MARKETING STRATEGIES: Essential for Growth and Survival
by Joel A. Rose
Doug, Mark and Teresa founded their 26-attorney, AV-rated law firm 12 years ago. Doug and Mark are the principal rainmakers. Together they account for approximately 65 percent of the firm's business. Most of the other attorneys work on client files generated by Doug and Mark. In December, Mark announced that he was leaving the firm to become a principal at one of the firm's investment clients. Doug had some health problems and decided to reduce his involvement in firm activities. The other partners were reasonably certain that they could service and retain the firm's clients. However, some uncertainty existed about their ability to retain a few of the larger and more profitable clients that remained with the firm because of the quality of work performed and the personal relationships between Mark and the CEO's of these companies.
In light of the above scenario, the partners retained our management consulting to develop a marketing strategy for the firm so they could continue to fulfill their personal and professional objectives.
After meeting with the partners, the consultant's initial recommendation was that a marketing committee be formed to evaluate the firm's resources and to determine the potential market for those services.
To accomplish these objectives, the consultant recommended the following procedural steps:
1. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the firm, its "practice mix," competition and the potential market;
2. Establish goals to be achieved;
3. Agree upon marketing objectives to satisfy the market related goals; and
4. Develop a marketing plan by coordinating specific strategies to achieve the marketing objectives.
Marketing Strategy for Existing Clients:
The partners decided that the best method of marketing to existing clients is to ensure the performance of quality work in a timely and responsive manner and be sensitive of the client's legal and non-legal needs. To accomplish this, partners were assigned responsibility for managing each of the firm's practice areas. Attorneys were instructed to insure that their work product and/or general interaction with the client was tailored to satisfy the needs of the client as perceived by the client, not by the attorney. To accomplish this, attorneys were urged to:
- Befriend and establish a good rapport with clients. Engage in social and business pleasantries (lunches, entertainment, provide unsolicited information likely to be of interest to the client) and show that the attorney cares, by calling periodically to inquire how the client is faring, visiting the client's place of business to better understand the business, etc.
- Find practical and economic solutions to enable the clients to achieve their objectives. Attorneys were advised not to tell clients that a desired course of action is inappropriate without suggesting alternative approaches, if at all possible.
- Lead the client to make the proper decisions. Attorneys were encouraged to provide clients with the tools to make a decision, without forcing the decision.
- Meet deadlines. Attorneys were instructed to avoid setting unrealistic deadlines.
- Identify other legal needs. Attorneys were requested to identify the client's needs and interests beyond the scope of the current work and be sensitive to how the client is faring, problems that may be anticipated and to explore the "bigger picture" to determine if other legal problems exist, how they may be resolved.
- Educate the client about the firm's capabilities. Attorneys received information about the expertise and accomplishments of other partners and were told to make certain their clients are aware of the full range of the firm's services. Attorneys were also encouraged to introduce their clients to other members of the firm at every opportunity.
- Share information. Attorneys were advised to inform clients by telephone, letter, email or photocopy of an article of interest, etc. of specific developments in the law of which they should be aware.
- Be sensitive to broader needs. Attorneys were instructed to be sensitive to the position of the contact person at the client and how to assist in advancing that individual's personal needs and goals to the extent such activities do not conflict with the client's representation.
- Be a team player. Attorneys were urged to assist one another in marketing existing and potential clients.
Marketing Strategy for Former Clients:
A former client is one for whom the firm is not currently performing legal services, but for whom the firm has performed services in the past. Depending on the relationship and results of prior service, former clients were marketed by using some of the above techniques for existing clients as well as some of those described below for potential clients.
Marketing Strategy for Potential Clients:
An organized strategy for attracting clients was developed. The elements of this strategy include:
- Continued individual initiative combined with a marketing team. Attorneys were encouraged to take the initiative that may include a team marketing effort. Each attorney was expected to identify and approach at least ten potential clients each year. On a team basis, two or more partners were responsible for identifying potential clients and enlisting appropriate attorneys and other referral sources to approach these clients.
- Proper preparation. Whether proceeding individually or as member of a marketing team, recommendations were provided on how attorneys may:
- Identify potential new clients.
- Determine the "decision makers" at such potential clients whose responsibility it is to assign legal work to law firms, or who approves such referrals.
- Evaluate the legal and non-legal needs and objectives of the potential client and the chief decision makers.
- Evaluate the firm's ability to meet the needs of potential clients.
- Identify the contacts that the partners, the firm's existing clients or other friendly third parties may have with the potential client and the chief decision makers.
- Review all available information about the potential client and the decision makers.
- Select an appropriate method of approach that would be properly received and provide an opportunity to educate the potential client about the firm, i.e., lunch, seminar, entertainment, direct mail, friendly third party, etc..
- Insure that the marketing committee coordinates the efforts of attorneys in soliciting and/or servicing the potential client
- Receptive environment. Attorneys were instructed how to create a receptive atmosphere that aids in the attraction of potential clients by implementing various general marketing strategies and recommendations.
General strategies implemented to increase the chances of success in marketing current, former and potential clients include:
- Promotion of a firm image. Create a universally accepted image of what and who the firm is, what the firm stands for, what it has to offer and the manner in which its services will be performed. This image must be appropriately communicated to the legal community and the marketplace. Since many of the firm's partners were not as well known as the founding partners, it was important that the firm make a concerted effort to achieve this goal by:
- Developing an expanded mission statement to help the firm differentiate itself from the crowd and that goes beyond the credo of "quality legal services, on time, at a favorable price."
- Preparing a two page resume listing specific skills, accomplishments, honors, etc. to be circulated among attorneys and staff and made available, together with the mission statement, in an attractive binder and placed in the reception area, so that all could better appreciate the qualities that the firm has to offer. Attorneys are responsible for informing the firm of any significant new experiences, honors, positions, etc., as they occur so that resumes may be updated.
- Maintaining appearances of individual offices and common areas.
- Name identification and creation of a message of expertise and stability. The names of the attorneys in the firm, were placed before the public in as many favorable forms as possible. The following were some of the methods employed:
- Identification of the firm name and that the firm is a "full service" law firm.
- Publication of articles both in legal and trade magazines.
- Participation by attorneys in positions of authority and leadership in civic, social and religious organizations and bar associations.
- Develop firm stability, public concern, and a sense of paying "civic rent" by financially supporting, or offering pro bono services to, worthy community activities as a firm, where appropriate.
- Each member of the firm was sensitized to become increasingly aware of the use of the media.
- Institutionalizing the name of the firm by use of stationery that increases the emphasis on the name and changes the emphasis of listing individual attorney's names by seniority. Recognition of admission to more than one bar was noted. The message communicated by these changes is one of a firm that acts as a team having far reaching capabilities.
- Marketing Committee. The role of the marketing committee was upgraded to implement and assess the results of the marketing plan, to recommend changes to it, and to collect and maintain useful information regarding potential clients, contacts and marketing tools.
- Marketing efforts should receive regular attention. Marketing became a permanent agenda item for the partnership meeting and firm meeting.
- Increased budget for marketing. The marketing plan was enhanced by modest additional financial commitment, i.e., a business development expense account was increased to a minimum of $500 for partners and $200 for associates. Business development activities were budgeted at 3.5 to 4.5 percent of gross revenue.
- Improve product mix. Certain areas of practice within the firm were upgraded through inside and outside CLE training; two lateral hires were employed so that the firm may be perceived as "a full service firm."
- Commitment to excellence. Each attorney was expected to attain a level of expertise in an area of firm practice which will enable that attorney to be "marketed" as a true leader in that field.
- Advance planning. Annually every attorney was accountable to identify his or her own goals and objectives for client development for review with the marketing committee.
- Proper staff attitudes are a positive marketing force. Each member of the professional and administrative staff was interviewed by a member of the marketing committee and told, what they communicate to others professionally and non-professionally about their jobs and the people they work for spreads a message about the firm.
- Seminars. Attorneys were encouraged to participate in the presentation of seminars sponsored by the firm or others targeted at specific groups of existing, former and/or potential clients or sources of referral.
The implementation of this marketing plan required a significant amount of time, effort, cooperation and enthusiasm on everyone's part. Given the competitive pressures presently existing and the likelihood that they will increase in the future, the implementation of and adherence to a coordinated marketing plan was perceived to be the key to the firm's future growth and survival.
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