Marketing should have a lead role in any law firm’s strategic planning process for several reasons:
- Marketers are likely to have at least as much formal business training as anyone in firm management. This often includes training in competitive intelligence and strategic planning (not to mention product, price, place and promotion).
- The marketing department should be relentlessly outwardly focused on the business environment while attorneys tend to be inwardly focused on the firm itself and their own clients.
- Marketers are less likely than attorney leadership to have personal agendas that may conflict with the long-term health of the firm.
- Marketers (and, of course, finance folks) are generally more comfortable with numbers than attorneys.
Before everyone rolls up their sleeves and eagerly starts planning, time should be taken to plan the planning process. There are several impediments to development of the best possible law firm strategic plan that should be addressed head-on as a firm plans to plan. There are exceptions, but generally:
- Those with the most power in the firm are older partners with large books of business. They are much closer to retirement than younger partners and therefore tend to be more reluctant to make substantial investments for the long-term good of the firm, such as expansion (geographic, practices, industry foci), new technologies, alternative methods of delivering legal services and ancillary businesses. Long-term investments are inherently against the financial self-interest of the most powerful attorneys. So, push to populate the committee with forward-looking members.
- Any strategic plan should address succession planning at several levels, including top firm management (e.g., executive committee and managing partners), practice management, various committees and, most importantly, client relationship management. For various reasons, many firms skirt the succession issue whenever it comes up. Any serious planning process must address succession in its various forms.
- In any business, people tend to do most and best when they believe they are being paid to do (duh!). So, in law firm planning, the compensation system must be part of the discussion. Again, the most senior attorneys tend to wield the most power and have the most to lose when the compensation model changes. In some firms, “origination credit” endures as long as a partner and their clients are with the firm, and in some firms client ownership is even passed down across generations of attorneys. Such models are substantial impediments to effective cross-selling and generally counter to the financial health of the firm. Firms with compensation systems that do not “sunset” origination credit after, say, five years should include such discussions in their planning.
Regarding each of these three crucial topics, marketers can play an objective role because they do not have personal financial interest in the outcomes.
However, earning a seat at the table takes more than objectivity. Marketers must be able to demonstrate that they bring unique skills that will facilitate the development of the best possible plan. For this you need a model or framework, and I don’t mean, “Let’s do a SWOT analysis.”
If you’re not already steeped in strategic planning methods, I strongly recommend that you begin by studying Michael E. Porter’s “Competitive Strategy.” I have worked with several planning frameworks and have found that his “5 Forces” approach provides the best model around which to develop a law firm’s strategic plan.
One of the most satisfying aspects of being a law firm marketer is the opportunity to work with attorneys who are very smart and respect data (i.e., evidence). They are predisposed to appreciate a rigorous approach to planning grounded in a tried-and-true framework utilizing credible intelligence. Of course, this requires that you have access to relevant data regarding:
- Demand for the legal services under consideration;
- The competition: how much is there and how good are they perceived to be;
- Client satisfaction with current service providers;
- Available talent; and
- Costs of doing business (e.g., overhead, comp, marketing) in your target markets.
Finally, it is important to note that the plan should cover three to five years. Any plan claiming to have a useful life beyond that is nonsense. At some point in the next decade there will be a substantial discontinuity. It might be a war, an economic meltdown, a hugely disruptive technology or something else, but it will happen. It always does, and your plan will not live through it.
Convince firm management that you can facilitate the planning effort using a proven framework/approach and solid intelligence—not “gut instinct”—and you may well just find yourself occupying that coveted seat at the table.
Mark T. Greene, Ph.D. is chief marketing officer at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie. For three decades, Mark has been one of the pioneers in legal marketing and business development. He is a frequent speaker and writer regarding market research, competitive intelligence, branding and business strategy for professional service firms.
Mark was inducted into the Legal Marketing Association's Hall of Fame in 2008, is a distinguished graduate alumni of the University of North Carolina, is a fellow and trustee of the College of Law Practice Management, was named in the inaugural list of "Business of Law Trailblazers & Pioneers" by the National Law Journal/ALM, and was a 2014 winner of Nashville Business Journal’s CMOs of the Year Award. Mark was trained by GE as a Six Sigma Black Belt and Champion.
Outside the marketing world, Mark is active on behalf of environmental organizations and is a master SCUBA diver, Boy Scout leader and avid cyclist.