In the beginning, law firm marketing departments had fewer employees than the mail room. Fast-forward thirty years: today, the rule of thumb is one marketing professional for every 20 to 25 attorneys, so a firm of 500 attorneys would have a marketing department with 20 to 25 professionals. Many firms also outsource specialized services such as digital marketing and database management.
If you are in a smaller firm or practicing solo, why do you care how large marketing departments are in large firms? You care, because you, too, need to be visible to your prospects and colleagues and engaged with your clients. We can look to the marketing professionals in larger firms to glean important ideas that are relevant to and appropriate for all practicing attorneys.
First, some definitions. Within the legal profession, marketing refers to activities that build brand awareness, including content management activities online and in print. These include brochures, newsletters, websites, videos, podcasts, other digital initiatives, database management, public relations, advertising, events, sponsorships, and so on.
Activities related to finding, wooing, winning and servicing clients come under the rubric of “business development.” This includes research on specific clients, their industries and markets, relationship building and tracking, and proposal and presentation preparation. It also includes training and coaching for attorneys, assistance with marketing and business development strategy, and business development plans for individuals, practice groups, and the firm itself.
Modern marketing departments are thinking strategically about ways to relate their personnel and services to defined client clusters. To this end, according to Calibrate Legal’s survey of North American law firm marketing departments, in larger firms there is an increased demand for:
- Strategic business development initiatives
- Digital marketing
- Lead generation and pursuits
- Data analysis and content marketing.
There is less demand for participation in 2021 conferences, events, sponsorships and inclusion in directories/awards. In -person events will also be de-emphasized in 2021: one-third of the responding firms plan to reduce them by 50% or more.
The key word for 21st century consumers is “me," translated in marketing-speak to “personalization.” The onslaught of available information has forced people to triage. Any material sent to prospects or clients must be germane to their interests, needs, opportunities and pitfalls or they won’t look at it.
This means you need to be very clear about the personalization of your own practice. Everything you write needs to reflect who you are—what your brand is. Your brand distills what makes you different and how that difference comes through in what you do with and for your clients. It is your promise to them that sets their expectations as to how it would be to work with you.
To relate authentically to your clients, you need to know more about them than just their contact information and current matter number. You need to really understand their work life, home life, wants, needs, dreams, problems, opportunities, and so on. You need to be able to “walk a mile in their shoes.” This translates into a niche market focus, a sub-group of possible clients who really could benefit from your advice, expertise and experience.
Rather than seeking out any kind of client who wants you, analyze what you like to do and who benefits from your practice. Analyze your current client base going back several years and outline the characteristics of your best clients–the ones you want to replicate. Then narrow your focus:
Tie all the characteristics of your ideal client together in a “client persona.” The persona combines everything you need to know about your prospects and clients. These are the people you want to meet, get to know, and, over time, incorporate into your work life as friends, colleagues, referral sources, resources, and clients.
Once you know what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to, you need to create opportunities to connect either directly through networking or indirectly through your marketing materials and initiatives. Some suggestions that continue to work in the COVID-19 environment:
- Join organizations that your persona belongs to online or in-person. Join their professional, trade, or industry associations to learn what is important to them and how they approach the issues.
- Expand your brand online. Use your website and LinkedIn of course, but also whatever other sites your clients favor. Go where they go and join their conversations.
- Pick a marketing outreach tactic that is comfortable for you: newsletters, blog, videos, podcasts, white papers. Make the content timely and pertinent to your persona. Consider working with clients or colleagues on these endeavors.
- If you work for a firm with a marketing department, use them. If you don’t, hire outside marketing service consultants and companies to help you, professionalize your efforts.
- Maximize your online references and reviews. “An estimated 75% of people searching for a lawyer use legal review sites, and 84% of those people trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.”
- Regardless of your outreach tactics, when you meet someone you want to get to know, begin a series of contacts with them. Set up one-on-one meetings using zoom or the phone; send them information that refers back to your conversation, invite them to join you at an online networking event or webinar.
- Remember it takes 8 to 12 personal “touches” on average to move forward from that first meeting to friendship.
- Don’t forget your current clients. People are anxious, worried what will happen in 2021. Be there for them as a sounding board. Call them just to say, “How are you doing?” Listen to them and offer advice if they want it. Often clients are just happy to have a willing ear.
In the end, whether your firm is large or small or you work alone, you can adopt the mindset of those in large marketing departments. “Remember, business development is all about relationships. Relationships that are built on trust, empathy and a deep commitment to help clients succeed.” People hire people they like and trust who have the experience and expertise they need to move forward. Think positively about moving forward, craft a brand that resonates with your market niche, and make yourself relevant to them. Success will follow.
 Calibrate Legal, Law Firm Marketing/BD Department Size Study 2020, https://calibrate-legal.com/marketing-bd-survey-2020/.
 Susanne Mandel, Chief Business development and Marketing Officer at Lowndes, quoted in ‘New Law Firm Strategies for Growth Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic and After,” Strategies+ blog, Legal Marketing Association, September 4, 2020.