Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Marketing the Firm vs. the Practice Area vs. the Attorney

Our agency often receives calls from individual attorneys (usually from larger firms) seeking our assistance in marketing their services. In most of these situations, these lawyers are under significant pressure to originate new business. Our advice to them is not all that different from the recommendations we might make at the firm level.

But it does raise two interesting questions. Should law firms market the firm at large, its disparate practice groups and/or its individual attorneys? And if so, how should it allocate its energies towards each?

The answer to the first part is easy. If possible, the firm should be supported at all levels. But what if resources are limited? I believe that everything goes back to doing what is best at the firm level. Why is this firm “the best?” What makes it unique? Why should someone hire it versus the other bunch of folks down the block? If one can establish a rationale for the firm’s existence (beyond providing sustenance for its partners and employees), one has already gone much further than most of the competition. As important, a halo effect is created that will carry over onto the practice groups and eventually onto individual attorneys as well. Given limited financial resources, it is critical to focus on the big picture first, then individual groups and finally individual attorneys (unless an attorney is the next incarnation of Clarence Darrow.)

Supporting individual attorneys with major cash outlays may be unfeasible. But in most cases, that’s okay. If one’s financial investment is geared toward the firm as a whole, then time can be the major source of investment at the attorney level – providing one gives the staff the freedom to do so. One can’t expect the firm’s lawyers to be originating business if they are not being given the flexibility to attend various functions, implement social media efforts, write articles, etc.

Marketing at the practice group level is where it gets a bit more complicated. As mentioned, that halo effect does carry over. However, sometimes practice groups need a bit of their own promotion. Which ones get this boost and to what degree is usually a function of the particular groups (e.g., PI usually gets a lot) and whether the firm’s marketing plan calls for leveraging particularly strong areas or beefing up relatively weaker ones. If the goal is only to get through this year, the wise choice may be to play one’s best hand. If thinking long-term however, then consideration must be given to how the weaker department is going to get from here to there. Obviously, it’s not all black and white, and sometimes office politics can get in the way (e.g., “Why do they get their own
enewsletter and we get nothing?). But again, with initial buy-in of the overall program, such problems can be somewhat mitigated. Keep in mind, as my mother often told me when I complained about what my sister was getting, “It’s not always going to be equal.” Hopefully your firm’s staff is more mature than I was at that time and can understand the nuances of resource allocation.