Questions Answered! With Joe Goldshear - Law Firm Practice Group Marketing

Joe took some time out of his busy summer schedule to chat with Legal Marketing Briefs Editor Elizabeth Catterall about the truth behind practice group marketing strategies.

Can you talk a bit about the value of the “Pyramid Approach” i.e. a firm-wide plan, followed by practice and industry plans down to individual plans?

For most firms with multiple areas of practice, some type of geometrical configured chart would best describe how legal marketers envision a business development and marketing flow chart. Not to be cute with words, but a ‘mesa’ approach might be more accurate when looking at many practice group plans and individual attorney’s plans and goals.

A firm’s mission statement and goals will always be overarching. So, attorneys need definition from the individuals, communities, organizations, and business they serve.  I don’t think that practice group marketing is pie in the sky. But there are often many variables that law firms and legal marketers face in order for their practice groups to function optimally. Well-defined plans from the group’s chair and individually for each attorney would be optimal, but of course this goal is hard to achieve.

If you had to choose, which is more important, a strong practice group plan, or strong individual plans for your high-performers?

Realistically, those attorneys that lead their firms in client development, client retention or personal branding are already highly visible in their fields of practice. These ‘high-performing’ men and women are usually highly networked into the industries and clients they serve. Sometimes they chair the practices in which they focus.

So, if I had to choose, I would opt for strong individual plans. It’s difficult to have a robust practice group if only a small group of attorneys are producers. Clearly it is more beneficial to the group if more attorneys network and have input into the practice group’s success.

Does it make sense to have active marketing plans for all new attorneys?  Should resources be allocated to rising-stars first?

Of course young attorneys who exhibit the greatest penchant for business development are usually following through on stated/written goals. Well-defined plans and objectives are the best way to stay focused on achieving goals. However, at the most basic level, all attorneys in law practice should minimally have two or three marketing objectives, a couple of business development objectives, and most importantly, a list of their network contacts. Although new attorneys are first and foremost charged with developing their legal skills, in just a few short years many of these same men and women will be expected to “market.” Helping them to understand how to do so early on should pay dividends in the future.  

Publicly, everyone seems to endorse practice group marketing tactics and “best practices.”  However, after talking to many CMOs and Business Development Managers, I have found that the majority of firms are not following recommended “best practices.”  Why do you think that is? Is spend what really dictates strategy?

Sometimes ‘spend’ really does dictate strategy. Marketing, developing business and staying in front of many industries all at the same time is a costly proposition. In firms that have many practice groups, this cost proposition is multiplied.  In addition to the real costs involved with deeply penetrating an industry, i.e. marketing, advertising, speaking, networking, etc., there is the significant unstated cost of unbillable time. In firms where billable hours wholly drive the revenue, it becomes more difficult to achieve best practices.

Other impediments to achieving best practices are setting the bar too high, or burdening a small number of attorneys in the practice group with all of the heavy lifting.

In an optimal practice group setting, all of the attorneys in the group would forward individual plans to the group chair who takes on the responsibility for agreeing-to or approving the individual plans. This best practice helps to eliminate duplication of efforts, e.g. two or more attorneys marketing to the same client. Of course individual plans, shared with a group leader, help the leader to decide what teams of attorneys might be best to attend a conference, or define the objectives of the practice group’s activities.  

How do we encourage our attorneys and practice group leaders to market to the needs of industry, rather than simply push for business development activities directed at their particular practice?  Shouldn’t legal marketers be seeking to “pull” industry in rather than “push” services out?

For a great many practice groups, the industry drives the group. But of course legal marketers should look for opportunities for their attorneys to ‘pull’ industry to them and their practices. Speaking to industry organizations, writing for industry newsletters and publications, and networking at industry functions and in other similar groups, are all good ways to create “pull” to a practice group.

Of course there are many other ways to get attention for the practice group such as creating blogs or dynamic website pages—again with the idea of pulling in industry eyes to the group.
What three key tactics can prevent your practice/industry group marketing plan from becoming a “plan” in name only?

Again, it all comes down to individual effort for which no single plan is a solution.
Building a strong network, developing and maintaining ongoing relationships, pay dividends for life. When all of the members of the practice group are individually focusing on these goals, then generally their achievements will dovetail well into the overarching plans for the practice groups in which they focus.

I’m a real believer in keeping these plans and goals simple, whether on an individual basis or collectively in practice groups. I like to envision the ‘three-bucket’ approach for attorneys. Of course my thoughts are not unique in this approach, but if adhered to they can be very effective in helping attorneys stay on top of and track their efforts.

Very simplified, the three-bucket approach might look like . . .

Marketing – or what you do to build personal brand. Here, activities such as writing, speaking, and presenting all help create strong personal brand. Every attorney should participate in at least a couple of these actives every year. A strong biography is critical as well.

Business Development – a much harder bucket to fill for sure. However, many business development opportunities stem from good marketing activities. They also stem from strong business retention activities. Developing relationships and building a referral network are often cited as the most productive ways for attorneys to develop business. Again, so much of this depends on the area of law in which your practice group focuses.

Particularly in larger firms, a significant source of business development might stem from relationships with colleagues in other areas of practice. Perhaps one attorney focuses on corporate litigation and his colleague focuses on employment law. Both have opportunity to introduce one another to clients. Here, legal marketers can help to make these introductions happen.

Business Retention – I often look at this as the most critical aspect of the “three-bucket” approach. Keeping the clients that you do have, and having those clients refer business to you, is tantamount to long-term success. One very easy way to stay on top of business retention is to always keep your network alive. I encourage attorneys to have a short list of client contacts by their telephone and be certain to call every contact once a month. Perhaps the phone call is nothing more than a simple: “Hello, how are you?” Perhaps it is to enlighten them about a particularly important event that affects their business. It is also important to keep your internal network alive, especially if you are regularly referred work by another attorney in the firm.

Regardless of the reason, and regardless of the contact, being successful means being committed to making the list and making the calls. Frankly, from a sales perspective, there is nothing worse than calling a client you haven’t spoken to in many months, only to ask them why they haven’t sent you a case or why they haven’t called you. If the attorney sticks with a regular habit of staying on top of their ‘go-to’ list, and adds to it along the way, they should be able to realize measureable success throughout their career.

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