By Steven T. Taylor
Like it or not (and there are still many who clearly don't like it), gone are the days when lawyers could sit back, wait for the phone to ring, represent clients well, send out the bills, and take home their share of the firm's pie. Simply put, today's lawyer needs marketing panache. Here are the stories of some who exemplify the spirit.
Although Sheldon Bonovitz and Andrew Ewalt are both practicing lawyers, they couldn't be more different in their professional or personal styles.
Bonovitz represents high-profile business clients, often handling complex mergers between major corporate players. He's the chair and CEO of one of the nation's fastest growing law firms, the 600-plus-lawyer Duane Morris. His firm, which is headquartered in downtown Philadelphia, has offices in 20 cities, including London. At 69, the distinguished, super-confident and younger-than-his-years Bonovitz wears his thick gray hair in a rakish style. He often dons wildly colored bow ties that resemble Jackson Pollack paintings, and his office walls are adorned with unconventional "outsider art." He also serves on the board of some of Philadelphia's most prestigious cultural institutions.
In contrast, Ewalt serves small businesses, families and senior citizens, practicing in the areas of trusts and estates, real estate and elder law. He's a solo practitioner who splits his time between small offices in two northeastern Connecticut towns. Soft-spoken and unassuming, he has a Web site photo that shows him smartly buttoned down in a conservative suit. The 31-year-old Ewalt says he chose to stay out of the large firm environment because he values time with his wife and two young children more than he does a Wall Street income. His closest business advisor is his father, also a lawyer. Among his hobbies, Ewalt lists fly-fishing, gardening and camping with family.
But these two men have at least one thing in common: They have marketing ingenuity. Both are tech-savvy innovators who use the Internet wisely to meet new clients and make rain for their respective practices. In doing so, they serve to illustrate how smart lawyers think imaginatively to grow their practices.
And let's face it. In today's increasingly competitive marketplace, lawyers must take creative, entrepreneurial approaches to business development if they are to succeed. The good news is that there's a range of innovative avenues that can lead you to the mark. To inspire you in ramping up your own rainmaking, here's a look at real-life lawyers in five firms of different styles, sizes and geographic locations who are successfully demonstrating their flair for business development.
Telling Stories Online Catches Attention
At Duane Morris, Bonovitz has employed plenty of panache to help grow both the partnership's ranks and revenue dollars. When Bonovitz became the firm chair in January 1998, Duane Morris had just over 200 lawyers yielding some $73 million in revenue. In 2006, the firm has more than 600 lawyers and $340 million in revenue.
To reach these kinds of growth benchmarks, Bonovitz and the firm's other leaders have taken a team approach—with a chief marketing officer, chief media officer, 12 marketing managers in business development and the firm's lawyers all working to attract positive publicity, bring in new clients and nurture relationships with existing clients.
Among the particular strategies the Duane Morris team has used is a pioneering implementation of its Web site. Go to www.duanemorris .com and click on "Client Successes," and you'll see something that seems so obvious but something that few firms do. You'll see brief, cleanly drafted stories about some of the firm's clients and how Duane Morris successfully handled their matters, followed by quotes from the clients that praise—in terms that avoid obsequious flattery—the work the firm conducted.
"This is a return to the old-fashioned testimonial form of marketing, which is known as a tried-and-true method and a smart thing to do," says Robert W. Denney, a Wayne, Pennsylvania-based marketing consultant. "I think Duane Morris does this well, and they are the first, that I know of, to do it on a Web site. It just makes sense."
What didn't make any sense to Bonovitz was for his firm's Web site to look like those of so many other firms. Much like the flashy ties he wears, he wanted the site to attract attention, to catch the eye of someone Web-window-shopping for a law firm. "When considering a law firm, most general counsel will go to law firm Web sites," Bonovitz says. "So it's very important to be able to use the site to tell the story of how you helped a client, and to tell it the way you want it to be told."
At the same time, Bonovitz acknowledges that convincing lawyers that creative marketing practices lead to rainmaking opportunities isn't always the easiest sell. "Frankly, many lawyers are like tigers when it comes to representing clients and like kittens when it comes to getting business," he observes. But happily, he adds, Duane Morris lawyers increasingly are seeing the value of efforts like "Client Successes" and are buying into inventive marketing initiatives.
Behind-the-Scenes Work Makes the Difference in Blogging
On the other hand, Ewalt, as a solo practitioner, doesn't have to convince anyone but himself to buy into a new business development idea. So when Chicago-area consultant Larry Bodine advised him to start a blog to reach out to clients and, more importantly, potential clients, Ewalt was ready to quickly dive in. (Bodine covered Ewalt's first year as a start-up in the blogosphere in a series for Law Practice, running from July/August 2005 to July/August 2006.)
"The great thing about a blog is that it has all the breadth and power of a Web site but all the focus of a client communiqué," says Larry Smith at Washington, D.C.'s Levick Strategic Communications. "A blog can level the playing field for small firms and personalize an attorney at large firms."
But what makes Ewalt's blog different from those of many other lawyers is the homework, or blogwork, he does behind his posts. He researches the terms Web surfers use when looking for lawyers with his expertise, and then he plants those terms in the headlines of the articles he posts so his blog will pop up more frequently in search results. So, for example, when seekers of legal services enter " Connecticut probate" into a search engine, Ewalt's blog will appear at or near the top of the search results list.
"My titles may not be the best from a journalism perspective, but they do attract people to my blog," Ewalt says. "And I know from talking to clients that my blog is resulting in a significant amount of new business."
Smith says Ewalt's approach is really the only way to go. "There's no point in posting everything online unless you optimize it by embedding some keywords," Smith explains. "Essentially, that increases exponentially the number of people who find your blog, which in turn increases your chances of making rain."
Training the New Generation in Business Development Reaps Dividends
Of course, the many avenues of successful client development extend beyond creatively using new technologies. In fact, time-honored tactics such as networking and nurturing relationships through personal contacts will always be essential in making rain. But what is new in this area is that, more and more, law firms big and small are asking—even demanding—that associates get involved in the game.
This can sometimes come as a shock to young lawyers, at least initially, as Bodine explains. "Associates think, ‘I've got to bill 1,900 hours and now I have to bring in new business? What kind of a deal is this?' Then they realize, ‘Wait a minute. If I'm a rainmaker, I'll become a partner.'"
Certainly tighter competition within legal markets is one factor driving this trend. But at least two other components are pushing associates in this direction, according to Denney. "The firms are finding that some of the old dogs—that is, senior partners—can't be taught new tricks," he says. "Secondly, firms are now looking at the ability of associates to generate new business as one of many qualifications to be considered for partnership." And as it turns out, presented with the right cues from management, associates are clearly more than capable of embracing marketing and business development initiatives.
Consider the case of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, a 130-lawyer firm with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. Associates there showed a keen interest in seeking out more training in all areas of law practice management, especially marketing. To satisfy that interest, the firm's leadership budgeted money for an associates development committee, which it launched in early 2005. Since then, the associates have set sail with monthly meetings, training seminars and special networking events with other local professionals, including beer-tasting get-togethers, bowling parties and volleyball tournaments.
"The committee recognized early on that there's a lot of room to work on associates in business development, and that it's like compounding interest in that every contact you make now pays off in the long run," says Ryan Hooper, a fifth-year associate and the committee's first chair. "And, if you don't start on marketing until you've been here for several years, you'll be way behind."
For one of the first presentations the committee organized, two well-connected Benesch partners explained, in essence, how to become well connected by offering advice on ways to "work a room" and come away with contacts and confidence that will eventually lead to new business. The pivotal word there is "eventually." The partners emphasized that some forms of business development evolve a step at a time. "The important lesson they imparted is that too often associates think working a room is going to a social gathering and leaving with a new client," Hooper says. "That puts too much pressure on them. The key is to go meet people and have fun. Start relationships."
The committee also leans on the firm's marketing experts for help. "We try to give associates support and tools so that they can accomplish different things," says chief marketing officer Jeanne Hammerstrom, "whether it's a first-year or second-year helping to write articles with partners, or a senior associate getting extensive sales development training."
At the start, the committee realized that virtually all the outside reference material on rainmaking is presented with partners in mind. "It's geared toward partners; it's all about targets and pitches," Hooper says. "Well, associates usually aren't going out on pitches." Consequently, the committee brings in consultants who are informed in advance to offer only the nuts and bolts of business development—and specifically those that are, as Hooper puts it, "age-appropriate."
So what are the nuts and bolts? According to what consultants laid out for the Benesch committee, first-years should be building their contact lists. Second-years and third-years should be going on lunches with contacts. Senior associates should be doing a little of everything and a lot of some things. That is, some will focus on delivering speeches and writing articles. Others will spend a lot of time with current clients, keeping those ties going. Others will be developing relationships with accounting firms that can refer business.
"And then there are those associates who are the classic rainmakers, who are making multiple contacts in the community, joining clubs, and bringing in business," Hooper says.
Along with all these activities, the firm has also set up Benesch Leadership University, or BLU, which seems to be centered on the idea that you won't be able to drum up business if you don't know how to conduct yourself as a leader. Associates participate in training sessions about various leadership styles, communication skills and even proper etiquette.
"We've had an etiquette training dinner during which, among other things, we were taught how to eat soup," Hooper says with a chuckle.
It may be too soon to fully evaluate how all of this is working for
associates and, by extension, the firm itself. However, Hooper says the efforts are already paying dividends at varying rates. "For some associates, it's paid off a lot and they've generated business," he says. "For others, it's beginning to. Some are now going to an industry function and, instead of simply standing in the corner, they're starting relationships." Which certainly seems to indicate the program is growing new rainmakers.
Women Joining Forces Strengthens Business Relationships
It's no secret that the legal profession still suffers from a pernicious problem: The glass ceiling continues to impede the career growth of women lawyers. And the proof is in the proverbial pudding. According to National Association for Law Placement statistics, in 2005 only about 17 percent of partners at the nation's major law firms were women.
Many factors—complicated ones—contribute to the dearth of women partners. But one notable reason is that women sometimes have trouble generating business because they aren't given the best opportunities to do so. This, in turn, inhibits their rise to partnership, too often prompting some to leave the profession completely.
"It seemed like the recruitment and promotion of women attorneys was a hot topic in the mid-to-late '90s when quality of life was a hot topic," says Jennifer Zimmerman, who spent nine years working for the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession before entering private practice four-plus years ago. "But now things are going the other way."
According to Zimmerman, an associate at the 55-lawyer Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, firm Rhoads & Sinon, business development woes are
clearly part of the cycle that hinders women's progress. "Women are leaving the practice because they're not compensated equally, and they're not compensated equally because they're not able to bring in as much business," she says. "It's all about bringing in the business. The more you can bring in economically, the more power you're going to have."
So in 2004 when a financial planner in Harrisburg—also a woman new in her field and facing challenges to advancement—approached Zimmerman about forming a collaboration to feed each other leads and business, she jumped at the chance. Two other women from Rhoads and three from the financial firm of Wienken & Associates joined in, talked to their respective firms, and started the Women Business Leaders Initiative "to serve and strengthen professional relationships among women in business," according to the group's promotional material.
The partners at Rhoads, to their credit, stepped up and encouraged Zimmerman and her colleagues—and they also supplied a budget to support speaking engagements,
seminars and networking opportunities among central Pennsylvania's women professionals. The women's group has since held events such as its "Golf Clinic and Networking Reception," a seminar titled "Pearls of Wisdom: Long-Term Care and Estate Planning," and its most popular presentation, "Finding Funding: Cash Flow, Loans and Selected Financial and Legal Issues for Businesses," conducted by a commercial lender from a local bank.
"Women's business groups are a great way to develop business and get referrals from women entrepreneurs and businesswomen," says Christine Baker, a co-chair of the ABA Women Rainmakers group and a litigation partner with Drinker Biddle & Reath in Princeton, New Jersey. "Over the past 10 years, the growth of women entrepreneurs in the United States has been spectacular. According to the most recent data, there are 10.6 million women-owned businesses employing 19.1 million people and generating sales of $2.5 trillion per year. Women are affecting how business gets done. Women-owned businesses are shaping and redefining the workplace, business networks and our culture." And, she continues, "they need lawyers to assist and guide them."
"Among other things," Baker says, "attorneys can help businesswomen take advantage of the opportunities available to them and can educate clients about federal and local laws that ensure women-owned businesses have opportunities that were historically denied to them. And we can help them navigate the regulatory minefield that often discourages women from pursuing public contracts."
In Zimmerman's case, it didn't take long for her and her firm to reap the benefits of the Women Business Leaders Initiative. In the first year alone, the partnership gained 12 new clients. "It was amazing. Here in Harrisburg there isn't much in the business climate for women. So this was a new service that wasn't out there before. We really struck a chord within the business community."
It has also impressed the partners at Rhoads & Sinon. "This is something the firm has looked highly upon—the partners consider it a strong asset," Zimmerman says. "And it's helped Joanne [Book, another member of the group from Rhoads] and me in our positions in the firm. We've been asked to do things in the firm that other associates have not been." It seems this initiative delivers business development benefits to the lawyers, the firm, the clients and the community—all in all, a remarkable thing.
Making Law a Bargain Over the Phone Builds Great Connections
Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? Certainly not the lawyers at Wessels & Pautsch, a 23-lawyer employment defense firm in St. Charles, Illinois, where they give away legal advice over the phone. Okay, the Wessels & Pautsch lawyers don't actually give it away. But at a flat rate of $50 a month, the unlimited phone consultation service they provide is just about as cheap as anything a law firm anywhere could offer. It's also one of the most innovative and successful rainmaking techniques in the profession, providing a perfect subject for our last story.
Here's how the program works. Clients, usually employers at small to midsize companies, agree to pay the monthly $50 fee in exchange for telephone access to as much legal advice as they need from Wessels & Pautsch's attorneys. And the first two months really are free. What's more, the firm provides "subscribers" with all of its attorneys' office, home and cell phone numbers so they can be reached day and night, 365 days a year—although there's no actual written contract for the service; it's a verbal agreement between the firm and its clients.
A typical call will last 15 to 20 minutes about a common employer issue, such as an employee termination. But firm founder Richard Wessels often spends much more time with a caller than that. "It amazes people that Dick handles most of the calls," says Nancy Joerg, the partner who runs the program. "And he often talks with a client for an hour or more. He's very liberal with his time. That's one reason people love this program."
The business development angle behind this program, of course, is that the phone service will beget more remunerative legal work for the partnership. And it does. "We haven't quantified it, but I can tell you it brings in a lot of business," Wessels says. "It makes the difference. It forges a relationship and builds trust."
Wessels started the program when he founded the firm in the mid-1980s after he served as an in-house lawyer for several years. "From being in-house, I always thought it would be a good service for an outside firm to offer," he says. "It was a practice builder when we started the firm." But it's only been recently that the firm has promoted the program, thanks to Joerg convincing Wessels that the partnership should market it. Once he eventually gave her the go-ahead, Joerg wrote brochure copy about the service, put it in the firm's newsletter, and sent it to clients and potential clients.
"People couldn't sign up fast enough," Joerg says. "They love it. It's such a unique program."
In fact, since the marketing push moved forward, the number of people using the service has nearly doubled. In April 2004 some 689 clients subscribed, and by July 2006 that number had increased to 1,245.
This rainmaking idea is also popular with consultants and other legal profession observers, who tend to give it two thumbs up. "That's a great tool for relationship building," says Levick consultant Smith. "Labor and employment law is a very partner-intensive practice, and as a result, you find a lot of direct one-on-one relationships between partners and clients. So this service establishes a connection. Mr. Wessels should continue to let the world know his firm does this."
And, it seems, other lawyers from across the legal landscape should continue to find new ways to generate business. As the stories of the lawyers and firms here demonstrate, creative tactics really do make rain.