Trends In Legal Marketing
By Art Italo
The legal market has undergone significant changes in recent years. These changes have resulted from an increase in the number of attorneys and a change in the nature of demand in the market.
In recent years the supply of attorneys has grown faster than the demand for their services causing a reduction in each attorney's share of the pie. As in any market, an increase in the number of suppliers increases the amount and intensity of competition. As attorneys and firms felt the pinch, many attempted to compensate by trying to create or corner demand.
Cornering demand is accomplished by segmenting the marketplace. Simply speaking, this means specializing. As competition increases, it gets harder to differentiate one general practice from another. Specialization improves market differentiation and makes a practice more attractive to a smaller segment of the market that has a need for the specialty. Specialization increases the value of the practice to the marketplace. Clients seek specialists because they feel they are likely to get better results. They are also willing to pay higher fees for a specialist than a generalist.
Attorneys create demand by making work for themselves. This is done by overworking cases, duplicating and triplicating efforts, filing frivolous lawsuits, etc. Naturally, this has negative effects on the court system and the reputation of the profession. This type of counterproductive behavior has only short term benefit to the firm or practitioner who employs it. Eventually, the market adjusts to such tactics and shifts its business to attorneys who offer greater value.
This is exactly what has happened in recent years. In the 1980's there was strong pressure to maintain billings despite the glut of attorneys. Many firms began churning hours. When the economy was expanding, this behavior went relatively unnoticed. Clients had money to pay the fees. As the economy slowed in the early 1990's however, everyone began to look for ways to save money. Billings were scrutinized more closely and clients began to shift in the direction of attorneys who delivered greater value for their dollar. This trend continued through the nineties and continues today.
This caused movement away from large firms and toward small and midsize firms. The boutique concept became increasingly popular because such firms could supply big firm expertise with small firm efficiency. Even solos began getting business that would formerly be reserved for large firms.
Simultaneously, small firms and sole practitioners found they needed to be more aggressive to survive. They began advertising extensively in non traditional media such as radio, television and billboards. Yellow Page display advertising exploded. This increase in activity brought another element to legal marketing. It made prospective clients aware they had a choice.
Today, clients routinely shop for attorneys. They demand a higher level of experience in the area of law pertaining to their matter. General practitioners are no longer good enough; clients want specialists. This makes it harder to get leads and harder to land clients once they come in for a consultation.
This competition has been heightened by the fact that the large firms, feeling the pinch from the shifting market, have begun to shed attorneys. They are also not hiring as many new associates. These factors together have caused a swelling in the ranks of the small firms and sole practitioners. With the increased competition, many attorneys are finding that it is increasingly hard to make a decent living. They are unable to adjust to changing market conditions because success in this new and fiercely competitive market requires skills they never cultivated; the ability to market themselves.
To be successful in the changing market, firms and solos will need to become more strategic in their approach to marketing. Gone are the days when you could hang out a shingle and watch the line form at your door. In today's market your practice needs to be well conceived and well presented. Here are some ways you can improve your positioning in the marketplace:
Clients prefer specialists. Whether you are in a 1000 lawyer national firm or a solo practitioner you need to have a narrowly defined focus to your practice. Many lawyers fear specialization because they think they won't be able to find enough clients in their niche. They are too insecure to turn away any client who is willing to write a check for a retainer. In the minds of most lawyers I've met are irrational fears that the latest client might be the last one who will ever walk through the door. When they think of precluding certain business, they are haunted by visions of standing on a street corner in a tattered suit holding a sign that reads, "Will sue for food."
Specialization has a number of benefits. Since you do most of your work handling a narrow range of matters, you will have greater familiarity and expertise. This allows you to provide better and more efficient service to your clients while reducing research hours spent trying to educate yourself in an area of the law you know nothing about. Client satisfaction is increased and malpractice risk declines. Clients are willing to pay higher fees for a specialist than a generalist. This means that as you begin to get a reputation in your area, you will command higher than average hourly rates.
Specializing will also help you enjoy your practice more. If you pick a specialty you find interesting, challenging and meaningful, you will spend the majority or your time being fulfilled. Finally, other lawyers are more likely to make referrals to specialists than generalists because they believe there is a better chance the specialist will reciprocate.
Take A Proactive Approach To Marketing
Deep in the hearts of many attorneys I meet, lie resentments that they have to demean themselves by being forced to do marketing. If you think marketing is beneath you, get over it or perish. You can't sit by the phone and hope it will ring. You have to force yourself out into the marketplace.
Create a strategic marketing plan and execute that plan. Know where you want your practice to be and take the steps to get it there. Join organizations, attend functions and meet people. Set goals for yourself for marketing lunches (two per week should be minimum). Improve your image and reputation by giving lectures and publishing articles. Most important, you should have a clearly defined goal for how many hours per week and month you will spend on marketing activities (minimum including lunches should be five hours per week).
Shift From A Billing Philosophy To A Marketing Philosophy
The billing philosophy is dedicated to excellence in billing. It focuses excessively on reports showing how many billable hours each attorney has. The cornerstones of the billing philosophy are thoroughness and litigiousness. Such lawyers become masters of pedantic billing and collateral billing.
Pedantic billing digs deep into the minutiae of the matter to unearth every fact and event in human history relating to it. Collateral billing examines every ancillary issue that can be remotely linked to a matter and pursues it as pedantically as possible. The billing philosophy results in billing each client as much as possible just short of driving him away.
The root cause of the billing philosophy is insecurity. Generally, this happens in firms where the rainmakers are few and the drones are many. Lawyers who feel insecure about their ability to get business try to squeeze every last dollar from the clients they have because they don't have any clue when or where the next client will be coming from. Associates whose sole criterion for making partner is billing performance will go to great lengths to enhance their chances at the clients' expense.
The billing philosophy creates a frictional relationship with clients. Clients resent being over-billed and will eventually seek other alternatives. In today's competitive market other alternatives abound and firms that maintain a billing philosophy are sure to flounder.
Any firm or attorney that is confident in their marketing plan will not feel the need to over-bill clients. Marketing effectiveness leads to a sufficient flow of clients and allows attorneys to feel secure in billing each client only for what needs to be done.
A marketing philosophy emphasizes excellence in origination and client development. Improving the flow of clients into a firm or practice allows lawyers to be more selective about the matters they take. This results in more interesting work, better client relations, and better paying clients.
The marketing philosophy mandates a clear marketing plan and marketing accountabilities for all members of the firm (including associates). The marketing philosophy tracks originations as well as billings and rewards originations in the compensation plan. The marketing philosophy concentrates on giving clients good value for their legal dollar rather than maximum output. That means keeping each client's total bill as low as possible while maximizing the impact of the work. This itself is good marketing because it increases client satisfaction and client referrals.
The legal marketplace will continue to become more competitive. A passive and reactive approach to client acquisition will result in decaying billings and financial peril. The lawyers and firms who flourish will be those who respond to the changes and incorporate a cohesive marketing plan into their practices. Through an aggressive and proactive approach and continual systematic efforts, you can meet the challenge of the marketplace and emerge on top.
He has developed and refined the concept of Leveraged Networking after over 15,000 hours of individual consultations with attorneys. He has personally consulted with over 250 attorneys in
For on-line help with your marketing questions, e-mail Art Italo at email@example.com or contact Art Italo at:
P.O. Box 680474
Marietta, GA 30068