Practice Management

Law firm marketing is not a department

Many law firms and lawyers are now realising the value of marketing and public relations as a strategic business tool to retain and acquire clients. Several of the bigger law firms in the country spend an inordinate amount of time and money creating an excellent service, attracting the best and brightest to work for them, and promoting themselves as the law firm of choice. One particular law firm has a strong brand presence in Cape Town as a specialist law firm. It has a competent staff and the very best resources to deliver a demonstrably superior service which sets it apart from the rest of the local firms … but this firm also has a serious problem!

It, and its management in particular, believe that its marketing and public relations activities are the domain of its recently appointed marketing manager. As a result, the firm is carrying an enormous marketing liability: The partners are self-absorbed, and both unresponsive and rude to clients while the support staff treat the clients as nothing more than a file number or a once off transaction to be dispensed with as soon as possible. These self-same clients who deal with the respective partners and staff now have a dilemma: the diminished view of the firm as a whole does not equal the marketing hype they have seen or heard about in the market place. Their new impression of the firm has undermined all the positive work put into the external campaign and which campaign has now not met the expectations of the client. The indifference of management and staff alike will in all likelihood result in the loss of future business from the client and consequently a diminished revenue stream that may have had an amortised life of a several years.

In his book, Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith stresses how fragile a service business is. He quotes the president of Seasonal Concepts, Albert Schneider, who says:

"We can have great talent, products, prices and advertising. But if that sales clerk at the end of the line fails, everything fails. The buyer doesn't return. And if the buyer suffers a bad experience, he tells his friends not to come either"

Being professional service providers, it must be emphasised that everyone in your practice is responsible for the marketing and promotion of the firm. Where one or more people don't actively market the firm, because marketing does not fall within their job description or because they believe that marketing is best left to the "marketing department", the firm, as a whole, suffers and revenue is lost.

As a practicing attorney myself, I have experienced the lack of both staff and professional attorneys in positively marketing their firm. When contacting a colleague recently, the first impression from the reception set the tone. I had a rude and hurried "hello"; I was abruptly handled by the secretary. But the worst has been the several interactions I had with the partner of the firm concerned. Not only was he very aloof and abrupt but also down right rude. Straight away, my impression of that firm had been tainted despite all the hard work they had put into projecting the practice as a top law firm in the area.

Stop the head of the fish rotting
South African lawyers, especially directors and partners of firms, need to set the example. The high and mighty attitude and arrogance we are known for needs to be tempered with that of an approachable, friendly and committed marketer disposition. Lawyers need to be seen to walk the walk instead of talk the talk. Staff need to see that every effort is made by management to actively market and promote the firm at every occasion that the firm comes into contact with the public. Lawyers need to focus not only on the practice of law (which I know consumes a large part of the day), but also the business of law. Lawyers must appreciate that they are nothing short of being the deal maker, the rainmaker and the kingpin in securing clients and work for the firm. Making a good first impression on the client will secure a 60-70% chance of clinching the work (and possibly future work); the balance rests entirely the client's impression of our ability to do the work.

As lawyers we are probably the best sales people in the world, yet very few of us adopt the same attitude as sales people in other industries. Take time to evaluate the attitude, demeanour, and physical attributes of sales people such as estate agents, medical reps, FMCG reps and you will see that their people skills are finely tuned to creating a good impression and making the client or customer immediately warm to them. But, more importantly, they are, through their interaction, actively marketing and promoting their company and business. Their actions underpin the external marketing drive of the company and, at the same time, confirm to the client that the promotions he has heard or seen about the company are not just hollow words but a deep seated commitment to customer-friendly service. These sales people do not leave the marketing drive to their marketing team or to their public relations personnel; instead they actively take charge and market the firm together with the marketing department.

In my personal dealings with clients, friends and colleagues, I have implemented the above and have found, in a very short time, that the overall impression of our firm has grown positively. In comparison, those self-same clients and friends that have dealt with other lawyers lament the distant, unapproachable and lack-lustre service they encountered. The direct and indirect cost of some lawyers and law firms doing "business as usual" may not be apparent to them today or tomorrow, but it will become apparent when their clients begin to differentiate their service based on how they perceive the firm overall.

Reception and the rest of the staff
As Harry Beckwith says, "Don't open a shop unless you know how to smile". This is particularly important in our industry where interaction with clients and the broader public is closer than any other service industry. Successful marketing of your law firm starts with all staff buying into and understanding the value of acting in a way that continually markets and promotes the firm as the law firm of choice. Staff need to be made aware that their every interaction with a client and the quality of the work each member produces will impact on the perceived value of the firm as the best service provider.

It all starts with your receptionist. As the front person, he or she will be the first face your clients see. Therefore, the receptionist must be a person with a very approachable and friendly disposition; he or she must have a very good and clear telephone manner as well as be a person who can answer the phone with the same friendly "hello" at 16:30 as at 08:15. The receptionist must be presentable in his or her appearance and ensure a very tidy and orderly workspace. Immediately, the clients' belief that they have instructed the right attorneys is re-enforced.

So-called "back-end" staff will also deal with clients in one way or another. Therefore, the same rules that apply to your reception will apply to the back-end staff. Management needs to constantly review all staff interaction and to ask the critical question: "What can we do differently to attract and keep more clients".

In summary
Marketing and public relations are powerful business tools for retaining and acquiring clients for the firm and, if used correctly, will strengthen the firm's brand power to elevate the practice above one's competitors as the law firm of choice. To be successful in achieving this means that, as lawyers, directors and partners running our practices, we need to create a work culture that is client-focussed. This means that we need to change our ways of doing things and constantly review the firm's value chain to see how we can improve upon our service and client interaction, thereby becoming the law firm of choice in the minds of our clients and the general public.

As owners of the practice, the real hard work starts with management (i.e. Partners, Directors and professional assistants). Drop your arrogance, be more approachable to staff and clients alike and constantly set the example on how to act and interact with clients. Always remember that while employing a marketing or public relations person is a good thing (in my view), the responsibility of marketing the firm is not something that can be pigeon holed into a so-called marketing department. Simply put, the marketing department is simply the war room to create and manage the marketing strategy. The real work of physically marketing the firm rests on the shoulders of the firm's professionals and staff.

Good luck !!!

Sean Bosse is an attorney at Guthrie & Rushton (Cape Town) with a strong passion for what he calls "The Business of Law". Sean completed an MBA in strategic management and marketing and wrote a thesis on brand development by law firms. Before joining Guthrie & Rushton, Sean worked as a strategic business management consultant for an international internet service provider. Please feel free to contact him at: sbose@grlaw.co.za

Reader Comments:

Andy 24/02/2005:

Very good and sound advice

Teresa 24/02/2005:

I have read all the articles on this subject and want to say that it has really helped me a lot in my own practice to focus on what the writer calls the "Business of Law". I would like to see some articles perhaps on matters of how to position ones law firm in the market and how to develop a business plan. Great !!! Well done and keep it up T

Degreene Tucker 25/02/2005:

I agree 100% with the above. It would help lots of Attorneys and staff to take heed of the above to create an approachable, friendly and effecient service to the public. I have worked for a number of companies in the Western Cape where the company is marketed as the best in town, but then we have the professional and assitant staff not living up to the image professed in advertising. Clients walk away unhappy and as said above you then loose not only one but many clients because then there are no referrals. Some attorneys are arrogant and also it is no longer service to the clients but how much money can be made. Service has been put on a "backburner".

Gena Felizardo 28/02/2005:

Thank you for your article on services versus the big marketing department.

I am a great believer in quality of service and in the company I work for. Last year we started a quality of service campaign. But we started internally. "We are all clients of each other and the way our directors and staff treat each other, is the way we treat our external clients".

You have no idea of the mind set change we have gone through, we employed a mature receptionist/telephonist, everyone has standard performances that includes – service. The entire East London Team were exposed to the "Fish Philosophy", and the performance talks for itself.

I will share your article with our company from directors to professional attorneys and team leaders.
Thank you
Gena Felizardo
Smith Tabata Attorneys
Service - Business Unit

Dave 03/03/2005:

A brilliant article. Sean really understands his profession. I'd like all the Directors and staff in my firm to read this and try to apply it themselves!

Janine 16/09/2005:

Well at last an attorney talking sense and taking an interest in the "little people".

Legal Web 08/06/2011:

A great article. We have taken note that there is an emmerging market is SA for law firms to market online and have therefore put all our efforts into creating a product that will benefit law firms online. We hope you will take the time to have a look at our website and the services we are offering:  http://www.legalwebsites.co.za

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