Legal Marketing: Believe in the Invisible*

*This article has first appeared in the Nassau Lawyer and then the Suffolk Lawyer. The practice of law is a mature profession, but an immature business. And the reality of the situation, especially in times ...

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*This article has first appeared in the Nassau Lawyer and then the Suffolk Lawyer.

The practice of law is a mature profession, but an immature business. And the reality of the situation, especially in times of economic downturn, is that law firms must run like businesses. Marketing is a key ingredient in a firm's business plan.

I accepted my first legal marketing position in 1990. During the beginning of my career, legal marketing was questionable. Less than a handful of Long Island law firms "bought into" the concept, making the road to this now flourishing career not an easy one. After all, legal marketing is an intangible process. How can you prove that a Marketing Director has helped to "sell" a lawyer? How can you prove that the Marketing Director's tools, including public relations, advertising, web sites and good old fashioned networking, have resulted in business development and have directly impacted the bottom line?

In spite of these questions and doubts, the legal marketing field on Long Island has grown. Now, 14 years later, there are at least 15 in-house legal marketers, and one look at Long Island Business News reinforces the surge in law firm advertising. It's accepted. Sole practitioners are looking to hire consultants; mid-sized firms have retained public relations agencies; and large firms have hired in-house marketers. To further prove this point, at the time of this writing, I spoke to a recent law school graduate who has a background in sales and marketing and would like to pursue a career in law firm marketing.

The process of legal marketing is brought to light in one of the best books on professional services marketing entitled, Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwirth. He writes, "More than half of all Japanese companies do not even bother to have marketing departments because they believe that everyone in the company is part of the marketing. Marketing is not a department. It is your business. " To think of marketing in these terms is to understand that it is a lifestyle. Firm marketing begins with the initial call to your receptionist, progresses to the quality of secretarial and paralegal work and ultimately to the chemistry your client has with you and the faith he has in your legal work product. Marketing is no substitute for quality legal work. Marketing is not the sole responsibility of your Marketing Director or your retained consultant or public relations firm. Everyone in your firm must market. Yes, attorneys must market.

Most people do not have a clear definition of marketing. For those who took an undergraduate course in marketing, the "4 P's" may come to mind: product, price, place and promotion. Among communications professionals, "integrated marketing"is heard as often as "weapons of mass destruction" is heard around the world. Marketing is an umbrella term used for a variety of functions that, when used properly and "integrated" together in the right way and at the right time, can provide amazing results. The tools include: advertising, public relations, web sites, newsletters, seminars, brochures and other collateral materials, logo development, signage, community relations, networking, a firm handshake, a pleasant personality and a warm smile. A Marketing Director's role is to "direct" the firm's strategy, to maximize each tool.

Ultimately, clients select lawyers. Whether you are a sole practitioner or practicing at a major law firm, to become a "rainmaker," you must find your comfort level. Success is about building relationships-a combination of chemistry with your clients and your "branded" image. You must figure out who you want to be known as, what you want to be known for, and who you need to target. Once you crystallize your purpose and focus on a message with a specific target audience, you will know what marketing tools you need to use to advance in the direction you have imagined.

For example, if you enjoy speaking in public, then you should create a seminar and target it to different organizations. Or, if writing is your strength, then you should publish articles and recycle them, by posting on your web site, using as reprints in your lobby, and placing them in collateral packets when meeting with clients. If you want to see you name in newspapers, then you should cultivate relationships with reporters.

Spend some time thinking about your goals and you will be able to maximize the efforts of your retained communications professional. If you don't have one, you will think about hiring one. It's not a matter of "selling the invisible" once you see the purpose of legal marketing--and believe in it.