Marketing Matters Boost Your Firm’s Brand

The Marketing Courses Your Associates Need

I vividly recall my first few years in practice ― the daily fear and anxiety as I struggled to learn the useful legal skills that law schools fail to teach.
Ross Fishman, JD

After a few years of continuing unease, just as I was starting to get somewhat comfortable with the immense pressure and 2,000-billable-hour requirements of my fledgling litigation practice, the partners ordered us to “go bring in some clients.” This was a confounding new set of skills we did not possess and another layer of professional pressure. It’s no wonder younger lawyers suffer from such extreme levels of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

Today’s associates have clearly indicated that they’re not playing that game. Their annual billable requirements are higher than previous generations, and they’re unwilling to give up their personal time. The conventional wisdom is that Millennials are less likely to invest in the long-term without seeing some short-term wins, so their educational programs must be simple, practical and efficient. They won’t respond to grandiose theories — they need concrete tips and proven approaches that they feel are likely to succeed.

Here’s a list of associate-marketing programs that combine to form a comprehensive education plan to improve their skills and set them on a path to grow into solid rainmakers.

First, I want to organize the program in bite-size chunks. Giving them too much information all at once makes it less likely that they’ll be able to remember, assimilate or use it. It’s like martial arts training ― teach the students a few moves, help them practice the heck out of them, then teach the next moves, step by step. If you show them everything at once, they won’t internalize or master anything. They’ll simply quit in frustration.

I’ve found that monthly marketing training programs can be too much, as attendance tends to wane after three to four consecutive months. I prefer offering one to two individual programs per session every few months, so they can receive a solid foundation in just one year. Lawyers learn fast — most topics can be covered in an hour, but complex topics may extend to 90 minutes.

Once associates are taught how to select an area of specialization or focus that can help them stand out, they finally see that they have a realistic chance at being successful, which is highly motivating.

1. Focused Marketing: This is my favorite kick-off program because it helps associates identify a specialty area that they can work to dominate over time. It’s a more effective approach than marketing general practice areas like “business litigation” or “real estate,” which buries them in the invisible middle of the pack ― just another smart but nondifferentiated lawyer in a profession swollen with them. For job security, lawyers need to find a way to be different, to offer clients something more.

Once associates are taught how to select an area of specialization or focus that can help them stand out, they finally see that they have a realistic chance at being successful, which is highly motivating.

2. Developing an Individual Marketing Plan: This pairs well with the focused marketing as it can support that targeted effort. First identifying their specific target audience will dramatically improve the quality and effectiveness of a marketing plan. The plan should detail the specific steps that can help the associate attain market leadership in a specialized area or industry. With the firm’s support, they can work on developing this plan for a month or two, conducting the research necessary to identify that specialty practice or industry group, and fill out a simple, practical, action-oriented plan.

3. Networking Basics: Once they have a clear niche and a set plan, networking will help get the conversations started. This includes specific, tangible tips like how to get into and out of productive conversations with strangers, where to put their name tag, how to give out business cards, where to sit, what questions to ask, and how to be an active listener.

4. Online Marketing: As associates begin to meet new prospects, more people will look online for more information about them. Make sure they have an updated LinkedIn page as well as a bio on your firm’s website. When prospects search for the associates, their profiles should validate the story they’ve been sharing. Start with courses that show them how to use social media and online marketing platforms to spread their name and build their online reputation as credible professionals.

5. Business Development: By now they’ve gotten more accustomed to marketing. They’re getting out there, attending meetings, writing and speaking to build their brand in a specialty niche. They have a credible presence in person and online. They’re building their professional network and personal brand and reputation. It’s time to help them see how rainmakers generate business — i.e., the steps that turn contacts into prospects and then into clients. This training should focus on identifying ways they can help their targets solve their business problems. Once they see that client development is simply finding ways to help people with their problems, they’re much more likely to actually engage in this activity.

6. Client Service Strategies: All associates need to learn the difference between technical legal skills and the type of solid-gold service that keeps the firm’s clients happy and coming back the next time. These include service attributes like clear communication, timeliness, accessibility and good billing practices.

7. Client Panel Discussion: It’s advantageous to follow this with a client discussion. This may be the first time many of them will hear directly from a client, potentially providing powerful insight. To make these panels most useful, it’s important to dive deep, moderate aggressively and avoid a series of dull talking heads who spew generic platitudes rather than real insight.

8. Cross-Selling: This type of program can show associates how to use their daily client phone calls and emails to turn up business opportunities in other practice areas. This should also cover how to turn a person they’re working with at one organization into their own client whenever one of those people moves to a new company.

9. The Business of Law: Give associates a glimpse into your everyday world — the business of running a firm. It’s shocking how few associates are truly aware of what goes into running a law firm, including overhead, budgets, write-offs, profit margins, realization rates, leases and personal guarantees. They will have a greater understanding of the pressures and demands placed upon the partners and for how their own vital role fits in the firm’s value equation.

There it is: a nice comprehensive marketing education. And when structured correctly, many of these programs can qualify for continuing legal education (CLE) credit — often as the coveted ethics hours.