For the past six weeks I have been discussing the characteristics of successful law firms and introduced the following basic building blocks that successful firms typically have in place:
Partner relations, leadership, management, partner compensation, planning, and client service blocks have been discussed.
The seventh and final basic building block is marketing. Successful firms have an effective marketing infrastructure and program in place.
Gone are the days when attorneys simply practiced law. Today, they face increased competition, shrinking demand for services and increasing supply of professional talent, availability of service substitutes, and marketing of professional services. Marketing can no longer be ignored if small law practices are to survive in the future.
Based upon our observations working with client law firms over the past twenty six years we have concluded that marketing is poorly understood and ineffectively implemented in many small law firms. In addition, the following obstacles are at play:
Time – There is no time for marketing or any firm developmental activities. Production is king and non-billable activities such as marketing are discouraged.
Uneasiness With Marketing – Attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. This is primarily due to lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process.
Lack of Marketing Understanding – Many attorneys confuse marketing with advertising. Marketing is not advertising. Marketing activities can exist without any promotional components such as television advertisements, radio spots, tombstone magazine advertisements, or direct mail. Marketing is the broader process concerned with the development and delivery of legal services and is part of the firm's long range planning process. It provides answers to the questions what are we selling and to whom are we selling. It involves maintaining relationships with existing clients as well as creating new relationships with prospective clients. In fact, a major objective of many successful marketing plans is obtain additional business from existing clients.
Focus and Accountability Problems – Frequently law firms experiment with marketing and engage in isolated promotional activities not integrated with the firm's business plan with the expectation of immediate results after the one-shot activity. The firm engages in fits-and-start activities that are completely unfocused, unrelated to an overall plan, unmeasured, inconsistent and often inappropriate.
Cultural Issues – The typical culture of many law firms discourages investment in long-term developmental activities. The focus is on billable hours and production. Everything else is of secondary concern. The consensus governance model typical in law firms hinders change and timely decision-making at the firm level. In addition, effective marketing in law firms requires marketing at the firm, practice group, and individual attorney levels. This requires effective training, mentoring, follow-up, and accountability at each of these levels.
Reward and Compensation Systems – RMost reward and compensation systems focus on short-term production and discourage participation in longer term (non-billable) firm investment activities or projects.
I hope you have enjoyed the series. Next week I will resume posting questions and answers received from law firms.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC