Facing Adversity, Rising to the Challenges

By Stickel, Amy I. | Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Facing Adversity, Rising to the Challenges


Stickel, Amy I., Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing


For many law firm marketers, the last 12 months have been brutal professionally and personally. While some may be hoping for a better 2010, others are counting on more than hope--they are banking on their skills and talents to help their lawyers through the difficult times that seem to lie ahead, according to the 2nd Annual Marketing the Marketer survey.

"Clients are looking for law firms that can provide directions when others are floundering. If we want to be someone's trusted advisor, you have to show that that you can be trusted in good times and bad," says Maria Barrett, director of marketing at Oppenheimer, Blend, Harrison and Tate, Inc. "If you retreat (from marketing), clients will think you are as frightened as they are."

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Nonetheless, for many firms, a harsh environment in 2009 may well be followed by continuing difficulties in 2010-in last year's survey, 37 percent of respondents said they were anticipating budget cuts and the average cuts amounted to 11 percent. In this year's survey, 39 percent of respondents said they are bracing for budget cuts and the average cut is 13.8 percent.

The amount of the cuts ranged widely, though, from 1 percent to 40 percent. One respondent, who estimated 2010 budget cuts in the 10 to 20 percent range, added, "We already cut about 50 percent in 2009." One responded with "significant," while another reported "not significant."

Law firm marketing right now doesn't have to be about huge branding budgets or other traditional initiatives, according to some of the respondents. "Many of those can be accomplished in a lot of different ways," says Mark C. Karkazis, director of marketing at Ungaretti & Harris. "You don't have to do a lot of expensive things. The delivery of service creates the strongest brand impression."

Coaching Lawyers

Kate Haueisen, a manager at Wiggin and Dana, has been spending a great deal of time coaching her lawyers, rolling out training programs at all levels and working with lawyers to consistently get in front of clients and prospects in new ways, "without overwhelming them," she says. At her firm, that often means working one-on-one with lawyers. "We work with them on everything from rehearsing conversations to mock interviews," she says.

The firm has also been increasing its outreach to associates, by inviting them to discussions featuring panels of rainmakers. "We are reaching them earlier," she says.

Karkazis of Ungaretti & Harris says he has been asked to work with associates for the first time. "Many associates are tremendous lawyers, but they also need help with business development," he says. "Every firm should be grooming the right people. It creates a pipeline."

Overall, marketers are spending more time on coaching and business development training. According to this year's survey, 20 percent of the respondents found that coaching lawyers was the main focus of their department's activities, compared with 14 percent last year.

In fact, Haueisen's firm has been adding marketing staff in the last 12-18 months. "Our firm is committed to supporting business development and marketing e orts, and our executive committee recognizes the value that experienced legal marketers bring," she says. She also points to how success builds on success. "It's easier if one attorney or practice group has a successful experience with you and then tells another attorney, rather than trying to sell yourself," she says.

But some marketers are still struggling to make headway with their lawyers. According to respondents to this year's survey, 11 percent of lawyers at their firms consider the marketing department to be extremely important, while 41 percent consider it very important. Those numbers are actually down slightly from last year's responses, when 13 percent of respondents said lawyers considered the marketing department to be extremely important and 43 percent rated it as very important.

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