Why lawyers would rather practice law than market their practice

“Marketing is not the devious art of separating the unwary consumer from his loose change. While it encompasses many commercial arts – selling, pricing, product policy, merchandising, promotion, advertising – marketing is these things and lots more.”

Marketing for Business Growth, Theodore Levitt

Lawyers dislike marketing. They think it is nothing more than a distraction. If and when they do spend time on it, they are uneasy about putting themselves about. That is not to say that they don’t mind attending the odd firm event, but it is out of a sense of duty rather than with any meaningful intent.

I have lost count of the number of occasions I have heard a lawyer say to me: “If I wanted to market (or sell) then why the bloody hell did I study for a law degree?”

They have a point.

I can’t remember a single occasion where I met a lawyer who had studied sales or marketing.

Law firms were not exactly pushing the envelope either. Lawyers are expected to pick up the skills and aptitude by a process of osmosis. You know the type of approach that pervades legal practice: Watch, Copy, Apply.

The problem with this approach is that it tends to foster behaviour that is very difficult to disassociate with once the person concerned has been doing it for a few years. And if that behaviour is antithetical towards a sales led approach and you scale that up, just imagine the size of the problem. It must feel as if you have someone in a headlock and are trying to wrestle them to the ground: “You will enjoy sales.”

Look around your own practice. Is everyone punching above their weight when it comes to marketing or is the lion’s share being carried by a small number of people? What does that tell you? A whole lot. It signals that you have got the wrong people in post or people who have no appetite for the fight.

Some firms have of course set up a marketing department but without doing them a massive disservice there is very often a huge disconnect between what the lawyers expect of them and what Management expects of them.

Take my favourite acronym “MBWA” (Managing by Wandering About). Can you imagine someone in marketing (or sales) not staying close to the client or more particularly not meeting with the client? It is apparently not the role of marketing to have any client contact. Again the lawyers are supposed to fulfil that role, presumably, on the basis that they deal with the client? But this makes no sense.

Marketing at its most basic is all about finding and keeping customers. Whether it is client feedback, understanding the clients buying needs or delivering a WOW service, marketing has a direct role to play.

Whatever the reason for this approach it doesn’t always work. Lawyers sometimes have to give the client bad news or dress things up in a way that the client is not going to like. If the same person who is delivering the service is also expected to adopt a client management role, market additional services and stay close to the client then there feels like an inherent conflict. One day you are all sweetness and light and the next day you are telling the client how poor their case is or how difficult it is to complete on a transaction.

I think a marketing department needs to work much more closely with each lawyer. They need to understand much more about their practice area, what floats their boat and how, in a collegiate way, they can work to bring about a better service to the client.

Firms also need to adopt a different mindset. They need to understand that if someone is, in David Maister parlance a ‘grinder’, will they ever want a role in marketing? Even those people who have taken it upon themselves to be more focused around marketing may not be the best people to pursue this avenue. Sometimes these people are just ducking out of doing real work.

The phases of client capture, retention and delivering WOW service don’t have to be carved up into discreet roles or departments. If you do have a group of lawyers who can’t stand the prospect of marketing, then consider if they were fed work would that be a better use of their time. Don’t be afraid to have that difficult conversation and say to people that they are clearly not cut out for marketing and they can be left alone to bill like demons. Very often the reason why these people are forced into marketing is because the firm does not have enough work to give them.

Ultimately marketing should be a personal decision. If someone doesn’t like it then they shouldn’t be pressurised into pursuing a calling that is not them.

Perhaps it is time to stop pretending that all lawyers are great marketers and understand that to get the most of your efforts you need to employ people who can fulfil the role of client relationship manager, marketer, sales person and overall Wonder Kid. You know the sort of person that might operate as Maître d in a swish restaurant. That’s something to consider.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

4 responses to “Why lawyers would rather practice law than market their practice”

  1. Miriam Said says:

    A really good marketer needs to know every aspect of the business function and what every person in that business does.

    This allows the marketer to effectivley market the law firm and to cross sell other services that the law firm offers.

    This kind of marketer can then direct work to the sections of the law firm that are currently experiencing a lull in work and direct some of the pressure away from the sections of the law firm that are currently experiencing an overflow.

    I know how this works as I have done it in differnt business’ that I have worked for in the past.

    A fantastic marketer will always be asking questions about who does what and why in the firm and then they use that knowledge to perform a sort of targeted needs analysis and it enables them to focus and direct their marketing efforts in a useful way that is of value to the firm.

    This will show in the KPI results. A Lawyer needs to have a steady stream of work to be able to meet their billable hours targets and an excellent marketer can help the entire team to achieve such results.

    A marketer with legal interests means that they will be able to hit the ground running and start to implement such targeted marketing immediatley, which would show an immediate result. A marketer without legal understanding would take longer to achieve those results.

    There is such talent out there and marketing is a transferable skill, but there are a few gems already in existence that haven’t been able to get into legal marketing because law firms don’t usually consider recruiting in this area and leave it to their already stressed Lawyers to pick up the slack, which can often lead to a mismach and discord with poor marketing results.

    As always a business needs to have the right people in the right places to be able to function at optimum levels. Sadly, this is not often the case with many Law firms.

  2. Miriam Said says:

    A really good marketer needs to know every aspect of the business function and what every person in that business does.

    This allows the marketer to effectivley market the law firm and to cross sell other services that the law firm offers.

    This kind of marketer can then direct work to the sections of the law firm that are currently experiencing a lull in work and direct some of the pressure away from the sections of the law firm that are currently experiencing an overflow.

    I know how this works as I have done it in differnt business’ that I have worked for in the past.

    A fantastic marketer will always be asking questions about who does what and why in the firm and then they use that knowledge to perform a sort of targeted needs analysis and it enables them to focus and direct their marketing efforts in a useful way that is of value to the firm.

    This will show in the KPI results. A Lawyer needs to have a steady stream of work to be able to meet their billable hours targets and an excellent marketer can help the entire team to achieve such results.

    A marketer with legal interests means that they will be able to hit the ground running and start to implement such targeted marketing immediatley, which would show an immediate result. A marketer without legal understanding would take longer to achieve those results.

    There is such talent out there and marketing is a transferable skill, but there are a few gems already in existence that haven’t been able to get into legal marketing because law firms don’t usually consider recruiting in this area and leave it to their already stressed Lawyers to pick up the slack, which can often lead to a mismach and discord with poor marketing results.

    As always a business needs to have the right people in the right places to be able to function at optimum levels. Sadly, this is not often the case with many Law firms.

  3. Miriam I think most people in marketing would rather stick to what they have bee trained to do rather than going too much off piste. One BD Director had the reputation as the man who liked to say no. Everyone kept coming up with great ideas and he just ended up being a blocker. I want someone in marketing to push me, to think differently about the problem and lend their experience to the problem. I think more lawyers will make the transition into marketing but for now we should assume that everyone is in marketing and do our best to support people.

    Julian

  4. Miriam I think most people in marketing would rather stick to what they have bee trained to do rather than going too much off piste. One BD Director had the reputation as the man who liked to say no. Everyone kept coming up with great ideas and he just ended up being a blocker. I want someone in marketing to push me, to think differently about the problem and lend their experience to the problem. I think more lawyers will make the transition into marketing but for now we should assume that everyone is in marketing and do our best to support people.

    Julian

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