What Does Law Firm Branding Have To Do With Law Firm Marketing?

One of the greatest challenges lawyers face in building a law practice is time. I have yet to meet a lawyer or work with a law firm where time is not a scarce resource.  Billable hours, client demands, law firm management and administrative responsibilities are top priorities.  
 
As a result, many lawyers question the value and need for defining a law firm brand. " What does branding have to do with law firm marketing? "
 
To answer this question, I want to start with what branding is and is Not.
 
A brand is NOT just :
 
• a logo
• a tagline
• a web site
 
A brand IS:
 
 
An effective  law firm brand will communicate your uniqueness, express your  value, tell your story and create a memorable presence in your target  market. Your brand will not be for everyone.
 
A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined 
cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.
                                                                               –  Michael Eisner
A strong law firm brand will send the message about who you are and drive how you are perceived by the market and clients. Internally, it will set the agenda and create a common purpose behind your strategy.
 
Successful law firm marketing starts with exceptional value and service to clients. A common "brand promise and commitment" helps align everyone in the firm to deliver a consistent message and more importantly to provide a consistent level of service and value to clients.
 
In summary, your law firm brand has everything to do with marketing and is the foundation for an effective marketing strategy. Your brand should answer the following  questions:  
 
1. What is your firm's value proposition? 
2. How does your firm differentiate from other firms?
3. Who are you? 
4. Who are your clients?
5. What is your firm's voice? 
6. What is your firm's consistent message?
7. What is your firm's promise and commitment?
 
The answers to these questions will help you to leverage the synergy of your firm's expertise and talent. By clarifying and internalizing the answers to these questions, you will have the foundation for creating a marketing plan that produces extraordinary results.  On the other hand , if you begin your marketing plan without knowing the answers to these questions,  you may end up spending your valuable resources, including time, on a plan that produces average results.
 

The Value of a Law Firm Retreat- Don't let the "urgent" take over the "important"

 Last week, I received an email from a managing partner of a successful firm. He had just received an invitation from a legal education organization encouraging him to enroll in a CLE. Included in the invitation was the following list of what lawyers should worry about:

Things to worry about:

  • Worry about courage.
  • Worry about integrity.
  • Worry about efficiency.
  • Worry about whether you're a good enough listener.
  • Worry about whether you're honing your skills.

Things not to worry about:

  • Don't worry about popular opinion.
  • Don't worry about the past.
  • Don't worry about the future.
  • Don't worry about triumph.
  • Don't worry about failure unless it's your fault.
  • Don't worry about satisfactions.

 Things to think about:

  • How thorough is my legal knowledge?
  • How good am I as an analytical thinker?
  • Do I really understand people, and do I get along with them?
  • Are my skills better this year than they were last year?

His question to me was:

"How can you not worry about the future – that is what we are trying to improve!"

I believe the answer to his question can be found in the following quote from management guru Peter Drucker:

" The best way to predict your future is to create it."

I think every great lawyer wants to deliver exceptional value to clients, be part of a successful and innovative law firm and have security about the future.

The key to achieving these goals is to have the discipline to not let the urgent get in the way of the important.

You can accomplish this by taking a strategic pause from the "urgent" day- to- day activities and focus on the "important" long-term strategic activities.

Give consideration to an annual law firm retreat. In the retreat, focus on thinking critically, anticipating, deciding, aligning, learning and following up on breakthrough strategies that will move your firm in the direction you want it to go.

We are experiencing change faster today than at any other time in our history. Instead of worrying about the future, create the future you want.

The following are a few questions to ask the leaders in your firm :

Where is your firm today? ( Who are your clients? What is the culture of your firm? What are the firms critical issues and success factors? Assess and synthesize multiple sources of information)

Where does your firm want to be in the next 3-5 years? ( Look beyond the periphery of your current business)

What is your plan for achieving your goals? ( What needs to change? How are you prioritizing key strategies? What will you start doing more of/less of? )

What do you worry about? How do you take a "pause" from the urgent and focus on the "important"? What challenges do you face when trying to align your partners around a long-term vision?

Creating a Unified Law Firm Vision- Is it worth the effort?

Last week I received a question from a mid size law firm with 65 partners that I felt may be a familiar question for executive directors, managing partners and law firm CEO’s. The question was:

“The partners have a common mission, but not much of a unified vision for the future or a clear sense of what we value. Do you have suggestions?

Upon further investigation I learned about the firm’s situation and source for concern regarding the lack of a shared vision.

The firm was experiencing significant growth and acquiring smaller firms in the same area of law. Although the acquisitions were profitable, the lack of cohesion among the partners was causing internal conflict, delaying important decisions and limiting the firm’s growth opportunities.

Without a common goal for where the firm was headed, it was difficult to bridge the gap between differing opinions on where the firm should devote valuable and limited resources.

Creating a shared vision for law firm’s often falls on the back burner and is not viewed as a top priority, especially when resources and time are in limited supply. However, lack of alignment around a shared vision is at the root of reduced productivity, decreased profitability and diminishes the opportunity for attracting top talent.

The following are strategies for creating a shared vision:

  • Schedule a law firm retreat. Require all equity partners to attend.
  • Prepare in advance for the retreat. Clarify the retreat purpose and most important goals.
  • Assign homework prior to the retreat to identify the firms critical issues and commonalities. 
  • Create a safe environment for unfiltered dialogue in the retreat.
  • Follow up on the goals and initiatives defined in the retreat.
  • Educate all employees on the firms shared vision and their role in achieving success.

My recommendation is to take a step back from the day to day demands of urgent/important activities and ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time your partners came together to dialogue about your shared vision for the firm’s future?
  • How is your internal structure aligned to support your most important goals? What does success look like?
  • How are you leveraging your firm’s vision to attract top talent and to differentiate your law firm in a competitive legal market?

Let me know if spending the time creating a shared vision is considered a valuable use of time. If so, what are the challenges your firm is confronted with to create a shared law firm vision?

Five Strategies for an Effective Law Firm Retreat

The current economic climate has every law firm and practice group focusing on how to maximize resources, reduce costs and optimize partner performance. A recent article in the Wisconsin Law Journal titled, Firm retreats: Business over Pleasure highlights the changes law firms are making in traditional law firm retreats to focus on efficiency and cut costs.

The following are five strategies every law firm, practice group or Collaborative Law practice group can implement to increase the effectiveness and ROI for annual retreats.

1.       Start with a clear understanding on what the purpose of the retreat is, what do you want to achieve as a result of the retreat? What will be different? Why is this a good time to hold the retreat? And most important what do you want to make sure is accomplished by the end of the retreat?
 

2.       Spend time upfront understanding the critical issues and key success factors. Interview the partners or retreat participants in advance to learn what they believe are the most important critical issues and key success factors for the firm or practice group. Interview clients and referral sources to bring their perspective into the retreat.  Summarize your findings into a report to provide a foundation for dialogue in the retreat.
 

3.       Provide each participant with an agenda, summary of critical issues and required preparation for the retreat. The retreat is the time to engage each member to understand the perspectives of others. Proper preparation allows for more meaningful dialogue and results in stronger buy in from all participants.
 

4.       Create a safe environment for unfiltered dialogue in the retreat. Communication and understanding leads to shared purpose and vision among participants. Firms and groups can achieve exponential growth by having a shared purpose and vision.
 

5.       Follow up on the goals and initiatives defined in the retreat. Communicate the results to the entire firm and hold participants accountable for agreed upon action items.

One of the most effective strategies you can implement for optimizing your firm or practice groups performance is to take a step back from day to day client work and bring your team together for a focused retreat that results in moving your firm or group towards your most important goals. This can be achieved through clarity of goals, proper planning, effective communication, accountability and follow up.