Posted by: johnocunningham | July 30, 2014

Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It (update)

I have noticed in recent months that an article I wrote almost exactly two years ago has continued to receive lots of hits and reads online – the article being entitled, “Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It.”

Since this piece continues to attract readers, I thought I should provide an update to it, adding one more reason that some lawyers are not enthusiastically enrolling in marketing efforts, despite the fact that they need to do so for survival in an increasingly competitive world.

I am not sure how I overlooked this glaring omission from my first summary, but it can be summarized in one phrase: “Internal Politics.” This is something I hear about only in whispers from people who would never go on the record, but the whispers are prevalent and problematic for law firms.

The problem seems to be a matter of turf and sometimes seniority. Some lawyers don’t like marketing efforts – by OTHERS – because those efforts, if successful, will result in less open turf for hunting down origination fees. Other lawyers, those who are more conflict-averse, don’t want to bump heads with someone over origination credits for new business with a large corporate client that numerous people have contacted over the years. They just don’t want to battle their own teammates.

“I met that contact last year at a conference, and I had him first. I can’t believe you did not tell me you were going after him. I got him primed, I gave him all the info about our firm, and I expect to get the credit. You can’t just go walking all over the place, handing out business cards.” That is about the way that a hypothetical “turf” lecture from an established partner might go.

Associates, in particular, get mixed messages about marketing. On the one hand, the firm’s ostensible leaders – such as the managing partner and the CMO – will encourage all lawyers to be more active in business development and marketing efforts. But on the other hand, some power partners who never have enough turf to pee on will tell those junior lawyers: “You need to focus on serving clients and being the best lawyer you can be at this stage of your career. Business development is something you can focus on when you are a partner.”

Those admonishing senior lawyers purport to be concerned about “learning the craft” but what they are really concerned about is more competition from within. What associates are not told, but should understand is that there are only a few ways to make partner, and developing a book of business is one of them. Partnership is conferred on fewer individuals over time, and that makes it harder and harder to make partner just “by doing good work.”

There are lots of grunts out there who can work long hours, and there is always a next generation that will work harder and put in longer hours. People who make partner will generally make it for economic reasons – they have their own book of business, or they are so loved by clients that they could walk away with them, or their rich uncles sit on the boards of big companies or run the government agencies that regulate corporate clients.

Thus, lawyers have yet another reason to hate marketing, but a more compelling reason to embrace it – survival.


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