By Elise Holtzman
On a daily basis, law firm marketing professionals are called upon to deploy their education, experience and understanding of the legal marketplace to help position their law firms for success. Even in firms that recognize the critical role marketing professionals play, legal marketers frequently encounter obstacles posed by managing partners and other lawyer-leaders who control the budget and make the final decisions.
While it’s understandable to become frustrated when your initiatives aren’t adopted, blaming management or focusing on what lawyers are doing “wrong” will not get you closer to your goals. Instead, improve your results and reduce stress by (a) understanding your audience and (b) deploying tools of influence that make it easier for leaders to consider and implement your proposals.
Understand Your Target Buyer
As with any marketing endeavor, begin by doing a deep dive on your target market — in this case, law firm lawyer-leaders. What are their goals and what motivates them? What are they excited about and what do they fear? What are their strengths and where are their blind spots? How were they trained and what skills and experience do they have?
Most lawyers would agree that those who choose to attend law school are not natural risk takers and are not interested in being salespeople. Law school didn’t teach them anything about business development and marketing. In fact, most lawyers currently in leadership positions were admonished that marketing legal services is unseemly and unprofessional. The message was that if you do good work, the clients will naturally follow.
Once at a law firm, junior attorneys are expected to gain technical skills and bill hours but still don’t receive training in business principles or leadership skills. Partners get tapped for leadership roles for any number of reasons but not necessarily because their skills match the needs of the position. In short, many of them signed up for one job and were asked to do another. On top of managing their own clients and matters, they must manage firm finances, protect their partners and employees, navigate unexpected circumstances such as pandemics and economic downturns and chart the future of the firm.
Sharpen Your Tools of Influence
Armed with a deeper knowledge of lawyers’ educational and experiential background as well as their responsibilities and concerns, follow these four tips to more effectively influence their decisions:
- Beware the curse of knowledge. Once you know something, it’s hard to remember what it was like not to know it. Remind yourself that what seems self-evident to you is not obvious to others. Lawyers are not marketing experts any more than you are an authority on the tax code or employment law. They are smart enough to understand it, but they are not constantly immersed in it — give them the time and explanations they need to get on board.
- Invest in internal relationships. A well-known marketing cliché is that people do business with those they know, like and trust. Employ that rule of thumb by taking the time to develop authentic relationships with firm leaders.
- Test-drive your big ideas. Before making your case to the ultimate decision makers, solicit feedback from both internal allies and skeptics. Although you may not enjoy hearing from those you consider to be naysayers, doing so will enable you to illuminate blind spots and strengthen your proposals.
- Flex your communication style. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating your ideas. Instead, pay attention to how individual leaders with whom you frequently interact prefer to receive and process information and how they make decisions. For example, is the lawyer a future-focused, big picture thinker who prefers to hear about the long-term impact of an initiative? Or a practical, detail-oriented issue-spotter who needs to understand the “how” before signing off? Take note of the leader’s preferences and tailor your approach accordingly.
Getting buy-in for your marketing initiatives requires that you cultivate the ability to influence decision makers who are smart, capable and well-meaning but typically lack training and experience as leaders and drivers of growth and innovation. It can be frustrating to feel the need to “lead from behind,” but with the right mindset, insight into the lawyer experience and tools to influence others, it is possible to guide leaders to make decisions that will benefit your law firm and its stakeholders.
Elise Holtzman is a former practicing attorney, executive coach and the founder of The Lawyer’s Edge —where for the last 12 years she has worked with law firms to grow thriving businesses by training and coaching lawyers to become better business developers and leaders. Elise speaks and writes frequently on the subject of business development for lawyers and is the host of The Lawyer’s Edge podcast.