Marketing your future
by David J Bilinsky
...And all that surround you, Are secrets and lies
I’ll be your strength, I’ll give you hope,
Keeping your faith when it’s gone
The one you should call, Was standing here all along...
Music by Richard Marx. Recorded by ‘NSync.
You scan the financial pages – after reading the headlines you wish you were in the business of making red ink. The giants are toppling, the EU is joining the West’s downward slide and heavy weather is expected for the foreseeable future. Law.com reports that cash-starved clients are shuffling legal bills to the bottom of the pile – at a time when law firms have taken on increasing amounts of debt. What to do in a squeeze? When the going gets tough, the tough go marketing.
What me, advertise? The Gallup Management Journal, July 2001, reported that last year US companies spent $244 billion on various forms of advertising. According to Jennifer Jones, (Senior VP, Herrmann Advertising Design) most legal firms allocate two-three per cent of gross revenue for all marketing activities. A 2001 LMA survey found that on average, a US law firm’s budget for advertising is $80,500 (I wish I could find similar Canadian statistics…). We all know that advertising is just one part of an overall marketing plan. But to break it down into component parts, what does advertising actually do? According to the Law Marketing Portal (www.lawmarketing.com) advertising brings attention to a brand. What is a brand? A brand is a promise. What are the difficulties with effective marketing? First you have to develop your promise – something that makes you unique in your chosen market (think of what the words FedEx, Microsoft, McDonalds bring to mind). Let us assume that you have developed your promise and wish to market it. Now you run up against “static” – the collective memory of prior unkempt promises that cause a “yeah-sure” reaction to a poor advertising promotion (I am sure you can think of several examples here).
Now comes the hard part – it is counter-productive to publicize a promise if you don’t follow through – adding to the overall “static”. Unfortunately broken promises by lawyers in general have created a sceptical, “jaundiced” legal market. But you say, that has a lot to do with practising in difficult and contentious legal areas – like family law – surely not among solid corporate/commercial type practices. Well, a new study by the BTI Consulting Group of Boston of more than 170 corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 companies shows that these clients are largely dissatisfied with their outside law firms. Some of their key findings were:
- Only 24.7 per cent of clients are satisfied with their outside law firms;
- Clients plan to reduce core law firms they use by half; and
- 46 per cent of law firms are seeing their market share erode – especially at the big firms.
The 75.3 per cent of clients that do not recommend their primary law firms told BTI that their law firms aren’t bad – they just aren’t good. Call it B-minus performances. As one client put it, “they (the primary law firms) do just enough to enable us to barely tolerate the service levels.” This research showed that clients are not looking for legal skills as the key to satisfaction – they believe they can find those at most good firms. What clients can’t find is good client service.
What is good client service? Fortune 1000 clients define this as responsiveness, proactive business advice, knowledge and understanding of their company, and going above and beyond baseline or minimum requirements.
So really effective marketing is all about developing a promise that you can take to your prospective clients and then following through on the spoken and unspoken promises that you make to your new clients. Steps you can take now which will assist in the follow-through on your marketing activities include:
The #1 bugbear of clients is and remains having lawyers return telephone calls. What is the optimum time to return a phone call? Two hours. How many of us have a secretary or other lawyer sort through phone slips and contact the client and inform them that you have not yet returned from court, from the discovery, from the business meeting – and offer to take a detailed note of the client’s concerns? The client at least gets the message that the firm is concerned with their call and is willing to try to help them.
Train your staff
Are your staff friendly and professional? How are your telephones answered – hint – have a friend call your firm when you are out and ask for you – what are they told? Were you “simply out of the office” or “in court”? Did they receive a time when you would be back? Was there any offer to direct your call for personal attention (if desired) or just “would you like to speak to voicemail?” Voicemail is fine for most but not everyone likes or wants to use that option. Speaking of voicemail, does your message give any indication that you are at least present in this hemisphere and will be returning within the year? Change your greeting – daily – and let clients know if they can reasonably expect to hear from you today, this week or this month.
Prime your receptionist
It has often been said the most important person in any law firm is the receptionist – as he/she has front line contact with all new clients. What kind of training has been given to your receptionist? Does he/she greet clients by name? Are coffee/tea immediately offered? Coats/hats/umbrellas taken and stored? Does your receptionist try to help the client feel comfortable (after all, coming to see a lawyer can be traumatic), welcome and important? Are clients kept waiting? Does the receptionist make appropriate small talk with the client while they wait?
It is fine to create a tight crew but the captain has to take the same medicine. How do you manage your own client’s expectations? How is your follow-through? Do you leave a stack of unreturned phone call messages on your desk at the end of the day? Do you make promises to clients that drift past all reasonable dates for completion? You have the unenviable job of setting the example – and all of us have experienced a situation of “do as I say not as I do….”
Keep fingers on the pulse
When any client calls up and asks
“What has happened on my file?” How long does it take you to find out and tell them? Hint: Invest in case management. These inexpensive products allow you to have your practice at your fingertips. Examples are Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, CaseMaster – even Outlook can function in this capacity.
In a world of unfulfilled expectations and broken promises, it is refreshing if lawyers can market themselves as people that can keep the faith, be the client’s hope and strength, and be the one person that the client should have called all along.
Who wants to be on the Hot Seat?
The category is “Claims, Complaints, Ethics and Scruples” and your host is Dave Bilinsky. On September 21, as part of the Day of Law, participate in a game show where the questions are based on real-life situations reported to the Law Society. Cases that lead to complaints, citations, investigations, discipline hearings, ethical dilemmas, liability pitfalls, insurance claims and conduct reviews are covered, along with issues lawyers tackle in everyday practice. Both audience and players get to play and vote on “What’s the best thing to do?” Experts help with strategies for avoiding complaints and insurance claims. It’s not always easy – and some of the answers may surprise you!
He can be reached on the Internet at email@example.com. The views expressed herein are strictly those of the author and may not be shared by the Law Society of British Columbia.
This article originally appeared in the August 2001 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.