Big Ideas from Not-So-Big Law Firms Redux: Case Studies from Mid-Size Firms

The following Session Summary reports on the Wednesday, April 13, session “Big Ideas from Not-So-Big Law Firms Redux: Case Studies from Mid-Size Firms.” Presenters: were Lisa O’Flyng, Marketing Director, Ruder Ware; Sally Schmidt, President, Schmidt Marketing Inc.; Gregory J. Ramos, Attorney, Sherman & Howard; and Anne Zambrano, Director of Marketing, Trenam Law.

Big law firms don’t have a monopoly on marketing creativity. Three case studies in this session showed how small budgets coupled with out-sized thinking can reap big-firm results.

Hire a cow expert

Ruder Ware is a 40-attorney firm in central Wisconsin where agriculture is a big deal, accounting for $2.7 billion in economic activity. Unfortunately, the firm didn’t have much recognition in the agricultural community.

The firm’s out-of-the-box approach began with hiring a retired University of Wisconsin Extension dairy agent as a consultant. While the consultant didn’t know much about the law, he did know the people and companies in the dairy industry where deals often are sealed with handshakes and there’s not much time for outsiders.

The dairy consultant introduced the firm to people in the industry, helped it build trust in the close-knit dairy world and identified publications where the firm could build a presence through an advertising campaign and attorney-written articles. Trade shows were another target.

In 2015, the firm invested $20,500 in its agriculture marketing initiative, including $5,000 for the dairy consultant and $8,000 for the ad campaign. Over three years the firm invested $49,500.

That investment yielded $200,000 in fees and the promise of more clients as the firm fields more referrals and requests for presentations.

Partner with clients

At Sherman & Howard, a 180-lawyer firm with 11 offices across the U.S., the challenge was finding and developing high-value associates while creating “sticky” client relationships, especially in the energy sector.

The firm’s innovative solution addressed both problems. Sherman & Howard created a fellowship program where it recruits new law grads who are then hired and paid by a client, while the law firm provides legal training at no cost. After two years, the fellow qualifies for a permanent offer from the law firm.

For the firm, the fellowship program creates a pipeline of attorneys who know a client’s business. For the client, the program supplies an in-house attorney whom the firm trains. The benefits on both sides strengthen the relationship. One client in the energy sector who is part of the fellowship program went from $32,000 in fees in 2012 to $900,000 in 2014.

Take a hard look at your firm

Trenam Law, a 90-lawyer firm with offices in Tampa and St. Petersburg, was steeped in tradition and woven into the fabric of the community but wanted to improve its reputation as an up-and-coming firm in its vibrant Florida markets.

The marketing team began by auditing the brand, including interviews with clients and lawyers. The results showed the firm was highly respected, but had an opportunity to clarify its brand identity.

Based on that feedback, the firm carved out a new brand name – Trenam Law replaced Trenam Kemker – and reassessed every aspect of its identity, from the design of collateral materials to messaging. The culmination of these efforts was a new website that goes in a bold new direction, using client testimonials – not lawyers – to deliver its new message: Shaping a new kind of law firm.

If there’s a common threat among the case studies, it’s that each firm unleashed its creativity and focused on doing something really important with its limited resources. Clarity of purpose – not a big budget -- is what drives marketing success. 

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