George Wilkinson, director of marketing
George Wilkinson is the director of marketing at Ashfords. He retired from the firm’s partnership in April 2012 but has continued in a senior non-fee-earning role.
How has your role changed during your time at the firm?
At one level the change has been total, from working at the coalface as a senior corporate partner to leading the marketing and business development team, but on another level there’s been no change at all – I spent my life as a lawyer selling legal services and now I help the firm sell its services across all disciplines.
So the scale has changed and my learning curve has been vertical. How we market and sell legal services is constantly changing. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.
How important is branding in the legal profession?
The challenge is getting people to see beyond visual identity. Most lawyers simply see the logo as the brand, but it includes how we are seen by our clients and the values, behaviours and attitudes of our people. There are challenges with law firms around branding and marketing generally. Lawyers aren’t antipathetic to marketing, but they are somewhat selective.
What are the challenges involved in offering non-legal services?
Not much different. You need the right people and the right product, but clients are far less likely to differentiate between legal and non-legal services. Whether it’s pure law or a mixture, it’s not material to them provided they know you’re able to do it. Lawyers agonise over some of this – and there are, rightly, professional standards and insurance issues – but lawyers sometimes need to put themselves in the client’s shoes.
What would you say to graduates considering a career in marketing?
In marketing legal services the answer has to be – go for it. Traditional careers in legal services are changing as the market changes, and the opportunities these changes offer should be hugely exciting, none more so than in helping to shape how legal services are sold. Non-traditional careers in law firms are already attractive, and will only be more so.
What are the biggest challenges facing the sector from a marketing perspective?
Change in the legal services market may not come as quickly as some anticipate, but it will come – driven by clients, by the effects of deregulation and by technology. These changes will affect the legal services market from top to bottom, so how we market legal services is evolving.
But the challenge isn’t just these external drivers. The structure of law firms and the nature of lawyers also provide a constant challenge. Law firm leaders grew up in a different age and, for many, their fundamental approach to selling law is rooted in what they learnt back then. Unlearning and relearning is not as easy as it seems, but it has to be done.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I tried law for 36 years and retirement for eight days, so neither of those. What I’d be doing and what I’d like to do are almost certainly different things. If it’s the latter it would be working and campaigning for social justice.
Where’s the best place to go for office gossip?
I’m not sure what this says about me, but gossip tends to come to me. I rarely have to go and find it.
What’s your biggest career lesson and why?
Realising that failure to make decisions, be they right or wrong, simply condemns you to more of the same. It took me some 20 years to understand and act on this, but since I started things have not stopped getting better.
What’s on your to-do list?
It’s more a case of what isn’t.
Total staff: 394
Profit per equity partner: £230,000
Net profit: £9.37m
”We’ve recently rebranded, so we have a new visual identity, a new website and are in the process of setting a consistent verbal identity,” says Wilkinson when asked about what gives Ashfords its competitive edge. “The trick is allowing the lawyers – who, after all, are the people who see the clients and do the work, and who are each a ‘salesperson’ for the firm – to retain their individual voices within the Ashfords brand.”
Practice management system: SOS Connect
Client relationship management system: Ashfords’ own