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The Top 5 reasons why Lawyers don’t do Marketing (30th May 2012)

We should disclose an element of frustration in the writing of this article because it is an issue we confront every week. So be warned elements of this article are a bit blunt!

1. Marketing 101 was not a Law Exam

(Sub title: and the Senior Partner has no idea how to do it and where to seek help).

Sadly, lawyers are not experienced or educated in marketing; and when I was at Law School it was something not even considered, let alone taught. Today it is fair to say that marketing is accepted as part and parcel of running a firm (as it is with any other professional service enterprise). However, some lawyers in small to medium sized law firms still resist the basic notions of marketing. In some ways this is good news for the enlightened ones because this automatically reduces the competition they really need to worry about.

Lawyers, generally speaking, are professionals who don’t have much experience in running other businesses and certainly are not practised in the science of marketing. Or putting this another way, lawyers generally would much rather do the legal work than have to worry about doing marketing tasks to attract the legal work. Of course the reality is that you need to do both (and have a plan as well as monitor it all).

The directors or partners need to establish a Marketing Plan, just as they do a Business Plan. But some law firms don’t focus on any of this because the leaders are not interested or skilled in marketing.

The reasons vary with the most common being:

  1. They simply don’t know how to go about the tasks of marketing.
  2. They have tried to in the past and it was so unsuccessful, uncoordinated and mismanaged they have been turned off (or proven to themselves it doesn’t work for their firm…see point 3 below here too).
  3. They just don’t like doing it and would prefer to focus on other firm issues instead.
  4. They worry the firm is putting its values and image at risk.
  5. They believe that “word of mouth” is the best way to get new work. For them that reasoning provides the solution that enables them to avoid it.

2. Lawyers procrastinate

Lawyers are generally good at analysing issues, good at establishing a set of facts and good at due diligence. They like to do the same things as their colleagues. They like to be risk averse.

With marketing an element of risk is involved because no certainty can be offered. A marketing guru cannot put hand on heart and say do this task and you will get X new clients with new work totalling $Y. What a marketing guru could say is: let’s create a workable plan together to get the work in you want, let’s set targets of X with target file openings with a value of $Y and go for it. Then let’s measure our efforts and learn what works best for that firm in that location seeking that particular work.

Some lawyers then seize on this pronouncing the end of meeting (in light of an absence of certainty), no need to hear anything from the witness who may be excused. Judgment pronounced. No appeal. Thanks for coming.

So before the sentence is passed, take stock, breathe in and out and “chill”, as marketing requires an acceptance of risk. It requires a different mindset to the way lawyers typically think…contracts, limiting liability and guarantees.

Also, some tasks will simply not work out as planned and some will be more successful than expected. What is important is to monitor everything and learn from your experiences for it will save you time and money.

3. Lawyers just want to argue the toss - just do it!

I can still remember all those years ago asking a marketing guru how to market. I got my pen out and a sheet of paper and was going to write it all down, basically everything he said – simple, I thought. Then after about an hour I still had nothing written on the page.

Marketing is an inexact science and back then I think it was still being pioneered. Over the years I have made countless mistakes in marketing. That might seem an extraordinary admission but the reality is you don’t learn marketing – and more importantly how to market your firm – unless you are prepared to take a risk into the unknown and give things a shot.

Accordingly, when lawyers are considering whether or not to engage a marketing expert or adopt a marketing plan it’s easier to adopt a negative view of marketing, usually because they don’t understand the benefits and therefore it’s easier to discredit the concepts or plan rather than to take the risk and put it in play (because if it works the decision maker lawyer would be wrong).

I’m sure we’ve all been at Partners’ meetings where some good idea or plan has been unfairly hijacked by someone because they were narrow-minded. It always seemed to me that some lawyers do this through boredom or to argue for the sake of it.

In my view those lawyers should get over themselves and accept that there might be something about the practice of law they don’t know, namely how to market a law practice and allow themselves to accept to seek some advice about that. And it might not even work but just give it a try!

4. Too much focus is on costs

This is an extension of the risk adverse nature of lawyers. There is too much focus on costs.

Stop and think for a moment when a new client asks what his litigation matter will cost and how you feel when you try and answer, saying it depends on events that are presently unknown and that there are too many variables. This is often what is asked to a marketing firm at the first meeting when there is no scope of work.

It causes paralysis. Whilst there needs to be clarity about costs there also should be recognition that by looking at the top line and revenue generation the firm can be greatly benefited.

5. “At (insert firm name), we are too busy to market!”

You’d be amazed about the number of times I’ve heard this said.

As a legal marketer I am always challenged by the partner who is “too busy to market”. His or her plate might be too full (at the moment). He/she has family obligations outside the office. However, one day they’re going to wake up and wonder, “where have all my clients gone?”

It is such a foolish and short-sighted statement to make. Fair enough, you can be very busy working on a huge case in that week but you will be working from feast to famine if you don’t take charge and try and regulate the workload. And whilst you might be flat out that’s not to say someone else can’t be working to get the “tomorrow work” coming in the door.

Peter Heazlewood