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Here Are Four Considerations...

The last thing a lawyer wants is for clients and  potential  clients to view him or her as  a  commodity,   providing  little  value at an exorbitant price. More recently, there   has   been   the  acknowledgement by  many  attorneys  that  marketing  has the  capacity   to  change   that   negative image  and to  create  credibility,   trust, and top-of-the-mind-awareness. This general acceptance  has evolved for a number of reasons, including increased competition, a more  discerning  client, and the Internet, with its capacity to provide comparative  information  and serve as an outlet for purchase.

Marketing and StrategyThe manner  in  which  marketing  has  been  incorporated into the legal sector seems to be a function of size, available resources, and attitudes of partners. In general, the larger the size of the law firm, the larger the budget, and the more that marketing has been supported by senior partners, the greater the chance that a full-service marketing department will be put in place, often including an outside advertising agency. Midsized firms usually have 1-2 individuals responsible for marketing, typically assigned to creating and implementing marketing tactics, such as collaterals, web maintenance, and events. Smaller firms, including solo practices, have turned to marketing consulting firms who specialize in a variety of marketing tactics, especially website design and maintenance, including social media. Those that have neither adequate resources nor a belief in marketing tend to rely on the 2 BIG R’s of legal marketing, Referrals and Rainmaking. [I should note that this flexibility is not always possible in that some ABA State chapters may restrict certain marketing tactics, especially advertising.

I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with this rational approach to employing marketing as part of your firm’s planning. I am suggesting, however, that whatever resources you spend on marketing can be further leveraged if you think about marketing differently.

Begin with the assumption that understanding the principles of marketing are likely beyond your comprehension, given your current situation. None of us can understand all the complexities of strategic marketing, but you should know enough to gauge whether you are getting your money’s worth. I’m sure that you know how to read basic financial statements or assess whether the best employee has been hired. Why shouldn’t you have a fundamental understanding of strategic marketing? I have recently learned a bit about family law. You can do as much about marketing.

I offer the following simple definition: Marketing is finding, satisfying, and retaining profitable customers. This process is laid out through a comprehensive marketing plan. Marketing objectives are reached through specific marketing strategies and marketing tactics. However, strategies and tactics differ across industries, situations, and available resources. Simply, the principles of effective marketing are universal, but the details are the hard part.

The following considerations will help you discern the optimum role of strategic marketing in your firm.

For Your Consideration
Based on my 40 years working in the legal sector, along with the answers to the primary research I conducted in 2010, I have come away with four considerations that I believe will optimize your marketing efforts.

1. Dispel the Myths
Most lawyers I have met don’t seem to like marketing. I have speculated as to the reasons, uncertain as to whether my assumptions were valid. I believe, however, that the insightful blog, “Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It,” authored by John O. Cunningham, lists ten reasonable explanations as to why lawyers shun marketing: (1) Marketing violates our traditions and/or professional ethics, (2) Clients hate being sold to, (3) My time is better spent on “real work,” (4) Marketing is a distinct profession so I could do more harm than good with it, (5) I went to law school to practice law and do not run a business, (6) Lawyers have nothing ‘hard’ to sell so marketing does not apply to us, (7) This is simply outside of my comfort zone, (8) I do not have any spare time – I’m already busy, (9) I survive on referrals– marketing is a waste of money, and (10) I know how to market – I don’t need you. Rather than offering solutions for changing these assumptions, as did Mr. Cunningham, I will simply label each reason as either true or untrue, in my opinion.

Let me begin with the three that I believe are true or partially true. It is partially true that lawyers have no business doing serious marketing. Like the law, marketing is complex and is difficult to do well without the necessary training. I also believe that it is true that lawyers likely went to law school so that they didn’t have to manage a business [but they better learn], along with other career paths. Finally, while it is true that getting referrals is still the key for most law firms, I am convinced that strategic marketing can greatly facilitate this process.

The remaining  seven  beliefs  I  judge  as  excuses  for  not doing marketing. They are simply not true. This notion that marketing is unethical has long been a criticism of marketing. It is based on the assumption that all marketing is manipulative and intends to trick customers. In fact, the origin for this belief was that attorneys should not engage in mass media advertising. Lawyers have always done some form of marketing, even if they didn’t call it marketing. Law firms have always created and maintained products in the form of their attorneys, and their  related  skills.  Billable  hours  and  the  associated  rates were how these products were priced. Offices were rented or built to distribute these products. Messages were created to communicate about these products through a variety of venues.

Lawyers are marketers after all. They’re just not very good marketers.

You need to give marketing a break, and recognize that these false assumptions are holding you back from your optimum level of success. I believe that few lawyers have the time or capacity to do serious marketing. You should, however, be able to read and comprehend a basic marketing plan. [My survey research of attorneys revealed that 22% felt they could do this.]

In the end, lawyers should let someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to do the marketing they choose not to do. In fact, I suggest that you try to find a marketing mentor. When I was a professor at the University of Denver I started a Marketing Roundtable. Perhaps an equivalent organization is near you.

2. It's All About Relationships
Go to any workshop or read any article on legal marketing and you will be told that effective marketing is all about “building relationships” with clients. This will be followed by some supportive statistic such as, “It’s eight times more expensive to acquire a new client than to keep an existing client.” [I always wanted to see the data that supports such statements.]

Instead of thinking about customer relationships in terms of time, I would like to suggest that the attitude you have toward your clients and they have toward you is a better mindset worth adopting.

When I started teaching marketing in 1968, the popular term was “ being consumer oriented.” In other words, always think about your client and potential client first in respect to an optimal match. This does not necessarily posit, “The customer is always right.” Instead, ask the following questions. Can you best satisfy the needs and wants of this client? Can you offer real value? Would you being willing to refer a potential client to another attorney? Do you really care about your clients? Do they care about you?

It doesn’t matter whether you are in a one-night stand or a fifty-year marriage, in a good relationship, you will both be satisfied during the time you are together. You both have known expectations that you try to satisfy.

All positive relationships are based on relevant communications.   The  frequency  and  content  of  this communication tends to change over time and across situations. An attorney must realize that effective communications is a critical part of their various relationships as well. Sound legal marketing will guide all your communications, making it relevant and consistent. At the beginning, you inform and persuade. In the middle you support, re-inform, and renew. Relationships end. Therefore, there also needs to be a win-win exit strategy, supported by meaningful information. Do you want an ex-client spreading negative stories? Still, there are bad clients.

A relationship may last hours or years. Either way marketing will help you maximize relationships. As an aside, I’m a fan of newsletters and blogs.

3. Do The Plan

Imagine you were just hired to represent a 37 year-old man accused of armed robbery. The very first thing you did was to create your witness list. Doesn’t make much sense does it? In law school you were taught about strategic planning. Each case you work on, no matter how small or complex is backed with a thorough plan. Yet, in the context of legal marketing, planning is absent. Historically, it has been all about tactics, such as events, websites, social media, golf tournaments, and rainmaking, to name but a few. This is not surprising given the historic position of marketing in the legal sector. However, this is no longer appropriate given the challenges mentioned earlier. You need to understand marketing planning. At least at its roots. The following figure illustrates a typical marketing plan. Notice its simplicity. The steps are linear and the process is rational. You research the situation. You decide who your customers are. You decide what you want to accomplish. You decide how you will accomplish these objectives. Finally, you determine to what extent you have achieved your objectives.

The benefits of having a written plan are well established. Most notably, it establishes coherent objectives, along with a process for achieving these objectives via strategies and tactics. The research I conducted in 2010 indicated that only 11% of lawyers indicated they had a formal marketing plan. Therefore, if you do not have a formal marketing plan you are not alone. Given that possibility, what are your options? First,  do  the  best  you  can  to  create  a  simple  marketing plan. Second, use this plan as a reference point for all your marketing strategies and tactics.

“Marketing is not marketing is not marketing.” For four decades, marketing academics have divided marketing into two sectors, i.e., goods marketing and services marketing. Goods marketing refers to traditionally manufactured products that have tangible components. Look around your office and you will note many goods products, including your office furniture, your computer, your art objects, and books and magazines. You may use all five of your senses to perceive these objects. Therefore, perception is possible, as are comparisons. Traditional marketing strategies are in reference to goods products. Think Coca-Cola, Ford, Apple, Sony, and Swingline Staplers.

Service products, on the other hand, are intangible. They are ideas, people, processes, and activities. If we put all products on a tangibility continuum, there are pure goods products, such as grain, water, and lumber, and pure service products at the other end, such as information providers, religion, consulting, politics, and the law. Service products now represent over 70% of GDP. Remember the old cliché, “Information is power.”

The Marketing PlanMost products are somewhere in the middle, having both tangible and intangible components. For example, all goods products sold through a retail outlet also have support service elements, mostly in the form of sales clerks, parking, restrooms, and product displays, to name but a few. If you are to market a  service  product  that  is  intangible,  such  as  the  law,  you must locate tangible surrogates, such as your attorneys, your staff, convenient and safe locations, a coherent website, and so forth. Be forewarned, these tangibles must be relevant to clients, not the partners. In addition, because people deliver your law products it is important that your staff is well trained, knowledgeable, personable, and understand your business. The challenge is to standardize an intangible product. [If you would to learn more about Service Products consider my blog, “If Your Product is Intangible—Pay Attention.”]

It is vital that whatever marketing is conducted in your firm, you make the necessary adjustments that go hand-in-hand with service products. It begins with the creation of excellent products in the form of lawyers and support staff. It continues with a set of strategies and tactics that are perceptible to clients in a meaningful manner. Finally, all of these decisions should be supported by marketing research.

The ideas I have presented in this article reflect the notorious “tip of the iceberg.” My intent is to change your perspective about marketing. Marketing can be valuable for your firm if you will only give it a place at the table. It requires that you reconsider the biases you hold against marketing. It is  best  utilized  through  a  strategic  plan. If you hire someone to do some or all of your marketing, make sure they consider the plan as a critical starting point, rather than tactics. Strive for positive relationships and  be  relentless  in  your  follow-up.  Be sure that you understand that marketing a service product, such as yours, requires real adjustments both in strategies and tactics. I admit that these changes will be difficult. But, can you really afford to reject strategic marketing  or  waste   resources  on  the marketing you are doing?

John Burnett

Dr. John Burnett is the President of John Burnett Marketing, expert witness, consultant, and author. He can be reached at, If you are interested in learning more about legal marketing planning you might check Dr. Burnett’s e-book, “How to Avoid Random Acts of Marketing: A Plan for Small to Midsized Law Firms.”

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Filed Under: Marketing

About the Author: Dr. John Burnett is the President of John Burnett Marketing, expert witness, consultant, and author. He can be reached at, If you are interested in learning more about legal marketing planning you might check Dr. Burnett’s e-book, “How to Avoid Random Acts of Marketing: A Plan for Small to Midsized Law Firms.”

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