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Working Hand-in-Glove – Using Proven Practice Group Marketing Techniques to Build Business

By Barbara S. Kaplan

Most law firms big enough to justify a marketing department are organized in practice groups. While law firms continue to increase the amount of institutional marketing they do to build market awareness of the firm as a whole, the practice groups usually are "where the action is" both in terms of delivering legal services to clients and in business development opportunities.

Smart firms increasingly are embracing marketing strategies and tactics to help practice groups make the most of those business development opportunities, according to Joel A. Rose, a national management consultant to the legal profession. At the October 24 meeting of the Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group hosted by the Philadelphia Bar Association, Rose said that in firms that have adopted a marketing mindset and a business development culture, practice groups and marketing managers effectively identify and maximize marketing opportunities.

Rose offered practical advice on making the most of this collaboration. Here are some key points:

Buy-in from firm management

Marketing enhances revenue and profitability for firms willing to commit to a formal structure that establishes and supports it. The real successes occur in firms where leadership is "passionate" about marketing, and practice group or department chairs endorse a marketing culture, Rose said.

Common elements of successful groups

In the majority of financially and professionally successful law firms, practice or industry groups are inherent to client development Rose said. Common identifiable elements of those firms include:

  • Currently engaged in or have undergone the process of planning, organizing and implementing practice groups
  • Have established performance measures, expectations and criteria for evaluations of practice groups and individual lawyers
  • Have marketing plans at every level - the firm, practice groups, individual attorney that support the firm’s overall strategy and set direction and priorities
  • Use compensation and other means to hold attorneys accountable for actions related to marketing the firm’s legal services and for their willingness to subordinate their independence to the good of the firm.

Marketing director’s contribution

The most successful rainmakers, either intuitively or as a result of much practice, have a "marketing state of mind." They are the personification of good marketers, devoted to client service, cross-selling, and maximizing market opportunities in each of the industries in which the firm practices. Working together, rainmakers and firm marketing staff can help practice groups achieve their business development goals

Rose said that ways that marketing directors can add value include:

  • Supporting a marketing culture
  • Creating a forum for marketing accountability
  • Establishing systems for tracking and measuring progress against marketing goals
  • Developing a key client/prospect program
  • Collaborating on the practice group marketing plan, including assistance with cross-selling other groups or lawyers within the firm; committing the plan to writing; and monitoring and measuring regularly
  • Bringing members of the practice group together
  • Helping practice groups organize the way clients buy services
  • Following clients’ business and industry concerns
  • Putting in place action plans with achievable results
  • Constantly looking for ways to guide the group
  • Communicating client needs to attorneys and advocating for the client point of view (learned through feedback from the client interview process)
  • Communicating successes
  • Managing expectations
  • Following up, following up, following up

Rose noted that marketing programs require time to build and implement. Effective marketing managers take a long-term view, weathering the set-backs that naturally occur along the way.

And, just like the rainmaker, marketing directors should deliver everything they promise or risk loosing credibility, Rose said.

Advocating for the client

Many firms are engaging in client visit initiatives, which give firms access to client-based data unavailable through routine client/attorney interactions. The marketing manager can drive this process, which provides information that helps keep clients and serve them better.

Marketing managers are responsible for communicating client needs, preferences and perceptions to attorneys, and advocating that attorneys respond to them attentively. It is a common belief among attorneys that doing legal work and serving clients are synonymous. With a different kind of conversation and good antennae, marketers and attorneys together can create loyal clients.

According to Rose, talking to clients regularly about substantive and personal matters deepens the relationship and leads directly to increased work and increased profitability.

Performance Measures

The old saw is that "you can’t manage what you can’t measure." Performance measures set expectations and provide guidance for evaluation. Important performance metrics used to gauge the success of practice group marketing and business development initiatives include:

  • Client retention
  • Clients lost
  • Implementation of practice group business plans
  • New clients obtained
  • Expansion of work with existing clients
  • Fees generated
  • Improved business development skills
  • Client feedback
  • Extent of referrals made by clients

Through building a marketing culture and a structure to support it, practice groups and marketers working hand-in-hand will directly and positively contribute to the group’s and the firm’s growth, Rose said.

Barbara S. Kaplan is the principal of BSK Associates, a marketing strategy and client development consulting practice. She may be reached at bskaplan@comcast.net.

Joel A. Rose is the president of Joel A. Rose & Associates. He may be reached at JRose63827@aol.com.

Joel Rose's slides

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Client Feedback: What you don’t know can hurt you!
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CultureShift®: A Whole Firm Approach for Driving Growth, Profitability and Revenue
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