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Reputation, word of mouth remain popular, too

Competition drives law firms to creative marketing

As competition increases, some law firms are boosting marketing efforts by hiring specialized staff and incorporating short- and long-range strategies. Others simply rely on reputation and word of mouth.

Larry Houchins, executive director of The Mississippi Bar, said the legal marketplace has changed dramatically in 20 years, with the most visible change occurring in advertising.

“Lawyer ads fill the yellow pages and are regularly seen on television,” Houchins said. “Today’s marketplace is more sophisticated in the way it chooses legal counsel , (and) the legal profession has changed with the market. Many law firms now think in terms of ‘market share’ and ‘cross-selling’ practice areas to existing clients. Firm brochures, newsletters and Web sites have become common. Marketing is now a part of doing business for law firms in Mississippi.”

Lisa Flynt of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, said law firms have to be proactive, think strategically and constantly evaluate the best methods to meet clients’ needs.

“We’ve had to realize that law firms face competitive pressures just as any other business, and that customer loyalty is affected by competitive pressures of our clients’ business environment,” she said.

Even though law firm marketing has changed dramatically since Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis opened its doors in Jackson in the 1890s, the firm’s marketing focus is still client-driven, said chairman Alveno Castilla.

“Not only has the marketing of law firms changed, but the marketing of all professional service firms has changed,” he said. “There’s been a loosening up of marketing boundaries, boundaries that are not considered as stringent as they used to be in terms of what is taboo.”

In the last two decades, beyond increased image-enhancing advertisements for law firms, Tommy Shepherd, treasurer for Watkins Ludlam, said the greatest change in law firm marketing has been increased exposure to target market groups.

“More lawyers are speaking at seminars on substantive legal issues and are becoming more involved in trade and industry associations,” said Shepherd, who is very active in gaming industry organizations.

Five or six years ago, the partners at Wise Carter Child & Caraway took a long, hard look at marketing the Jackson-based law firm, said Charles Ozier, president.

“In the last three years, our work has grown dramatically,” he said. “I don’t ever want to say we don’t need a full-fledged marketing plan, but at this point, particularly in Jackson, we’ve got about all of the work we can handle and more coming in the door. We’re trying to hire new lawyers every day. Right now, marketing is not high on our priority list. We try to publicize our efforts, honors and accomplishments in newspapers and different trade magazines, and it has been real effective for us. And we put out a good product. If clients are happy with your work, they’ll refer you to their associates.”

Deborah Todd, director of marketing for Memphis-based Baker Donelson, has four full-time marketing specialists and four interns to assist her with coordinating marketing efforts for the firm’s 240 attorneys and senior public policy advisors in offices located in Jackson, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Huntsville, Tri-Cities and Johnson City, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. In addition, onsite marketing coordinators tend to details for each office.

“When I first started at Baker Donelson almost five years ago, I was having to convince the lawyers that they even needed marketing,” Todd said. “Now, we can’t keep up with our attorneys’ requests. For a firm our size, we’ve been told we need 10 full-time marketing staffers to support the lawyer’s needs and accomplish the goals we’ve set forth in our development plan.”

The most common marketing functions are staff support for attorneys and strategic marketing through public relations and high-end advertising, she said.

“Marketing support for attorneys runs the gamut — from writing letters or packaging material for current or prospective clients, or planning a seminar to throwing a business dinner for clients,” Todd said. “Strategic marketing includes appropriate sponsorships in each market, newsletters to clients interested in particular topics, targeting clients and cros- selling services. Another area that doesn’t fit into those two categories includes training programs and educational information.”

Even with marketing tactics in place, there’s is no substitute for reputation and referrals, Todd said.

“That’s how lawyers have always been hired and that’s still the case today,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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