By Dr. John W. Olmstead
Copyright 1996-2003 by Olmstead & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
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 drawn from working with client law firms over the past eighteen 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:
There is no time for marketing or any firm developmental activities. Production is king and non-billable activities such as marketing are discouraged.
Attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. This is primarily due to lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process.
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.
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.
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.
Most reward and compensation systems focus on short-term production and discourage participation in longer term (non-billable) firm investment activities or projects.
Marketing is not just about getting new clients. We have seen marketing plans that include the following objectives.
The above examples do not include any activities that are not consistent with professionalism. No advertising…no TV….no radio….no billboards. The majority of the activities listed involved maintenance activities designed to create or enhance existing client relationships.
Numerous studies have be conducted concerning the effectiveness of various marketing tools. Other than personal injury or other similar commodity-type consumer orientated practices, here are a few of the most successful tools:
TIP #1: Without an effective marketing infrastructure – marketing at the firm, practice group or individual level is virtually impossible. A few essentials:
TIP #2: Don’t copycat. Brand yourself. Look for ways to differentiate yourself and your firm from your competitors. Become the only attorney that can do what you do. Make a decision – what do you want to be known and remembered for? Unique services, unique client groups, different service delivery strategy, personal style. Create a five-year plan for goal accomplishment.
TIP #3: Launch a program to obtain client feedback on client needs, opportunities, and quality of law firm services. A follow-up/problem resolution system must be part of the program.
TIP #4: Create the culture and environment. Marketing and client service needs to be incorporated into the culture of the firm. All attorneys and staff should have a role in marketing. Senior partners must walk the talk and consistently, build and reinforce the marketing goals of the firm. Marketing goals and action plans should be formulated and team members held accountable. Over time a marketing mindset will emerge.
TIP #5: Provide marketing training/coaching for attorneys and staff.
TIP #6: Improve time management skills of everyone in the firm.
TIP #7: Establish daily marketing goals and measure your personal marketing results on a daily basis. Analyze successes and failures.
TIP #8: Get out of the office. Visit a client’s place of business once a month.
TIP #9: Write an article every other month.
TIP #10: Take a client to lunch once a week.
TIP #11: Improve your communication skills with both clients and office teammates.
TIP #12: Prepare and submit press releases monthly to clients, prospective clients, media and the general legal community.
TIP #13: Learn how to become “solutions orientated” and become a consultant to your clients as opposed to simply their attorney. Solutions may involve activities and services other than legal services. Think out-of-the-box and outside of typical frameworks in which you are comfortable.
TIP #14: Explore the feasibility of ancillary businesses.
TIP #15: Get your newsletter on track and on a consistent basis (at least quarterly).Send via e-mail.
TIP #16: Join a client’s trade association and make contributions in the form of articles, speeches, conference attendance, etc. Learn the client’s business from top to bottom.
TIP #17: Establish a marketing library to include general materials on marketing as well as specific publications related to your clients business.
TIP #18: Institute quarterly client service/marketing brainstorming sessions. Break the rules. Encourage all members in the firm to think out-of-the-box and innovate. Look for new ways to solve client problems. Look for new solutions. No topic should be initially be considered out-of-bounds.
TIP #19: Consider using a client advisory council. Once a year hold a client advisory council forum in which the firm solicits feedback from clients.
TIP #20: Join a client’s trade association and make contributions in the form of articles, speeches, conference attendance, etc. Learn the client’s business from top to bottom.
TIP #21: Create a new client niche and market your unique experiences intensely. Strive to develop a national reputation in the niche.
TIP #22: Focus your marketing on no more than 2-3 key specialize practice areas in which you can differentiate yourself.
TIP #23: Develop and practice the following leadership behaviors:
TIP #24: Conduct an annual firm retreat. Include both attorneys and staff. The first few items on the agenda should include a review of:
TIP #25: Do it now. Marketing and other developmental projects affect the future of your practice and are just as important as short term production and billable hours. David Maister says it best. “Your billable time is your current income….your non-billable time is your future.”
John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA, Ph.D, CMC, is a Certified Management Consultant and the president of Olmstead & Associates, Legal Management Consultants, based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm provides practice management, marketing, and technology consulting services to law and other professional service firms to help change and reinvent their practices. Founded in 1984, Olmstead & Associates serves clients across the United States ranging in size from 100 professionals to firms with solo practitioners. Dr. Olmstead is the Editor-in-Chief of “The Lawyers Competitive Edge: The Journal of Law Office Economics and Management,” published by West Group. He also serves as a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Research Committee. Dr. Olmstead may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com. Additional articles and information is available at the firm’s web site: www.olmsteadassoc.com