We first crossed paths somewhere in Raleigh. I don’t remember precisely how or where, but it was near the intersection of Southeastern Chapter of LMA and the LexisNexis offices on the NC State campus.
Her interview here is nothing short of exceptional. While it centers on the marketing of law firms, there are several parallels the B2B technology community struggles with as well, including:
- “drop the formalities and legalese to humanize”
- “love awards and accolades” which are an “elaborate scheme to sell advertising”
- “meeting at an all-male golf club to the exclusion of their female chief marketing officer”
If you are a lawyer, I’d bet you lunch your marketing team will read this interview and nod their heads in agreement. If they won’t say that to your face, then the chances are your marketing shop is underperforming…and it’s probably your fault.
This also happens in B2B tech marketing too, because marketing without the authority to execute is marketing without accountability.
She is Ginny Allen an attorney who turned legal marketer and entrepreneur. She’s has both practiced law and completed gigs in marketing and business development for law firms, including a role as law firm Chief Business Development Officer.
Later she opened her own business providing marketing services to law firms. More recently has taken up a role with a new legal software startup called GrowPath that is being spun out of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.
She is my guest in this excellent Q&A addition to the Off Script series.
1) “Legal marketing” is such a strange term to people outside of the vertical. Is it different than illegal marketing?
Ha! Some lawyers’ marketing should be illegal, but we needn’t go down that road.
While lawyers must consider the legality of their marketing, they also must consider the ethics of their marketing. This is the main distinction between legal marketing and the rest of the marketing world.
Each state or jurisdiction has its own set of ethical rules that apply to lawyers’ marketing efforts. These rules may or may not mirror the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and there are usually several advisory opinions from the state bar in each jurisdiction on how lawyers should adapt marketing efforts to comply with the rules.
For example, in my home state of North Carolina, a lawyer’s marketing (or “communications about a lawyer’s services,” as the rule puts it) cannot be false or misleading. A communication can be false or misleading if it contains a “material misrepresentation of fact or law,” omits a fact necessary to make the whole statement not materially misleading, creates an unjustified expectation, or compares lawyer’s services to another lawyer’s services and those facts cannot be factually substantiated. This one rule alone applies to a lawyer’s bio, LinkedIn profile, case studies, testimonials, website copy, ad copy, email marketing, among other things.
One lawyer equated all this regulation as “trying to run a 100-yard dash with shackles on.” We are a self-regulated profession and our own worst enemy. We aren’t making it easy on ourselves to attract and engage with new clients. It’s time to take a closer look at the rules governing legal marketing and question what purpose they serve.
2) You’ve been in legal marketing a while. What are some unique challenges about marketing in that space?
In addition to the ethical considerations, there are several other challenges.
a) Integrity of the Profession. In short, some lawyers feel that marketing is beneath the profession. Others may just feel uncomfortable with self-promotion. As a profession, we’ve only been allowed to advertise since a Supreme Court decision in 1977 allowed us to do so. For the most part, effective marketing isn’t taught in law schools.
b) Legacy Inertia. This is otherwise known as succumbing to the way it’s “always been done.” Given the ownership structure of many law firms, many firms are spending money on outdated (and expensive) marketing practices just because that’s the way it’s always been done. For example, an equity partner may be sponsoring a dinner each year for a client’s charity at a price tag of thousands of dollars. The firm has trouble filling its table and cannot track return on investment. But given the politics of law firm life, if that’s what the equity partner wants, that’s what the equity partner gets. It can be political.
c) Humanizing Lawyers. Another challenge is persuading lawyers to drop the formalities and legalese to humanize themselves and connect with potential clients. There’s a funny diagram that’s been circulated among legal marketers for quite a while about what lawyers put in their bios vs. what clients want. The credentials that lawyers place a premium on just aren’t as important to the majority of legal consumers who want to know what type of person the lawyer is, and what it’d be like to work with him or her.
See these related interviews:
Legal Marketing and Snake Oil; Off Script #21: Larry Bodine
Diversity, Politics and MBAs in the Business of PR; Off Script #20: James S. Walker
The Interim CMO as Change Agent; Off Script #19: Sophie Shiatis
3) What do you think lawyers value the most in marketing?
Lawyers love awards and accolades. It’s why they spend way too much money on self-laudatory awards that claim they are “super” or the “best” or the “greatest attorney ever to enter the courtroom” or whatever else these companies are coming up with these days. The issue is that many of these lawyer-focused awards are pay-to-play, or at least an elaborate scheme to sell advertising space, online profiles, and plaques to decorate office walls.
Lawyers also value speaking and publishing opportunities. However, there are still issues in their consideration of these opportunities that hinder their effectiveness. First, lawyers must differentiate between an opportunity to speak in front of a group of their peers at a continuing education conference, for example, and the opportunity to speak in front of their target audience. Too many lawyers still spend too much time preparing and giving presentations in front of other lawyers who will never give them business.
Second, attorneys need to temper their desire to showcase their expertise on a subject with a consideration for the substance and delivery of the content. They need to deliver their presentation in a way that resonates with their audience. (And do away with the 100-word slides.)
4) What do you think goes underappreciated by lawyers?
I’ll give you two problems I see: one that is more old school, and one more new school.
Unfortunately, I think many lawyers underappreciate their marketing staff members. In a law firm, marketing professionals are overhead, an expense that can be cut and not as valuable as attorneys and paralegals whose time spent on a matter can be billed to the client. Coupled with the unfortunate tendency of lawyers to lump anyone who is not a lawyer into a general group of “non-lawyers”, this results in marketing professionals compartmentalized into a second-class citizenship.
I’ve seen this play out in several ways over the course of my career. Examples include a firm’s executive board that held a meeting at an all-male golf club to the exclusion of their female chief marketing officer, or the managing partner who redlined each press release drafted by his marketing manager, who has a communications degree and 10 years of experience.
The “new school” opportunity that is undervalued is the ability to use the Internet to build relationships, to connect and engage with potential clients. Most lawyers still see the Internet as one general visibility channel, like another place to put an ad or a billboard. They don’t appreciate the opportunity to target a specific audience, track results, and nurture leads with potential clients they don’t even know exist.
It’s harder now to get face time with potential clients than it was even five years ago for a number of reasons: clients are no longer in the same city as you, they’ve moved to a regional office, they don’t have time to meet, or they may even be prohibited from fraternizing with outside counsel. Leveraging the Internet to build trusted relationships with potential clients is a must for lawyers who want to be rainmakers in the digital age.
5) When the legal market tightened, there was a delay and then suddenly a lot of chatter about getting marketing and business development aligned (especially as realization rates fell). Are we there yet?
I don’t think so. Law firms have always been behind the marketing curve. With the pace of change quickening in the last five years, it’s difficult, if not impossible for lawyers to keep up. As I mentioned above, lawyers are missing out on the opportunity to use the internet, specifically content marketing, to push leads (potential clients) down the funnel. Instead, lawyers continue to employ the shotgun approach to marketing. While that approach may result in leads, they aren’t particularly qualified leads.
Then there is the question about who is responsible for the business development piece – and who gets credit. In my experience, law firms have moved to a compensation structure in which lawyers can get origination credit for bringing in business, even if another lawyer does the work. But the politicking, lack of communication, and sometimes even outright distrust between lawyers doesn’t lend itself to a smooth integration between marketing and sales among lawyers and professional staff members.
So, when will we get there? It’s hard to say within the greater law firm structure. That’s why I encourage all lawyers to set up their own systems. They need to create their own marketing and business development machines through building their niche brands, consistently creating content, and guiding potential clients from the first impression to picking up the phone to set up an appointment. By the time a potential client reaches out to the attorney, that attorney has already qualified himself or herself – if the lawyer has developed a sound strategy and built the system right.
6) The economy seems to be getting better. How do you see demand shaping up for legal services?
It’s an exciting time to be in legal. Demand is increasing, but not for legal services as lawyers have known it. Today’s customer wants convenience, transparency, and to pay for only what they need. The lawyers who are working to understand and meet the needs of their target client base now, those who are experimenting and innovating to deliver legal services differently now, are standing at the edge of unprecedented opportunity.
Look at LegalZoom and Avvo, which are companies that are disrupting legal, and ask, “What are they doing right that I can incorporate into my own practice?” These companies are providing streamlined legal services online with transparent pricing. They are meeting the needs of the modern consumer. There’s no reason lawyers can’t do the same. They can and they should.
7) Just for fun, fill in the blank:
- One company you with marketing you admire is…Letterfolk (Instagram).
- Your favorite marketing campaign of all time is… “Love Has No Labels” – Ad Council.
- One person you recommend following on Twitter is…Brian Solis (@briansolis).
- One publication or blog you read regularly is…Harvard Business Review.
- If you weren’t doing what you do now, you’d be…living in a beach town (with my husband, two girls, and our cat) and running my own greeting card shop, bookstore, or nursery (plants, not kids.)
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You can find Ginny on Twitter, LinkedIn and her blog, This Business of Law. Here are a few of her related contributions suggested for your perusal:
- ABA Law Practice Today: The Future of the Practice of Law (Roundtable Participant)
- This Business of Law: Legal Marketing Evolved: Important Considerations for Attorneys
- This Business of Law: Lawyers: Start with Why
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The Benefits of Being a Good PR Agency Client; Off Script #18: Rich Young