I’m pleased to see the pendulum shifting slightly and law firm marketers recognize that promoting individual lawyers is just as, if not more, important than marketing the firm as a whole.
The problem is that the debate is often framed as an “either or” – you do one or the other.
Traditionally in-house law firm marketers went for the firm option because it was safer, easier and less political – you carried everyone along with you, with no danger of a partner feeling excluded.
So that meant large, expensive websites with endless practice descriptions, lots of practice brochures and printed material, fancy practice and firmwide client events.
This approach dominated law firm marketing departments for 15 years: from the 90s through to the crash.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this stuff of course.
But it’s expensive.
It’s also incredibly time consuming.
One of the reasons law firm marketing departments are so inefficient is that they’re constantly waiting for a partner or other to “sign off” on a newsletter/brochure/submission that 36 other partners have already seen.
One of the ways for law firms to move more quickly and be more effective is to take an individual-led approach to their marketing.
Strong lawyers make strong law firms.
I’ve never understood the idea that if you promote individuals it undermines the firm’s institutional brand.
The two can clearly work hand in hand.
“We don’t have a star culture” I would often hear from some partners, perhaps nervous at the thought that attention would be focused on a club of senior rainmakers.
But the approach doesn’t have to be exclusive.
It’s not about pushing stars and leaving the worker bees alone in their dark rooms.
The other thing I often hear is: “why should we market them – they can just leave”.
This seems self-defeating.
Of course, a firm has a responsibility to lock down institutional client relationships to mitigate any fall-out if a key partner leaves.
But, if a partner leaves, it’s usually because of something much more substantive – more money, major conflicts – rather than feeling a bit unloved by the marketing department.
In any large law firm, a certain percentage of lawyers are marketing hungry, some are more old-fashioned (which is fine), and there’s a group in the middle who are ambivalent but potentially open to new ideas.
I’ve always believed that law firm marketing departments should be structured more like internal consultancies than top-down hierarchies.
In other words, let all the attorneys know that, within the team, the full package of marketing, communications and business development services are available.
The interested lawyers can then take their pick.
An obvious way to draw out the strengths of each individual lawyer is to craft a strong online bio – both official firm bio and on third-party sites.
Numerous client surveys show that the bio pages are by far the most important part of a law firm website.
Yet most law firm bios still suffer from the top-down one-size-fits all approach, which strangles the individuality out of lawyers who might otherwise have more to say.
Lawyers are not all the same, even within the same firm, and should be able to decide themselves what goes on their bio page, without being constrained by a rigid firm-wide format.
Potential clients want to know as much about lawyers as they can.
Your bio should say something about you; it should position you as an expert in a particular area of law, industry sector or country.
Some clients are a little skeptical of official law firm bios, believing them to be tightly controlled and scripted.
While a good official bio is the starting point, they also want to see what else you have done, what else has been written about you.
So link to sites like Linked-In, some of the directories where you are featured (testimonials are good), press articles, or a video of a presentation.
As well as generating leads, a good bio also smooths introductions.
Prospective new clients have something to talk about on that first meeting.
They read your bio and learn something about you – both professionally and personally.
My view is that law firm websites will evolve to allow individual lawyers much more freedom to manage their own profiles in a way that suits them.
Some of the more far-sighted agencies get this.
Eventually law firms will catch up.
In keeping with this theme, one of the reasons I launched NovoLawyer was to create a platform to allow lawyers to do this away from their own site, which may not offer them the scope and flexibility to express themselves.
My prediction is that the successful lawyer of the future will have a good law firm bio, probably through a flexible micro-site attached to the regular firm-wide website, and will also have a strong online presence through the likes of Linked-In, blogs, and the better legal directories.