Maximising law firm marketing

Even smaller practices need to invest time and money in marketing themselves effectively. David Laud explains how. David Laud is head of the marketing function at Jacksons.

There is nothing special about marketing a medium-sized firm in the regions.

In my experience there is no basis for the idea that the size of the firm or its geographical location somehow defines the marketing plan. A properly structured and professionally delivered marketing strategy will work just as well for a sole practitioner as for the world's largest practice.

My previous employer, AT&T, has more than 300,000 staff worldwide and there are no significant differences in the issues which it faces and those faced by the law firm where I currently work – Jacksons – which has 150 staff and is based in the North East. Those issues are customer satisfaction, service, quality, pricing, diverse competition, and the application of appropriate technology.

That said, the legal profession currently offers marketing professionals a rich seam of employment opportunities. But how do you know if he or she is doing a good job if you have never employed a marketing manager before?

Needless to say, marketers are natural salespeople, who are very good at selling the product they know best – themselves.

There are several pointers for marketing a law firm, be it big or small, based in Banff or Bognor.

First, marketing is not simply about promoting. Hospitality bashes and brochures are all well and good but on their own they will not improve the business to any great extent.

A recent survey carried out by Jacksons revealed that more than 70 per cent of clients were not interested in hospitality. Those who did express an interest wanted an event which offered them a business benefit, such as a seminar or a networking opportunity.

The effective marketer needs to combine creative and analytical skills to develop a strategic plan which is innovative and quantifiable.

The marketing plan should form the blueprint for the organisation, and include its strategic and tactical plans broken down to client level. This, in turn, should run in parallel with the financial, human resource, training and IT data of the firm.

An important lesson for the marketer to remember is that working with a partnership of solicitors can be very different from other types of commercial organisations. On top of that, the marketer, who is often working alone or in a small team, needs allies to deliver the plan. A one-to-one session with each partner will help to identify his or her assessment of the firm's marketing strategy. This also allows the marketer the chance to get the whole firm's support for future plans.

Practices should not be worried about letting their marketing manager get near to their clients. Most have sales experience which can bring an additional professional touch to selling the firm's services.

Clients will often have a lot in common with the marketer and are likely to be keen to see an improvement in the services being provided to them through an active interest in their particular business.

But the million-dollar question is how can you measure whether the marketing manager is doing a good job? Given the time lag between instruction and payment, straight analysis of bills delivered in the first or second year of appointment will not necessarily give a true picture.

Independent market research can provide a good yardstick for some basic issues, such as awareness of the firm in the outside world, the strengths or weaknesses of the service it offers, individual profiles in the target sectors and relationship influences.

Holding seminars and carrying out research on delegate satisfaction can also provide a useful measure of marketing effectiveness.

For a more accurate evaluation of his or her effectiveness, the marketer should undertake the equivalent of a 24,000 mile motor service of the strategy's achievements after about two years. In other words, a comprehensive analysis of markets, trends and results to determine the success or failure of the strategic initiatives.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 1994, independent market research showed that only 11 per cent of the business community was aware of Jacksons when asked to name a number of commercial law practices in the North East. Following the implementation of a strategic plan, that figure had risen to 47 per cent by the end of 1997.

There is no great mystery as to why these figures are so positive. They are simply evidence of how marketing as an independent resource can help raise the profile of your firm, instead of relying purely on goodwill and the networking capabilities of overworked partners.

Success comes down to having clear objectives, a strategic plan and a winning team. Most competitive commercial organisations rely on an active and professional sales force to deliver increased revenue. A law firm is no different, except that instead of a sales force, there are fee earners.

The only thing that remains certain in the commercial world is that firms can expect constant change. This can be viewed either as a continual threat to their existence or as a multitude of exciting opportunities.

The future shape of legal service provision may be unclear at present, but remember that, whatever the plans for your firm, "the best way to be ready for the future is to invent it".