Why many law firms fail to see the relevance of brand to revenue – surely it’s a missed opportunity?

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09/07/2019

Marketing legal services isn’t illegal anymore. However, the legacy of old legislation lives on continuing to impact, and sometimes limit, the way law firms seek new business.

Legal marketing has been permitted in the UK since 1986, when the Law Society of England and Wales first permitted lawyers to advertise. In the USA, the first major case law decision on legal advertising came in 1977. Two lawyers put out an advert in the local paper for their firm. In the United States Supreme Court it was held that lawyer advertising is partially protected by the First Amendment. Although, to some, it’s still a controversial topic.

The result is that many of today’s most senior law firm partners were schooled under a system that did not permit the advertising and marketing of legal services. Obviously, they have had more than 30 years to adapt that thinking and are more than academically capable of doing so. However, we all know that old habits die hard. They inform our thinking in ways even we might not even be aware of.

Legislation and legacy for marketing legal services

In many ways, this legacy led to the historic culture of corporate hospitality. The traditional leitmotif of rounds of golf played between the potential legal representative and prospective client. To be a little reductive, for lawyers in the mid market, marketing is often understood in terms of events and entertainment. It’s not thought about in terms of brand campaigns and positioning for market relevance to their client groups.

So what’s the problem? The impact of that legal change filters through to the culture and structure of law firms as a whole. In a world where lone wolves and top dogs, dominance is declining. Coupled with the evolution of marketing and consumer expectation, this has led to a greater need to understand the concept of brands. It also requires a collective culture rather than an individualistic one. It places greater emphasis on lawyers to win work through collaboration with their partners. It means  listening to their clients and their market needs. However they also need to share the responsibility for managing the client relationship and the rewards that they reaps as well.

Branding sets you apart

For many Partners in the later stages of their career, thinking of their organisation as a brand is a challenge. Large international firms with large budgets often are seen to be ahead in this area. Smaller firms struggle to justify spend on brand to partners when it directly impacts their draw. But if you look at the recent winner in the legal awards it is the small challenger brands of niche firms that have capitalised on the power of brand over relying on individuals to increase their revenues.

All the while, the market is becoming more competitive than. It makes those with a clear vision for their brand best able to distinguish themselves in a relatively indistinguishable market. Why? Because competitive advantage is difficult to establish in the law where everyone is essentially selling the same thing. It is your brand that separates you. If you equate this analogy to the consumer sector – you buy into award-winning, well known brands. Why should professional services be any different?

You’re not alone

So what can you do about it? Go out and commission a large and expensive advertising agency? Perhaps. Bring lots of highly experienced rainmakers onto the staff? Also not a bad idea. The challenge is that while no business leader needs to have all the answers, they do need to know the right questions to ask. This makes a trusted and discreet mentor a valuable source of personal development for targeted professional outcomes.

As leaders in any organisation it can be lonely and isolating to feel that there’s no one to turn to when you’re unsure of what to do. However, within our team it’s an area we specialise in, and we’re here to help.