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Let me start by saying that I don’t mean to denigrate the hard work of law firm marketing staffs. It can’t be easy to put an appealing face on a gaggle of dysfunctional prima donnas. I have nothing but sympathy for those who have to deal with the first-year associate who cranks out 6,000 words on an obscure tax dispute and insists that his opus belongs in The New York Times (Sunday edition, of course). I have nothing but warm thoughts for those who have to deal with an editor who wants 2,000 words on “something really interesting that involves administrative law judges” by the day after tomorrow. And they do it all with the unstoppable cheerfulness of a salesperson cornering a unlikely customer. But … to paraphrase the immortal words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Marketing directors spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke — within the firm and out the door. They often have no choice. A great deal of straw needs to be spun into gold to market a law firm. In the perfect world (of the marketing staff), partners would salivate at the opportunity to sell themselves. Many do “express interest.” But the number of partners who actually show up to sit on the discussion panel, or deliver the speech, or attend the reception, or write the article is somewhat less. At one firm where I worked, the head of the workers’ compensation department liked to market himself more broadly, far more broadly, as an employment law expert and would commit to speak on this topic to various client groups. What he wouldn’t generally do is speak on this topic. Invariably, “something would come up” two days before his speech and he would “ask” someone in the employment group to fill in for him. Happily, there are associates — otherwise known as the boys and girls who can’t say no. The most odious marketing assignments tend to roll downhill. The more lowly you are, the more likely you’ll be shanghaied at the last minute to prepare course notebooks. (Oddly enough, in The American Lawyer magazine’s “Lawyers of the Century” issue, there is no discussion of the many illustrious careers that began with the preparation of course notebooks.) Back in my days as marketing meat, I vividly recall mumbling my way through a 30-minute speech on the Americans With Disabilities Act before 60 unimpressed company managers. As I was running out of things to say — and questions from the audience appeared imminent — I hastily pointed out that lunch was ready. Of course, it isn’t only associates who stumble. There was the time that a partner opened a sexual harassment presentation by joking: “If you think that ‘harass’ is two words, then you might have a problem.” DROPPING THE BALL Much as I sympathize with the travails of marketing staff, however, I gotta say: Sometimes they bring it on themselves. For sheer, unadulterated, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-this-for lunacy, you can’t beat a training session with the marketing staff and the firm’s designated “marketing partner.” I remember a mandatory seminar that began with all of us throwing a Nerf ball around the conference room. When the ball came to you, you had to quickly say something about yourself and then throw the ball to, but preferably not in the face of, the next person. I guess they wanted to develop our verbal reflexes and physical dexterity for the next sales pitch to the Harlem Globetrotters. We also received this client development pearl: After receiving someone’s business card, immediately comment on how nice or interesting it looks. “Gosh, that’s a real nice font you got there. And a top-notch job on that name centering. You don’t see a business card like this every day, nosirreebob.” And then there’s the slogan. Despite widespread skepticism of the effectiveness of “branding,” almost every leading firm now has a slogan. Does that mean that you should work it into your marketing pitch/cocktail party chatter? Or should you confine yourself to your usual smart-ass remarks? At Hale and Dorr, the motto is “When Success Matters.” When doesn’t it? Kirkpatrick & Lockhart states: “Challenge Us.” To a duel? Be sure to look both ways at Shaw Pittman, “Where Law, Business and Technology Converge.” And Jones Day boasts “Legal Minds. Global Intelligence.” Makes you almost forget those Cleveland roots. Some firms sound like they hired the World Wrestling Federation as image consultants. Imagine a courtroom smackdown between the “bulldog” firm, Womble Carlyle (“Our Lawyers Mean Business”), and Toronto’s Goodman and Carr, whose ads bluster: “We practice law in Canada. You got a problem with that?” And who can forget McKenna & Cuneo, where the partners are “Tough as Nails” and a “Triple Threat”? Lest anyone infringe on their creativity, a few firms have registered service marks. Only at Morrison & Foerster can you find “Lawyers for the global e-conomy.” Gray Cary alone sits at “Technology’s Legal Edge.” And Brobeck is the sole answer “When your future is at stake.” A few firms have gone way beyond slogans and brochures. Quinn Emanuel made quite an impression last month when it mailed packages with dummy hand grenades to 600 prospective clients, urging them to “arm themselves.” Two San Jose businesses were evacuated by bomb squads before the promotion was called off. A partner explained that the firm was trying to be “edgy” to reach youthful, high-tech clients in Silicon Valley. Next time, why not e-mail a virus that causes their computers to endlessly scroll the firm name? That’ll get their attention. TEACHING THE WORLD TO SING I hate to give marketing directors any ideas, but none of this is really going to take unless the firm gets itself a jingle. Teach all the associates to sing it, in four-part harmony. How about this: “My attorney has a first name / It’s H-O-G-A-N / My attorney has a second name … “ Until then, associates must learn to live with marketing, no matter how tedious, and with marketing staff, no matter how ubiquitous. The wise will bear two warnings in mind. 1. The amount of time partners are willing to spend on business development is inversely proportional to the health of their practice group. The sicker the group, the more outlandish the marketing ideas they embrace. When the partners start talking about co-sponsoring a seminar in Kuala Lumpur, where the firm has no office and no clients, it’s time to call your headhunter. 2. It could be worse. Imagine working for a personal injury lawyer who advertises in the phone book, like Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro of Rochester, N.Y. His full-page ad depicts his face on a $1 million bill and bellows, “I wrote the books on getting you maximum cash, maximum benefits and MAXIMUM MONEY AWARDS. You call, I HAMMER!” Now, that’s marketing. Ted Allen is a lawyer and journalist in Washington, D.C.

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