Originally published on May 28, 2021. Deborah Farone, strategic marketing and management advisor at Farone Advisors LLC, and Michelle Murray, senior consultant at PP&C Consulting and president-elect of LMA Northeast Region, shared best practices for practice group development considering the new dynamics as we move into a post-pandemic period.
They outlined an approach involving setting objectives, SWOT analysis, strategy development, tactical implementation, and measurement and reporting while maintaining communication with key players against a clear timeline.
Farone and Murray stressed the importance of doing the pre-work and laying a foundation for success based on competitive intelligence research and a detailed understanding of the market, the competitors, and the growth opportunities. Specificity in planning is essential to effective execution.
Farone noted that, while many lawyers are interested in having more clients in a hot industry, that goal is often too broad to be actionable. ‘We want to have more banking clients,’ is a starting point, not a fully defined goal. “One of the ways I get people to talk is to ask them a lot of questions about their objectives,” said Farone, “and keep on asking questions until you can narrow it down.”
Murray observed that successful practice group development requires a deep understanding of the challenges that clients are facing, or even better, that they will face in the next few months. She suggested using Google Alerts to keep tabs on clients and using alerts within Bloomberg Law and other legal intelligence services to stay abreast of industry and regulatory developments. “You want to understand what is going on upstream and downstream for your clients,” she said.
Marketers should set the stage by conducting a SWOT analysis of the practice area. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. To succeed, consider each quadrant in detail. Murray observed that the strengths and weaknesses section “lays a foundation and provides a context of what is happening within the firm…while the opportunities and threats explore what is going on externally.”
With the SWOT analysis complete, legal marketers can begin formulating tactics “the bread and butter” of a successful campaign. They will also need to determine how they will measure their progress. What metrics should be tracked and how will success be measured?
Farone suggested starting small. “Let’s say our goal is getting meetings, for example. We want to know if we can get five meetings in a month.” Small goals are easier to measure and can be built on.
Goals that are too large are harder to measure progress against and can be overwhelming. Farone also mentioned that “You don’t want to track absolutely everything.” She suggested using the SMART criteria for setting objectives: goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
When it comes to selecting the appropriate medium and message for marketing activities, Farone suggested asking clients where they get their news and in what form they prefer to receive marketing content. “You want to be where your clients are, that’s the main thing,” she said. The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing; instead, it feels like a solution to the problems your clients are facing.
Farone also pointed out that practice area promotion needs to be honest. Not every lawyer is right for every client. “You can’t sell yourself as being great in everything,” she said, observing that this comes off across as disingenuous. When a lawyer or practice group team is faced with a matter outside of their expertise Farone suggested helping the client connect with the lawyer who is best for this area. This can help your firm to be seen as a true partner and build trust with the client.
If strategy is going to be more than just planning on paper, tactical execution is required—this is where theory meets reality. Murray and Farone shared 6 tips to ensure the successful execution of a business plan
• Planning process
• Groups that work
• Metrics/tracking/reporting out
• Celebration of success
Engagement is of critical importance. Legal marketers frequently run into the obstacle of lawyers who don’t have time or the inclination to execute on their part of a plan. Farone and Murray suggested several methods for dealing with this all-too-common scenario. Farone said that lawyers should be part of the planning process from the start so that they feel ownership and know what will be required of them; “Don’t give them the plan, involve them in the creation of the plan.” These plans should be as simple as possible and be “live” documents that can be updated.
Farone also noted that big committees can impede action, although Murray noted that decision-makers often need to be involved. Murray suggested having a strategy to engage partners who might be “a bump in the road”.
Farone again suggested starting small: “Why not start with the smallest actionable body, the individual lawyer?” She noted that there is an immense benefit in having “smaller plans for smaller practices” and using “mini-marketing plans” to execute efficiently.
One attendee shared what is a frustrating experience for legal marketers, being “ghosted” by the very lawyers who they are trying to help with a marketing plan. Murray offered several suggestions, including “working with the willing”, and letting lawyers know that, as marketers, we have limited resources and if a lawyer is too busy, we will go work with another lawyer instead.
Farone observed that if a lawyer is not responsive, they may be afraid of failure, confused about the process, or simply overwhelmed with casework. She suggested asking questions to get to the source of the delay and, if necessary, asking the lawyer if there is someone else who can act on that part of the plan.