Posted by: johnocunningham | September 4, 2015

What Managing Partners and Practice Leaders Want From Legal Marketers

September is here, and in-house legal marketing pros need to begin preparing budgets for 2016. Some will even have to justify their existence once again, and prove how legal marketing produces a return on investment for lawyers.

So this is a great time to take stock in what leading lawyers – such as managing partners – have to say about legal marketing and what they want from their in-house professionals.

I have had a chance to ask many managing partners what they most want to get from their legal marketers that they are not getting now, and I have discerned that there a few answers to that question which are common to the majority of law firm leaders.

The biggest recurring themes as to what legal marketers have to work on are:

  1. Knowing the client’s industry. This is ironic, considering that legal marketers have been preaching this axiom to lawyers for years. Marketing pros may think they know all about the legal industry, but the managing partners and those lawyers charged with marketing oversight don’t think so. I have not had a chance to delve deeply into what is behind this complaint, but I have been told that marketers don’t understand the practice of law well enough. They don’t bother to learn the lexicon of law, they don’t learn the concepts of each legal discipline in the firm, and some don’t even seem interested in doing so (as if “the law” were some place in outer space that nobody sane would want to visit).
  2. Knowing the client’s business. Again, this is ironic for obvious reasons, but a number of managing partners have told me through the years that they would love to ratchet up the understanding of how and from whom their firms make money, what it costs to run the business, who their principal referral sources are, and more. I wonder why managing partners would not push this business information out to legal marketers and set a clear expectation of understanding it, but perhaps the partners want marketers to take more initiative to gather this information from practice leaders, accounting people and IT people who can pull together lots of data. Marketers often complain that firms don’t do enough data collection, but maybe the marketers just need to take the bull by the horns and go get that data. When I was a chief legal officer, I did not wait for my CEO to hand me a set of data he wanted me to analyze about legal settlements, verdicts, risk exposures and legal representation expenses for the company – I flushed the key data out from other departments and then presented it to my CEO along with recommendations about how we could do better. Some of my proposed initiatives were adopted, others not, but the CEO was always comfortable that I was doing my job of presenting him with the information garnered from hard work and presenting proposals for improvement based on the data he thought was relevant.
  3. Knowing the client. We hear this same complaint from general counsel, who say that lawyers would do well to understand their individual preferences regarding methods, styles and regularity of communication, as well as what is most important to communicate. It is important to present critical information to the partner that the partner views as relevant, and the information must be communicated in the style, time and place that facilitates the client’s focus on it. Marketers know that, yet managing partners and other lawyers who are charged with legal marketing oversight have repeatedly stated that this is an area where in-house marketers need improvement.

With some improvement in these key areas, legal marketing pros can earn the respect they deserve while greatly improving the client satisfaction scores among the lawyer-clients they serve. As marketing-communication professionals, we all understand that lawyers are in a service business, but sometimes we forget that we are too.

I offer to legal marketing clients crash courses in law and working with executives based on many years of relevant experience. For more information, please feel free to contact me at the phone number or email address in the right-hand column of my site.

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