How Should Law Firms Prepare Attorneys to Participate in Digital Marketing?

Four leading marketing and business development consultants share their answers.

In the constantly shifting and increasingly hyper-competitive legal business environment, effective law firm marketing with direct involvement from attorneys has become critical. The way attorneys engage with current and potential clients is under great scrutiny by them. Attorneys can no longer remain secluded in their practices, silently clocking billable hours.

Today, many law firms that have marketing or business development professionals who handle lead generation, new client and stakeholder relationship development and sales of services. Nonetheless, legal service buying influencers expect to “connect” with attorneys personally.

They want to know them before hiring them, and attorney bios on a website are no longer enough to help them to make a personal connection. That means attorneys must directly support firm business development and marketing activities, including on social media.

But, this unnerves many attorneys, who either don’t have the skills or interest in direct engagement or have ethical concerns about the activity. In some cases, they are concerned about being misunderstood or making a serious mistake that causes them to lose professional credibility and damage relationships.

Law firms and their attorneys can overcome these legitimate concerns with the help of the four experts featured here. They provide their insights into how legal marketers and business development professionals can facilitate that process. Attorneys and marketing professionals at firms of all sizes will benefit from their perspectives.

The Experts

Our experts are consultants who work with attorneys on different aspects of business development, including preparing them to conduct BD in a fast-paced digital environment. They are:


Darryl Cross, a former law firm CMO, is the Vice President of Performance Development & Coaching for LexisNexis. He is responsible for training a 1500 person international sales force, of which half are lawyers.

He also consults with hundreds of firms around the world on coaching, business development, and high performance.


Adrian Dayton is Founder of ClearView Social and the author of two books on social media for the legal profession.


Kevin McMurdo, Founder of McMurdo Consulting, develops and delivers custom, interactive business development training and coaching programs for professionals. His programs focus on effective communications: listening, presentation and sales skills.


Anna Rappaport, Esq., is the founder of Excelleration Coaching. She has been coaching for over 15 years, and assists lawyers address all kinds of obstacles that can interfere with business development. She offers workshops on Asking for Business, Leadership, and Networking, among other topics.


Begin by Acknowledging Attorney Concerns and Mindsets

When it comes to digital marketing, all four of our experts agree accepting attorneys’ valid concerns and current mindsets about online engagement is an important first step to addressing them.

“One of the strongest business development/marketing “fears” for lawyers is being embarrassed, particularly in front of colleagues,” says McMurdo.  “Historically, lawyers viewed marketing and sales as fundamentally unprofessional – and a potential source of embarrassment.” 

Rappaport adds, “I estimate about 80 percent of attorneys feel some degree of dislike or fear of certain activities, such as self-promotion, networking, and sales.”

Attorneys also can lack confidence in their business development and marketing professionals. “Lawyers fear that BD professionals do not have the knowledge of the law, their practice or their clients to be effective,” explains Cross. But, he says attorneys must see BD roles as beyond “sales support, document creation, sharing tips or opening their contact lists to help get meetings.”

Adds Rappaport shares, “Lawyers may not be receptive to the support offered by legal marketing professionals because they don't connect with or appreciate the value provided by legal marketers.” She says leadership training and coaching for legal marketers can help them be more effective with attorneys.

Overcoming Attorney Concerns in a Shifting Marketplace

Attorneys consistently express all these apprehensions in a marketplace that is changing at warp speed. It’s an environment where Cross says, “Most law firms are in an awkward transition where marketing personnel, systems, and processes are being transformed into business development.” It’s a shift that many attorneys, especially at partner level, aren’t embracing quickly but that may hobble the BD process.

“The business development process works on referrals and relationships,” states McMurdo. “Often, it requires many “touches” to develop the rapport and trust necessary to a working relationship,” he says. Marketing and BD facilitate that process.

McMurdo says because lawyers attempt to “sell” their services primarily through capabilities and experience, BD is a challenging process for them. But, today’s legal consumers want attorneys to build real relationships directly with them, not simply be legal technicians for them. They want attorneys using social media.

Though digital marketing represents an unsettling change to attorneys, legal marketers and BD professionals can confront their issues with the digital marketing process. “Marketing and business development staff can help lawyers see the process from the client/prospect perspective, says McMurdo.”

In fact, involving legal marketing and BD professionals in the process of facilitating their adopting new perspectives can help build attorney trust in them and see their significance to law firm profitability.

Providing the Right Training and Support Overcomes Resistance

Making the business case for digital’s value in marketing and business development is one strategy many legal marketing and BD professionals use to shift lawyer attitudes. Teaching them best practices is another.

But these strategies are usually not effective because it often conveys information that may not inspire confidence new business methods if traditional ones don’t appear unprofitable. Therefore, attorney education done correctly may achieve better results.

Levering their need for knowledge—which leads to their ability to conduct activities competently while precluding embarrassment—might be the best method to facilitate a shift in their convictions.

“Simply teaching them best practices is not enough because on a gut level the lawyers really don't want to engage in those activities,” explains Rappaport. “For training to be most effective, it needs to help the lawyers reframe how they see the situation,” she adds.

Case-based training from coaches that includes interactive activities conducted in a safe environment to teach skills that otherwise feel threatening to attorneys is paramount. According to McMurdo, “Active, case-based relationship training – individually and in groups – is an excellent way to give lawyers the knowledge, confidence, and tools to develop effectively and manage relationship development that leads to new work.”

“Simulation is the key to all of this,” insists Cross. “A coach puts people through realistic, dynamic simulations to expose those fundamentals that need more work and what situations for which they are not prepared,” he adds.

“But one of the easiest methods is to include interactive components where participants can try out certain skills,” states Rappaport. “For example, once you practice difficult conversations in a safe environment, it becomes a little less scary to imagine yourself having that conversation with an actual prospect.”

Depending on the attorney, individual professional coaching either precedes or consistently reinforces that education. That’s where the law firm’s BD professionals are critical, says Cross. “The business development professional must be used as a coach.” It is the BD professional’s regular coaching with attorneys that helps lawyers improve skills necessary to communicate well and build relationships with clients, he says.

Cross further asserts, “BD coaches may or may not be lawyers, and that does not matter. They are experts in improving performance, and the lawyers need to defer that expertise to them.”

This is true of marketing professionals, too, says Rappaport. “The attorneys who seem happiest with their marketing departments are the ones who view their relationship with legal marketers as a partnership, and who are open to an exchange of ideas.”

As it relates specifically to social media training, Drayton says, “There has been a huge amount of research into what they are calling experiential learning. Social media training must be participatory to truly teach professionals.” He continues, “The one thing every lawyer needs to do, but most resist, is to own their online presence.”

Engaging attorneys in the right coaching programs can shift their attitudes from resistance to collaboration. “Case-based training allows lawyers to learn (and more importantly practice) effective, ethical communication techniques – centered on active listening – that build strong, positive relationships and lead to new work opportunities, explains McMurdo.

“This kind of training is easily customized to firm and practice group situations,” he adds. “When developed and delivered correctly, fear of embarrassment is addressed in a non-threatening environment.”

By Dahna M. Chandler, Principal, Thrive Writing, Inc. for the July/August 2016 Capital Ideas Newsletter. 

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