There are many ways to approach the execution of law firm marketing. Some lawyers take an ad hoc approach and do what I call, “throw darts blindfolded in the dark.” This is not an approach I recommend. Other law firms have in-house legal marketing professionals who oversee business development, marketing and public relations. Still others outsource legal marketing to an agency that understands the nuances of law firm marketing. No matter your firm’s approach, it is important to understand how to get the most out of your law firm marketing partners.
Working with your law firm’s in-house marketing pros
Since I’m not an in-house marketer, I reached out to some of my colleagues for their input.
“Understand your marketing goals,” was the first thing that Jim Jarrell, Director of Marketing & Practice Development for Stark & Stark, advised. “Whether that means increasing your billable hours, the breadth and depth of your client roster, or building your personal brand, lawyers must have quantifiable and measurable goals. Identifying these goals helps define what the picture of success looks like, which can inform your strategic choices and plan of action.”
Tricia M. Lilley, Chief Marketing Officer of Fox Rothschild, LLP, said, “Attorneys should get to know what their in-house team can offer. Take the time to identify who your firm’s marketing professionals are and how they can help you. Don’t take what is close and convenient for granted. Don’t assume that sage advice, guidance, strategy, direction, and coaching can only come from outside the firm.”
“The best way for a lawyer to work with their in-house marketing team is to bring us into the process as early as possible,” said Andrew Laver, Business Development Manager, McCarter & English LLP. “Whether you’re preparing for a lunch meeting, replying to an RFP or considering cross-selling a client within your firm,” he said, “the more information we can provide, the better situated you will be to make the ask of the client. Attorneys are our clients and we want them to succeed, so including us in the process is integral to reaching the mutual goal of success.”
Jarrell agrees and adds that attorneys should take the opportunity to seek input from the in-house marketing team. He said, find out how other successful lawyers have marketed their practice. “Your in-house marketing team is probably cross-functional and working with virtually every attorney – they know what’s going on and can be valuable connectors to help you achieve your goals. Leverage that to your advantage.”
Lilly also advised attorneys to “Discover what expertise the in-house team has.” She urges attorneys to “find out if the in-house marketers are strategic thinkers who can help to grow your practice, excellent wordsmiths who can craft collateral or a bio that will capture the curiosity of in-house counsel, or strategic planners who can conceptualize and execute memorable programs that will increase your referral business.” She went on to advise attorneys to educate the marketing team, whenever possible, on the unique selling points of their practice areas.
The marketers have only as much information as is shared with them. For example, if the lawyer wants to grow her maritime clients, it is helpful for the marketers to understand the attorney’s experience in maritime law, the benefits of using that particular attorney, the competition, and how the attorney (and the firm) can be differentiated in a new business pitch. Lilley said, “Constant contact is key: Let the marketers know of trial victories, deal closings, hot prospects, new board seats, legal trends, etc., so they are fluent in your practice and your new opportunities.” In fact, she said, “when we are in the loop on legal trends and issues, we can also help the attorneys to secure bylined article placements, speaking engagements and media mentions.”
Most importantly, Lilley said, “Be someone that people want to help, that they’re looking out for, that they think of when opportunities arise.” That means, respect the marketing team – they are professionals just like the attorneys and should never be underestimated or undervalued.
How to work effectively with a legal marketing agency
Working with a legal marketing agency that does not have a daily presence in your law firm requires regular and ongoing communication. It also requires a more concerted effort from the lawyers to communicate with the marketing agency. Rest assured, no agency can effectuate marketing strategies and tactics (nor should they) without the input and consent of the lawyers they are marketing.
Ask your legal marketing agency to host regular marketing conference calls or meetings. These should take place frequently early on in the relationship (weekly or bi-weekly) and should then be monthly or bi-monthly once the agency and attorneys have an established relationship.
Request that the marketers educate you on all the terms and tools with which you and the other lawyers may not be familiar. For example, if the agency provides your law firm with Google Analytics reports from your website and they don’t provide an executive summary, then request that the agency educates you on what the reports actually mean and how the agency will use the reports for data-driven marketing.
Set up a calendar item to remind yourself to communicate news opportunities to your marketing team. It’s important that your legal marketing agency knows what’s happening and when, such as board appointments, CLE presentations, anticipated outcomes of high-profile litigation, media coverage and quotes, philanthropic endeavors, sponsorship advertisements, etc.
If the agency handles your blog and other content marketing, be sure to respond to them in a timely fashion with content feedback or approvals. No agency should be permitted (or expected) to post content such as blogs, articles, web content, etc., without an attorney’s review and consent. Remember, there are rules of professional responsibility that guide legal marketing efforts.
Most importantly, remember that no matter what a legal marketing agency does successfully, the law firm still is responsible for the relationships it creates and maintains with clients and prospects. This means that the law firm must maintain up-to-date contacts in a centralized manner, respond to online queries immediately, follow up with website queries within 24 hours, return telephone calls within one business day, and develop and maintain positive relationships. After all, legal services are a relationship business.
Getting the most out of legal marketing
Jarrell summed it up by saying, “We know that marketing takes time and is non-billable, both of which can be dirty words, but lawyers cannot let that dictate whether marketing becomes part of their discipline.” He said, “Use your marketing team to help you stay on top of efforts. Give them the power to hold your feet to the fire, to follow up to ask if you’ve scheduled that lunch you said you were going to schedule, or whether you’ve sent that follow-up email from the networking event.”
All legal marketers, no matter whether they are in-house or consulting, understand that legal marketing often is seen as an annoyance and that marketers can be considered nags. Jarrell said, “It’s important for lawyers to accept that the reminders can also be helpful…and eventually, it becomes an integral part of your discipline, then voila, you’re a marketer yourself.”
“The truth is,” Jarrell said, “for some attorneys, marketing is not fun or easy – if it were, everyone would do it and nobody would be asking how. But take advantage of the resources you have and make good use of your marketing team.”