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THE INTERNATIONAL ISSUE

 

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July 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 5| Page 12
FRONTLINES

People & Places

Sticking It to a Multinational Membership

It’s pretty tough to promote referrals within a law firm network if the lawyers in the member firms have little knowledge that the network even exists. To put the information where it can’t be missed, one network’s internal branding campaign sticks it in their faces—literally.

WHO The International Lawyers Network, an association of 90 independent firms on six continents.

BACKGROUND To compete with larger firms, many midsize single-office firms band together in independent law firm networks. Often international in scope, these networks help the firms find skilled, prequalified lawyers for their clients in other cities or countries and share referrals with other firms in the network. The International Lawyers Network (ILN) is one such group, with its full-service member firms counting more than 5,000 lawyers across the globe.

In most law firm networks, each member firm has only three to five active members. Why? Because typically the other lawyers either have little knowledge of or little interest in the network. So when you do the math in a 90-firm, 5,000-lawyer network like ILN, this means perhaps 350 active members sharing referrals, leaving another 4,650 lawyers in those firms inactive. And that means a lot of wasted referral opportunities.

These networks exist to share referrals, but if thousands of their potential referral sources—meaning the lawyers in the firms—don’t automatically think of the network when their clients need lawyers in other cities, the firms miss much of the potential benefits they’re paying for and the network loses out. But how can you inform busy lawyers about the network in a way that will pull them into the pack? That was the conundrum confronting ILN.

MARKETING GOALS ILN needed a fun, simple, inexpensive, visually powerful and nonintrusive way to inform its 5,000 target lawyers that they were actually members in a network. And because this network extends worldwide, the branding campaign needed to work in different countries, cultures and languages.

The goal was to develop the needed materials and sell them to the member firms—to persuade them to use the network’s branding materials internally in their offices, so their lawyers would understand the value of their participating in the ILN referral system. This required significant agreement from member firms, typically in the person of senior partners, to obtain buy-in to this singularly nontraditional approach. But the bottom-line reasons were clear enough: This campaign is critical to the future of the network and the value it provides to its members.

Research and Planning Lawyers are typically too busy to read their firms’ internal newsletters, so the traditional information-sharing tool of circulating occasional intra-network print or e-mail newsletters wasn’t going to be especially effective. Also, print materials would be expensive, since every mailer would have to go to 5,000 different lawyers. So, how to get them to think of the network regularly? To pay attention, care, and remember the network and send referrals within it whenever they have the opportunity?

Our basic message was simple: “Your firm is a member of ILN, a law firm network with skilled lawyers across the country and around the world. If you or a client needs a lawyer in another jurisdiction, -remember your ILN membership.”

But the actual production was another matter altogether—we’re talking about a smart, busy, overworked audience. They’re not going to give you much of their time or attention, so you need to grab them quickly with a powerful, unexpected image and tell the entire story within a few seconds—and then hope they’ll talk to their peers about it. And we needed to do it in a way that would sell to the firms’ gatekeepers—the active ILN members who would decide whether to allow use of the corresponding branding tools and tactics in their firms. If they didn’t like it, if we couldn’t persuade them that it would work and their lawyers would enjoy it, they would never allow the materials in.

Then we hit on something that would be impossible for the lawyers to miss, that would immediately generate buzz inside the firms, and make the lawyers want to learn more. Strange as it may seem, the solution was plastic mirror clings, life-size doorway stickers, and miscellaneous out-of-proportion mirror hat stickers.

Implementation and Results We used extremely limited text, instead conveying the message with international imagery in unusual ways and unusual places, so a particular lawyer’s facility with English wouldn’t be an issue, and the materials wouldn’t have to be continuously translated. Now, here’s how the stickers come into play.

There are plastic static-cling stickers of hats from around the world alongside the message: “Imagine you need a lawyer in [that representative country].” When placed on a mirror, like in a firm’s public bathrooms, a lawyer looking in the mirror appears to be wearing the hat from the identified country. These can be changed out or repeated occasionally for months or years, as necessary. Although choices here had to be carefully selected, of course, with an eye toward cultural sensitivities (since often the most stereotypic hats, or those most emblematic of a country or culture, have negative historic connotations).

The campaign also includes life-size stickers of people representing different countries or cultures for use on full-size mirrors, with the line “Your International Lawyers Network. We’re always with you, worldwide.”

Plus, there are life-size, photo-realistic, light-tack stickers of half-open doors to be affixed to the firm’s walls-—like you could physically walk through the doorway into another country. The text: “You belong to the International Lawyers Network. Welcome to the world.” It creates buzz and visual interest—plus, it’s fun!

At the campaign’s first presentation in Istanbul, at the ILN’s European Regional Meeting, the member lawyers in attendance seemed to agree. European lawyers haven’t embraced marketing as readily as U.S. firms and in comparison are quite conservative. We knew if we couldn’t convince them, the project was doomed. But when we presented the program that described the campaign to them, it met with cheerful laughter and applause.

About the Author

Ross Fishman specializes in marketing training and creating differentiation programs for law firms worldwide.

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