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Executing a Successful Law Firm Rebrand [Podcast]

When we think of branding, we often think of external PR campaigns, social media or paid advertising. It goes much deeper than that, however. Branding is really all about consistent, high-quality client service. Lisa Simon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, hosted by Berbay Marketing & Public Relations Managing Principal, Sharon Berman, to talk about her experience with branding and creating a new client experience program at her firm. Read the transcript below.

Sharon:    Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Today, my guest is Lisa Simon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, with 10 offices in the west. Lisa is located in Phoenix, and she’s a 20-year legal marketing veteran who has been very involved in the Legal Marketing Association, serving as president of the international organization as well as on the board of directors. She was inducted into the LMA Hall of Fame in 2017. Lisa, thank you so much for being here.

Lisa:          Thanks for having me, Sharon. This should be good. This will be fun.

Sharon:    I’m really looking forward to talking with you. Lisa, you have significant legal marketing experience, and one of your earlier Twitter handles sums it up in describing you as a marketing know-it-all. Can you tell us about your career path and how you came to be a law firm marketer?

Lisa:          You bet. It was a fairly unconventional path, which I think is true for a lot of us who got into this business early on. I don’t think any of us aspired to be law firm marketers. I had several careers prior to this one, including being in the banking industry, spending a little time in the restaurant and hospitality industry doing PR, and a number of other things. I did a little bit of broadcasting as well. Life changes occurred and it was time for me to make a significant change in my career as well, so I answered an ad in the paper to be a law firm marketing assistant at a 250-attorney firm in Denver, then called Holme Roberts & Owen, and I fell in love with it the minute I started the job. I had never been surrounded by so many smart people. They were demanding and there were smart conversations occurring in the offices and hallways around me and I immediately took to it. I loved it and absorbed as much as I could. That was almost 25 years ago, and here I am today.

Sharon:    That’s great to hear how you immediately loved it. I’m not sure everybody says that, but it’s wonderful to hear. We talked a little bit about law firm branding. Tell me your thoughts about that. Do you think you can brand a law firm, or are you really branding individual lawyers?

Lisa:          That’s the $64,000 question. I think the idea of law firm branding has really evolved over the years. I think I would have answered that question differently perhaps even 10 years ago, thinking that you could brand a law firm and that everybody would just fall in line. That’s changed a lot for me, frankly, having done it a few times at a couple of different firms. The thing that always sticks in my head—I heard somebody from Foerster talk about this about a year and a half ago—is this idea of business-to-business branding and marketing. It’s not really business to business; it’s people to people. I’ve since evolved my thinking to understand that it’s the people within the firm that are really carrying out that branding and executing on the brand promise. While I do believe you can brand a law firm, it is so incumbent upon the people in the firm to carry out that brand message – that brand experience. It’s because of that, that I have come to believe law firm branding is almost more important internally than it is externally. I think there are a lot of things you can do externally, in terms of campaigns, advertising, PR and social media, etc., that help support the brand. But in the end, I really think it comes down to everybody within a firm falling in line and understanding what that brand message is, then ensuring that clients are getting a consistent experience through what everyone in the firm is delivering. It’s a long answer to your question, but I think it’s an evolving one. For a lot of us who have been doing this for a while, and even people who are new to this industry or coming in from other industries, it’s a constant discovery of how we can execute on a brand for a law firm.

Sharon:    What you’re saying is great to hear because for so long we’ve fought that battle and now we’re becoming a lot more realistic. There’s a lot to be said for developing the internal consistencies that you mentioned. If the branding gets everybody on the same page to a certain extent, then it’s really been worthwhile.

Lisa:          I think that piece is hard to do, and I think that’s why so many firms struggle with branding. It takes so much time to get everybody on the same page or even in the same workbook. While we talk a lot about how it’s difficult for firms to brand if they don’t have the resources or the dollars behind them, I also think it takes a significant amount of time to get everybody to fall in line on what that consistent brand message is, then execute on it for clients and for people who are experiencing any component of the firm.

Sharon:    It’s definitely a massive project, but one that’s worthwhile. When we talked a little while ago, you mentioned that you’d just held a retreat for your department. What are the best practices for holding a retreat, and why should you do it? How did you do it? What are your thoughts on that?

Lisa:          We’ve done a few of them with different teams that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with over the course of my career. There are a lot of different components, and based on where you are in the evolution of your team, the maturity of your team, it probably calls for different things when you’re holding retreats or group meetings. For us, we have been in rebuilding mode for the last 18 months, so it was really the first time we came together in any meaningful way. We have a lot of new people on the team. We have a lot of people who have been with the firm under different leaders over the course of the last five to seven years. You’ve got a lot of best practices; you’ve got a lot of baggage, frankly, from the “way we used to do it;” and then you’ve got a lot of really great, new, innovative ideas and new energy that’s coming together. How do you capitalize on all of those different experiences to come up with something new and better? For us, it was a matter of doing a little bit of work around that and talking about process and the fundamentals of how we get this team to work in a high-functioning way.

You also have to take some time for networking, to get people to understand each other better. We did some DISC analysis and looked at the way we all come into work and the different things we bring to our jobs. You want to have a high-functioning team by ensuring that you’ve got a lot of different personality styles working effectively together. You can have different personality styles that clash, but you’ve got to figure out a way to make those work together and honor the different skills and different ways people look at things. So, for us, it was a little bit of both. It was some work stuff and some fun stuff, but I think it depends on where you are with your team. You might have a team that’s been working together for quite some time. We’ve got a lot of that stuff ironed out, so it’s a matter of getting to know each other better and remembering why we all come to work every day. It’s that benefit of working with people you like and enjoy. We work in a pretty difficult environment, so it’s also an opportunity to share some war stories and laugh about crazy things that happen throughout the course of a day or a week or a year in our jobs. It’s a good opportunity to come together and share experiences.

Sharon:    Was your retreat a day long? Was it a couple of days?

Lisa:          It was a day long. We’ve got follow-up to do as a result of some of the things we started that day. I think more than a day can almost be too indulgent, and, unfortunately, we don’t really get the opportunity to spend that much time away from what we’re doing day-to-day in the firm. I think a day is a good chunk of time.

Sharon:    Did you have a professional facilitator?

Lisa:          We did. We had somebody help us with the DISC portion, which took place in the morning. Then the afternoon was when we did the workshops around how we’re going to tackle new processes with new people on the team, new ways of doing things, etc. That’s what we spent the bulk of the afternoon working on.

Sharon:    It sounds like a great idea, putting things on the table and seeing the baggage that people are carrying around but not aware of. It sounds like you took down some walls.

Lisa:          It was helpful. In the end, we’ve all got to be able to trust each other and know that we can drop something off and somebody else is going to pick it up and run with it in the right way. It takes time. It really does take time. We’re not there, whatever “there” means, but I think it was a good step in the right direction.

Sharon:    You’ll have to keep us posted. You also mentioned the client experience program that you’re really enthused about. Can you tell us about that?

Lisa:          I can. It’s a program that we officially launched internally on April 1 of this year. It’s called “Experience Amplified.” We launched it externally, but in a fairly quiet way. We’ll get a little louder about it in 2019. Experience Amplified brings together an initiative that started about six months before I joined the firm, almost two years ago, where the firm was beginning to define its client service standards. About six months in is when I joined the firm, and we saw this as an opportunity to make it something bigger than just a set of service standards that lives on our website and we only talk about internally. We wanted a way to differentiate this firm from our competitors, and that goes back to this idea of branding. We haven’t done a full rebrand yet, but it’s this idea of ensuring that our clients are going to experience working with our firm in a consistent way that matches up with our goals. Experience Amplified is designed around six core principles, things such as ensuring that we are being absolutely transparent with our clients; working seamlessly with their in-house team and tailoring what clients are looking for in a way that works for them.

It’s something that I have wanted to do for the last 10 years, working on this client experience idea, and I landed on something when they had already started it. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of it. It’s a pretty significant undertaking, so in addition to defining these client service standards and putting some branding around it, we did a lot of journey mapping along the way. We wanted to ensure that the way we assume our clients are working with us is consistent. We wanted to ensure that we have a good sense of who our clients are, what’s going on in their lives, how we can tailor our interactions with them in a way that works for them and makes them look good in their jobs, etc., and then measure it along the way.

                  In fact, we just finished an electronic client survey that went out to our top 500 clients. Again, that’s nothing that I’ve ever been able to do before, but we’re incredibly pleased with the results, not only with the information that our clients gave us, but we also had an amazing response rate of 40 percent. It took a lot of work to make sure we had a good response rate, but I was obviously thrilled with what we were able to get. We’re just starting to break into the data right now, so we’ll have some good information to share with our lawyers, and in turn we’ll continue to refine this idea of Experience Amplified and deliver on it.

Sharon:    What a great way to start the year, being able to dig through such valuable information.

Lisa:          It’s almost like a little holiday present at the end of the year. Getting to hear some of this direct information from our clients has been great.

Sharon:    A very unusual experience. You usually don’t get that kind of stuff, even when you’re doing client satisfaction. What you’re talking about is a massive project. It’s such a valuable project; it’s the foundation of branding, really. What you’re doing is the fabric of branding.

Lisa:          It’s funny you say that, because I agree, but I was late to the party in terms of recognizing it. I had just come off a pretty significant rebrand at my prior firm when I joined this firm. I think I was so focused on the client service standards program and really blowing out this Experience Amplified campaign that I failed to recognize that it was really the beginning of a rebrand. So, that is something we’re going to begin to undertake. A lot of the legwork, or at least a lot of the beginning of the legwork, has been done. We’ve got a lot of good data from our clients from Experience Amplified. Like I said, we launched it internally in April and didn’t start talking about it externally until August, so we spent that entire time, those three to four months, doing a lot of training and talking, walking into each other’s offices and doing workshops with lawyers and staff. We were getting everyone to understand what this means and how this is going to change our behavior in working with our clients, day in and day out.

You’re right; that is the beginning piece of branding. It’s funny, when we wrote the RFP for our rebrand, I had somebody helping me with it, and they kept banging me over the head like, “This is the beginning of our branding.” I didn’t quite get it until I took a step back. Experience Amplified and that idea of bringing the client experience into this is going to be a significant part of this rebrand, obviously. It wasn’t obvious to me then.

Sharon:    Kudos to you. Kudos to your firm for embarking on it and sticking with it. It would have been easy, when the last marketing director left, to say, “Oh well, let’s just put that on the shelf.” I give you a lot of credit, and it seems like there’s potential to differentiate the firm this way.

Lisa:          I’m excited about it, for sure.

Sharon:    Let’s say there are other marketing directors listening and getting excited about the same sort of project. Where would you suggest they start?

Lisa:          Like I said, this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve tried it a couple of other times at other firms. I think where we got stuck was because it’s such a huge undertaking and, to some extent, it’s very overwhelming. I lucked into it because the firm had already started the process. If I had been able to do it myself, I would have probably tackled it a different way. One of the reasons I love legal marketing is that I’m always learning about doing things better and differently, and what I’ve learned is just start somewhere. You have to just start somewhere. It’s like eating the elephant one bit at a time. You’ve got to start somewhere, whether that’s further developing your client service standards, or maybe it’s defining a small subset of clients and making sure you’ve got that process in place. I spoke at ILTA earlier this year with someone who started it from the LPM side. They were doing a great job on their legal project management, but they wanted to add the experience and client service part to it. We’re actually at a point where we’re beginning to understand the client experience piece, and now we’re going to add LPM into it. We’re doing it the other way. I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or a wrong way, but you have to start somewhere, so I would say just find a small piece you can get started on and go.

Sharon:    That’s great advice. I want to make sure everybody knows that ILTA is International Legal Technology Association.

Lisa:          Legal Technology, yes.

Sharon:    And LPM is Legal Project Management, for those just starting in their careers as marketing directors, because today there are people who strategically decide they want to do this—

Lisa:          I know.

Sharon:    What are your words of advice or words of wisdom?

Lisa:          Don’t ever stop learning. Know that this career’s not for everybody, and if you discover early on that it’s something you love, there’s no shortage of experiences; there’s no shortage of opportunities to learn; there’s no shortage of jobs right now. I’ll tell you that much, as I’ve been in a hiring mode for quite a while. It can be a great career path, but as a lot of us who have been doing this for a while know, it’s not for everyone. There are plenty of job openings out there.

I would say go in and learn as much as you can. You’ve got to be a people person to some extent. You’ve got to be able to let things roll off your back, but wow, what an amazing place to learn. I learn something new about the practice of law every day. I never aspired to be a lawyer; I’m not going to be a lawyer. I would love to go to law school if I had all the time and money in the world, because I think it would be fun to learn, but there is no shortage of opportunities in marketing to learn about the rule of law and how it applies to everything. It can be a great career path.

Sharon:    You’ve certainly made it sound attractive. It really is attractive, not just because there are job openings, but because for those who want a challenge and want to keep learning, there’s definitely that opportunity. Lisa, thank you so much. This has been very interesting. I really appreciate your being here today. To everyone listening, that wraps up another episode of the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst. If you like what you heard and would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts. If you want to get in touch with Lisa, we’ll have her contact information in the show notes. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest who can help move your firm forward. Thank you so much for listening.

END OF AUDIO

Click here to listen to Lisa Simon’s Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast episode: Executing a Successful Law Firm Rebrand. Make sure to download/subscribe.

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About this Author

Sharon Berman, Marketing, Public Relations, Law Firms, Los Angeles, California
Managing Principal

Managing Principal Sharon Berman focuses her more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and public relations on pursuing positive outcomes for Berbay’s law, finance and real estate clients. She empowers her team to share their expertise and experience in every project, multiplying the benefits each client receives from working with Berbay.

Sharon’s experience—and the tenacity and diligence of her team—also means that marketing and public relations plans for professional services firms are implemented effectively and quickly.

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