With thanks to Patrick Hoesly (c)

In small law firms it is not uncommon to hear partners or leaders say things like ‘damn, we need a dedicated marketing person so we can get some marketing done and can get on with our work’ . In large firms they may say ‘why doesn’t marketing sort that out and free us up to do some legal work’. It seems that for law firm leaders and partners things might be about to get tougher before they get better!

In the July 2011 McKinsey Quarterly piece titled ‘We’re all marketers now authors French, LaBerge and Magill reason persuasively that engaging clients today requires commitment from an entire firm (not just the marketing folk) — and a different sort of approach and structure for marketing. Every partner and ideally every staff member has a role to play. This would obviously have implications for people management as well.

In essence the authors say:

  • Firms feel that by simply adding extra marketing bodies to address things like websites, social media and strategic communications this will do the trick – not so . . . . . .
  • Clients no longer separate marketing from the practice group or industry sector specialty services we offer – marketing and the way we deliver service is the service.
  • As a result everyone in every firm now needs to take responsibility for marketing – in some respects this parallels what has happened with HR (where everyone has a responsibility to ensure a firm’s employment practices and employment brand are supported, not just ‘HR’).
  • The buying practices of clients are now collaborative – more than ever based on word of mouth, website affirmation and objective advice about law firms that want to form relationships with them – it’s now a dialogue not a monologue.

What does this mean for law firm leaders? I think there is a message here – for both small and large law firms.

  • While the article is focused on clients I think there are also implications for law firms in their interaction with potential recruits and lateral hires.
  • One can no longer pay lip-service to engaging clients or potential recruits wherever and whenever they interact with a firm – in the reception, on the phone, responding to an e-mail or on account query, a blog post or and interaction at a cocktail function. All of these are important touch-points and cannot be shrugged off as minor interactions. Ideally all these key areas should be identified, awareness created and consistency in treatment addressed. Too often these are shrugged off as minor things that “someone in management will attend to“.
  • Let’s look at a simple, practical example – a lawyer has gone through the process of being recruited to a firm – think of the touch-points and how these can influence a target recruit’s decision either way and ultimately the firm’s employment brand:
    • recruitment materials and presentations – does reality match these?
    • what existing staff say actually happens in the firm
    • how negotiations are handled, how phones are answered and how e-mails are responded to
    • what was the quality of induction and follow-through after that?
    • does the firm and its management seem to care?
  • Given that everyone potentially has to be involved in marketing, who is ultimately accountable? This will require careful consideration by law firm leaders and possibly some adjustment in structure.
  • It is likely more activities will need to be distributed by marketing to non-traditional areas such as within practice groups or industry sector specialty groups (this has already been a common trend in many firms). As a result marketing organisation charts will have many new dotted-line relationships.
  • There will need to be more group consultation between marketing and practice groups/industry sector groups or, in smaller firms, with individual partners. Also between marketing and HR.
  • Marketing and firm leadership will need to be far more sensitive to how interaction at the various key touch points is impacting client perceptions and ultimately the firm’s brand.
  • Things like client and staff surveys will probably need to be adjusted to take these developments into account so that the right questions are asked, and the right data gathered.

In summary, apart from the need for more parties to become more actively involved in marketing, I think this re-affirms a trend we have seen developing in recent years – closer collaboration and interaction between HR and marketing in law firms.  They can no longer be viewed or run as entirely separate departments which ‘do their own thing’.