Lawyers frequently lament to me that they wish they could focus on the practice of law, rather than being perpetually barraged with new and un-billable marketing and technology demands. There is a palpable longing for the halcyon days when such a pure life was allegedly attainable. The fundamental approach to marketing in the golden age — still deeply rooted in many lawyers’ DNA — was “Do good work.”
Full-stop. Put another way, the prevailing ethos was “by one’s expertise shall ye be known.” Smart lawyers excelled. Smart lawyers who also happened to have a way with people were superstars.
Against this backdrop, any activity specifically directed towards marketing felt ancillary, somewhat impure, and utterly accretive, like barnacles attaching themselves to the underbelly of the mighty vessel that is the law. Given a choice between steering the ship or attending to barnacle management, most lawyers naturally gravitated above-decks to the wheelhouse.
Those of a certain age will remember that one of Dr. Leonard (“Bones”) McCoy’s most oft-quoted phrases on the original Star Trek series ran something along the lines of: “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a magician!” uttered in an exasperated tone when the good doctor was being asked to do the impossible for the umpteenth time. I can almost hear McCoy shouting at me: “Dammit Doug, I’m a lawyer, not a marketer!” when having a “law vs. these new distractions” discussion with lawyers.
For those who feel similarly under siege by the ongoing assault on their ability to actually practice law in the course of their legal career, I offer what I hope is at least a modicum of good news: a shift is occurring in marketing circles – and in this “New” Marketing, expertise is once again moving squarely to the forefront.
At a recent Legal Marketing Association conference in Toronto on the changing face of legal marketing, I was struck by the comments of keynote speaker Mitch Joel. In Joel’s view, the steak-less sizzle of traditional marketing is being usurped by something more substantive online. His position is that digital channels are the first places in marketing that facilitate real interactions between real people. As Joel himself put it:
“I’m thrilled to be out of a world where marketing is whiter, brighter, and 20% off.”
There is no question that the online world increasingly reins supreme from a legal marketing perspective. And in this new environment, the object that now shines brightest for lawyers “shilling their wares” is good old-fashioned expertise.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this shift is the rise of legal blogging. We have seen blogs definitively hit the legal mainstream over the last few years. Fundamentally, law blogs are online demonstrations of the author(s) legal knowledge, rich in detail and practical information about niche areas of practice. Frequently they are also geared to specific client industries, and can become important industry connection points as a result, acting as a sort of online commons (Slaw itself being a prime example of this in my view). The best blogs also tend to reveal something of their authors’ personalities, making the blogs more engaging for readers, and their authors analogous to the legal superstars of old.
But it’s not just blogs. Digital channels such as twitter and other social media have exploded in popularity in both the legal world and the broader population. The growth of legal document portal JD Supra is another case in point. In the legal context at least, it is substance over style that is winning converts – and clients – in these new arenas. There is an authenticity to digital marketing done well that is perfectly aligned with lawyers’ natural inclinations.
Recently I have been speaking with lawyers about the concept of transparency. In a marketing context, this means finding ways to make the knowledge that you have, and the legal thinking that you are already doing, more readily visible to the outside world. It involves using the new media tools that are now available to show interested audiences the nuts and bolts of what you know, what you do, and what you think, rather than being something separate and apart that is awkwardly appended to your practice after the fact, like the barnacle-laden firm brochures of old.
For lawyers, the challenge now lies in incorporating at least some of these new digital tools into the fabric of your regular workday in a minimally invasive way. If the classic lawyer marketing mantra was “Do good work”, then the “New Marketing” approach can perhaps best be described as “Do good work – visibly.”
For many, this pendulum swing in marketing focus towards showcasing legal expertise represents a welcome step back to the future.