, there’s the group that proudly says that they don’t do any marketing – all they do is network and give talks. That’s marketing! Some lawyers would really like to market and would be good at it. They just need to overcome their inertia or initial resistance to trying something new. Then there are those who would like to market, but don’t know how. There is plenty of training and know-how out there if you want to find it. If your firm doesn’t offer it, you can find it elsewhere. Attend a seminar or workshop or buy a book that will teach you. Some people are born marketers, but most of us need training.

People say it takes too much time to market. They spend too much time at the office as it is and don’t want to devote more time to marketing. I thoroughly understand that; however, marketing takes time and there is no way around it.

But marketing also builds momentum and becomes easier once you’re up and running. And, if you’re smart, you’ll leverage your marketing. For example, if you give a talk, make sure you send out press releases. Then turn the talk into one or more articles for different publications your prospective clients and referral sources are likely to read. Get reprints of the article and send them to clients, prospective clients and referral sources.

Some people will never market. They have absolutely no interest in it. Maybe they’re so incredible technically that they can add a lot of value to their firms just by being geniuses. That’s fine. But if you’re not in that category, marketing is critical to your ability to have control over your career. Law firm marketing can also be very classy and attention-getting, yet professional. Yes, it takes time to do it right, but view it as an investment. The time you invest now will pay off handsomely as momentum builds and you gain a reputation.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm.

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