Beyond Brochures: Marketing Through Print Advertising

The ad for a Philadelphia law firm shows a father and mother with two children superimposed on a blurred background of flames and smoke. "Our prowess in fire and insurance litigation has been equaled by our skill in estate planning and family law. The fire is spreading," the copy reads.

It is one of a dozen a dozen ads the 270-lawyer Cozen and O'Connor is running in The Wall Street Journal and several local business and legal publications to highlight an expansion beyond its catastrophic-litigation roots and into practice areas such as business, estate planning and public finance.

For the 350-lawyer Kansas City, Mo.-based firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, the approach has been somewhat different.

"More litigation. More resources, More regulatory changes. More opportunity....It's time to expect more service," says one of five new ads the firm is running in national publications such as Business Week, Fortune and Corporate Legal Times, as well as a handful of local publications.

Testing the Advertising Waters

Although advertising hasn't yet entirely shed its stigma within the legal community, the practice has begun to gain acceptance with some of the buttoned-down partners who oversee large-firm marketing budgets, which nowadays can reach $1 million or more.

More often than not, marketers say, the decision to advertise requires strong, entrepreneurial leadership and a specific marketing need or goal, such as increased name recognition.

With the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), states could no longer ban lawyer advertising. But large, white-shoe firms did not start advertising until the late 1980s or early 1990s, according to William E. Hornsby Jr., staff counsel to the ABA Commission on Advertising.

One of the first big law firms to try national print advertising was the Washington, D.C., law firm of Howrey & Simon. The 300-plus lawyer firm, which has offices in Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley, is running ads featuring courthouses across the country, touting that its lawyers are "in court every day."

But that was actually the firm's third campaign, says Jay M. Jaffe, chair of the law firm marketing organization Jaffe & Associates in Washington, D.C. Jaffe, who also serves as the director of marketing at Howrey & Simon, first proposed to the firm's management committee in 1991 that they begin advertising.

His goal was to raise awareness of the firm among general counsel at Fortune 1000 companies. "I realized that nobody was advertising in a serious way," he says."It was wide open." Interviews with Fortune 1000 counsel indicated the ads were working, Jaffe says. "The awareness was going up."

In addition to increasing name recognition, ads serve to reinforce a client's decision to choose a law firm, he says. "Clients like to read advertisements about their firms because it reminds them they're in the right place."

Initially, though, the ads were not so well-received within the firm. "We probably didn't do a good job of communicating to the general partnership what we were doing, what the rationale was," Jaffe says.

By the time the first campaign wound down at the end of 1992, however, much of the opposition had been diffused. "There were some lawyers who felt that the minute [the ads] ran, clients would be leaving the firm. That never happened," he says. There was also a fear the corporate clients would object to the firm spending money on advertising, Jaffe recalls. That never happened, either.

As Jaffe points out, clients work for companies that themselves spend money on advertising, so they understand the value "better than firms do."

Howrey & Simon's most recent campaign - the one that highlights its lawyers' courtroom experience - had a very specific purpose, says Jaffe. "We wanted to differentiate between trial experience and litigation." After all, he adds,"There are lots of litigators across the country who have never seen the inside of a courtroom."

Name-Brand Recognition

Shook, Hardy's attempts at advertising to increase name awareness began with a campaign addressing "the last thing lawyers want to talk about...fees."

Shook, Hardy has tried to develop its campaigns around messages it perceives clients want to hear, says Dale Chaffin, the firm's chief operating officer. So the firm has avoided hyperbole claiming it is the biggest and the best in favor of addressing clients' concerns over increasing work and rising fees.

The hope is that the advertising will make members of the business community more receptive to the firm when its attorneys present their credentials.

The apparent success of law firm advertising campaigns has inspired the 200-lawyer Philadelphia firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis to include advertising in its marketing efforts.

The firm currently is running an ad in Corporate Legal Times highlighting a recent coup: It filed the first electronic, interactive brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge to regulation of indecent material on the Internet.

"It was a slow process for the firm to accept the need to advertise," says David Smith, a litigation partner who is responsible for business development.

"I don't think any client will select a lawyer because of the advertising," Smith says. "But the name recognition fostered by advertising might be helpful."

Some firms advertise with more specific goals than increased name recognition. Denver-based Holland & Hart, for example, recently took out an ad in Corporate Legal Times to highlight its new high-tech mock trial and graphics preparation center.

Cozen and O'Connor decided to advertise after partners became frustrated that word of the firm's recent expansion efforts was not reaching the business community.

So far, the feedback from clients and prospective clients has been positive, says partner Joseph A. Gerber, who chairs the firm's client relations and business development committee.

What Now?

According to the ABA's Hornsby, the jury is still out on the future popularity of large-firm advertising.

"So far, large-firm advertising has been limited to a fairly select number of firms in a discreet sort of way," he says, adding that there are several reasons firms may be hesitant to produce print ads. For one, there remains an institutional suspicion of the medium. "Most lawyers were taught that advertising is an unethical thing to do."

Some firms also may be hesitant to try image advertising because its success is inherently difficult to measure, Hornsby says. "Law firms are interested in seeing a sales or revenue connection to their outlay for advertising, just like everybody else is."

Also, he says, many firms in recent years have expended much of their internal marketing resources to create and maintain Web pages on the Internet, leaving little time and money for other new and expensive marketing efforts.

But Charles "Biff" Maddock of legal consulting firm Altman Weil Pensa in Newtown Square, Pa., says he expects an increasing number of firms to take out ads.

"More firms than ever are considering this," he says. It is hard to measure just how many because the phenomenon of large-firm advertising is new enough that it is not included in most law firm marketing studies.

But the trend toward advertising appears to be spreading, he says. Recently, Du Pont Co. developed a series of ads for its "partner firms" to run. The ads, clearly identified as Du Pont ads, give the firms a way "to buy into a ready-made advertising program that's very well done," Maddock says.

William C. Cobb of Houston's Cobb Consulting Group says there is little doubt that image advertising will grow "as other professional service firms begin to encroach on law firms' markets." Just look, Cobb says, at the ads being run by large accounting firms.

Provided by Ritchenya A. Shepherd of the ABA Journal.