Seven Things Young Lawyers Need to Know About Marketing
The following article was published in the August 15, 2013 edition of "Law Practice Today," the monthly webzine of the American Bar Association's Law Practice Management section. The webzine offers articles on current information and trends in the legal industry from administrative professionals in the field of law.
Seven Things Young Lawyers Need to Know About Marketing
I am not writing this article for anyone but you.
Forget about whoever else is reading this, because the advice below was crafted just for you.
Whenever I have sat down for an orientation meeting with a new associate at a law firm (whether it was back when I was an in-house director of marketing or now as a consultant), the first thing I say is in the same vein as that opening line.
“In a moment, I am going to tell you about the firm’s marketing plan and how you will be integrated into those initiatives, but the thing you need to always, always keep in mind is this: this is about you. No matter what we do for the firm, consider it in terms of your practice. A practice that may continue here, move to another firm, or launch a firm with your name on the sign, so approach every marketing task with that in mind.”
A personal brand is so very important in the development of a professional career, but is all too often pushed to the side as young lawyers focus on becoming a part of their firm’s brand. Fortunately, you can support and develop both simultaneously.
1. Carry an umbrella for a rainmaker.
Look at your department’s (or the firm’s) biggest rainmakers and see what they are doing. These are attorneys who have a personal marketing machine as well-tuned as an expensive car. They churn out articles, or they give frequent seminars or talks. They schmooze at chamber or organization functions like a pro. Quite simply, take something they are doing, and work it into your repertoire. If you are a part of their practice group, this is easy, of course, as you can shadow them at speeches or join them at networking events. From their perspective, the simple statement of “I’d like to support your marketing efforts” is both a flattering testament to their success and a generous offer of help to a busy partner.
Of course, while the goal is to mirror them, you can’t exactly launch yourself off of the high-dive board the first time in the marketing pool. So start at a palatable level. If the rainmaker is a regular lecturer at a major industry conference, contact the National Business Institute (NBI) or Lorman Educational Seminars for local opportunities. Both are seminar factories, producing legal conferences all over the country and always looking for new speakers. The experience will be valuable for you as you develop your public persona and look for opportunities for promotion that are cost-effective to the firm (read: free).
2. Don’t be Casper, the friendly ghost…writer.
Articles are a fantastic way to start getting your face out there and build a marketing arsenal. But all too often, associates get pegged with doing all the legwork on an article that a senior partner then claims as his or her own. No by-line, no photo (although once I did note with some humor that a partner had me add to the end of an article…in italics and two font sizes down from the regular text…that a certain associate “contributed” to a piece). If you can, don’t allow this to happen. Communicate right from the start of the assignment (or your proposal if you are pitching the article idea to the partner) that it is very important to you and, after all, wouldn’t it look better for the firm to have two authors, to show the teamwork within the practice area and the depth of the piece? (“Hmmm,” a reader says subconsciously, “Two people collaborated on this piece. Not just one. This must be comprehensive.”)
3. Look at the birdie! Really.
When it’s time to get your photo taken, be sure that it does not involve a white wall in a hallway in the firm as background, you squarely facing the camera in a mug shot stance, or a camera that (a) is held by a coworker or (b) resides in a cell phone.
Get a professional. Not all professionals are prohibitively expensive. Often, they’ll give a great rate for shooting several attorney photos during one visit. And if a photographer is booked to do a new associate photo, chances are, others will come out of the woodwork to get their photo updated while they are in the building. A professional IS necessary. This is your photo. This is the visual representation of you to clients and potential clients. The image that will go on your bio, on articles, on the website. The World. Wide. Web. Which in grade-school terms is your new “permanent record.”
And when you get the photo taken by that not-prohibitively expensive professional, pretend your name is one of the ones on the firm marquee. Wear your best suit and tie. Your pearls. The best thing in your closet. (You are dressing very professionally every day anyway, right, regardless of the firm’s dress code?) This is not a photo of a new associate. This photo will someday be included in the program book for your lifetime achievement award on the “bright beginnings” memory page. Start your portfolio with a powerful and professional image.
4. Schedule 3-5 lunches per day with contacts from law school, the business community, and your neighborhood.
Of course, I’m kidding. But those marketing articles recommending maintaining and cultivating those contacts through a number of lunches or coffees or whatever throughout the month “no matter how busy you are” crack me up. Add up your hourly billable requirement for the firm to whatever marketing initiatives you are attempting to develop and subtract sleep, exercise, family and any semblance of a social life and you’re left in the double digit negatives in terms of hours.
I’m not saying don’t hone those contacts, I’m just saying do it more efficiently. Is there a chamber breakfast that looks appealing to you? Shoot the invitation to a few people, “Thought you’d find this interesting. I’m going. Happy to save a seat at my table if you’d like to sit with someone you know.” Bam. Two birds. One stone.
Better yet, identify an organization where valuable contacts or referral sources reside. Commit to going regularly to their meetings and invite people to join you when you can (good). Get involved on a committee (better). Establish deep roots within that organization, such as a multi-year board seat or leadership commitment that affords you both visibility and regular interaction with all its members (best).
5. Social Media and Elmer Fudd: Be vewy, vewy careful.
I know, you read that line and said, “Duh.” But social media is one place where it’s easy to let your guard down, especially when you are in a community of people with whom you are comfortable. That can be one of the quickest ways to devalue your professional stature, because a personal social media persona is not private, even if it’s private. I was recently forwarded a screen shot of an exchange on a popular social media site that involved several people within a law firm and some very crude references. One of those individuals is a high-level administrator that I have seen and interacted with regularly at networking events. I don’t know if I can look at that person the same way again. Remember that reputation management is a 24/7 job. Nix the boorish banter and don’t put anything in your “permanent records” that can come back to bite you.
Instead, focus on the positive and proactive use of professional social media: tweet or retweet firm news and your own observation of relevant and topical items. Share similar updates on Linked In. Use the power of social media wisely.
6. Know who is packing your parachute.
There is a famous story about an American fighter pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War. He parachuted into enemy territory and spent six years as a prisoner of war. Years later, back in America, he was approached at a restaurant by a man who recognized him, but the veteran was at a loss as to who the stranger was. “Because I packed your parachute,” replied the man.
Law firms have quite a few support roles: HR, the mail/copy room, accounting, marketing. Do you know what they do? Have you asked how you can make their jobs easier when it involves services for you or your practice group? When was the last time you said “thank you?” You’d be amazed at how people go out of their way for you because they know you appreciate them and value their work.
7. Hammer? Check. Screwdriver? Check.
I spoke at a law firm once where all 30 attorneys in the room had no idea that the marketing department had a supply of notecards for their use. The marketing people in the room were surprised that no one knew, and the attorneys were surprised that no one told them. Of course, it all ended well, but one thing you can do as a young associate is be proactive about learning what, exactly, is in the firm’s marketing toolbox.
What printed materials are readily available for attorney use? Who actually uses them? Is there an electronic version of the firm’s brochure? What about e-newsletters? Are they produced and, if so, what’s the editorial schedule (and is there an opportunity for you to contribute)? Do you have ideas on how to add to the cache or improve something that is there?
Talk to the marketing folks about their overall goals and initiatives for the firm— what they’re doing now and what they want to introduce. You could end up playing an integral role by serving as a marketing advocate within attorney circles, and a practical sounding board to marketers about how best to work with attorneys to implement those efforts.
Above all—and this may sound clichéd—be yourself. But it’s true. Firms have processes. Wonderful processes, marketing included, that make things run on a daily basis. And while it might be easy to default to, “But I’m just a first (or second, or whatever) year associate…” and hesitate to try and update or influence these processes, you must remember that the firm is fortunate to now have you in that mix. You! With your fresh approach and your energy and drive.
By taking on any of the efforts above and making them an extension of your confident and true self, you will have an impact that benefits the firm and your personal practice. You will do that through experimentation, trial and error, and a commitment to growth. And by doing so, you will find your place in the firm. You will succeed.
Jamie Mulholland helps law firms in the Philadelphia region achieve their marketing, PR and business development goals. Learn more by visiting www.mulhollandmarketing.com.