Several participants at the May meeting of the Boston Legal Business Development Roundtable expressed frustration at the types of things that lawyers want to spend marketing funds on, and the things they don’t.
Lawyers sometimes use marketing department funds to speak at events which charge fees to speak to an audience that includes potential clients. These “pay to play” presentations, as they are called, can help develop new business – but only if the right people are in the audience, and only if the lawyer is willing to put in some hard work to follow up after the talk. One roundtable law firm has developed a process that approves expenses like this only if the conference has a good track record of producing business, and the lawyers have a plan to follow up with audience members.
Another marketing budget issue arises when lawyers want to spend $20,000 or $30,000 or more to “buy a table” at a charitable or bar event. Surveys have shown that about 70% of law firms buy tables like this and consider the expense a marketing tactic to make new contacts. In the eyes of roundtable participants, the marketing results usually don’t justify the expense. As the day of the event approaches, marketing staff often find themselves scrambling to find associates who are willing to sit in those expensive seats. And even when the table fills quickly, going to the dinner accomplishes nothing by itself. Participants must meet the right people, and then follow up, follow up, and follow up some more.
While expensive events often waste scarce marketing resources, several roundtable participants agreed that spending money on one to one coaching is much easier to link directly to new business. In the current economic environment, budgets are being squeezed and every expense is being scrutinized. So it is a very good thing to be able to prove that your actions and your job are directly linked to new business.
One roundtable member works as an internal coach. Almost all of her time goes into helping lawyers to find and cultivate new clients. She’s been at her current firm for about a year, and now meets regularly with about 40 lawyers (70% of the partners in her office), and occasionally with the rest. (To date, coaching has been offered only to partners, but lately some associates have begun talking about their need for this kind of help.)
She conducts three or four coaching sessions on a typical day, and also attends practice group and other meetings. As she explained her job to our roundtable group, the other business development experts kept probing for details. Some sounded a bit envious of the way she is able to spend her time, and the results she has been able to achieve.
The sessions have been generating results. As the word spread within the firm, more and more lawyers have taken advantage of her services. She attributes much of her success to the relationships she has been able to form, by helping each lawyer to go at their own pace, and to work on the things they care about.
She focuses on whatever lawyers ask for, from preparing for client meetings to planning how to follow up after a conference, to leaving more effective voice mail messages. She also tracks each lawyer’s activities and results in a master spreadsheet. This puts her in a great position to promote communication. On a number of occasions, two lawyers who don’t work together have talked about their independent efforts with the same client, and the coach has been able to improve coordination simply by telling them to speak to each other.
Most lawyers will be happy to tell you that they are not experts on bringing in new business, and would welcome some help as long as they are convinced that it will be useful. So once they get over the initial hurdle of asking for marketing advice, they are happy to ask for more, especially when they begin to see the results. When new business comes in, it raises confidence, and makes lawyers willing to spend more time on marketing. It’s a great example of a virtuous cycle; the more they do, the more results they will see.
“Our firm may continue to work with outside consultants to provide coaching like this,” she reported, “but the lawyers appreciate having someone in-house.” There are many reasons for this, from relationships to knowledge to cost, and a number of large law firms are expanding their internal coaching programs. There will always be situations where external coaches are preferred, but I, for one, think that internal coaches are the wave of the future.