A recent LMA and Bloomberg Law study on legal marketing trends revealed that in 2018, 65 percent of legal marketers described their relationship with attorneys as “challenging at times.” Azeema Batchelor, Senior Business Development Manager at McDermott Will & Emery and a former attorney, shared some tips to improve these relationships with the Future Leaders Shared Interest Group on May 31, 2018.
Understanding Communication Styles
Attorneys and marketers tend to have different communication styles. “You have to think about how they’ve been trained,” Batchelor said. Attorneys are schooled in the Socratic Method, in which professors constantly question the students often resulting in a combative communication style. This can be difficult for marketers, who tend to communicate differently.
“Never take it personally,” Batchelor advises. Attorneys have been trained to work this way, and while they may come across negatively, they don’t usually mean to be hurtful. Instead, attorneys are coming from a real need and desire to get straight to the point.
The main thing to consider is that attorneys view their time as money. Remember that attorneys usually bill in small increments, as little as six minutes. Time that can’t be billed can feel like time wasted – even if it’s a short conversation. Attorneys are very conscious of their billable targets.
That’s why it’s crucial to come fully prepared for any meeting or conversation with an attorney. Think in advance about what questions they may have, and prepare answers. Have all the facts and be ready to lay them out succinctly. “If you can help make them look good and if you prepare,” Batchelor said, “you’ll be indispensable.”
Selecting the Appropriate Method of Communication
The best method of communication depends on the individual attorney and often on the specific circumstance. Email allows the attorney to respond at their convenience, and the phone can be good to hash out something that would take a lot of back and forth through email. However, nothing can replace face-to-face communication for conveying tone and nuance. Asking the attorney about their preferred method of communication can show a lot of consideration.
Different people can come away from the same conversation with a different understanding, so getting things in writing can be important at times. Follow-up emails can be a good tool for this. However, if you send a follow-up email, Batchelor suggests focusing on confirming how you can help rather than seeming like you’re just covering yourself.
Sometimes responses are difficult to get from attorneys. Batchelor said that the absolute best way to get responses is to tie an answer to compensation or reimbursement. For example, if an attorney returns from a conference, you could require a list of contacts that they met before they get reimbursed. If you’re not a trusted advisor, send one in; assistants can often be helpful gatekeepers. Get your manager on board to help if necessary.
Becoming a Trusted Advisor
“When it comes to attorneys,” Batchelor said, “the bottom line is that they want to increase the bottom line.” As marketers, we want to engineer growth and be the people who help attorneys grow their business or increase the firm’s profile.
“When you’re establishing your credibility,” Batchelor said, “it’s key to ensure that your work is free of errors.” She suggests having a co-worker proofread projects – and sometimes even emails – before sending to attorneys. After all, attorneys are trained to look for the smallest errors and aren’t afraid to call you out on them.
One of the best ways to become a trusted advisor is to “be good at your job every day.” What that means will be different to each person, but in essence, complete tasks within pre-established timeframes and communicate unavoidable delays. Don’t take on more than you have time to complete. Figure out how to prioritize.
“Always try to be realistic with deadlines,” Batchelor recommends. “Don’t promise the impossible and then not be able to deliver.” If something comes up, and your deadline becomes untenable, she suggests calling the lawyers with the bad news, so that you can better get across an apologetic tone and so that they understand that their ask is still important to you.
If you are in a role that focuses on one or a few specific groups, such as in business development, learn everything you can about the market and about what your attorneys are doing. Discover what your attorneys are reading and read those publications so you can stay up to speed on the latest news. Your firm’s library department, if you have one, can help with subscriptions or online access. Educating yourself will go a long way toward becoming a more credible and valuable asset.
The process of becoming a trusted advisor can be tricky to navigate. Sometimes, if you become an attorney’s go-to person, you might be tasked with projects outside of your role. If this happens, get your supervisor on board first. They can help you push back. Mention your current workload to the attorney and offer your assistance on tasks within the scope of your role. Sometimes the problem is a lack of understanding of what you do.
Remember, trust takes time to build. As you consistently complete excellent work for practice groups and attorneys, their trust in you will grow and their confidence in the value of marketing will grow with it.
Batchelor’s two biggest takeaways are: time matters and words matter. Attorneys are constantly pressured to get every ounce of value from their time. Prepare well to avoid the perception of wasting it. Be impeccable in your words and present error-free work. It will go a long way towards building trust with your attorneys.
By Rachel Patterson, Digital Marketing Technology Coordinator, Crowell & Moring LLP, for the Second Quarter 2018 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter