Stop It With “Innovation,” Already

by JD Supra Perspectives

[The latest in our series of inside perspectives by marketing, communications, and business development professionals doing excellent work at law firms today, with a perspective on innovation and focus:]

“The joy is in creating, not maintaining” - Vince Lombardi 

Legal marketers are always excited about the next big thing, but what happens when that big idea has to be supported and implemented? The new system or process does not always produce the intended result. Time and money is wasted. Energy deflates. Maintenance does not happen.

So here’s an innovative thought: Stop chasing the next big thing. Just do the right things better. If we want to increase the recognition of the legal marketing industry as crucial to the business of law, we should prove our value to law firm leaders and earn our voice at the table. Here’s how.

1. Know Your Firm

Study your firm, its lawyers, and your clients. Make friends with other administrative leaders who can give you information, particularly those who have been at the firm for a long time.

You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who are your top clients?
  • What percentage of the firm’s revenue comes from your top clients?
  • What’s your client retention rate? 
  • Which practices are most profitable?
  • Which attorneys generate the most revenue?
  • Which lawyers are your best presenters?
  • Which marketing activities attract the most visibility?
  • Which business development activities generate the best ROI?

Consider how you might pitch your Managing Partner on a new business development coaching program. You can tout research on the success of such programs at other firms, share anecdotal information from coaches, and generally say you think it’s a good idea.

Or, you can make the case based on what you know about your firm. Cite a particular junior partner with an incremental upward trend line in revenues and how this program will increase her revenue substantially through a targeted effort to promote her niche practice. Identify a client for whom you need a succession plan and explain how the program will encourage multiple touchpoints with them. The insight you demonstrate will get your Managing Partner’s attention and buy-in more quickly.

2. Leverage Data

A firm’s two greatest assets are its contacts and its experience. To leverage those assets, you should create and maintain searchable warehouses of information. Firms of all sizes have found marketing technology solutions to automate these processes; others manually track and update the information in spreadsheets.

A firm’s two greatest assets are its contacts and its experience.

Business generation happens when someone you know has a legal need you have particular experience in, and they can pay you.

Consider two approaches to pitching a prospect on handling a particular case. In scenario one, a legal marketer sees an employment case filed. He looks up the company, runs a conflict check that generates no hits, and drafts a pitchbook for his firm’s practice group leader to send to in-house counsel. It includes a 4-page firm overview, a 2-page practice brochure, and the lawyer’s 7-page biography listing every matter he’s ever worked on.

In scenario two, a legal marketer sees the same filing and runs a conflict check that identifies the defendant as a former client. He pulls and reviews the complaint and then spends 10 minutes crafting a short email to the in-house counsel about the practice group leader’s experience on FMLA cases before this judge and against this plaintiff’s counsel. Which do you think is more effective?

It takes a lot of work to get to the point where you can access, in a matter of minutes, which attorneys have handled this type of case for this industry in this jurisdiction before this judge against this opposing counsel. And it takes a lot more work to maintain it. But having and leveraging that information makes the firm much more likely to win work.

3. Monitor and Use Trends

Amy Knapp put me on to Faith Popcorn’s 17 Trends. Faith is a futurist marketer who identifies societal movements, including, to mention just one, “EVEolution” which is how the way women think and behave is impacting business, causing a marketing shift away from a hierarchical model to a relational one.

There are myriad ways a legal marketer can use societal trends to reach targeted audiences. For example, customer experience is a fundamental business driver and one few law firms have embraced. Unfortunately for law firms, clients’ expectations are increasing, and we are no longer only being compared to other firms. Clients now compare any buying or service experience to any other they have had, including those that are arguably the gold standard, such as Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, Disney, or Amazon. Interestingly, Forrester Research notes customers perceive their experiences at three levels – meets needs, easy, and enjoyable. A legal marketer might consider, “What routine client experience can I make easier?” It doesn’t have to be innovative to be impactful.

4. Measure and Report

Don’t forget to market the marketing department. There’s no better way to prove your value than providing law firm leadership with metrics that tell your story. Has the firm’s revenue per lawyer increased? What’s the trend line for the number of proposals and pitches the department produces annually? What’s your win rate?

Heather Morse has a great post about “Marketing Me” on her blog, The Legal Watercooler. She rejects the concept of “Do a good job, and you’ll get noticed,” and says you should market yourself with a plan and a purpose. I agree. Pick some key metrics, and start tracking.

5. Learn from Others

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Oscar Wilde. In our increasingly specialized industry, there are numerous resources available for the in-house legal marketer. The Legal Marketing Association is focused on education and hosts several in-person conferences each year. Additionally, the Learning Store has numerous on-demand offerings on topics such as content marketing, social media, business development coaching, client feedback, and much more, many for just $39 for members.

Having spent 13 years in this industry, I can say with confidence we are a collegial and open group, united by the common challenges and successes that working in the legal industry brings. I have never met a fellow in-house marketer not willing to answer a few questions from another. Form and strengthen relationships with legal marketing peers, and reach out early and often.

Shift some of that time you spend thinking about the next big thing and consider your recurring task list. What are some tweaks you could make to see more of an impact? How can you demonstrate your contribution to the firm’s bottom line? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 


[Kathryn Whitaker is Director of Marketing & Business Development at McNair Law Firm. She’s a proud South Carolinian, working mom, political junkie, and avid fan of Clemson University. She can be found on Twitter @KBWhit.]


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