Silvia Hodges' Winning Legal Business from Medium-Sized Companies
is based on her Ph.D thesis at Nottingham Law School. Most legal marketing books are
based on anecdotes and experience. This one is based on the type of
systematic research evidence that lawyers love. (I do
Hodges' central finding was that medium-sized companies care most about predicting
and controlling legal costs. While law firms often like to sell the value
of customized solutions, these clients aren't buying it. They are quite
content with standardized and packaged solutions, and are willing to sacrifice
some sophistication as long as it saves them time and money.
The key reason medium-sized companies are different from their larger
competitors is that their decision makers are different. In Fortune 500
firms, the buyer of legal services worries about justifying and defending her
decisions to her manager or her board. This leads to a conservative
mentality that favors hiring law firms based on reputation, so that the
decision maker will not be blamed if anything goes wrong. As they say in
the computer business, "No one ever got fired for hiring IBM."
In contrast, in medium-sized companies the legal decision maker is likely to be
the CEO or an entrepreneur who reports only to himself. They don't care
about buying the safe brand. They care about solving a problem for the lowest
When clients in Hodges' study talked about their ideal lawyer, they used words
like flexible, fast, efficient, effective, results-oriented, honest, and
sincere; "in brief, having the same qualities they pride themselves on" (p.
Hodges' interviews led to some specific advice for lawyers who are marketing to
medium-sized clients, including:
I trust these findings more than
what I read in most marketing books, because they were based on systematic
research. It brought me back to my academic days on dissertation
Hodges focused on "medium-sized" companies (those companies with fewer than 250
employees and annual revenues below $70 million) because they represent the
"economic 'bread and butter', for many law firms" (p. v).
Her conclusions were based on interviews with 34 buyers and providers of legal
services in the European Union. She used "snowball
sampling", in which each participant named others to talk to. The
questions focused on how medium-sized companies buy legal services, and whether
marketing approaches should differ from those used with larger clients.
I must admit, some of the conclusions made me wonder about the limits of an
academic research approach in a profession that is changing rapidly. It
can take years to conduct research with academic rigor, and report the
results. But what happens to your conclusions if the world changes while
you are writing your thesis?
But when I change hats and evaluate this from my current perspective as a legal
marketer, I have absolutely no doubt that the trends that Hodges studied in
European firms a few years ago apply to many US firms today.
In my judgment, Hodges' advice against traditional marketing approaches -
including the view that many events, sponsorships and advertising campaigns
waste money - applies not just with medium-sized clients but also to many large
True, there is still a market for "bet the company" matters, where clients are
not very concerned with price. But that market is shrinking, and the
market for efficiency is going up. When the Wall Street Journal
starts publishing articles about how companies like Toyota, Sun Microsystems,
GlaxoSmithKline, and eBay are using reverse auctions to drive down legal
prices, you know that efficiency matters.
So if I managed a law firm, I wouldn't care whether my target clients were
medium, large, or small. I'd build my marketing around providing more
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