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Learn to Market Now: Why Young Lawyers Need to Hone Their Marketing Skills from Day One.

Debra Andrews on 8/8/2012

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Professional Marketing Consultant to the Legal Industry - www.marketri.com

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Young lawyers enter into the field because they want to practice Law. Many of them are "left brained" because they are often said to be more logical, analytical and objective. They are comfortable and like doing "billable" client work, as it plays to their strengths and they get rewarded in terms of compensation and promotions. And in some firms, young legal associates are told that having super high chargeability is the Holy Grail to partnership. Life is good for these young professionals! They can practice what they love, and if they become exceptional lawyers and work hard enough, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, right?

Marketing – Don't Make Partner without It!

As with most things in life, the path to promotions and partnership is not quite that simple. As young lawyers progress through the ranks, they at some point learn that effective marketing and business development is required to reach the top. Sometimes, associates manage to make partner before the "rainmaker" bomb drops. How is that fair? All of a sudden, a "left brained" individual is forced to get in touch with his/her "right side" after 10-15+ years in the profession. As someone midway through their career, I can vouch for "change gets harder as you get older." No wonder why some newly-minted partners look at me, the marketing consultant, with less than loving eyes when I share aspects of the "new reality" with them!

Is Marketing an Essential Job Component or an "Add on"?

Growth through marketing and business development is the lifeblood of any law firm. If marketing and business development are essential, then why do so many firms wait so long to break the news, train their people, and generally set their lawyers and their firms up for success? As a law firm, do you treat marketing and business development as an essential part of your staff's job or an "add on" component that they can participate in should they have an interest and some available non-chargeable hours?

Building a Marketing Culture that Transcends Every Level

According to Philip Whitman, partner at Erickson Whitman LLC and a leading strategic coach to professional-service firms nationwide, law firms need to build a marketing culture than transcends every staffing level within the organization. He believes there needs to be a systematic approach that gives staff guidance on what they should be doing from a marketing and business development standpoint. Whitman explained, "Young professionals need to understand what to do before, during and after a networking event. It comes natural to some people but not to most." He encourages staff lawyers to ask their partners if they can participate in prospect sales calls. Whitman believes that there should be a business development and marketing component to job descriptions at every level.

Don't Wait! Give Your People Guidance Now.

Recently, I had a conversation with a partner at a mid-sized firm who rose to the top without having to bring in business. She expressed to me that she wished she had marketing and business development training and guidance throughout her career. For her, starting from scratch as a partner has been a challenging situation. If you want to truly do your staff a favor, don't wait! I recommend that some or all of the following items be included in all legal staff job descriptions:

  • Attend a young professional's networking event
  • Build connections on LinkedIn
  • Learn how to talk about the firm, its differentiators, and the benefits it provides to clients
  • Join a committee at a trade association
  • Participate in a college alumni group
  • Write a blog post or other piece of thought leadership
  • Have lunch or coffee with area professionals

As lawyers move up the ranks, so should their percentage of time devoted to marketing. In addition, the mix of their activities should change as well. For example, a senior manager would be better suited to speak at trade association seminar rather than attending a business card exchange. Your in-house or outsourced marketing professional should be able to give your firm solid guidance and lots of ideas on what is appropriate at each staffing level.

Don't let your rising stars get to the end of the rainbow and be faced with an unwelcome surprise! Enable them to accept the pot of gold knowing that they have the marketing skills and a growing book of business to support their new position.

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