A legal marketing friend, John Eix,
head of Regional Business Development - Texas for Hunton
& Williams, sent me a June 24, 2011 Law360 article
that I finally had a moment to read. It covers the age-old question of,
"Do clients hire law firms or lawyers?" I have
always insisted that they hire both, but this article leans more
toward "they hire lawyers."
The article was written by two legal
marketing industry veterans Steve Bell, the Chief Client
Development Officer for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, and John Hellerman, co-founder and
partner of Hellerman Baretz Communications.
The article starts out like this:
Law360, New York (June 24, 2011) --
Successful rainmakers will tell you that when they get business, it's usually a
result of their own, individual marketing efforts. No surprise there; it takes
a healthy ego to be a real rainmaker, after all. But underneath any braggadocio
lies a truth: Individual lawyers, not law firm institutions, are what draw in
clients. While the rationale behind using that truth to drive legal marketing
is obvious for many lawyers, how exactly to execute it is not.
As we have heard repeatedly, general
counsel say they "hire a lawyer, not a firm." The cliché is backed up by
research that Hellerman Baretz Communications LLC commissioned from BTI
Consulting Group Inc., which shows that introductions based on individual
relationships (namely, referrals and in-person meetings) are the most effective
methods of securing new business. Other recent research indicates that personal
bio pages and LinkedIn profiles are more visited than firms' general home and
The import of this research for law
firm leaders, marketers and lawyers at large would seem to be obvious: If
individual lawyers are the product clients are buying, they should also be the
product you are marketing. The logic behind individualized campaigns is only
becoming more forceful as communications tools grow more sophisticated and
accessible. Whether through LinkedIn, Twitter, blog posts or another new
medium, it is easier than ever for individual lawyers to make their presence
I agree with much of this, but not
all of it. The most successful rainmakers I know own their
reputations. Whether it's speaking, writing, blogging, tweeting and,
of course, being a terrific practitioner and relationship manager, they don't
rely on their law firm marketing departments to "do it for
them." Self-directed, motivated people always own their reputations,
and I think many of us were born with this gene. It wasn't something
Do clients hire law firms? Of
course they do. Clients are buying the talent and intellect of the
individual lawyer backed by a powerful, sophisticated, productive law
The article goes on to say:
Take, for instance, Howrey LLP. That
firm's big-ticket campaigns were all built around the marketing of the
institution. Indeed, Howrey pioneered the art of marketing the law firm
"brand." It was the first national firm to run a print advertising campaign,
called "The Human Side of Genius," and even bought itself a product placement
in the "Runaway Jury" movie.
To be clear, Howrey had an excellent
marketing team, and its advertising campaigns were executed very well; as a
result, it rightfully earned respect as a leader within the marketing
community. But the firm's approach had a conceptual flaw. Howrey was selling
Howrey, when it might have been selling its top products: Sean Boland, Robert
Abrams, John Talady and Alan Wiseman. As John Hellerman (an author of this
article) wrote recently in an article about Howrey here in Law360,
institutional brands are best sold to shareholders and potential shareholders
(i.e., partners and laterals), while the shareholders (as expert talent) are
best sold to clients.
Here's where I disagree. I
posit that the "top products" that Bell and Hellerman name, Howrey
partners Boland, Abrams, Talady and Wiseman, were well regarded and frequently
hired because they leveraged the natural gifts they had, invested
countless hours in becoming experts in their fields AND they were backed by a
venerable institution. In this case, Howrey. If Howrey had invested
its considerable marketing dollars only in advertising and the brand
development of these top partners, would it not have failed anyway? Of
course it would have.
Had these same lawyers been at a
small, local firm, would they still have been considered board-safe? I don't
think so. In client interviews over the last 20 years, and in discussions
with corporate counsel during Lexis-Nexis sponsored Counsel to Counsel
forums the last ten years, some admit that selling great lawyers in
lesser-known firms upstream is challenging. The better known the law
firm, the easier it is to sell the lawyer.
This supports my point that clients
hire both law firms and lawyers.
The next point the article makes is
A significant factor in the shift to
individual attorney branding is the evolution of expectations from clients
themselves. Increasingly, corporate clients seek to "unbundle" legal services.
Instead of relying on a single law firm, clients are shopping around on a
piecemeal basis to get the best service for the best possible value.
This unbundling of services places
the focus squarely at the attorney level, not the firm level. Law firm
marketing efforts should match that expectation.
The corporate world already has
taken notice of the individual brand-building trend. One need only use names
like "The Donald," "Oprah," or "Lil Wayne" to understand how far individual
branding concepts have progressed. Or just look at how important Steve Jobs has
been to selling the Apple brand.
This comparison with Oprah, Trump
and Lil Wayne (really?) holds only for those iconoclastic lawyers who have
built firms to support them, their reputations, clients and work. David Boies is one
who comes to mind. There are a dozen or more that we could name
without resorting to Internet research. Steve Jobs gets to be Steve Jobs because
he and his team built Apple to execute and support his vision.
Major law firms are blessed if they
have partners who are revolutionary thinkers with the charisma and intelligence
to become name-brands (without entirely disrupting the law firm). How
many of those lawyers could sustain the same level of notoriety without the
well-oiled infrastructure, budgets and client base of the top law firms?
So my advice partly contradicts that
of my friends and colleagues, Steve Bell and John Hellerman. Take
advantage of today's numerous individual reputation-enhancing online and
offline tools available. Own your reputation - no one else will.
But, consistently invest in your law firm's brand, too. Billions of
dollars of revenue are attributable to thousands of partners who aren't
front-and-center, but who benefit from the reputation and brand of the law firm,
and are clearly important to the health of the partnership.
Finally, here is excellent advice
from the article:
For firms and lawyers that recognize
the need to structure their efforts around the individual, the question
becomes: Now what? The following are some concrete steps that individual
attorneys can take to help themselves.
1) Define what you offer.
The first and most necessary step in any marketing campaign is to identify
exactly what you offer. Attorneys should consider the specific need they fill
for their clients, and what makes their service superior to others.
2) Ask for referrals.
Referrals are the most effective marketing technique for lawyers, and also the
simplest. When a lawyer is doing good work, her clients will often be eager to
give referrals. The hardest part may be getting over the reluctance to ask, but
when done respectfully it's not an awkward conversation.
3) Obtain referral-equivalents through PR campaigns.
To get referrals, of course, you need influential referrers. If you lack those
in your Rolodex, don't worry: that's exactly what individual-based PR campaigns
are made to remedy. BTI's research shows that obtaining just three mentions
from respected media outlets (industry trades, respected national publications,
personal contacts), have nearly the same trust-building effect on prospective
clients that personal referrals do.
4) Create content in your area of practice.
Thought leaders stand out. Creating valuable content about your area of
practice will get you noticed quickly. Whether distributed through traditional
outlets (e.g., trade publications) or "self-published" through blogs, social
networks or e-newsletters, Internet-based sharing tools will get valuable
content to the people that care about it.
5) Speak in small-group settings.
While a speaking engagement at a large conference may look nice on the resume,
smaller-group environments are more conducive to relationship building. Unlike
addresses to large audiences, which must have broad appeal, settings such as
practice seminars are more likely to be focused on the attorney's specific area
of expertise and have a business-oriented atmosphere.
6) Become a point of contact.
Making yourself a "water-cooler" stop for those in your field pays dividends
and can be accomplished in any number of ways - creating an online gathering
place through a successful blog, founding an association for a specialized
industry that you service, and hosting an annual happy hour at an industry
conference are just a few examples.
7) Communicate what makes you successful.
Clients might be impressed by an Ivy League education. What will truly impress
them - and what they really want to know - is how a lawyer can help their
business. This is what case studies do. A powerful story about how a specific
lawyer helped a client brings that attorney's skills to life and allows clients
to imagine how the lawyer might help them, as well. All lawyers should have
8) Create powerful introductions.
If your professional bio is anything like most in the legal industry, it does
not convey a powerful enough impression - or tell readers much about you.
Enhancing your bio with an enticing narrative or short video can tell visitors
a lot about your service and your personality. Enriched bios give those who
don't know you a much more significant glimpse at your professional persona and
make it easier for prospective clients to pick up the phone and call.
9) Repurpose your efforts.
These previously listed tips aren't one-off activities - they can pay repeated
dividends. The work that went into writing an article can be repurposed for a
speaking engagement. A speech can be transformed into a blog post or client
alert. All of these activities can be referenced as auxiliary materials on a
bio, and any of them can provide the basis for an introduction to a reporter.
"Recycling" in this way helps lawyers get a maximum PR benefit from their
10) Share content.
For the same reasons they should "recycle," lawyers and their firms should actively
share the content that emerges from PR campaigns. Social networking tools,
especially, make it extremely easy for lawyers to share their media quotations,
articles and other PR material with their online networks and personal
contacts, who in turn may pass it to their own networks. In this way, lawyers
become influential voices and build their presence within communities rich with
business development potential.
more insight at the Law Firm 4.0 Blog.
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