When law firm marketing was born in 1977 in the wake of
Bates v. Arizona, the central question was whether a firm’s license to market its practice conflicted with client protection and the dignity of the profession. Thirty years later clients have found protection in comparatively restrictive state advertising rules, the profession’s dignity continues to hinge on the character of the next generation, and law marketing is nothing less than an industry in itself.
This industry, however, is more correctly categorized as a subset of a broader industry:
professional services marketing. As such, members of this subset are tasked with selling people, and more specifically lawyers—not law firms, practice areas or even legal theories. Thus, in terms of marketing, 30 years of advances in technology are irrelevant if they cannot help to convince a client or prospect to buy the services of a given lawyer.
Clearly certain technological innovations do allow for improved business development as well as greater efficiencies in our marketing arsenals. Some also help to level the playing field between small firms and megafirms in terms of visibility and knowledge management. A few examples of the tools available today include contact relationship management (CRM), webcasts, competitive intelligence (CI) and online social networking. In each instance, technology has made the concept of selling professional services more easily executed, leading ultimately to the promise of greater results in terms of revenue.
Nevertheless, some lawyers still squabble over the look and feel of the almighty business card, and in some firms, a decent measure of the attorney’s book of business is still a tightly packed Rolodex. Many of our colleagues still brace themselves for a day out of the office and the specter of human interaction when given an opportunity to make a presentation on late-breaking statutes or strategic best practices. Even now lawyers are spending hours rifling through periodicals, directories and glorified paperweights in a law library to find out about their competitors. And new business opportunities are being missed because people are overlooking tools that would help them make and maintain contacts over both time and distance.
The Art of Change
In defense of our worthy colleagues, though, harnessing technological advances in marketing is not unlike the art of corporate change management. Whether the catalyst is spawned by a search for increased efficiency or by blatant necessity, the day is seldom won on the merits of the given technology alone. It becomes more a battle of the firm and its lawyers accepting and committing to the “new” and, perhaps, “different.” This comes as no surprise when you consider the emotional attachment there can be to a given technology, no matter how dated: “It” has always been dependable; you’ve made use of “it” and consistently achieved results. The emotional investment coupled with the speed and frequency of decisions being made in most firms causes many technology decisions to die on the vine, never having been fully investigated. Like a nasty marriage argument that originated in the cap being left off of the toothpaste, it is amazing which squabbles translate into the proverbial straw on the donkey’s back of an administrative decision.
Consequently, there is a vast disparity between firms’ investment in marketing technology, as well as the perceived ROI.
So if your firm is still wrestling away a Rolodex here and a 30-pound law firm directory there, what should you do? Perhaps it’s worth taking a second (or third) look at a few of today’s tools and what they can do to boost your marketing and business development efforts. Let’s focus in on the four mentioned earlier.
CRM began as a way to better organize contact mailing lists, replacing mail merges done in software such as Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect. This is their simplest and probably still most common use in law practices. Inevitably the biggest task is to ensure that all previous lists for given mailings, be they for client alerts or firm events, get imported into the CRM software. Some firms surrender the effort, for various and embarrassing reasons, but many firms succeed in the undertaking and are satisfied with the efficiencies achieved from a direct-mailing (either snail-mail or e-mail) perspective.
Many other firms, however, are realizing the value of a
fully leveraged CRM system: to mine client and prospect relationships for new business. Still other firms recognize that CRM technology is only one piece of the modern law firm’s enterprise resource planning system. In this higher stage, data from the CRM application is tied in to other firmwide software, including accounting, CI and knowledge management, and vice versa. Such integration adds tremendous value to each piece of software as a “one-stop shop” tailored to the given subject matter.
Many lawyers initially shudder at such aggressive goals because the value of personal relationships has always been hallowed ground, and should continue to be so. Thus, it is critical with these systems for firm leadership to develop policies that dictate the use of CRM data while at the same time steadfastly promoting increased participation in contributing data to the system. Otherwise, territorial squabbles will invariably abound and “key” relationships may be withheld, to the detriment of the greater firm.
As replacements for run-of-the-mill in-person seminars, webcasts have proven to be a low-cost, high-volume tool in the marketing quiver for many organizations. Rather than limiting the audience by geography, webcasts allow anyone with an Internet connection to log in to the program of choice from anywhere. Law firms and individual lawyers now use webcasts to deliver many kinds of information, both in real-time presentations and in delayed video broadcasts. Uses include seminars, staff meetings, training programs (both for staff and clients), and client matter status updates and substantive discussions.
Podcasts are similar to webcasts but have not yet become as commonplace in law practice marketing. Generally, since podcast productions are audio only, their topics must be widely interesting, and have a longer “shelf life,” to effectively capture and maintain an audience.
Of course, despite their being a widely favored way to develop new business leads online, webcasts are not without their skeptics. Perhaps this story will prove illuminating to the doubters: One law firm partner, who is an excellent in-person presenter, grudgingly made a webcast presentation focused on document retention policies and best practices. He agreed to make the presentation as a last-minute stand-in, even though he was convinced it would most likely be another marketing practice in futility. Minutes after the webcast ended, he fielded a cell phone call while still in the conference room. One of his clients had participated, recognized a legal issue and promptly assigned him a new matter.
Until recently, “competitive intelligence” was just a catchphrase for marketing research, the process of responding to a request for data on a given company, combining it into a customized volume (read paperweight), and then dropping it in the requestor’s lap. A few newer software suites, however, now make it possible to more comprehensively, concisely and nimbly create a picture of the firm’s competitive environment. This can remove some of the guesswork from business development.
Various tools combine court docketing data, deal database information and case summaries to reveal which firms are playing in a given market and what a given firm’s market share is. The “market” is usually constrained to a particular prospect or client, a particular industry, or geographic subsections of each.
The net result is that CI can be used to proactively identify quality targets, especially in firms that employ business development professionals. These personnel generally function by practice area, industry group, client team or a combination thereof—as such, CI can be a crucial component of the targeting strategy. In addition, professionals can better qualify leads supported by CI, since eventually, the mind-set that “this hot new prospect will be the firm’s largest client” gets tempered by the substance of CI’s verdict.
Furthermore, although hardly commonplace at present, some firm recruiters are using CI to identify laterals, leading to more-educated hiring decisions and potentially new business opportunities.
Online Social Networking
The world of online social networking had been a lawless place until recently. It seemed as if there would never be any professional relevance for these types of sites, apart from MySpace being a source of dirt for potential employers. All that changed as word spread that sites like Facebook and LinkedIn held hitherto unexplored potential for making and maintaining contacts online. (For more on how lawyers are using these sites to build business relationships, see the social networking articles in this issue.)
Now we are beginning to see a few social networking sites aimed specifically at lawyers. In some respects knock-offs of Facebook or LinkedIn, these sites are adopting the better aspects of their non-industry predecessors and adding components such as bulletin board forums, practice-specific best practices and client or prospect access.
The beauty of online lawyer social networking is that a couple of the providers offer the service for free with a proviso or two—after all, these tools are made by lawyers for lawyers—and from a business development standpoint, there is almost no risk to building a strong network of clients, prospects and referral sources by exchanging information among professional colleagues. However, the quid pro quo of these services is that the member information provided is generally unprotected. Thus, lawyers taking advantage of these services must remember they are bound by their rules of professional conduct (and perhaps other jurisdictions’) and must tread lightly—at least until the first relevant case, inevitably concerning attorney-client privilege issues, is decided.
The Bottom Line: The Implementation
The good news is that lawyers now have many technology tools to place in their marketing quivers. In addition to the options discussed here, a range of others are discussed in the
Law Firm Marketing Technology Survey results that begin on the next page. The not-so-good news is that a multitude of causes can render the implementation of new and better solutions simply irrelevant. Hence, the still evolving legal marketing subindustry features a vast array of technology practices from truly cutting-edge to frighteningly archaic.
Ultimately, the value of marketing technology is extremely hard to measure. But ask yourself this: What if your firm knew what types of services it has provided to client X, how much it has received in billings, who else in the firm has contacts at the client company, what types of services they need, and what other firms count the company as a client? What if you also then further grew the relationship through a targeted up-to-the-minute virtual presentation or even through informal online connections? The more appropriate question then becomes: What is the opportunity cost? Or, how does a lack of such knowledge or relationships affect the bottom line? How much is that worth?