Now is not the time to be timid

Now is not the time to be timid

lion vectorBeing responsible for law firm marketing and business development is difficult enough at the best of times but during the last few years, especially at the height of the recession, holding down such a position has been particularly challenging. Fear of redundancy, less budget to work with (much less in many cases), marketing departments with fewer staff and more demanding partners, who themselves have been under enormous pressure to keep the profits rolling in, have contributed to an environment where many marketers have been focusing purely on survival.

Generally, firms have taken a cautious approach to investments in marketing during this period, not wanting to spend much money and loathed to try new ideas for fear of these failing. Sadly, what a lot of firms actually needed was to be a bit braver by investing more, for example, by getting independent, objective feedback from their key clients and using this to build stronger relationships and generate greater revenue flows.

Now, however, with the economic recovery on a firm(ish) footing (certainly in the United Kingdom) it is time for many firms to stop being so timid, to stick their heads above the parapet and to start ensuring that they are investing in those marketing and business development practices which will have a positive long term impact.

Too many law firms remain undifferentiated from their competitors, which in the low-growth, highly competitive markets which most inhabit is not a good thing. Many mid-market firms lacking a clear sector focus or international capability struggle to project a strong brand against which their partners and other fee-earners can successfully prospect for new work. Firms tempted into merging just to increase their scale need to recognise that such moves rarely deliver any material benefits for clients and any cost savings achieved are usually short term in their benefit, especially their impact on partner profits.

Long term profitable growth for most law firms requires a focus on specific market segments – where the firm can demonstrate real expertise which sets it apart from other firms – a commitment to understanding client need, and a service delivery model which is underpinned by a focus on quality and the efficient application of the firm’s resources to resolve clients’ problems whilst providing value for money.

From a marketing perspective, this requires deep market insights spanning:

  • an understanding of the key industry issues affecting clients – both today and into the future
  • the specific legal advisory needs linked to these
  • how satisfied existing clients are with the firm
  • perceptions of the firm including its reputation, propensity of the target market to use it in the future and competitive positioning compared to its main rivals

A marketing strategy then needs to be formulated based on these insights, with clear, measurable objectives and actions to grow the firm’s existing key clients, build brand position around a differentiated service proposition, target key organisations (and within these key decision-makers), improve internal marketing, and, above all, put systems and processes in place to measure the effectiveness of all marketing and business activity to ensure a continuous improvement in marketing return on investment.

Most partners have little if any understanding of this challenge, so it is up to marketers to explain and make the case for such an approach. In our experience, some boards are now focusing on these issues again, not least because the highly competitive nature of the market is only going to get fiercer and “carrying on as before” is not an option. External consultants can help by bringing a dispassionate view of the challenges facing firms and an understanding of what the ‘best in class’ firms are doing, thereby demonstrating what activities your firm must try and emulate or, even better, surpass.

So, it’s time many law firms stopped acting like timid mice and learned to roar like lions.

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About the author:

Kevin Wheeler has been advising professional services firms on all aspects of marketing and business development for more than 30 years. As a consultant he helps firms to manage and grow their key clients as well as to win new ones. As a Meyler Campbell qualified coach he works with partners and those approaching partnership to improve their BD skills.