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Shaping your firm's future: top marketing techniques for lawyers

Shaping your firm's future: top marketing techniques for lawyers

Marketing is increasingly being recognised by lawyers as a pivotal element of a successful business strategy. Briana Everett uncovers the marketing techniques to help lawyers boost their…

Marketing is increasingly being recognised by lawyers as a pivotal element of a successful business strategy. Briana Everett uncovers the marketing techniques to help lawyers boost their business

Secret of success: Firm marketing is increasingly a key component of managing a practice
At the end of a 12-hour day, having accrued hours and hours of billable work, the last thing most lawyers feel like doing is drumming up more business. However, marketing for lawyers does not have to be an arduous, time-consuming exercise.

With the likes of LinkedIn and other social media, it's never been easier for lawyers to build and maintain a prominent profile within the industry and market themselves effectively - and in turn bring in more business.

Lawyers are beginning to take control of their own marketing and business development and are placing a greater focus - and more time - on developing lasting client relationships.

Russell Kennedy business development manager Stephanie Green highlights the increasing pressure faced by lawyers with respect to marketing and bringing in new business - a skill which is not taught at university.

"Law schools encourage a technical and analytical approach to law and don't really foster the 'soft-skills' of client relationship management and service delivery," she says. "These skills are usually learned on the job and that learning competes with billable hours."

Although the benefits of investing time and money in business development, client relationship management, seminars, workshops and networking are well known, prioritising marketing as a key aspect of a business strategy remains a challenge for lawyers and firms, given the time pressures they already face and the competing priority of billable work.

Recognising these constraints, marketing consultants maintain that marketing and business development can take as little as fifteen minutes a day.

"The issue for lawyers is that marketing and development is always competing with billable work - and that's a strain. I'm very conscious of the fact that lawyers are trying to squeeze all of this in - the admin, mentoring, professional development and making budget," Green says.

"My advice is to diarise 15 minutes a day for business development activity … and diarise one client activity per week which is non-matter related."

"Talk to your [clients] as if you know them and know what it's like to be them. Know what they value"

Trish Carroll, principal, Galt Advisory

Green emphasises the importance of making sure those 15 minutes each day are spent having a conversation with a client that's not specific to a particular file.

"Clients really do appreciate it when you give them a call that's not matter related," she says. "[That might be] offering an observation, a piece of advice, a tip or heads-up about something - with no expectation of getting work out of it."

Step into your client's shoes

The key to any successful marketing strategy is for lawyers and firms to understand their client's business.

"A lot of [people] don't understand the importance of persuasive communication," says Trish Carroll, principal of Galt Advisory. "By that I mean, talk to your [clients] as if you know them and know what it's like to be them. Know what they value. … It sounds really simple but it's not."

Understanding the priorities of a client and addressing the questions and concerns clients will inevitably have is the first and most important step to successful business development.

According to Green, clients want to understand exactly what service a lawyer or firm can provide and what their overall business philosophy is. Clients also want to understand a firm's business, including its problems, but importantly, they want to know they will enjoy working with a particular lawyer or firm and they want to feel that they're making the right decision by choosing them.

"Clients need to feel confident and comfortable that you are able to assist before they will commit. This won't happen over one meeting - follow-up is everything," Green advises.

"My advice is to diarise 15 minutes a day for business development activity … and diarise one client activity per week, which is non-matter related"

Stephanie Green, business development manager, Russell Kennedy

Getting your profile out there

While law firms are increasingly aware of the need to implement a marketing strategy and to train their people in how to market themselves effectively, Green points out that firms need to be more strategic.

"Any marketing activity should be aligned with the firm's strategic plans and should be directed towards clearly identifiable goals," Green says. "[I have observed] a lot of unnecessary [business development] activity that fails because it's not well thought through - it's not strategic."

According to Green, firms also need to provide an environment in which marketing is encouraged and modelled by senior partners - and this involves more than just brochures and brand building.

A guide to networking

According to Galt Advisory principal Trish Carroll, many lawyers avoid networking because they're too shy and feel uncomfortable or think networking is just about schmoozing. She offers some tips below to help the nervous networker:

  • Reconnect with the people you have lost touch with: you'll be surprised how pleased they are to hear from you
  • Ask for help: work out what your networking goals are and get help from others
  • Be strategic: network with a purpose
  • Be yourself: networking is not about being an extrovert. It's about being a good listener and showing you're genuinely interested
  • Give to get: be prepared to give and show you're prepared to help - ideas, contacts, refer a website etc.
  • Have fun: networking is about having fun, meeting people, learning new things and connecting people

Business development tips

Russell Kennedy business development manager Stephanie Green offers her top tips for business development and winning work:

  • Profile building: important at every stage of your career
  • Contribute: if you don't like public speaking, write an article in an association journal. Just do something.
  • Pick two or three clients that you believe can deliver more work: two or three prospective clients or industries you want to work for (any more than that is too much)
  • Make sure you understand how those prospective clients operate internally: determine the people of influence, the decision-makers, the gatekeepers
  • Identify opportunities to communicate with people: workshops, information sessions, industry events
  • Follow up: otherwise it's all a waste of time
"Only direct communication with clients wins business."

A common mistake, according to Green, is for firms to withhold the firm's marketing strategy from its employees.

"[The strategy] has to be communicated clearly to all the troops and they need to understand how they play a part in achieving that goal," she says.

Building the profile of a firm and its individual lawyers is still very much about the firm's website and individual lawyer profiles. However, marketing and business development is now also about building an online presence through networks such as LinkedIn - and as Carroll points out, the first thing potential clients will do is check a lawyer's online profile through the firm's website or LinkedIn.

Nothing will replace the establishment of relationships face-to-face, but having a LinkedIn profile has become the first point of call - and one that lawyers have full control over.

"Using LinkedIn is a fantastic way of reconnecting with people and being able to share contacts. I think a LinkedIn profile is now very much how you get your personal profile out there," Carroll says.

While social media tools such as Twitter are increasing in popularity amongst the legal industry as a business development tool, Green reminds lawyers to keep their clients in mind before they launch an aggressive social media marketing campaign.

"If your client is a traditional communicator they're not going to want to communicate with you online and they're not going to appreciate being tweeted. You have to adapt to what your client is doing and what their space is," Green says, suggesting that lawyers with clients in the IT/IP or technology space, for example, might be more successful marketing via social media. In addition, she points out that the social media plan for a sole practitioner will be completely different to that of a larger top-tier firm.

Although a firm's social media marketing strategy will differ depending on the type of clients it has, Green concedes that there are many advantages for law firms using social media.

"Social media is huge in law firms. So within five years it will be within everybody's marketing plan for sure," she says.

Despite the advantages offered by LinkedIn or Twitter, which include the ability to reach a much larger number of potential clients in significantly less time, Carroll insists that nothing will replace forming professional relationships in person.

"I think [marketing] is a combination of those things. I network in person, I use social media to stay in touch with people or to share ideas," she says.

Carroll adds that lawyers need to take much greater control over their profile.

"The thing that amazes me is that a lot of partners in law firms take no ownership of their website profile. It's your profile so wouldn't you be absolutely obsessive about it being accurate?"

With an accurate and effective online profile, through both social media and website profiles, as well as the traditional face-to-face networking, lawyers and firms can reach out to a larger audience of prospective clients and build business effectively.

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