Early on in my career, a well-respected mentor and rainmaker told me: “You are only as valuable as your book of clients, many of whom could care less about whose name is on the door of the firm where you practice.” It’s never too early for new attorneys to envision themselves as valuable assets that require individualized marketing strategies for business development success. As legal clientele become increasingly savvy in accessing alternative resources to obtain general legal advice, and as the new normal of legal services delivery continues to evolve toward a focus on engaging specialized counsel, most legal marketing professionals agree that associates should go to market early and often.
An effective legal marketing plan should be authentic, results-oriented, relationship-driven, and combine passion and innovation. These elements serve as the groundwork for any successful marketing strategy at the associate level.
A legal marketing plan goes beyond putting pen to paper to memorialize a discrete revenue goal. Instead, it requires a degree of introspection to ensure that one’s marketing efforts are authentic and, therefore, more likely to be fruitful and yield positive results. Challenge associates to take ownership of and accountability for setting their personal marketing goals. If, for example, they desire to increase contacts within a specific industry or target organization, develop a plan tailored towards meeting that objective. Avoid pushing an associate to focus his or her efforts on an area or topic about which he or she may not be comfortable. If one’s marketing strategy is driven by authenticity and desire, then when the pressures of the practice begin to weigh heavily, the chances of success increase substantially.
Develop Results-Oriented Plans
Have a frank and open conversation with your associate about his or her definition of a marketing success. Does success mean converting 10 existing relationships into 10 engagements? Does success mean increasing his or her profile locally, at the state level or nationally? Does success mean publishing a certain number of articles on one or a variety of legal issues? Does success mean securing several speaking engagements to brand the attorney as a subject-matter specialist? Perhaps success means converting his or her passion for community service into meaningful business opportunities?
Defining one’s vision will provide a framework within which to measure legal marketing achievements.
Task associates with tracking their progress and setting measurable goals. A marketing plan is not a rigid document, rather it is an organic tool that will evolve as one learns which strategies yield success and which result in failures. The key to sticking with a marketing plan is to be realistic about how much time and energy one can spend on meeting pre-established benchmarks and objectives. Advise associates to be efficient about their marketing endeavors. For example, ask them to be proactive when attending conferences by setting up in-person meetings in advance. Additionally, when volunteering to assist with organizing a program or panel for bar or industry associations, remind them to seize opportunities to develop or strengthen relationships with high-profile speakers or organizational leaders. In the end, a results-oriented plan will help focus marketing initiatives and enhance productivity.
An effective associate marketing plan should be individualized and relationship-driven. It should take into consideration existing contacts and clients that can translate into potential engagements in the long term. Associates should assess their networks, including family, friends, professional contacts in legal and other industries, classmates from all educational levels, and religious, charitable and community organizations. Help them create a written game plan for nurturing those relationships, including realistic timelines for periodic follow-up telephone calls or emails. As a successful mentor once told me, business development can be as simple as breakfast, lunch and dinner. This underscores the notion that relationship-driven marketing is a simple, yet high-opportunity cost proposition that can be mastered through regular contact and is, therefore, a critical component of any associate marketing plan.
Combine Passion with Innovation
Many new associates are millennials. They hail from a generation motivated by passion; they value professional experiences that are both meaningful and lucrative. Inspire associates to think outside the box and create innovative strategies for marketing themselves to lawyers and non-lawyers alike. While bar associations offer a great introduction to the profession, consider advising associates to focus on penetrating industry-specific organizations. Alternatively, bar associations can serve as a platform to address important legal or social issues about which an associate may be passionate. My personal experience in leading a national American Bar Association Task Force and spearheading programming aimed at confronting social justice causes have proved invaluable to developing a national network of legal and professional contacts. The key to innovative marketing is differentiation and the early identification of legal service opportunities created by new business trends and technological advancements.
Most importantly, attorneys need to reach technical proficiency at the earlier stages in their careers. While no marketing plan can replace the experience gained by a natural matriculation through the practice of law, consider exposing newer lawyers to non-traditional avenues for practical skills development. These opportunities often come in the form of pro bono cases, either through a firm pro bono program or referrals from a local, state, federal or low-income legal assistance referral network.
Additionally, many jurisdictions or bar associations have amicus curiae committees, which offer invaluable experiences to hone written and appellate advocacy skills. Provided a new attorney has adequate access to supervision and guidance, pro bono or low-income legal referral cases can offer important first-chair trial, litigation, appellate, mediation, negotiation and transactional experiences that may not be readily available in a firm setting. From a marketing standpoint, new lawyers can demonstrate the value added to potential clientele by taking advantage of opportunities to perfect their craft.
Marketing can be a daunting task, particularly to those who are both inexperienced in the law and equally inexperienced in the art of business development. The key to success in legal marketing at any stage is to have fun, be true to yourself, develop a plan and stick to it.
Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan is resident in the Miami office of Berger Singerman LLP and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-982-4036.