“I’ve been a lawyer for 31 years, and I’ve never seen it like this. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?”
The question came from a practice group leader at a 1,300 lawyer firm who subscribes to this blog. She had just finished reading my book, and was looking for more. At the time, I was not sure what I could add to what she had already read.
As I thought about this later, the answer came to me: It’s time for lawyers to get serious about marketing. It may not be a magic solution, but it is an unavoidable fact of life.
Rainmaking has always been important to financial success in the legal profession. These days, it is becoming a matter of life and death for both firms and for individual lawyers.
When AmLaw 100 firm Wolf Block dissolved a few months ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked former Duane Morris chairman Sheldon Bonovitz what would happen to its partners and associates. “Lawyers with solid business generation are going to be highly sought after....”, he said. “[Others] will have a hard time, unless they are part of a group.”
When the Wall Street Journal blog interviewed consultant Peter Zeughauser a few weeks ago about job security at large law firms, he said “I think you’re going to see underperforming or poorly performing partners managed out... When I talk about poor performers... I’m referring not just to hours and billable rates, but also their ability to attract clients. I hear from a lot of managing partners the lament that ‘my partners don’t act like owners.’ I think these partners — the partners who ‘don’t behave like owners’ — are going to struggle.”
To thrive in today’s increasingly competitive environment, most lawyers need to spend more time on marketing. This year, we recommend at least one hour a day. We encourage more, but will settle for any improvement. To participate in our coaching programs, lawyers must agree to spend an absolute minimum of three hours per week on marketing. I know that these are high figures for many lawyers, but I also think that putting in the time has become a necessity in these challenging times.
Law firms will also need to spend more on marketing, just to keep up with their competitors. Traditionally, legal marketing budgets have represented about 2% of revenue, which is very low compared to other businesses. The figure is typically in the range of 6-8% for professional service firms such as accountants, consultants, and architects and, and much higher in other types of businesses. I am not sure what will happen to the percentage in 2009's stressed environment, but have no doubt it is heading up over the long term.
And no matter what their total budget, law firms need to get smarter about how they spend their marketing money. I wrote last week about how large firms are analyzing the ROI (return on investment) of each marketing expense, and putting more of their budgets into items which can be directly linked to results.
The day that post appeared, the Wall Street Journal published a great article about increased spending on legal business development. Maybe I loved it so much because of this quote:
“In the last few months, law firms have become increasingly aware that training lawyers in marketing and business development is a key way to drive business. According to a February survey of 120 marketing directors at large law firms -- conducted by legal market researcher, BTI Consulting Group -- business development is one of the few marketing areas where law firm executives are most willing to increase spending. Nearly 70% said they planned to provide more marketing coaching to lawyers.”
Or maybe the reason I loved it was that it highlighted the work of LegalBizDev coach Tom Kane, the co-founder of our LegalBizDev Network.
Whether you decide to hire a coach or not, in this environment every lawyer needs to get more serious about analyzing the return on their marketing time. For example, one lawyer I worked with recently was spending much of his marketing time in a leadership role at his local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber was trying to attract new industry to his city, and the lawyer was spending this time working with startups and undercapitalized firms that would not need legal help for quite some time. So when he sat back and analyzed how soon all this work this might lead to new business, it became clear that he needed a faster payoff. He decided to substantially cut back on Chamber meetings, and spend the time instead with current clients. He is already starting to see results.