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When Joan Cergol became the first in-house law firm marketer on Long Island, N.Y., a decade ago, she confronted some strong skepticism from a legal community resistant to change. Though many Manhattan firms had well-oiled marketing efforts in place by 1990, Long Island was just getting primed for the public relations component of running a practice. Fast-forward 10 years, and Cergol once again found herself convincing lawyers that marketing means money. But this time, the former Meltzer Lippe Goldstein & Wolf in-house marketer took her message off the island and across the Atlantic. As a volunteer advisor with the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Democracy Corps, Cergol spent three weeks last month in Rostov-on-Don, a city of 1.1 million residents in southern Russia. Commuting daily from a cold-water flat by bus to the Leksis Business Law Firm on Gorky Street, Cergol helped the five-lawyer practice learn PR fundamentals. “It’s not something they’re comfortable with,” she said. “Here, we’re rushing to the media with press releases over the smallest victory. There, they’re very modest, so they don’t know how to speak of themselves.” Part of Cergol’s challenge in Rostov was similar to what she faced on Long Island in 1990: dispelling the notion that the marketing of lawyers tarnishes the profession’s image. She noted the parallels between Long Island and Rostov lawyers. “They’re conservative. They know what their assets are, but they don’t know how to articulate it.” Developing a firm brochure and attorney profiles were the some of the first tasks she tackled. But that, by comparison, was the easy part. The bigger job was to introduce marketing to a culture that still is grappling with the concept of free enterprise. Traveling through a garment district in Rostov, for example, Cergol noted that the street-side windows in retail shops were completely bare of any merchandise. The idea of displaying their wares was, well, foreign to most merchants in the city. “They’re still in this transitional phase,” she said. “It’s as if they’re saying, ‘OK, we’ve got free enterprise. Now what does it mean to us?’ “ DEVELOP BUSINESS The CDC, a nonprofit corporation, was formed in 1990 and is funded largely by the American private sector. Its goal is to support and develop small- and medium-sized businesses in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. The program each year enlists American volunteers to share their expertise withforeign companies. CDC pays the airfare; the host business covers lodging. Cergol, who is currently a marketing consultant for Schlissel, Ostrow, Karabatos, Poepplein & Taub, applied to the CDC as a volunteer advisor after Rostov attorney Arthur Durnoyan asked her to help his Russian firm, Leksis, with marketing basics. Cergol met Durnoyan when he visited Meltzer Lippe to study bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Marketing, said Durnoyan, is the “major difference” between American law firms and Russian practices. “It looks like Russian law firms are sitting and waiting when the nice client — the prince from the fairy tale — will find them, believe in their ‘beauty,’ and immediately order them a wonderful project,” Durnoyan said. The first few days, Cergol simply observed the Leksis lawyers, who took the opportunity to practice their English during her visit. The CDC suggests the listen-and-learn approach as an ice-breaker. HELP WITHOUT INSULTS “The CDC wants to make sure that you’re not the type who’s going to go in and insult them,” she said. “These (Russian) people have pride, and they’re trying.” The Leksis firm, with its three computers and three telephones, was technologically advanced compared to other Rostov practices, she said. Cergol visited a 40-attorney criminal law firm that functioned without computers or a law library and was equipped with only three phones. With clients such as Coca-Cola, Don Avia Airlines, Rostov Tobacco Factory and the South Russia Regional Venture Fund, the Leksis firm’s revenue equals about $3,000 per week, according to Durnoyan. But changing times are threatening his business, he said, which prompted him to contact Cergol. “Now, South Russia law firms are in competition with large Moscow law firms and Russian offices of foreign law firms for local large clients and for arrival of businesses,” he said. “And this competition becomes harder every day.” Developing a Web site, creating e-mail addresses and conducting seminars were other suggestions offered by Cergol, who concedes that these are small steps to reaching a potential Russian clientele with much to learn about their emerging legal system. “It’s really going to take a public awareness campaign,” she said. “For so long, they didn’t trust their laws, and they didn’t trust their government.”

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