After being entrenched in legal marketing for many years, most recently spending 14-years as the CMO for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, I switched gears when I was asked to write a book on how successful lawyers and law firms market themselves. The premise of the book “Best Practices for Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” is to inform lawyers and marketers as to how to prepare for and take advantage of the seismic shifts in the legal profession.
My goal was to dig in and find those firms that exemplified the best practices in legal marketing, whether that meant interviewing successful rainmakers, the most forward-thinking chief marketing officers or leaders of firms conducting interesting innovation projects.
While I had the experience of two AmLaw 100 law firms behind me, I knew I only had experienced a slice of the legal sector. I decided to approach the book as a research project. During the past year, I straddled between my client work and interviewing more than 60 experts, leaders of law firms, chief marketing officers, executive directors and innovators in law firm marketing. There were a number of key themes that surfaced throughout the interviews. Here are just a few.
Legal Curation: The legal landscape is quickly changing due to the pace of technology, demands made by a new generation of clients and the rise of ambitious business ventures entering into the legal service market. Clients can now curate the legal services they decide to use. Traditional professional organizations such as ACCA and the ABA are joined by newer groups such as CLOC and Buying Legal Council to provoke essential discussions on operations and pricing. Companies including Thomson Reuters, UnitedLex, Intapp, Integreon and most larger accounting firms are growing like plants into the service and technology voids that exist in many law firms. Most traditional law firms are simply trying to keep pace. It’s important to keep an eye on and learn from those firms that are moving ahead and creating innovation centers, such as Allen & Overy and Orrick. These firms are not waiting for change to impact the profession, but rather they are becoming part of the change itself.
Culture is Cash: The culture of a firm can make or break the organization, and it is also clear that those firms with the strongest and most consistent cultures, where leadership communicates up and down the organization, are usually the most profitable and the most successful. Building a solid culture takes work and discipline and it needs to be supported by a compensation system that rewards both business development and collaboration. In this past year, we’ve seen a record number of law firm mergers. The big question that remains is if these newly organized firms can survive. To do so, they will need to work hard at creating a solid culture, a foundation encompassing various personalities.
Collaboration is key: There are law firms where collaboration is part of the firm’s DNA. Partners meet with one another over lunch to explore finding opportunities to work together and ways to better serve clients. They introduce one another to prospects for all types of networking and for new business. Then there are the firms down the block, where lawyers are involved in a whole different world. It’s a dog-eat-dog, be or be killed environment, like footage from an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Guess which approach is more likely to lead to developing business? Research demonstrates that when specialists collaborate across functional boundaries, great things happen. If you read about any of the research conducted by Heidi K. Gardner PhD, you know that firms where there is great collaboration earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, attract and retain the best talent, and gain a competitive edge.
The Axis at Play: With the disruption in the marketplace, many firms are searching for new identities. The bulk of firms seem to be gravitating towards one of two axes. The first is to be more focused, such as Wilkinson Walsh & Eskovitz, Gunderson Dettmer or Macfarlanes. These are firms that position themselves as doing just a few things, working in specific and defined markets and producing best-in-class work.
The other axis is to remain large, aiming to be a wide-coverage mega-firm that innovates by trying for great efficiencies and focuses on more than one or two core practice areas. Firms including Allen & Overy, Orrick and Dentons are leading the way on this path.
The day of the supermarket, one-shop-fits-all law firm is over. In-house counsel want to hire specialists. Quality of this delivery will also be evaluated with the use of AI, so that the technology that is part of the legal solution may also become part of its evaluation.
Marketing is a Mandate: Marketing legal services has been around long enough so that best practices surrounding the operations of marketing departments have been demystified. Coaching by experienced salespeople and marketing departments built by professionals with proven track records are now seen as a must. Advice on everything from search engine optimization to predictive analytics is now easy to access. Law firm leaders are supporting the growth of marketing departments as they recognize this resource to be an integral part of operating a business, not an ancillary back-office operation. Most partners can see the high value in engaging with marketers to maximize their practices’ growth potential. They are no longer afraid to hire outside consultants to help guide them in terms of staffing issues, marketing plans or individual coaching in leadership and business development skills. The stigma of a lawyer who says, “I need coaching,” is slowly fading away. Who You Know: Relationship building is important in any business, but it’s particularly critical in one so nuanced and dependent on the element of trust, as the practice of law. Relationships between lawyers and their clients, lawyers and their marketing staff, and lawyers with one another within a partnership are valuable keys to success. Regardless of the threats made to the relationships between lawyers and clients for example, pricing or alternative approaches to handling legal matters – relationships remain the holy grail of business.
While there is great disruption in this era of change, for those who move quickly, there is also great opportunity.
About the Author
Deborah Farone is the author of “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” (PLI 2019), a book based on more than 60 interviews with leading law firm leaders and marketers, general counsel, and innovators in the profession. The book has been called a unique resource for law firm leaders, practicing attorneys, legal marketers, consultants, and educators who want to uncover the very best marketing practices in the legal profession. Deborah has served as chief marketing officer at two of the world's most successful law firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. At both firms, she built and led their marketing communications and business development departments.
Heidi K. Gardner PhD, Distinguished Fellow, Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession has said, “Deborah Farone is the leading expert in law firm marketing. Not only has she studied this complex topic from at the peak of the legal profession, her research into what works and what doesn’t is priceless for anyone interested in growing their business.” Deborah has also held positions as a marketing specialist at two global advisory firms, Willis Towers Watson and Ketchum. In 2017, she launched her own consulting practice, Farone Advisors LLC, where she advises law and other professional service firms on business strategy and targeted marketing and is a speaker at professional forums and retreats. Deborah is a past President of the Legal Marketing Association’s New York Chapter and was recently honored with LMA New York’s Legacy Award, in recognition of making “a distinguishable mark on the chapter and the profession.”