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Law firms, regardless of size, are usually composed of many departments, each responsible for contributing to the firm’s success. Whether that is a single administrator who handles the marketing or a firm that has an entire department of people, the marketing side usually cannot function without the assistance of the legal side. When it comes to promoting your firm’s success, or ensuring your lawyers are known thought leaders in their fields, your firm’s marketing professionals become an integral part of your team. Creating brand awareness and reputation for the firm, as well as setting the framework for effective business development for each practice group is essential to your firm’s success. However, this only happens when there is a productive and mutually respectful relationship between marketers and their lawyer colleagues. Establishing this dynamic can often be challenging until the marketer builds a rapport with your team of attorneys which, like any good relationship, takes time and requires an open line of communication. It becomes critical, then, to understand the obstacles that can get in the way of building an effective partnership in order to combat them. Below we’ll discuss three common challenges that occur between the marketing team and attorneys as well as strategies for overcoming them.

Adjusting to Change

It has been 40 years since the Supreme Court issued its precedent opinion in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, No. 76-316. 433 U.S. 350 (1977),that ultimately allowed lawyers to advertise. Since then, firms have been striving to generate business through a variety of channels to stay competitive, thinking far beyond the referral model or their reputations alone to generate revenue. Further, the advent of new technology and social media as sources of business generation has brought an onslaught of options and instant publicity. However, for many attorneys, especially the seasoned ones, the current avenues for promotional growth may seem overwhelming and they can be skeptical about the ideas that marketers suggest for their business development efforts.

Given the constant changes in the legal marketing landscape, it can be especially challenging for marketers who are looking for buy-in on a new initiative. Marketers should use hard facts and data to support their rationale for certain marketing efforts if met with skepticism. For example, social media and Google analytics can track views and reach for specific posts or areas of a website, highlighting content that is particularly engaging. Using measurable outcomes will help justify attorney’s efforts and also show what topics, practice areas or specific attorneys are garnering the most attention. This also taps into attorneys’ competitive nature—if they see their peers creating content and engaging in business development activity that performs well, they will be more inclined to jump on the band wagon themselves. To ensure your attorneys are adapting, it helps to show, rather than tell them how their outreach and thought leadership efforts will produce genuine results.

Lack of Responsiveness

As anyone who has worked in a law firm can attest, attorneys are swamped, especially with the billable hour still reigning supreme in most firms. Nonbillable work is often pushed to the last minute and is usually not given the same attention a billable matter receives. Constantly tracking down deliverables from attorneys to meet pending deadlines often leaves marketers feeling more like a pest than a strategic partner. Attorneys can be elusive when it comes to meeting marketing objectives, even if that’s not the intent. A lack of responsiveness does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest but often is a symptom of having to meet high billable hour requirements.

To offset this, marketers have to be cognizant of, and sensitive to, attorney time constraints by being accountable and thorough. Project management is key to a successful relationship with attorneys as keeping track and monitoring what needs to get done, and who is responsible for handling each task takes a heavy load off their shoulders. Many elements of marketing and business development needs can be tackled by nonattorneys, so the marketer’s job is to identify what specifically needs attorney input and what can be taken care of by someone else. In tandem, marketers can identify what projects take priority and what is more of a “nice to have” that can either be delegated to someone else or can be addressed at a later time. If the process is streamlined and the expectations and timelines are clear, then the collaboration is ripe for success.

Conflicting Messages

Marketers are often juggling simultaneous requests from multiple stakeholders which can lead to conflicts. The agendas for various practice groups are not always functioning in tandem, especially at larger firms where departments may be siloed and cross-department communication can be limited. This can leave marketing teams feeling pulled in many directions as attorneys within the same practice area request different support and resources or attorneys across practice groups compete for the same attention. Further, one or both parties may lack the understanding of why specific initiatives are established in the first place and what the ends goals are for those efforts.

Like any business, law firms must evaluate how time and money is spent in order to determine the efforts that are worth continuing as well as those that need to be reconsidered. A helpful way to manage different expectations from attorneys is to determine what your marketing goals are for each practice group or individual attorney and show how these objectives are being met. Senior members of the marketing team, along with key stakeholders in the firm—including the managing partner, CFO and others, should develop processes for tracking ROI measures and creating a game plan for marketers to follow based on that. Regardless of your role on the marketing team, there should be a united front on where resources should be allotted and how their efficacy can be measured and reevaluated over time. This prevents marketers from the sticky situation of navigating varying interests from attorneys without any clear goals to back them up. By establishing a marketing plan with senior management and conveying those objectives across practice groups, marketers can focus on reaching the items that have been mutually agreed upon.

Help us, help you.

We’ve all heard the phrase “time is money” and it couldn’t apply more in a law firm setting. The better we can allocate our time, the more revenue we can bring in. Unfortunately, for legal marketers, a lot of time is spent on convincing and placating rather than strategizing and implementing. Marketers exist to make attorneys and firms look good by serving as the strategic arm of the firm. If we begin to unravel some of the hurdles that prevent this, we can work toward showcasing our firms and attorneys in the most effective way. It’s time to start seeing the attorney/marketer relationship as a collaboration, so everyone can save time and money—a win-win for all. •