Sure, Twitter is not like being there – like watching a concert on YouTube is not the same as being at a sweaty music venue having drinks tipped down your front – but you can follow a lot of the coverage.
When I last attended the LMA in person in Denver in 2010, there wasn’t so much social media coverage – a little, but nowhere near what we saw this year.
From a legal directories and media relations point of view, there were two sessions of interest: a pre-conference session on the do’s and don’ts of developing successful nominations; and a broader discussion of the trends in media and public relations for law firms.
Legal directories is, of course, the pantomime villain of legal marketing – the thing that everyone loves to hate.
Therefore I wasn’t surprised to hear that legal directories, surveys and awards, were collectively described as the “ugly” – in the context of “the good, bad and ugly” – by the media relations panel.
Some law firm media relations practitioners look down on directories – thinking it rather unglamorous drudge work when they would rather be pitching reporters at prestigious newspapers and developing exciting social media campaigns.
Ambitious PR professionals dream of front-page coverage in the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and fantasize about a Woodward & Bernstein-style expose – not organizing an interview with an inexperienced researcher in London.
But I believe it’s important not to distinguish between the two.
In the context of the legal sector – it’s not so relevant in other industries – surveys, lists, and rankings are just as, if not more, important than traditional media coverage.
The techniques and skills required for legal PR professionals – communication, writing, looking for hooks, understanding the media, developing ideas – apply just the same to the array of legal directory publishers and awards providers, as they do to conventional media organizations.
You can think of the legal directory and survey world as a sub-group of the broader legal and business media, not as something distinctly different.
Remember that directories and surveys represent a permanent record of your firm’s profile and performance, while media coverage – although important – can be here today, gone tomorrow.
The permanent quality to legal directories, awards, and accolades, is an effective counterpoint to much of the modern media, particularly social media, which is often ephemeral.
Law firms that do it right apply equal effort to all areas of the media – the good, bad, and the ugly.
Here is a write-up of the session by Denise Nix, the marketing manager at law firm, Glaser Weil.
Separately, but on the same theme, there was apparently a round of applause from the audience in another LMA session when the general counsel of a large company said that he had never used a legal directory.
MassMutual GC: Best quote of the day when asked if he looked at legal directories or rankings “I’ve never looked at them” #LMA14
— Kara McKenna (@karajmckenna) April 4, 2014
Law firm marketers jumped eagerly on his comment as if it proved what they had always known – but attorneys refuse to accept, blinded by vanity – that buyers of legal services never use directories.
Do we assume then that all buyers of legal services – millions of individual actors – are a homogenous group, and that our gentleman in Orlando spoke for all of them collectively?
Directories are far from perfect – the research can be inconsistent and submission preparation is painful for law firms – and we can argue about the exact numbers, but does anyone think that no in-house lawyers or businesspeople ever look at legal directories?
Of course it is true that that legal directories are less influential than other factors such as personal relationships when making buying decisions.
I’m not aware that any legal directory publisher has claimed otherwise.
Clients should attach weight to their existing professional networks, and there would be something wrong if the general counsel of a major company didn’t have a bulging contacts book of lawyers from law school, private practice, in-house, and referrals from other advisors.
But what about the millions of smaller businesses, organizations and individuals without any knowledge of the legal market at all.
What about people who don’t know where to start looking for a lawyer, and need all the help they can get.
What about a partner who knows nothing about the law firm market in a foreign country where he is doing a new deal.
The other point is that directories are not just there for in-house lawyers.
For credibility, directories like to market themselves as an in-house tool, but the reality is that their products are used by a wide range of audiences – law firms themselves, consumers, law schools, students, librarians, recruiters, research organizations, consultants, journalists.
All these groups seek information about law firms and lawyers.
Legal marketers like to wish them away, but what would the world look like without legal directories.
You can bet we’d all be sitting around saying “what the market really needs is a legal directory”.