Last week, the LMA NJ chapter once again piggybacked on to what the NY chapter was doing, and hosted a lunch where we Skyped into a panel presentation focusing on whether law firms should help promote individual attorneys (or just focus on the firm brand as a whole). The panelists included Robert Algeri, the co-founder of Great Jakes, which is listed in his bio as "a marketing communications firm that develops next-generation websites for mid-size and large law firms."
We also had Andrea Crews, the Director of Marketing and Business Development for Levenfeld Pearlstein, a mid-size midwestern firm, and Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Foley Hoag.
Despite a few audio problems (speakers, PLEASE use your microphones when you’re presenting and other cities are Skyping in!), it was a very valuable program, and gave me a lot to think about. After the brief introductions to each of the speakers, they jumped right into answering some questions.
Why promote individual attorneys?
Jasmine started us off with a slide on the evolution of law firm marketing, which has gone from individual lawyers siloed with no marketing, to a focus on only marketing the firm, to the new world order, which is where individual attorneys AND firms must be marketed and support each other. She said that this "new world order" began about 10-15 years ago, with client teams, and cross-selling.
Social media has also really changed the world – with more connections, it’s easier to get referrals, and it’s easier for introverts to start relationships first online. Jasmine said that the ideal is having the backdrop of a strong firm to promote the attorneys, while also promoting individual attorneys.
She then gave us some facts:
- Not all lawyers are created equal.
- Not all relationships are created equal: maybe it’s a good business relationship, or maybe it’s a good personal relationship. The ideal is having both, then bringing in other attorneys to cross-sell.
- Clients, generally, cannot differentiate law firms by legal skills: this is not to say that clients are stupid. It’s just that they don’t need 100% accuracy – they need more like 80% and want to move forward, so they go with their gut.
- Clients can differentiate who they like and trust: this is what makes the sale.
- Clients will differentiate based on service.
- Referrals are more powerful than ever before.
Those of us in legal marketing (especially with a social media bent) would agree with Jasmine, who said that legal sales equal relationships. She said that clients rarely hire law firms, but they do hire people. So if we help attorneys to establish relationships with prospects, the "sell" is easier. Lawyers should go into networking trying to develop a relationship.
If we market many attorneys to existing clients, the sell for more work is easier – then, there’s also a better chance that some or all of that work will stay if the lead partner leaves.
What are the challenges to promoting individual attorneys?
Since Andrea didn’t agree with the other two panelists that promoting individual attorneys is the best way to go, she handled this question.
She said that business only comes from building authentic relationships, and it’s not sustainable or realistic to say that a firm’s marketing department will promote individual brands. Instead, Andrea said that the firm needs to have one brand, and then get lawyers to market through that.
She said there would be three types of people within the firm that you’d want to focus on (which is what makes it unsustainable). How do you make the choice between the rainmakers, those one step down from the rainmakers (to boost them to that level), and those who don’t get it?
The question, she said, is whether we’re at a place in legal marketing to do this. Because of resources, we have to be focused on the firm, and to employ a strategy based around individual attorneys isn’t sustainable for the long-term.
She introduced some recent research on law firm branding, beginning with BTIs research, which included 53% chief GCs in their respondent pool. They talk about the power of innovation, when compared to IBM, HP, Dell, Apple and Sony, and Andrea asked whether law firms should really be comparing themselves to a company like Apple. She said that they’re top down, not democracies. Proctor and Gamble would be a better comparison, because they have multiple brands under the P&G umbrella, like law firms have attorneys under the firm umbrella.
BTI found that 57% of clients will hire a law firm based on a single peer recommendation, which translates into 2.6 new matters for every 0.5% rise in recognition as a Client’s Choice law firm. A 0.5% increase in Premium awareness boots profits per attorney in the following year by $64,725, and a mere 0.25% higher innovation awareness corresponds with nearly double the net income of a typical firm (Andrea admitted that she doesn’t know how BTI is defining "premium awareness" and "innovation").
There was an audience question, asking whether innovation is something that we should be factoring in. Andrea said that innovation is a driver, not specific criteria, but it might relate to branding, as in AFAs, budgeting, and using new technologies.
She jumped ahead in the slides to show us some of what Levenfeld Pearlstein has been doing with video on their website – they have videos of their attorneys, answering questions that are both professional and personal. Here, she said that they gave their attorneys the tools to market themselves. The videos went somewhat viral and were wildly successful in driving traffic to their website, encouraging responses from clients and prospects, and even competitors. People said that they could no longer vilify the attorneys anymore, now that they know personal things about them. It shifted the conversation, promoted individual attorneys and the firm.
Robert answered this question, saying that there is a new business landscape out there. Economics, technology and culture have all changed how law firms do business. Attorneys are more entrepreneurial.
Geography matters less."
If clients can find an expert, it doesn’t matter where they are, so the question is if your future client can hire anyone, why should they hire you? Law firm marketers should then look at their marketing challenges with this filter – how should a website work? What’s the value of an attorney bio? Robert joked "Marketing a law firm is really hard!"
According to the Australian and New Zealand Corporate Lawyers Association, 2012, only 17% of GCs see a difference between firms. We can all relate to this – when viewed from a distance, all firms look similar. You’re only going to delve deeper if you have a need to.
Robert said that they did a study that found that 56-75% of website traffic occurs in the attorney bios section and in a Wicker Park Group survey from 2009, 90% of in-house counsel said that the attorney bios section is the most important section of a law firm website, and the one they visit most. So from Robert’s perspective, firms need to focus on the attorney bios, where there is tremendous opportunity. This is where the case can be made that one attorney is better than another attorney at another firm.
Andrea answered this question from her own experience, saying that she has 65 attorneys, 62 of whom market multiple times a year. She has three people in her marketing department, and outsources a lot of work to 14 other people. So how to decide what’s a worth project for the department to spend their time on? Andrea said that 75% of their activities are geared towards current client relationships and education, and one of the things they focus on is how to communicate wins. They communicate them both internally and externally (50/50), showing their clients that "when you work with us, this is what you can get." They also conduct client interviews, using an internal team member and an outside source. These are powerful tools.
Andrea said that one of the interesting things about her firm is that they perform audits on an individual basis – everyone in the firm can audit anyone else in the firm and it’s all public. So, for example, the receptionist could review the managing partner. The firm believes in behavior modification, and has a "no asshole" policy. They also do departmental surveys, asking "if you left the firm tomorrow, what would have prompted that?" The majority of responses are that the person won the lottery. This shows that they’ve built a place where people want to work, and when people want to work, leaders want to serve, and when leaders want to serve, clients want to buy.
Andrea said that she’s not denying the importance of individual branding, but she thinks it can be driven by firm branding. Robert said that there is a fear that growth makes it unsustainable, and Andrea said that at their firm, there is no "not on board." They have four directors who make all the decisions about how the firm is run, and their clients get a family feeling from them because their firm culture is so strong.
Combining firm and individual branding – a case study
The panelists then jumped into some case studies. Jasmine talked about her firm’s CSR practice, saying that the problem was how to differentiate their market-leading Corporate Social Responsibility practice from consulting firms and educate clients/prospects on why a lawyer should be the one doing the work (they wanted to answer the question "why should someone buy from a law firm when it’s cheaper to buy from a consulting firm?").
Their tactics to handle this included developing a blog, leveraging Twitter, strategic online advertising, LinkedIn and the firm’s social media platforms. All of this was done on both the firm and individual level. The result was that they had new business pitch opportunities, extensive practice media exposure, and an associate who was encouraged to make a name for herself within the practice, and thereby support it. They took this associate and the firm let her dedicate 50-60% of her time to business development. She writes the majority of the posts on the CSR blog, and they saw social media as a natural fit for marketing this practice as well, since the companies they were targeting have to monitor social media anyway.
Jasmine said that you need one voice from the firm – find one person to tweet, etc. They used this associate, but hired an outside consultant to train her on how to blog and use social media. As a result, she became their lead brand – general CSR people know and follow her, and she’s been ranked the top Twitter user for two types of CSR. However, at the same time, she’s helping to build the brand of this practice group. The firm has supported it through their own Twitter feed. Jasmine said they do worry about whether or not she will leave, so she has a stake in keeping her happy. She thinks there will be a shift in how law firms market, with a focus on keeping people happy and keeping turnover low.
Jasmine showed us the examples of their targeted advertising, and how they highlighted the firm’s CSR practice on their other social media channels, such as LinkedIn.
Case Study: Hinckley, Allen & Snyder
Robert then offered a case study for one of their clients, Hinckley, Alleny and Snyder. They’re a conservative and smart firm, with 130+ attorneys, 32 practice areas, and a 3-person marketing department. Their website goal was to help their attorneys fulfill the business plans they had developed. The challenge is that every attorney’s needs varied from their peers.
So Great Jakes helped them to market the firm and their attorneys by developing attorney microsites – these are small, customizable websites for each attorney, which can have any number of pages and include any type of information. It’s a single repository on the site for all of an attorney’s information.
As an example, Robert showed us the original bio page for one of the associates at the firm, which was fairly typical to most law firm bios. He then showed us the microsite for the same attorney. The biggest difference right off the bat was her bio photo – Robert said that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of a good photo, which emphasizes the attorney as a winner.
The microsites allow the attorneys to use their bio like a home page. By creating additional pages about their experience, they’re not just another attorney. They have their own brands. This associate has a page for her community activities (the only attorney in the firm to have that) and it highlights her understanding of New Hampshire (her bailiwick) and shows her personality outside of the law.
Robert then showed us the microsite for another attorney at the firm, who mostly has videos of himself being interviewed on tv about his area of expertise. Another attorney wanted to highlight his blog, so his blog posts appear on his page. Yet another attorney wanted her Twitter feed to be the star, so that is included. Through this, they gave the attorneys the tools to develop their own practices within the firm brand.
What are the future trends?
We looked at four trends that the panelists had identified.
Content Marketing/Social Media
The first of these is content marketing/social media. Jasmine, as an early adopter of social media, handled this trend, saying that social media is here to stay, it empowers the AmLaw 200, it empowers client to refer, or not, very easily, and it empowers lawyers and law firms to communicate easily with clients publicly no matter where they are. Jasmine emphasized that lawyers need to go about using social media carefully and ethically, but that they need to be involved and have content. She said that social media should be used to establish relationships and for communication, not for spamming.
Jasmine encourages her attorneys to use Facebook, and Foley Hoag educates their attorneys on how to do that. She said that Facebook shows they’re human beings, and offers another side for people to connect to. It’s a great equalizer. Robert agreed and added that a smaller firm can leverage social media to compete with larger firms.
When asked whether attorneys should post on their own, Jasmine said yes, and emphasized that attorneys should use their names and not practice area handles. They need to be transparent and people need to know who they’re talking to. Jasmine said that for the firm Twitter account, she is the person behind the brand, and they don’t have checks or an approval process in place, which would cut down on her posts’ timeliness.
Robert added that in the future, he doesn’t think there will be social media conferences anymore – they will now be content marketing conferences instead.
The Facebook Effect
The panelists showed us a number of slides of unique firm bios to illustrate the Facebook effect, of making bios more well-rounded (like Facebook, presenting a complete picture of a person). The first attorney’s bio has a photo of her riding her motorcycle – this is both an icebreaker and something that makes her unforgettable. The next attorney’s bio had a Q&A that showed his personal and international experience with international insurance.
Another attorney bio had their personal information kept short and sweet in little boxes, so that it was shared without taking over the bio. Axiom Law really has unique bios that integrate wonderful photography and video – the sample that the panelists shared with us was of one of their attorneys in a kitchen, up to her elbows in cake making – not something you’d ordinarily picture your attorney doing!
Their final example had some fun things included in the bio, like how many cups of coffee the attorney had had that day and whether they chose rock, paper or scissors. It’s goofy, but it gives you the sense that this firm is unlike any other, and the lawyer is unlike any other.
Marketing Departments – Challenged to find balance
The questions that law firm marketing departments need to be asking themselves are "where do we as a department add value? Where do I add most value for my firm and my firm’s clients?" We’ll always be busy, so it’s important to pick your battles, and know that when you say "yes" to something, you’re also saying "no" to something else.
Law firm staffing models
The fourth and final trend was about law firm staffing models. The panelists asked "how will this look in five years?" It’s a hot topic of conversation, and many people are wondering what happens when this model shifts. What happens when each practice group has five salespeople, two marketers, etc.? Robert said that law firms will need to empower the attorneys to market themselves. Jasmine agreed, but said this will have to happen within the firm brand. They’ll have to train all of the attorneys, even those you’d like to keep behind closed doors.
Firms will also need to figure out how this is tied to recruitment and how the legal work gets done – they think it will be that the attorneys just do legal work, and they have a team that promotes and sells for them. Robert said that the firm brand is important because it greases the wheels. The challenge is how can we help the attorneys run with the ball from here?
What are your thoughts marketers? Discuss!