All Ships Rise with the Tide: How Marketing Can Be the Wave to Success
One of the biggest questions we get from our law firm clients is, “How do we get the most out of our marketing dollars?” Of course, the answer can vary, but one way seems so obvious that I’m surprised more firms aren’t taking this approach.
What if we reverse our efforts and, instead of starting with our most senior partners, we start with our associates and junior partners? Yes, it’s a 180-degree shift in thinking, but I believe all ships rise with the tide. So let’s increase our brand equity, raise our brand awareness and increase our business development options by flooding our firm’s future with a deeper knowledge of the importance and best practices related to successful marketing and branding.
As someone who has been working with law firms for over 22 years, I find that we have reached a point where we need to stop trying to teach old dogs new tricks. Boomers are holding tight to their positions and clients longer than expected. This, in turn, is not leaving much room for others to grow into leadership roles. Meanwhile, most attorneys in their 60s and 70s just aren’t interested in today’s marketing tactics and technology advances, which is causing many firms to fall behind to more innovative competitors.
That’s why I advocate empowering the newer, younger attorneys with the tools and training needed to build a loyal community around their personal and law firm brands.
Following Silicon Valley’s Lead
Many businesses and industries are focusing on building their futures by investing in their younger employees, with the hope that these junior-level colleagues will serve as even bigger revenue sources in years to come. For example, Silicon Valley businesses have always done a great job of tapping into younger generations, in part by incorporating weekly team-building time and encouraging idea sharing. These younger employees usually have a better sense of the technological landscape, which means they are more likely to offer suggestions regarding technological solutions that can create efficiencies and innovations in service delivery.
When it comes to legal marketing, we have historically focused on garnering buy-in from management and senior equity partners. This is referred to as a “top-down” focus. Unfortunately, these senior-level professionals either don’t believe in marketing and its importance to success and growth or they just aren’t willing to learn new technologies to bolster the effort. Thus, the marketing initiative flat lines.
Rather than see our marketing efforts stall or fail to launch, I say let’s reverse our strategy by educating and coaching future leaders and rainmakers. For instance, sales, networking and client service have become just as much a part of a lawyer’s requisite skills as the practice of law. But lawyers aren’t being taught this in law school, nor do most law firms offer any type of continuing education program to address the gap in proficiencies. A few firms out there are starting to realize the future is in the hands of their associates, and they are starting to institute programs – such as bonuses and other incentives – to ensure that the firm has prepped its personnel to serve as business developers and brand ambassadors.
A Win-Win Game Plan
If we continue with the top-down mentality, we will be fighting the same marketing battles for many more years, wasting money, losing clients and talented lawyers, and falling further behind other businesses. We still need buy-in from management, and we still need to work with firm and practice leaders on brand messaging, growth strategies and other firmwide communications. But instead of trying to get the higher-ups to tweet, write blog posts and network more, let’s focus on those whose careers are just getting started.
By starting with younger attorneys, we teach them the importance of marketing and business development early enough that they become comfortable with these practices. This makes them more agile as technology and marketing best practices change. But while familiarity and comfort are important, practicing these activities on a daily basis is important to achieving the ultimate goals – making marketing and business development a routine part of an attorney’s job function.
Younger attorneys also are just at the beginning of developing their personal brands. By creating a personal brand early in the life of an attorney, you give the lawyer more time to grow, mature and perfect a reputation in the marketplace. This, in turn, can foster loyalty among key contacts, including their friends and college connections who are themselves just settling into their careers. Such practices do not just benefit the individual lawyer; they add more value to the firm’s and practice group’s brands as well.
Finally, one last point to consider. Retention is becoming a huge issue in many firms. There are many reasons why attorneys, particularly younger attorneys, are jumping ship. Law firm leaders need to start building programs and initiatives that encourage loyalty and longevity among their partners and associates. One way to do that is to create an environment that empowers them, teaches them and rewards them for promoting the brand, building relationships and adding to the firm’s growth.