At the heart of this year’s Legal Marketing Association’s 2017 Southeast Conference was the importance of integrating the voice of the client in all marketing and business development efforts.

The message: firms that are successfully able to adopt the client-centric mindset and delight their clients will have a significant advantage over their competitors. 

It’s important to remember that the role of the client can be different things to different professionals. For example, if you are an in-house legal marketer, your clients are not only your traditional external clients, but also the lawyers at your firm, your colleagues in other administrative departments, your COO, etc. And if you are a business partner/service provider, anyone and everyone can potentially be a client or a referral source.

I was lucky enough to once again have the opportunity to speak at LMASE17 (more about that a bit later). A talented group of industry speakers provided attendees with actionable and innovative ideas under the conference’s theme of “mapping the future.” Here are some highlights: 

1. The Future Law Firm is a Multi-Disciplinary Legal Solutions Provider

Keynote speaker Jordan Furlong stressed that the firms of the future must be enterprise-based, multi-disciplinary and offer software/process/operations-based legal solutions. Furlong encouraged us to always keep in mind that clients come to law firms because they need help finding and implementing solutions – at the heart of it, we are all legal solution providers.

…at the heart of it, we are all legal solution providers.

Furlong discussed the three most important market imperatives – clients, competitors and cohesion – and then went into the strategic responses to ensure success for each.

In terms of clients, he explored the importance of data and analytics and the multi-sourcing of suppliers. He encouraged law firms to restructure themselves around their clients, assembling troves of client intelligence, upgrading the user experience and tracking and responding to as many client outcomes as possible. He also explored the concepts of re-engineering operations, specifically amplifying productivity with technology, increasing efficiency with processes and the importance of measurement.

The law firms that will succeed according to Furlong are those that “compete to dominate” – they will smartly leverage data on market pricing, compete on purchasing criteria and continuously improve productivity.

Finally, he spoke about the importance of running a law firm like a real business (which shouldn’t be a novel concept!). To this end, firms should develop a strong sales infrastructure, invest and train personnel (lawyers at all levels as well as staff members) at their own expense rather than pushing that to the client, and spend on research and competitive intelligence.

2. Truly Partner with Your Business Partners

I had the opportunity to present with Mintz Levin’s Amanda Loesch on best practices for successfully selecting and working with business partners. The initial name of our session had the term “vendor” in it, and we struggled with that term and did a lot of due diligence to come up with a word (“business partner”) that we think much more accurately reflects the relationship between in-house legal marketing professionals and the outside experts they use on key projects. We hope that others will start to use this term in their everyday vernacular too.

Now that I’m at a mid-size firm that has more limited internal resources than Big Law, I have come to rely on key outside business partners even more than before, and having strong relationships with these industry experts is crucial to the success of my initiatives as well as my overall success.

During our session, we delved into how to identify projects that can benefit from working with business partners, and how to gain internal buy in to bring these experts on board. We then discussed how to effectively manage the relationship with your business partner once they’re hired, including how to ensure you stay on budget, how to efficiently communicate and set expectations, and perhaps most importantly, how to build a collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship with each other. 

Here are some of our top tips for successfully working with business partners:

  • Choose wisely 
  • Communicate effectively
  • Share information and priorities 
  • Set clear (and realistic expectations)
  • Be fair and flexible
  • Say “please” and “thank you” (a lot)
  • Understand their business and challenges
  • Plan for contingencies
  • Put as much thought into rewards as penalties
  • Build partnerships for the long term
  • Pay on time (!)
  • Evaluate results 
  • Continuously strengthen your relationship outside of general day-to-day contact

3. Say No to Random Acts of Content and Yes to Client-Focused Content 

Jennifer Simpson Carr, Ryan King, Gina Rubel and Paula Williamson discussed how to leverage content within an integrated communications strategy – a subject near and dear to me. Less than half the hands in the room went up when the speakers asked which firms currently had a content strategy, a disappointing statistic.

Less than half the hands in the room went up when the speakers asked which firms currently had a content strategy…

Jennifer mentioned that only 29 percent of leading marketers systematically reuse and repurpose content – that is a huge misstep! Your greatest content asset is the ability to COPE – create once, publish everywhere. Don’t forget that your target audiences are busy individuals who are likely to miss the content you post and distribute. Make it easy for them (and you) by leveraging and maximizing your content by creating a content calendar and sharing material several times over the course of a few weeks/months using the same trackable link but changing the post.

Also, this goes without saying but the content you produce and share should be client-focused and value-added, highlighting your key differentiators. Show readers how the issue impacts their business. Include share buttons on all content, craft strong headlines for all blog posts/articles, be visual and interactive when you can, and repurpose and curate as much as possible.

The presenters discussed how an employee advocacy program can help amplify content. This is when members of the firm are encouraged to retweet, like and post content about the firm and are provided with actual copy to make it easy for them to do so. Employee-shared content on social media receives eight times more engagement vs. when the firm shares it. My own two cents on this is to be strategic about which employees you ask to share the information – go small at first – perhaps focus on an industry or practice level – because if you work at a big firm, you don’t want to encourage 1,000 employees to send out the same (or very similar) messages on social media. I have seen firms make this misstep and it can have the opposite effect of increasing engagement with your target audiences.

My favorite tip from this session came from Gina Rubel who gave the idea to interview your lawyers on various timely topics and then turn those into a podcast series and repurpose the quotes into social media posts. Poston Communications later posted on Twitter the idea to ask your lawyers to record their responses to recent client questions – these answers can make great blog post or client alert topics. Adrian Lurssen of JD Supra has also preached this idea, most recently in his “I am often asked____” video tip. Brilliant ideas!

4. Really Listen to the Client

A law firm’s most precious asset is its clients. Here’s a novel concept that shouldn’t be – ask your clients for feedback. It’s that simple.

Here’s a novel concept that shouldn’t be – ask your clients for feedback…

The panel of general counsel at LMASE17 each said that they are not asked enough by the law firms they regularly use to provide feedback and would welcome the opportunity to do so.

Law firms – are you listening here? Your clients want to provide feedback!

Asking your clients how you’re doing and what you could be doing better/differently should be a given. It’s that easy to delight the client. Requesting feedback allows you to get deeper insight to ensure that client expectations are being met.

Implement a formal client feedback program and also train your lawyers to ask clients the right questions at every step of a matter. Your goal is to become a client-centric law firm that not only collects client feedback but acts on it in an effective way to enhance the customer journey. Turn your understanding of your clients into opportunities for real, meaningful connections with them.

The general counsel said that it’s great if you promote your diversity efforts in your marketing materials and on your web site, but if you don’t actually staff your matters with diverse lawyers, then these efforts are clearly lacking. The lesson here: walk the walk besides just talking the talk.

The next point speaks to something that I have been preaching for years – the idea of show vs. tell, which is the concept of demonstrating that you are the very best lawyer/law firm rather than telling someone. It’s about maximizing every opportunity you have with a client or potential client to showcase your legal prowess and the value that you can bring to that client.

The days of taking a client to lunch, or for a purely recreational social activity are falling by the wayside. General counsel prefer to build the relationship in other ways, such as through touchpoints that enable you to demonstrate how you provide value to them.

Reputational marketing that is value added goes a lot further than any collateral material you send – so offer a CLE program, co-author an article with them, invite them to speak on a panel with you, offer them a free pass to a conference your firm is sponsoring or arrange a secondment. Invest in your clients in a way that enables you to showcase your talents. It’s a win win for all involved. Your litmus test for whether to pursue an initiative (or not) should be asking yourself whether it will add value to your clients. Use that as your guiding light and you will always be on the right path.

I want to extend a big thank you to Conference Chairs Amy Norris, Ali Ferro and Caroline Yarborough and the entire LMASE17 Conference Committee for all of their efforts in putting on a terrific conference and providing attendees with the opportunity to give back to those to need our help through a hurricane relief drive. If you’d like to donate to the LMASE Red Cross Relief drive, here’s the link. See y’all next year in Greenville, SC!