In this column, the Legal Marketing Association taps its leadership and membership brain trust to answer pressing questions on law firm marketing and business development.
QUESTION: It’s such an uncertain time. What’s your advice on how law firms can best communicate and evolve their marketing both during the COVID-19 shutdown and once business returns to “normal”?
Barbara Malin: Empathy Is the Constant
Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer, Jackson Walker LLP (@BB_Malin)
Law firms should be developing their strategy now for communications surrounding the reopening of client businesses following the shutdown. As with all aspects of the situation to date, there are a variety of legal issues clients will need to consider even before directives are issued regarding the resumption of business activity. Law firms should monitor developments that impact clients, identify the concerns that speak most directly to their particular clients, and create content that helps clients identify and address the legal issues they will face. In doing so, firms will help clients manage risk and achieve their business goals.
In general, clients will likely continue to be overwhelmed with information. To reach the broadest audience possible and to use content development time most efficiently, law firm communications teams will want to provide their content in a wide variety of formats, tailoring the depth of the content to the format in which it is delivered. Client alerts can become webinars, FAQs, podcasts, social media posts, and checklists. Content can be distributed through the firm website, email, social media, press releases and broadcast outlets. Mix and match the format and the outlet and there are endless possibilities for providing exactly the right content to clients at the right time.
Consider finding natural partners whose audiences have similar interests. Accounting and consulting firms, insurance brokers, investment bankers, private equity investors and venture capitalists are all likely to have contact lists full of businesses looking for legal advice. By partnering with these organizations in client outreach efforts, both sides deliver value to the ultimate client.
Finally, law firms that can create a sense of community will develop clients who are connected and loyal to the firm. Introducing a business grasping for liquidity to a banker offering small business loans may not generate immediate business but solves a problem for a client and can create enduring opportunities. Helping a client who has been furloughed find a new job opens doors that can yield business. Even something as simple as facilitating a conversation among clients in the same field about the challenges they will face in reopening their businesses showcases your firm’s deep understanding of the clients’ industry.
In the end, preparing for the post-COVID-19 shutdown world requires listening to clients and being empathetic to their needs. Firms that are successful in combining listening with empathy will serve as trusted guides to clients navigating the new business environment.
Jill Weber: “One Size Fits One”
Chief Business Development Officer, Quarles & Brady LLP – Past-President of LMA (@jsweber)
Focus on the needs of individual clients. We often say that “one size fits one” for clients — we need to tailor our communications and legal advice to each client’s business, culture and strategy. Clients seek personalized, customized advice on how to navigate a constantly changing business, economic and regulatory environment. This advice goes beyond the alerts and webinars to communicate directly with clients one-on-one to let them know what all this change means for their companies.
Also, in the absence of traditional face-to-face activities such as industry conferences, firm seminars and client entertainment, law firm marketing efforts will be more focused on tailored client communications, educating attorneys on emerging legal services outside of their primary areas of expertise, being receptive to and creative about alternative fee arrangements, and innovating to anticipate and serve future client needs.
Adam Severson: Higher-Level Thought Leadership
Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC – Past-President of LMA (@Baker_Donelson)
Firms should pivot their communications from managing the present to being long-term strategic advisors. This requires a delicate balance, but discussing long-term strategic considerations and impacts demonstrates a higher level of thought leadership and places you as a trusted advisor.
We are currently working with clients on consideration in three categories:
- Working in the “new normal”
Time frames and considerations will change by the client’s industry, but it provides a helpful construct.
Patricia Lilley: “It’s the Client, Stupid”
Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP – Immediate Past-President of LMA Northeast Region (@TrishLilley1)
While the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the global economy and even our society are far-reaching and arguably unprecedented, the fundamentals of marketing remain the same. Knowing your clients, understanding their needs and challenges, and aligning your messaging and services with your clients should still form the underpinnings of your strategy.
At the risk of sounding cliched: It’s the client, stupid.
- Communications. Law firm leaders — marketers and partners — should be communicating often with their clients and contacts. Come to those calls and emails prepared. A blanket “How can I help?” will not carry the conversation as far as a knowledgeable offer to assist with particular issues the client is facing. Do the legwork. Research the impact COVID-19 is having on the client’s industry: Are there supply chain or manufacturing interruptions? Will funding sources dry up? Do they face customer or workforce class actions? And what are some resources or guidance you can offer?
- Connection. Although the core principles of law firm marketing shouldn’t change markedly, the logistics certainly will. Gone — at least for a while — are the days of intimate business dinners, large-scale conferences and client happy hours. Pivot to ensure there are still meaningful opportunities for informal client interaction. Firm-led book clubs, virtual happy hours and thought leadership roundtables, and larger-scale webinars all offer the opportunity for client interaction and knowledge sharing. Creating compelling opportunities for connection and learning will attract clients to these types of events.
- Social media. Social media deserves continued attention in this environment. Consider creating a LinkedIn group for particular interests or business challenges. Or, form a Facebook group for #WFH parents balancing career demands with fourth-grade math lessons.
The pandemic has further blurred the boundaries between work and home, so showcase your own humanity authentically in a way that lets you connect with clients.
LMA is the universal voice of the legal marketing and business development profession. LMA brings together industry specialists from firms of all sizes and at every stage in their career: Consultants and vendors, lawyers, marketers from other professions, and marketing students can connect and share their collective knowledge and participate in a broad array of programs and services. Learn more at legalmarketing.org and follow us @LMAIntl.
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