Big law firms have more resources – including money, staff, and lawyers – than boutiques, small firms and solos. But small firms have the ability to make quick decisions, pursue marketing initiatives that would give big firms intestinal distress, and generally be more agile than big firms.
Small law firms should use those assets to their advantage when creating marketing and business development initiatives, says Hunton Andrews Kurth’s Deborah Grabein. Deborah has spent her career building and rebuilding business development programs at some of the best known firms in the country.
In our last post, Deborah shared some BigLaw business development tips that can be used by any firm or lawyer, regardless of firm size. In this post, she shares some ideas to help small firms turn their perceived weakness into a business development strength.
Large law firms definitely have more resources than small law firms, but they can also be quite conservative in their marketing efforts. Any suggestions for marketing tactics that might be a bit “out there” for a big firm but might help a small firm stand out from the crowd?
This is such an interesting question. I definitely think the platform for each type (corporate, litigation, family law, etc.) of firm and size of firm drives the approach and attitude the firm has towards business development and marketing. While the end goals are the same for all firms regardless of size, the structure and culture impacts how the lawyers develop business.
By the nature of their size, larger firms are more constrained by conflicts and organizational structure. The type of law practiced by the firm, leadership philosophy, culture and types of clients also impact the firm’s approach to business development and marketing. These firms do, however, have many more resources available including talent, technology and funds.
On the other hand, smaller firms can be more creative and entrepreneurial since they have less infrastructure, fewer partners, and fewer organizational hurdles. Decision-making is quicker since there are fewer people who have to be involved in the approval process. And by the nature of their size, there tends to be less issues related to conflicts. These firms also have the opportunity to be more creative and to try different things for their marketing initiatives.
Smaller law firms can be more creative and entrepreneurial in their #LegalMarketing than large firms because they have less infrastructure, fewer partners, and fewer organizational hurdles, says @DGrabein. Click To TweetSo how can flexibility and creativity apply to business development and marketing initiatives in smaller law firms?
It’s About the Client
Everything centers around the experience the client and prospective client has with the law firm. What does the firm’s brand say about the firm? What is the culture of the firm? What kind of client service should a client expect? What information about the firm is online and on social media? What do other clients and referrals sources have to say about the firm and its lawyers?
While perhaps these recommendations are not on the cutting edge, I would suggest that the best thing that a small firm can do is to focus on the client experience. Start with defining what type of experience you want your clients to have in working with you. If the client were writing a review of his/her experience with you and your firm, what do you want it to say? What would make you cringe to see online? What is the optimum experience a client could have with you, in addition to a winning result? What can you do to help define and manage the client’s experience? There are several things any firm can do to help differentiate itself in this competitive legal market.
Client Advisory Panels
Lawyers in smaller firms have opportunities to develop and strengthen client relationships a bit differently than in larger firms. The issue of who makes key decisions about the client relationship is easier than in larger firms. This affords small firm lawyers opportunities to spend time with their clients in different ways. For example, creating a client advisory panel gives both the lawyers and clients a forum to meet and discuss issues that are relevant to both. Topics for discussion can include everything from best practices for client services to current legal issues. Such a client advisory board can provide smaller firms the opportunity to introduce new ideas such as new technology capabilities, fee structures, client service enhancements and gives clients a forum to share input and feedback.Small law firms should consider creating a client advisory panel where lawyers and clients discuss everything from best practices for client services to current legal issues. #LegalMarketing tips from @DGrabein. Click To Tweet
In addition, bringing clients together for a discussion also provides a way for clients in different industries and businesses to get together. Not only do your clients want you to help them solve for their legal needs, but they want you to make introductions to others who can help them with other aspects of their businesses and who can be a referral source.
Hint: Share the information gathered from these advisory panel discussions with your clients and prospects. You could create a video, a newsletter or blog post about best practices that benefits all of your clients. Be respectful of anything that is shared confidentially and be sure to get any necessary approvals from clients for quotes that you may want to share. This is a great way to follow up from the discussion as well as to share best practices.
Creating client teams can be easier in a smaller firm as well. The purpose of the client team is to be intentional about taking care of the client. It’s not just about legal outcomes but also about ensuring everyone who works with that client knows the client’s business, industry, the staff and provides for sharing pertinent information so everyone is on the same page. Lawyers should include secretaries, legal assistants and others in the firm who work with the client on the team.
Consider ways for your team to engage with your client outside of the office. For example, I’ve known several client teams who joined clients in community service projects, for example, Habit for Humanity. Both teams wore t-shirts while they worked on the project that featured the logos of both the client and the law firm. Not only did the teams from the client and firm get to know one another outside of the office, but they were able to work together to achieve a common goal. And, you can learn a lot when teamwork is involved.
Hint: Planning is a good first step when creating a client team. As Steven Covey suggests, “begin with the end in mind.” What are the goals for the team? How will you define success? How will your client define success?
In all of the years I’ve been involved in legal marketing, one thing has remained true. Lawyers do not like to ask their clients “How are we doing?” I’ve seen lawyers in the courtroom ask the hardest questions in the most daunting of circumstances that would bring many of us to our knees. But ask a lawyer to sit down with his/her client and talk about ways he/she could improve the delivery of legal services and they would do anything else but that.
In a smaller firm, there is a significant opportunity to develop a client feedback program that would help a firm stand out. While on the rise, the number of law firms that routinely conduct client interviews is small compared to the number of firms across the country. It’s hard to implement such a program in a large firm due to politics, fear of change, and fear of what the client may say. But unless you programmatically implement a process by gathering and responding to the feedback, you stand to lose clients. Most clients won’t tell you if something went wrong or that they had a bad experience. They just won’t come back.
Lawyers hate to ask clients 'How are we doing?' So small firms can stand out by creating a meaningful client feedback program, says #LegalMarketing expert @DGrabein Click To TweetSmall firms could select two or three clients and implement such a program. Based on that feedback, the firms could then make improvements (if indicated) across the board for all of their clients.
Hint: There are many resources available on the topic of client feedback including companies who can conduct the interviews on behalf of the firm. Consider what is best for your firm and clients. If nothing else, attend a seminar on this topic to understand how it works and how it could apply to your practice and firm.
By now you are probably reeling from the thought of implementing any one of these initiatives. After all, your firm is smaller, your resources limited and, like every other lawyer regardless of the size of his/her firm, you have legal work to complete for your client. And those demands are significant.
So what can you do? Pick one thing and start.
As you decide which of these you want to implement, consider the following:
- What could be successful in your firm? Why?
- How could it work for your practice, your culture and your clients?
- How could you successfully support it? What resources do you have that could help?
- What resources could you hire to assist?
- What could you realistically achieve?
- What if you set a stretch goal? What would it be?
- How will you measure the results?
Hint: As you consider what to do, talk with colleagues and others who have implemented any of these in their firms. Talk to consultants and marketing professionals who have also implemented these programs and most importantly, talk to your clients. Ask them two questions: “What do we do that you like?” “What do you wish we would do differently?” The answers to those questions will help you determine what you need to do to create a program to ensure your clients have a good experience with your firm.
Deborah Roth Grabein is a seasoned strategic marketing, communications and business development executive. Throughout her 28+ year career, she has earned a reputation as a go-to leader in the legal field for her industry knowledge, aptitude for strategic thinking, and successful employee development. At Andrews Kurth Kenyon since 2005, Deborah works with firm management and lawyers at every level to steer, implement and promote the strategic goals of the firm, its offices, practices and attorneys. She specializes in applying critical oversight to the collection and analysis of competitive intelligence and market research, and translating that data into practical, applicable and unique firm initiatives. Deborah serves on the Marketing Steering Committee, the Women’s Initiative Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee and the Diversity Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.