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Saturday, Sep 30, 2023

Law Firms Put Greater Value on Marketing Themselves

Time was the only thing lawyers knew about branding was how to protect against and sue for copyright infringement. But as competition among lawyers has swelled, and clients have shown far more willingness to shop around for and even change law firms, many of these firms have begun seeking ways to brand themselves in the marketplace. Not that firms have begun running television ad campaigns or printing their logos on T-shirts. But they are working to establish name recognition for themselves by holding seminars, writing articles, even shortening their names to make them more memorable, all in an effort to distinguish themselves and attract new business. “When I introduce myself to a corporate client who’s never met me before, said Keith T. Zimmet, managing shareholder at Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan, “I’m hoping that because of our marketing efforts in branding the name that client has an image of us as a well-established law firm even before I introduce myself.” The Encino-based firm puts on seminars, sponsors industry events and plays an active role in a number of community organizations. Over at Horvitz & Levy LLP in Encino, Partner David Axelrad says this year he has traveled all over the country to deliver about 20 seminars for clients and other attorneys. Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt LLP in Universal City is producing anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen articles a year for law publications. And another Encino firm, Greenberg & Bass, has brought a marketing consultant on board. These activities, attorneys say, are helping to solidify their relationships with existing clients, put them out in front of potential new clients and even other law firms who might serve as sources for referrals. And most firms now have a strategy in place to assure partners and associates are engaging in some or all of these activities. “There is more and more of an emphasis on marketing of legal services so as to establish your presence in what is increasingly a competitive environment,” said Horvitz & Levy’s Axelrad. Changing firms It isn’t just that there are more lawyers out there clients have changed too. No longer do client companies choose one firm and stick with it. Today they may cherry pick law firms based on different needs or they may change firms if, say, corporate counsel leaves one company for another. As a result, law firms no longer take retaining clients for granted. As in any other industry, they are using marketing and sales techniques to attract and retain business. The efforts range from actively seeking speaking engagements or publishing opportunities to performing marketing analyses and executing strategies to expand the firm’s business into new areas. Some are even shortening the firm’s name to make it more recognizable and memorable. “Once upon a time a law firm was like a fraternity,” said Marcia Wasserman, president of Comprehensive Management Solutions Inc., a firm that specializes in marketing consulting to law firms. “Clients were loyal to the firm. Now clients are loyal to the lawyer they have a relationship with, and if the associate leaves the clients will go. If you’re a partner at any level you have to have the ability to bring in your own client base that will at least support yourself, not to mention other people.” Wasserman runs a managing partners group representing about 20 law firms, and in recent years, she says participants have asked for a greater emphasis on marketing topics. In turn, a growing number of consultants have emerged who specialize in helping law firms to market themselves. But the job is not always easy, these marketing consultants say. “On a daily basis, most lawyers are thinking about the work on their desk,” said Anne Bothwell, president of Bothwell Marketing Inc., an Emeryville-based firm that specializes in teaching marketing to attorneys. “They know they want to be developing business, but they don’t always know what that is.” Hesitant to market While they recognize the necessity, attorneys are often ambivalent about the use of marketing because of the nature of what they do. Marketing a law firm, they say, is different from marketing products or even other services, because attorneys need to project a solid even staid image in order to make clients feel comfortable. “Sometimes boring is better,” said Zimmet. “When you’re putting your family’s wealth or your company’s wealth in the hands of a firm, or your fighting for child custody, anything that’s very important in your life, you don’t necessarily want trendy and sexy. You want well qualified, quality service, and that’s what we’re marketing.” The goal, these attorneys say, is to establish name recognition associated with the firm’s area of expertise. “In our world, one area we’re marketing directly to is other law firms that don’t have labor law capability,” said Richard Rosenberg, founding partner at BRG & S;, which specializes exclusively in labor law. The firm’s associates spend a lot of time working with business organizations that involve other lawyers and establishing themselves as experts in industries where the firm does a large amount of work. “For so long attorneys really focused on what was happening within their own practice, where they went to school, what clients they represent,” said Kim Appleby, who last year was appointed director of marketing for Greenberg & Bass and also consults with other professional services firms. “What they have learned is that clients pretty much anticipate that the firms they are going to have effective attorneys. So all of a sudden the thing a lot of attorneys may have thought set them apart has become a commodity.” These firms are now studying the industries where their clients work. “I think the thing law firms are beginning to understand is this whole process of analyzing your client base and designing a strategy around where you see trends emerging is what all of their clients do,” Appleby added. “We are now moving law firms closer to mirroring what their clients do.”

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