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Our target market—high-asset divorce cients— are discriminating and have high expectations for performance
The founders of the firm wanted to target services to a particular niche: clients with high-asset divorce cases. These clients are discriminating and have high expectations for performance, so the firm needed to attract and train top-quality lawyers who could work with and impress clients and, in turn, promote growth. In developing their vision of how the firm should prosper, the founders sowed the seeds of a marketing philosophy designed not only to attract clients but also to attract, develop, and promote top-quality lawyers.
Servicing every client who came to the firm was physically impossible for name partners, even with help. So growing the firm required the recruitment of excellent lawyers to team-handle cases and assume real responsibilities. One of the means to securing and developing this legal talent is an in-house law clerking program that emphasizes the need for lawyers to learn well-rounded skills and be exposed to every aspect of a case. Many of these skills are acquired by our student-clerks before graduation from law school.
Recognizing that the best new client promotion is a satis?ed client, the firm pays close attention to what pleases or displeases clients. Over the years, we have concentrated our efforts to ensure that all of our lawyers continue to learn and benefit from top-quality legal training. The firm organizes in-house training programs so that younger lawyers have the chance to learn from more senior ones, and we budget for stipends to enable associates to attend seminars, some of which are firm recommended. The second component of training is to help younger members understand how clients want to be treated and the level of responsiveness that is essential to good client relations. The best way to do this is to make younger members part of the team representing the client. This experience provides great role model exposure for handling cases.
Notwithstanding the prominence of our clientele, the firm does not discuss client matters with the press as a marketing vehicle. Although firm members are available to discuss developments in the law, activities of the firm, and the accomplishments of our lawyers, we do not promote ourselves by talking about our clients and their problems. We have found that declining to comment to the press on client matters engenders goodwill among the types of clients we want to attract. (Of course, exceptions exist where statements need to be made with the client's consent.) This approach is consistent with our stated goal of cultivating a niche practice.
The team approach must be cost-effective for the client. Since inception, the firm has maintained minimum intake standards designed to ensure that clients who engage the firm have enough at stake to benefit from our approach in rendering services. Periodically we review intake standards and, when necessary, modify them. When we feel that the cost-benefit ratio is not to the client's advantage, we advise the potential client and refer the case to a competent and yet more affordable attorney.
The clients we seek are generally sophisticated consumers of legal services. The team approach delegates legal work at cost-effective levels. Simply because a client has a large estate does not mean that he or she wants a large legal bill to match. A partner's undertaking of work, at a high hourly rate, that can be accomplished by a paralegal with some instruction and review, wastes the client's money and the senior partner's time and talents. Senior members of the firm supervise younger members, and billing is reviewed to ensure that charges to clients are appropriate to tasks performed. We also pride ourselves on informing clients of any significant steps we intend to take on their behalf before we take them, so that the client can be a real part of the team and cost-benefit analysis. The client should understand what is being done before he or she sees substantial charges for services stated on an invoice.
In any firm, members need to see that marketing is rewarded and compensation is commensurate with effort and results. As a firm grows and its members share cases and clients, it is inevitable that referrals will come from sources acquainted with more than one member of the firm. In a large firm environment, it is particularly important to craft a bonus policy that gives junior members an incentive to work on business originated by senior members and that gives senior members an incentive to significantly involve junior members with important clients and potential referral sources. The firm has worked over the years to institute a business development policy that rewards senior members for promoting and involving more junior members, so that clients can see firsthand the seamless quality of representation at every level within the firm.
In a large firm, each member must understand his or her role in marketing the firm. We market the individual lawyer, the firm, and our excellent service. Younger members are mentored and encouraged to become active in civic and bar organizations to increase visibility in both legal and lay communities. As we have grown, coordinating members' various visibility efforts has been a challenge. Members of the firm are strongly encouraged to write articles and give speeches to showcase our legal expertise. Members who are involved in bar groups are encouraged to engage other firm members in speaking and writing articles. In all of these activities, lawyers are identified as members of the firm and proudly display that designation.
Firm lawyers are reminded to communicate their accomplishments to their law schools and universities to the extent those institutions publish alumni news, and to keep in touch with alumni by offering congratulations and condolences, as appropriate, when classmates and colleagues have news items published. Likewise, firm lawyers are encouraged to publicize their achievements through newsletters of groups in which they are active.
The firm does advertise, but is selective in placing paid advertising. We provide to a Chicago-area classical radio station legal information-type ads that appeal to the clientele we seek. Other than occasional announcements of additions to the firm, our print advertising is limited to acknowledging firm lawyers who are recognized as top lawyers based on peer review. This type of recognition can only be secured through hard work and collegial relationships and is established, for example, through the Best Lawyers in America, Leading Attorneys Network, Super Lawyers, and other such organizations. In designing ads to capitalize on our members' peer selection and recognition, we maximize the marketing opportunity by emphasizing details about not only the individual being honored but the entire firm.
To keep marketing relevant, the firm pays attention to how clients select the firm. Part of our intake procedure is to note how each client or potential client selected the firm or the individual within the firm. Often we find that a lawyer is chosen based, in no small part, on membership in the firm. This guides future marketing. For example, once we realized how many people learned about the firm on the Internet, we designed a Web site that includes not only biographical information regarding the firm and its members, but substantive legal information to showcase the firm's strengths ( www.sdflaw.com). Having a large number of attorneys, most of whom are writing articles and contributing to continuing legal education, provides ample material when everyone knows that any article they author should be made available for posting on the firm's Web site.
A firm gains reputation and prestige by being a good citizen. We go to great lengths to do pro bono work and have a firm policy encouraging our attorneys to do so. Financially supporting good causes enhances lawyers in the community. Our firm makes generous contributions to many good causes and has received a number of pro bono awards. Several years ago, we were recognized by DePaul University College of Law when it named its prestigious Schiller, DuCanto and Fleck Family Law Center.
In any large-firm environment, developing and implementing an effective marketing strategy must involve a coordinated effort to make the firm as well as its individual members visible in the legal and civic communities in which the firm practices. Every member must be mindful that his or her participation in a public forum reflects not only on the individual, but on the firm as a whole. With our approach, the whole is, as it should be, greater than the sum of its parts. The firm attracts clients because of its reputation, and individual lawyers attract clients because of personal reputation and membership in our firm.
Donald C. Schiller is a founding partner, and Anita M. Ventrelli is a partner with Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck in Chicago. Mr. Schiller is a former chair of the ABA Section of Family Law, and Ms. Ventrelli currently serves as Vice Chair of the Section.
Published in Family Advocate, Volume 29, No. 2, Fall 2006. © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.