How law firm marketers can add value: helping in-house lawyers brand themselves and communicate expertly.

by Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP
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For decades, sales consultants have repeated the mantra: “Don’t cut price. Add value.” With the legal-service price wars in full bloom, most law firms cannot avoid cutting prices. In addition, in our hypersaturated marketplace, they not only must cut prices but also in most instances AND add value. But what does “adding value” mean? And what can a law firm’s business professionals (as opposed to lawyers) do about it?

I recently surveyed colleagues about how they would propose to add value for clients, and I got back ideas that are reasonable: send client alerts, create extranet sites for engagements, offer CLE, etc. Reasonable, but not profound. Those of us who have business roles in law firms need to do better at understanding how we can really make a difference in the lives and careers of clients. In my previous blog posting, I talked about law firm sales and marketing professionals helping inside counsel get credit for new business. As a corollary, I’d like to suggest how we can materially deliver value to in-house attorneys by helping to manage their reputations, build their personal brands and communicate more effectively.

Few lawyers are masters of personal branding and executive communications. Those of us in sales and marketing departments are. Why can’t/don’t we, in the spirit of outstanding client service, devote some of our talents and knowledge to helping improve the personal brands of and visibility for in-house counsel? In private conversations with some of my GC friends, I have come to understand some of the reasons that they need support along these lines.  Like sales and marketing staffs in law firms, legal departments in companies, are small, not “the main event,” and are viewed as cost centers. So if they are going to undertake personal branding, likely they will need to find alternative sources of support.

For example, third-party endorsements, such as being quoted in media outlets, receiving awards for excellence and being asked to speak on a particular topic, are ways in which in-house counsel can demonstrate to their employer that they, the lawyers, are well-respected in the outside world. However, few corporate resources typically are devoted to building the reputations of the in-house team. Marketers and sales people within law firms have special expertise along these lines, which we use to promote our own private firms’ attorneys. Why not extend those talents to help promote in-house attorneys at valued clients by nominating them for awards, connecting them with meaningful speaking engagements, helping them line up positive press coverage, and  helping them become go-to editorial resources for reporters and editors?

Inside counsel often are called upon to make presentations to executives, boards, employee groups and, at times, customers and vendors. While the presentations of these in-house counsel no doubt are competent, they may lack polish and communications professionalism of the companies investor- and customer-facing executives who do have the attention of the sales and marketing wizards. Client development departments at private law firms easily could help “glitz up” lawyer presentations so that they are more effective and memorable than they may currently be.

Inside counsel often have responsibilities for compliance and ethics, and a big part of that job is communicating effectively with employees via documentation, manuals, workplace posters, videos, blogs, web sites, social media and other channels. Few inside counsel or chief compliance officers have formal training in the effective and creative management and utilization of these channels, which – when handled properly – significantly can mitigate the company’s exposure to punishment and fines under federal sentencing guidelines. Law firm sales and marketing departments have resources that are available to few in-house counsel. These resources include access to communications channels and earned media opportunities, as well as professional writing, graphic design and video production capabilities. These talents and resources easily could be put to use directly to help clients. Legal marketers can help in-house client attorneys by polishing a presentation, drafting a press release, creating an advertisement or facilitating an interview with an earned media outlet.

By putting their skills directly in service of clients, legal sales and marketing professionals truly can add value to client relationships—and increase their own value to their firms at the same time.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP | Attorney Advertising

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