The inaugural The Lawyer Marketing Leadership Summit, held on a sparkling June day at the Runnymede on Thames Hotel and Spa, gathered together more than 70 of the leading minds in marketing and business development (BD) across the legal services industry to future gaze and network.
The event brought together some of the most perceptive, future-focused people in the industry from a wide spectrum of roles. It guaranteed a tangible buzz on the day.
One of the key themes the summit addressed was how, as the legal sector continues to evolve in the context of continuing market disruption, marketing and BD teams are increasingly taking centre stage.
What was clear from a succession of speakers is that there are still structural challenges within firms. If they are to differentiate themselves, they need to be creative and embrace the many talents within the business. Firms that are “disrupting from within” are seeing the most success.
Lucy Murphy, chief marketing and business development officer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, kicked off the day with a keynote that asked “what will the industry look like in five to ten years?”. It was a mighty question that Murphy summed up with six predictions (Murphy also stressed that these were her personal views, not those of Freshfields):
There will be fewer “one stop shops”
The rise of volume providers that are able to deliver commoditised advice more quickly, more efficiently and more cheaply is forcing law firms at the top end of the market to fundamentally rethink what it means to be a premium legal services provider, and also what it takes to be a successful lawyer.
“At the premium end it will lead to more specialised firms used more intelligently by in-house legal,” said Murphy.
The evolution of tech will dramatically change the shape of law firms
The traditional pyramid model – where the number of partners is far outweighed by the number of associates – will become more like a rocket, Murphy claimed.
Lawyers will no longer create client solutions alone but in fluid teams with technologists, process specialists, strategists and project managers, helping to develop broader perspectives.
A big player will reinvent itself as a legal integration platform
As clients increasingly use multiple suppliers for big matters – low-cost providers, high-end law firms, tech companies and their own legal teams – it’s vital that they can bring multiple outputs together into a coherent whole.
“It’s the sort of role a firm like Freshfields already does on big matters, when we act as co-ordinating counsel for big cross-border mergers or global investigations,” confirmed Murphy. “A legal integration platform would apply tech to help synthesise the outputs from a disparate universe of providers.”
There will be continued modernisation and commercialisation of the business services platform model
“We need to break down the functional silos as teams take on a more integrated approach,” she said.
Demand for greater value-add will drive more outcome-based pricing
Outcome-based pricing will be the future, added Murphy.
“Law firms will need to come up with innovative ways to improve clients’ top and bottom lines,” insisted Murphy. “Consultancy firms have started to address this. At some point the hourly rate has to die.”
Client experience will become the key differentiator
Are law firms structured to deliver what’s required externally, Murphy asked, before posing a number of searching questions? Should sector groups be the major decision making body of the firm, as opposed to practice groups? Should partners moves up or down the ladder on the basis of their net promoter score? Should a “does it benefit a client test” be applied to everything?
Murphy went on to argue that if we’re to become the tech-enabled, client-centric firms the market wants us to be, there are two fundamental challenges we need to face – one technological, and one cultural.
The technological challenge involves data
“None of the change I’ve described is possible without a complete rethink of the way law firms handle data,” said Murphy. “We all sit on so much information that could benefit our firms and our clients. Data about mandates, precedents and processes, pricing, utilisation and recovery. And there are clearly huge challenges in bringing together data that sits in so many siloes within our firms. But these are issues other industries have had to face, and we need to find the answers if we’re to thrive over the next decade.”
The final challenge is cultural
In nearly 20 years working for law firms, Murphy said that she had come to realise the power of trust.
“Our clients need to trust that we will do everything in our power to solve their most complex problems and help them achieve their greatest ambitions,” she said. “But trust is also a critical factor within firms. With greater trust comes greater innovation. Allows teams to move at speed – it brings out the best in people and helps them to feel more secure. It enables them to take risks without fearing the consequences. And if we can take anything from the tech industry it is that failure is the first step to success.
“The firm that can build institutional trust and break down the barriers between lawyers and non-lawyers will unlock the power of its people. Any firm that gets this right can look forward to the next decade with confidence.”
The keynote was followed by a lively panel moderated by The Lawyer deputy editor Matt Byrne. The discussion centred on why a new approach to marketing is needed. The panelists expressed their frustration at its current form. As changes are being rapidly driven by clients, what should firms’ marketing priorities be? The panel agreed that firms were still on the treadmills of awards and directories.
“For too long now partners have dictated to us that directory submissions are the most important thing” chief marketing officer at Reed Smith Sadie Baron stated. “No matter what unique backgrounds or skills our team may have, this is what they always end up doing.”
Ashurst Advance Delivery head Mike Polson stated that ensuring everyone across the business is a part of the change is critical.
“We all need to own the client experience,” insisted Polson. “No longer can lawyers hide behind a technical and difficult facade”.
As well as getting BD directors more involved in client engagement, the culture and attitude of lawyers also needs to change. Osborne Clarke‘s managing partner Ray Berg reflected the need for trust that Murphy had raised.
“There is something about lawyers’ DNA which makes them like to be right,” admitted Berg. “As they progress through their careers they become less and less curious. Free them up a bit. Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration between lawyers and BD.”
Business development director at Dentons Damian Taylor stated that it is now time to change the way teams deliver.
“I detest the word ‘support’,” said Taylor. “We have such an amazing chance to change the dialogue. It’s not just about the tech, it’s the people and processes. Find your tech savvy people – they will drive this change.”
This approach was summed up in the following order:
- How they are using technology?
The panel suggested bringing in people from outside of the industry to introduce fresh ideas. Indeed, in this context it is notable that Freshfields’ new global head of MarTech Steve Lok, who later closed the summit, was a recent recruit from The Economist.
Make sure you are always in the room
Another point raised by the first panel of the day was the importance of ensuring that BD is always present. Teams need to recognise the need to immerse themselves in client relationships and attend meetings and events from a position of knowledge. It is not just the lawyers who represent the firm or should do the talking.
“Do everything you can to get in the room,” Sadie Baron stated, continuing that a key difference between UK and US firms is that the latter are much further ahead in this line of thinking. “We do GC roundtables, we go to events and get out business cards. I have an expectation of my team to ask questions at these events. Most importantly, what are our competitors doing? Ask if you can talk about the client experience and working with the firm. You will learn a lot things that you can then use.”
“I try and nudge everybody to go one step further,” Dentons’ Taylor concluded. “Go out and talk to the FTSE 100 CEOs. Our function is fundamentally about removing obstacles to action.”
The next panel, led by Amanda Wadey, head of practice development-commercial disputes at RPC, asked: “Are firms disconnected from their clients?”
When put to the audience, just over half (53 per cent) answered yes. When relationship mapping, it is important to speak in the language of the clients. Get under the skin of what a business does.
GC and company secretary of Royal London Fergus Speight said firms needed to think about client strategy, particularly in risk management.
“Think about what markets businesses play in,” said Speight. “What products are they selling? Very few law firms talk to me about this.”
Some firms do sector inductions where their BD teams can learn about the clients. Hogan Lovells, for example, holds industry sector retreats.
“We as clients want focused advice – firms need to recognise that it is a conversation of many parts in order to get to the solution,” stated Julia Boyle, director of legal affairs at Telefonica UK. “We want practical solutions, as well as legal advice.”
What does better collaboration between law firms and clients look like? The panel agreed on regular communication and regular billing. As managing the budget is one of a GC’s priorities, they need to be assured of price certainty. This then avoids big, ugly bills months down the line.
The panel members were in agreement that demonstrating that you care about the client is the best way to establish a deep relationship.
Be brave and be a voice
“Make the time for the client. Express curiosity and emotional intelligence. Be brave and be a voice,” Adam Soames, global head of business development and strategy at Hogan Lovells said.
Next up was marketing and tech start-up Passle to lead a session on: “How to win at marketing in a partner-led business”.
The panel was moderated by Passle chief marketing officer Connor Kinnear and discussed the importance of a strong and united relationship team, pitching ideas with each other and mastering relationship intelligence across the firm.
Nick Jones, director, client/market engagement, forensic and integrity services at EY brought insights from his role in one of the Big Four. He said that he set up a client relationship programme, introducing client partner forums where they could share experiences.
Richard Foley, senior partner at Pinsent Masons, explained that the firm has a development plan in place for its top 125 clients.
“We share our development plan with the clients and ask them what they think about it,” revealed Foley.
He added that lawyers and BD professionals should not always chase the most senior person such as the GC or CEO because much of the time the work is not being handed out by those in the most senior roles but often comes from more junior in-house legal team staffers.
“Instead of always trying to meet the most senior person, match your team with the client’s team and influence on all of the levels,” Foley said.
The panel discussed the merits of presenting with a team comprised of a range of professionals who step into a room with enthusiasm and interest. In order to ensure that the BD and marketing function is operating at an expert level, it is necessary to hire specialists, not generalists.
Wadey shared tips on how to fit BD into a 7.5 hour billable day. The key is to keep things simple, encouraging lawyers to do engage in at least some BD work every day. It may be just one email or a few minutes on the phone to a key individual.
Collaboration will naturally come when lawyers remove all barriers possible to develop their skillsets outside of law, Wadey added.
“One of our lawyers had his ‘list of legends’, which he would spend 10 or 15 minutes talking to each day” Wadey stated.
Kinnear was keen to find out about the changes with new partners, most of whom are digital natives that have grown up using a laptop instead of pen and paper.
Former DAC Beachcroft partner Nathan Butcher, now head of clients and markets, said that this mustn’t take the place of old-fashioned people skills.
“Yes, the new partners are comfortable using tech, but this isn’t enough,” argued Butcher. “They still need to be schooled and grounded in maintaining client relationships.”
Upscale your teams
Butcher referred to the investment DAC Beachcroft has made in partners and future partners by linking up with Oxford University’s SAID Business school to train them in BD.
Wadey highlighted how RPC sends its BD teams to trainee lawyer sessions, which helps to build their credibility in front of the partners.
“Upscale your teams and you will get results,” she insisted.
Nick Mason, CEO and founder of digital content marketing platform Turtl and Alessandra Jones, associate director of marketing, strategy and content at Baker McKenzie brought the summit almost to a close by discussing how to build firmwide credibility.
They addressed the ivory tower that continues to exist within law firms – BDs have a call to arms to rebrand themselves and realise that their job isn’t to serve the partnership.
“I am an optimist. Things are changing but we are still in between stations,” Jones said. “We are not yet embedded in the decision-making structures of the firm. When I joined my first law firm from a much more collaborative environment I was shocked by the lack of voice BD have.”
“Behind every rubbish piece of marketing there is a partner mandating it. How do we chip away at this?” Mason asked.
The answer is expertise and proof of concept. Jones said that once she learned the mindset of lawyers, it was transformational. “Lawyers are trained to learn from precedent. We are always thinking ahead. They can write the content, but it is us in marketing that can tell them if it is right – how to make it more client-centric and to reach more people.”
“In terms of building credibility, the key point is the measurement,” Mason added. “How far have you found digital and analytics to prove point of concept?”
When you build credibility, it shows people that marketing is an expertise. It doesn’t just add value – it shows that BD can work a certain magic that a lawyer can’t.
Clients at the heart of everything
The summit hailed the need for marketers to be brave and how firms must empower BD teams to help drive change. Marketers need to show their face to clients and have a firm hold on their competition. The advantages that come from taking on non-legal people are there to be reaped.
“Don’t count the people you reach, reach the people that count. Success is about getting a small number of the right people in the room,” Connor Kinnear said.
At the heart of all marketing, Richard Foley summed up the importance of deep and meaningful relationships.
“As a senior partner I want to know that the client cares and understands me too. If you want to get the best out of your legal service provider you have to spend time with them and get to know them.”
It only remained for Freshfields’ Steve Lok to bring the Summit to a close with an invigorating analysis of the impact of MarTech on the legal services sector.
Lok conceded that MarTech didn’t even exist four years ago but he had helped create a team at The Economist that had spearheaded data and transformative tech. Lok – who cheerfully described himself as “an alien” at his first-ever law firm – is now bringing the expertise that revolutionised The Economist’s marketing strategy to Freshfields.
He electrified the room at the end of the day with a presentation which put the hard yards most law firms still need to take into clear perspective. Kicking off his talk with an audio-visual onslaught of news anchors repeating an identical phrase, Lok described the tech-driven marketing landscape firms face as “a bloody battlefield” of messages and communications all competing for attention, highlighting clients’ insatiable demand for accurate and relevant information.
The overall aim is growth and success, Lok said, but warned: “Clients expect 24/7 nurturing behaviour.”