Written by Janet Odgis in the NYLMA News ?Summer Issue: 2014
Many lawyers have questions about the viability of marketing for law firms. How can you get them to recognize its value? Start by asking the right questions.
Why is it sometimes difficult for lawyers to see the inherent value in marketing?
Broadly speaking, lawyers are very good at taking strong positions for their clients and defending their interests vigorously. But they are much more cautious talking about themselves, not wanting to make bold statements and assertions that might alienate current or prospective clients. Self-promotion can be seen as unseemly, after all. So, worried about being misperceived, most lawyers typically describe themselves and their firms using the same few phrases.
How can asking good questions get around this problem?
For a number of reasons — those outlined above, plus the longtime arm’s-length relationship between the legal profession and advertising — it can be hard for lawyers to discern value in differentiating themselves. Good questions can elicit illuminating information about a firm’s specialties and help you determine which aspects will be most appealing to potential clients.
What’s the secret to getting more than just pre-formulated replies?
First, try to meet in person; people are generally much more engaging when you’re face-to-face with them. You will be able to pick up on body language and other subtleties that don’t come across over the phone or, especially, e-mail. Then prepare a list of questions in advance, and get very precise. Ask about the firm’s back story, point of view and philosophy. What is its larger vision, its ideal public image and the lasting impression it would like to make? What is the firm’s tone, its institutional voice? What lasting impression would it like to make on clients and the public at large? Helping someone think through these topics encourages replies that are insightful rather than banal. Now you’re getting somewhere.
What if they’re still recalcitrant and unconvinced about marketing’s benefits?
Ask a lawyer what sets his or her firm apart from other firms. Chances are the answer will be “client relationships.” Marketing won’t affect the bottom line, the thinking goes, because personal relationships trump all. Marketing, though, when done properly, can create and build upon relationships, creating points of entry. Just ask. Good marketing provides a great opportunity to cross-sell the firm’s other services to existing clients as well as bring in new ones. Ask which other legal services make the most sense to cross-sell for the individual lawyers or the firm as while. Marketing plays a key role in maintaining and burnishing customer relationships, and by drawing out detailed replies to the questions you ask, you’re helping your legal clients recognize that.
Still, asking the wrong questions is a waste of everyone’s time. What if I do?
Don’t sweat it. There’s no shame in acquiring useful information — the bona fides that truly set a particular law firm apart from the competition — in a roundabout way. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one that never gets asked, and you never know down which specific path you’ll get the details or anecdotes that will make for great legal marketing. Be prepared, be sharp, be probing and, above all, be relentless about the value marketing can bring to a firm. The effectiveness of your communication with your client — and the quality of its own outreach — will improve dramatically.