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E. Eric Guirard graduated near the bottom of his law school class at Louisiana State University, which is not among the nation’s elite. He got no job offers, even from the local district attorney’s office, known as a haven for C students. By all rights, Guirard’s future in the practice of law looked fairly grim, particularly in this sluggish provincial town of about 250,000, which still proudly operates on a who-you-know system to get things done. He readily admits that would have been the case 25 years ago, before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed attorneys to advertise in its historic decision Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977). The decision gave him another option. Guirard (pronounce GAY-rard) came up with a catchy slogan — “The E Guarantee” of good service — poured his life savings into buying television time and hung out a shingle. Eight years later he is one of the most recognized lawyers in the region and master of a nine-lawyer firm that reputedly grosses about $8 million annually (he won’t say exactly how much). Guirard’s success in metropolitan Baton Rouge has been such that this summer he moved his offices to a new Italian Renaissance-style building at the freeway exit that most government employees use to get to work. AT THE BIG FIRM Also this summer, about a mile away, on four floors of a sleek black skyscraper overlooking the refineries on the Mississippi River, the city’s largest law firm accepted the new economic order and hired a marketing specialist to coordinate its business development strategy. The firm, Kean Miller Hawthorne D’Armond McCowan & Jarman, has been the symbol of the good-ole’-boy network since its founding partners won the business of international chemical and refining companies 80 years ago by walking with corporate officials on the land they wanted to buy for plant sites. Twenty-three of its 101 lawyers have been elected to the academically elite Order of the Coif. For years, Kean Miller developed business in the traditional high-toned way, on golf courses and over good meals. But in the new business-oriented world, the firm realized that it needed a marketing program to compete more effectively. As the histories of E. Eric Guirard Injury Lawyers and Kean Miller demonstrate, advertising has wrought major changes across the social spectrum of law practice. Initially, Bates opened up opportunities for lawyers, like Guirard, who lacked the access and connections to build meaningful practices. But both critics and proponents say the real impact of the decision has been to shove what’s still sometimes referred to as the “noble profession” into a service-oriented business whose success depends on cost controls, production systems and marketing. Even old-line firms whose members vigorously fought attorney advertising have adopted the marketing principles they had long grumbled were behind the profession’s loss of luster. “The profession is following trends from a business standpoint that have been set in place by society,” says Dennis Van Der Ginst of Chicago, the incoming chairman of the Lawyer Marketing Committee of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. “Our society has become a fast food society. We want things convenient. We want things inexpensive. “As these dictates press upon our profession, those attorneys who see it and realize that we have to adopt practices are the ones that will survive. Bates set things up, but it’s what the society wants.” Before Bates, the legal community did not serve a huge portion of the population, and many people did not know their rights and opportunities, says Van Der Ginst of Van Der Ginst Roache & Westensee of Chicago. Advertising let lawyers adopt a service-industry model that could lower costs and make the fees affordable. These lawyers instituted innovations, such as isolating tasks that lower-paid assistants could handle, using standardized forms and office automation. To make up for the lower fees, they needed advertising to increase volume. Big corporate firms, meanwhile, were seeing fierce competition among themselves, prompted by factors that included a sharp increase in the number of lawyers. They, too, began to remake themselves as service industries. Still, Van Der Ginst notes, “A lot of the old guard finds advertising distasteful.” Guirard says of his blue-collar clients up against big insurance companies, “These are the people who are going to get screwed unless they get representation. In pre- Bates you’d go to your friends for a referral. But there are no lawyers in their personal social circles. So the TV serves that purpose. You’re like a neighbor talking over a fence, multiplied a couple thousand times.” Guirard has an equal partner, Thomas R. Pittenger. But you never see him in the ads. Marketing studies show that the target clients more easily identify with a single person and single slogan than a law firm. Guirard’s ads often are humorous. He’s personal. Creating an individual identity to be a focus of public trust and goodwill was a key component to successful name recognition, he says. “The most important sense to convey is trust. That’s what we strive for,” Guirard says. “Most people call us right after an accident.” In reality, the firm is more sizeable than Guirard. Besides the lawyers, he has a staff of 45 nonlawyers and a backup intake system — located in Nashville, Tenn. — to insure that whenever the phone rings, no matter what hour of the day or night, someone representing the firm will pick it up and can offer sympathy, advice and help. “We get a lot of calls,” he says. “But probably about 25 percent of the calls will turn into a case.” He says advertising generates 200 to 700 calls a week, depending on the television schedule for that week, from which 100 to 350 new cases are generated per month. Initially, E. Eric Guirard Injury Lawyers focused on minor injuries from among the city’s 50 vehicle accidents a day. It developed procedures to provide cost-efficient legal services. Now, Guirard says, one case in every four is a repeat client, and the firm has branched into other areas of law. When he started, the “old fashioned, blue blood, uppity lawyers turned their nose up at me,” Guirard recalls. Now that he has become rich, the attitude among his colleagues has lightened somewhat, “at least to my face,” he says. “The people who make a lot of money are the people who become big players in the legal profession,” he says. “But you can tell there is this air out there that they think they are somehow better than us because we advertised.” Other lawyers play golf, go hunting and sit on charity boards to rustle up business. “They see that as something different, and that rankles me,” he says. “There’s nothing more American than what I do. The marketplace is going to rule.” ACROSS TOWN AT KEAN MILLER Kean Miller is joining hundreds of other law firms that explicitly market their services instead of relying on old-style networking. The Legal Marketing Association, which was founded in 1985, represents a profession that did not exist 25 years ago. Today it boasts 1,500 members, most of whom work for large corporate law firms. Kean Miller’s new marketing hire, lured from Dallas’ 169-lawyer Hughes & Luce, is director of client services Steven R. Boutwell. He, too, sees Bates as a watershed. “The rules appear to have been written with plaintiff’s lawyers almost exclusively in mind,” Boutwell says. “But they affect all firms. Bates opened the door. “It’s a very competitive profession today. It is a business, there’s no fooling ourselves. And most businesses this size and this scope have an effective and sophisticated marketing program.” The Baton Rouge Business Report, a local magazine, reported on July 30 that Kean Miller’s $30.3 million in revenue made it the city’s 68th largest privately owned company. Advertising for Kean Miller is still a way off, Boutwell says. The firm still must develop a marketing strategy. If it behaves as other similar firms have done, it will advertise regionally, using upmarket television channels such as PBS and placing “image” ads in magazines and newspaper Sunday supplements. The Legal Marketing Association says its member firms average about $200,000 a year on advertising. “The ad is not the strategy” he says. “It is a part of the mix. Everything has to be tied together, to the corporate identity and key communications message.” Kean Miller represents the regional facilities of several major companies, including Exxon Corp., IBM and Microsoft. “Our clients don’t respond to advertising,” Boutwell says. “But for you to be called to the table to discuss your work, you need to advertise — but only as part of your overall marketing strategy.” In the meantime, his job has been merging the way it’s always been done — meeting and mixing — with a coherent business strategy. Business still takes place in a boat or over dinner. But now the effort is coordinated throughout the firm and not reliant on a single rainmaker. Law firms are organized into separate practice areas. Business development crosses those departments to identify legal needs for clients. A lawyer might learn from a golf partner that a company is buying a new software package. That information is passed along to Boutwell, who may hear from another lawyer that the legislature has enacted a tax on the software. “My responsibility is to let the first lawyer know what the second lawyer knows and that he should let the company know that we heard of a legal issue they may want to discuss further,” Boutwell says. “People don’t hire lawyers for million-dollar deals, for million-dollar litigation, if they don’t trust him on a personal level.” Ross Fishman of Highland Park, Ill., whose Ross Fishman Marketing Inc. provides marketing consulting for large firms, says, “Without Bates, I don’t believe legal marketing would have matured as an industry. Bates made it possible for the more business-minded, more aggressive, more competitive-minded lawyers to change the profession into a business. Bates made it possible. It didn’t make it right. That’s not the issue.” He says advertising doesn’t get business immediately, but has a lasting effect. “Done well, advertising is subliminal,” he says. Of members of firms that advertise, he says, “I have no basis for the opinion that they’re good lawyers because I’ve never heard of them. Don’t know any of them. But I believe they’re good lawyers based on no other information. “I’m willing to admit to myself that I created that impression based solely on advertising. I find that fascinating.”

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