If a client asked you what else your firm is good at besides the services you provide, would you know what to say? If they had a legal problem outside of your expertise, would you know who in your firm could help them? If your answer is “Of course!”—put it to the test.
At a recent law firm retreat that I facilitated, we did an exercise where the lawyers had to tell the rest of the group something about themselves (professional, not personal). The most common reaction was, “I didn’t know that!” The conversation in the break afterwards was electric: “Why didn’t you tell me you could…”, “If I had known that you had…”, “Did you know that I have a client who…”, etc.
I’ve met many examples where even long-time law firm management does not know the extent of the firm’s capabilities. I once sat in on a proposal meeting at a very well-known firm where the prospective client was looking for several different legal services, including advice on confidentiality of business information. The lead lawyer frowned and said, “We haven’t got anyone who can do that, have we?” Sitting just two seats down from him was a young partner who had just published a definitive textbook on the subject.
That’s just a big-firm problem, you say? Not so. When I was interviewing the managing partner in a six-lawyer firm (three partners, three associates), he expressed surprise when I complimented him on the range of expertise in his small group of lawyers. He had no idea that one of the associates spoke Italian fluently (a great benefit in their location) and that the business law partner was rapidly establishing a niche in a certain kind of deal.
Few workplaces are set up as poorly for good communication as is the average law firm, where lawyers are closeted in their own offices and have the chance to talk only to people they are working with directly or who are situated en route to the kitchen or the washroom. Punishing workloads, the need for confidentiality, and internal competition for clients all combine into the perfect recipe for silence, if not secrecy. None of those things help facilitate the flow of good communication, which is an essential ingredient of marketing.
I’ve found that if a law firm has a marketing problem, chances are it can be at least lessened, if not solved, by better internal communications. Take the case of a newly merged firm, for example. If the merger is to be profitable, everyone in the firm must quickly come up to speed on the new firm’s capabilities. The same is true when a new lawyer or group of lawyers join the firm, or when the firm is recruiting. Times of transition and organizational change need the most careful communications, but the need to communicate is always present. Tell people nothing and they will attempt to fill the vacuum.
So how do you improve internal communications? First, by recognising that any firm’s best referral sources will be found within the firm itself. It’s a question of strategy, not ego. Then, set up internal communication channels such as email newsletters, intranets, and blogs. Regularly used, these channels improve communication because they demonstrate that there is a place where information can be found—and sent. Keep the information short, light, and congratulatory wherever possible. But remember that this is a marketing initiative: it isn’t the births, deaths, and marriages column. The information shared should help everyone understand the firm’s experience and talents—and how they can be used to serve the firm’s existing and prospective clients.
As with external advertising, frequency and consistency are much more important than size and detail. And send it to EVERYONE—the people in the mail room are just as crucial to the firm’s success as is the managing partner, and are just as likely to have had a hand in that latest proposal win or court victory.