The marketing behind law firms and attorneys has definitely evolved. In “New Partner in the Firm: The Marketing Director,” the former president of the National Association of Law Firm Marketing Administrators (the ancestor of today’s “Legal Marketing Association”) noted that in 1984 she was the one of the top five marketing directors in the world and that by 1989 several hundred law firms had hired their own marketing directors.1
It was not, however, without resistance and challenges. As the article notes, organized marketing programs met with the most resistance from senior lawyers, who tended to view the sale as unprofessional, with many calling the marketing demeaning. I will say that even when I joined my first law firm in 2001, there were seasoned lawyers who still shared this view.
Even what we now consider to be the most basic tools of the marketer’s trade, namely support and presentation materials, have been debated. The New York Times the article notes how in the late 1980s, Cooley Godward Castro Huddelson & Tatum (a.k.a Cooley Godward, at the time, had his 150 lawyers trained by video camera (how progressive they were…), “in order to help them refine their pitch to potential clients”. Yet even at Cooley Godward, marketing’s personalized information packets about their customers, created on “a fleet of desktop computers”, were seen as merely an internal tool, because “when materials become the focus , the marketing process is less professional”.
2022 is in full swing and the Legal Marketing Association now has over 4,100 members in the United States, Canada and 30 other countries with multiple memberships across nearly all of the AmLaw 200. Yes, times have changed. , with the professionalism of the marketing teams. ranging from poorly trained paralegals and secretaries to MBAs and JDs.
What has also grown significantly over the years is the branding efforts of law firms. Law firms, as brands, now share equal footing with the marketing efforts of their lawyers, firms and offices. And at the forefront of these efforts: law firm websites, although this is also a relatively new invention.
In 2012 Bob Ambrogi did some research to determine which firm was the first to have one – noting a Wikipedia entry on the now defunct Heller Ehrman LLP launching the first law firm website in 1994. Still In 1994, The Baltimore Sun wrote in “Lawyers in Cyberspace” that Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti (a.k.a Venable) had, “…recently hung an e-shingle as a publisher under his own name on the Internet.”
For those of us who have been frequenting law firms for a while, the simplicity (I’m nice) of previous websites has now been replaced by an ever-evolving sophistication with a strong focus on client experience. It’s not just about the website, however, there has been a huge shift in recognition of the law firm’s mission, vision and purpose as a brand, with the website being the primary ” bearer” of the mark.
The debate over whether a client hires a law firm or a lawyer is always hot. But clearly, years ago, lawyers who wanted to start a firm would take the time to try to meet with as many people as possible, in the hope that cases would flow in or be referred to them. Their traditional efforts to sell services (but please don’t use the word sell) included a jumble of breakfast, lunch, and dinner peppered with legal papers and letters from clients and friends. And for many particularly pleasant rainmakers, it was. It worked.
These days, marketing and business development efforts have expanded dramatically to include many more lawyers — not just those who enjoyed one-on-one interactions — supported by a wider range of thought leadership opportunities and digital platforms. , many of which are highly data dependent. Legal marketers are engaged daily in efforts to see where business is coming from, how to improve client engagement, how to aggregate disparate data points from across the business, making it an intelligence exploitable, all to help generate revenue. All of this is anything but degrading.
Another interesting footnote: Ross Fishman noted in “A Personal View of Legal Marketing’s Long Strange Journey”, that in 1990 Winston & Strawn hired its PR consultant to be the first full-time marketing partner of the country, which in turn hired half a dozen in-house marketers creating what may have been the first marketing department of a law firm, which incidentally included Mr. Fishman.2 Admirably, Winston & Strawn has come a long way since then. In January 2022, I participated in a panel with the company’s data scientist, a JD/MBA, who leads their data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities. Huge wow to them.
As data-driven programs grow, some more basic tactics remain the same. Marketers always advise lawyers who want to “make their mark” to try “to be known for something.” And to “sell” their unique/targeted expertise both outside the firm, to attract new clients, as well as inside the firm, to lawyers in all offices and firms for sales opportunities crossed.
And to do that, just like in the 1990s, they usually start with thought leadership, whether it’s articles from yesterday, blog posts from the past decade or, in today’s digital world webinars and podcasts – all content written by a lawyer in a format they can control. Legal marketers always advise these lawyers to get involved with relevant local associations and organizations by joining, attending events and, even better, joining committees in order to assume a leadership position in the within the group, knowing that when done properly, these networking efforts help connect them with other lawyers (who can refer to them) as well as potential clients. Whether live or virtual due to the pandemic, the strategies remain the same across all practice areas.
But behind the scenes, legal marketers are busy at work via social media and digital marketing strategies and tactics. Enriched with and through data analytics, digital platforms enable the lawyer’s words, whether written, heard or seen, and the firm’s brand messages to reach targeted audiences beyond the “rolodex”. from yesterday or today’s CRM database. From paid campaigns on LinkedIn and Google to lead generation and retargeting, prospects and targets enter the sales funnel, please don’t use that word. And you know something, it’s not degrading, it’s actually quite exciting.
1. The New York TimesJune 2, 1989.
2. ABA Law PracticeOctober/November 2005.
[This article was originally published in Wolters Kluwer INSIGHTS: The Corporate & Securities Law Adviser VOLUME 36, NUMBER 4, APRIL 2022]
Paula Zirinsky is co-founder and chief strategist of Structura Strategy Group LLC, a professional services marketing consultancy. A former CMO, she is known for her expertise in branding, strategy, marketing, content, communications and digital and technology platforms. She can be contacted at [email protected]