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Marketing the firm not a simple task these days

For many years, law firms could rely on being the “oldest and largest” in town as a marketing strategy, but consumers now demand more.

“While Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis is the oldest (100 years in Mississippi) and one of the largest (70 attorneys), the differentiating factor in our brand is our people’s first-hand experience in some of the most significant legal developments this state, and for that matter this region, has ever seen,” said Shawn McGregor, director of marketing and client relations for Watkins Ludlam. “Rather than branding specific attorneys, we’re focusing on the sum of our combined experiences and the significant resources available to clients.”

McGregor recently moved from a similar position at one of the state’s most prestigious accounting firms to the historic law firm, where the role includes marketing and business development.

“Law firms are changing the way they advertise,” said McGregor. “Law firms have traditionally run ‘announcement ads’ to let the public know that ‘Sue’ had become a shareholder in the firm. Firms are now shifting away from that to advertising that educates the reader about the capabilities of the firm and how the firm can help the reader make strong business decisions.”

Josh Huff, who joined Butler Snow O’Mara Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, last year as marketing director, is responsible for the Jackson law firm’s marketing and business development efforts.

“Paid advertising is still a relatively small part of what we do to gain new business,” said Huff. “We respond to requests for proposal (RFPs) that we receive from various local and national entities, a growing trend in the legal profession.

Aside from the earned media, advertising and RFP work, our marketing department is also responsible for our soon-to-be revamped Web site, firm and attorney directories and listings, client relationship management (CRM), coordination of firm seminars and events and sponsorships.”
Business development in law practice is an evolving trend, said Huff.

“Due to the nature of the law practice, marketing and business development were not fully embraced until more recently,” he said. “Many firms believed that they simply needed to continue to ‘do good work’ and the business would come. The fact is, the cornerstone of good business development still lies in ‘doing great work,’ but in today’s competitive environment, it takes more.

“The key to successful business development is realizing that it’s not about us, it’s about the client. We have to find out what a potential client needs, and then explain to them how we can meet their needs. Clients don’t care about how great your firm is. What they do care about is how you can fix their problems.”

Referrals remain a key source of new business for law firms, said Huff.

“To enhance this form of business development, our firm is very involved in state, regional, national and international legal referral networks,” he said. “Additional methods of gaining new clients include networking events, speaking engagements for attorneys and involvement in professional/trade organizations.”

Last year, Butler Snow hired a national consulting firm to survey its clients to rate the law firm in a number of areas, including service and value.

“While the results were excellent, it made the firm aware of some areas where we can improve,” said Huff. “The key is to understand that in the clients’ eyes, there is always room for improvement, and we must constantly look for ways to stay ahead of the curve while at the same time letting our clients know their matters are our top priority.”

McGregor said the primary difference between marketing an accounting firm and a law firm involves the type of work done by the firms’ professionals.

“Accountants have a number of services that are repeated annually on a schedule, such as tax prep and audits,” said McGregor. “Attorneys do provide services that are ongoing, but a large portion of the work involves one-time projects that are not ‘scheduled.’ An example is the GO Zone legislation. This is a one-time project, but we’ve been very successful in helping our clients take advantage of the legislation.”

The Internet is playing a greater role in law firms’ marketing plans, but the advertising movement toward the World Wide Web has been slower than industry watchers predicted.

“Our business is still about communicating with people,” said McGregor. “As consumers become more accustomed to online bill paying and logging in to see their account activity, I’m sure law firms will adapt, but for now, ads and Web sites are used for educating potential or existing clients about our capabilities.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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