FindLaw Speaks with Law Marketing Guru Mark Beese

Mark Beese is Director of Marketing for Holland & Hart LLP a 290+ attorney law firm with offices throughout the Mountain West of the United States. Holland & Hart is the only "AmLaw 200" firm based in the Rocky Mountain region. In 2002, the marketing team of Holland & Hart transformed itself into an in-house marketing agency called Imaginate. Imaginate provides a wide range of marketing, advertising, public relations, graphic design, e-marketing, and consulting services to the attorneys and affiliated services of the firm and their clients. In 2003, the Marketing Partner Forum named Mark and his team "Marketing Director of the Year". Prior to joining Holland & Hart, Mark served as Director of Marketing for the New York law firm of Hodgson Russ, LLP and Director of Marketing for Kideney Architects. Mark received his B.S. and M.B.A. (cum laude) from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

What would you identify as some of the biggest challenges facing the legal marketing profession?

Over the past several years, legal marketing has gone quickly through several stages. Less than 10 years ago there was a focus on promotion through seminars and event marketing. Then law firm advertising became hot, and business and legal publication editors lay awake nights thinking of new ways to generate income from law firms. Legal marketers realized that they needed a cohesive message, and the focus shifted to branding - an attempt to position an image of their firm in the minds of their clients and potential clients.Many firms have now done the branding dance and are thinking business development: what can we do to increase revenues and profits? How can we make a big difference in our bottom line?

On the business development front, issues of cross-marketing, industry specialization, client relationship teams, partnering, and winning core counsel competitions are on the minds of legal marketers and managing partners. Progressive firms are implementing programs to improve their relationships with key clients, and seek innovative ways to serve their clients.

On another note, law marketers have seen a great deal of change in their roles and expectations over the past few years. More firms are hiring "Chief Marketing Officers" (CMO's) rather than Marketing Directors, although the expectations differ from firm to firm. More firms are looking to marketing folks not just for operational tasks -- events, corporate communications, public relations, proposals, and the like -- but also strategic guidance, traditional business development (read: sales) support, and change management.

I've heard that the average tenure of a marketing director is between 19 and 30 months. Many of my colleagues spend a fair portion of their time recruiting and training new marketing staff. Why is law marketing so difficult? What can we do to make law marketing a more satisfying profession? As leaders of marketing departments, and in our firms, we need to find ways to keep marketing professionals engaged, creative, challenged, and loyal in an ever changing environment.

All of these challenges -- a shift to business development, an emphasis on client service, changing expectations of marketing professionals and a desperate need to retain quality staff -- are functions of a firm's culture. Nimble firms that can adapt their culture quickly will succeed.

What do you think are the biggest changes to the landscape in recent years?

Convergence. As legal departments and corporations seek to reduce costs and improve efficiency, they are drastically reducing the number of firms they work with. I spoke to a GC of a Fortune 100 company some time ago. "How many law firms do you use now?" I asked. His reply, "We've acquired many companies, and their associated outside counsel, over the past 5 years. We use more than 300 law firms across the US and internationally. In 18 months, we plan on reducing that number to about 25 firms. We can't afford to have so many disparate relationships."

As clients seek to streamline their relationships with outside counsel, law firms are forced to compete on, well, relationships. Progressive law firms have invested financially and emotionally in improving client service through client surveys, client visitation programs, client team training, and even compensation systems tied to client satisfaction and cross-marketing success.

Recently there has been an increase in tools to increase client service, such as the widespread use of legal extranets, PDA's with e-mail capacity, electronic billing, etc.

How do you see sales people fitting into the law firm environment and what role will marketing take in business development? What types of tools can marketers then offer to their attorneys or sales professionals?

Ethics rules in most states prevent non-lawyers from soliciting business on a commission or traditional sales model. However, several firms are experimenting or implementing some form of a sales model to generate new business. Consulting and accounting firms have used models for the past 15 + years that are now being considered by law firms. Marketing, and other staff departments, have often taken non-billable tasks off the lawyer's desk to improve their productivity. That's hard to do when it comes to relationship building. Business development professionals can help by:

  • Networking within industry and community groups to identify prospects
  • Opening doors for attorneys and making introductions
  • Providing primary and secondary research
  • Conducting a needs and gap analysis
  • Developing a response to the gap analysis and a BD plan
  • Anticipating objections and developing a response plan
  • Assembling a team
  • Introducing team leaders to "close"

 

Law marketers can assist business development efforts in three ways. First, marketers can offer services that help lawyers or business development professionals understand the client's business, industry, and specific situations through research and competitive intelligence. Second, marketers can advise on the crafting of the needs analysis and developing a client-specific business development plan. Third, marketers can help track efforts and "nag" as needed. Many well-intentioned and well-conceived plans die for lack of follow up.

I think some firms will find ways to make professional business development efforts work, but most will try to adapt the current "the lawyer is the salesperson-production unit-owner" model to be more effective.

How does a Web Presence fit into a firm's overall marketing strategy? Is it one of the focal points or just one of the aspects of a marketing strategy?

Holland & Hart has about 12 websites right now. Clients want to have confidence that their lawyers are not only experts in their field of law, but are intimately familiar with their own business and industry. We have used the web to communicate our expertise in both legal specialty and industry segments. In addition, our website becomes a primary branding tool. Holland & Hart's desired positioning statement is centered on being the leading law firm in the Rocky Mountain West, so our website graphically and textually reflects that brand. Our specialty websites, such as www.westernwaterlaw.com, underscore our brand and our familiarity with our client's business.

Holland & Hart has several ancillary services that help differentiate the firm. Persuasion Strategies is the firm's in-house trial consulting and graphics group, boasting four Ph.D.'s trained in courtroom psychology. Another client benefit, and by creating its own website, highlights the group and its services. Holland & Hart's Foundation serves thousands of people every year and engages nearly all of the firm's 600 attorneys and staff. The website shows a part of the firm that is integral to our culture, and is important to our clients, potential clients, and the communities in which we practice.

What impact do you see Blogs in a marketing law firms?

We've been using a blog to promote our health care practice for nearly a year now. The blog has been a wonderful way to communicate with an audience of clients, potential clients, and influencers without the trouble of sending frequent e-mails. As spam filtering technology increases, and everyone's patience for non-critical e-mail dwindles, blogs are a wonderful alternative to communicate substantive information to an audience.

The health care practice group leader administers our healthcare blog. He writes the content and posts at his leisure. Over the past 8 months, other blogs and websites have linked to our blog, increasing traffic and recognition. Along with e-mail newsletters, industry-related legal websites, extranets, and webinars, blogs will become an increasingly important tool to law firm marketers.

What is the last book you read and why. How has it affected your approach in Marketing at HH?

I am currently reading, King Arthur's Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organization" by David Perkins. I heard Perkins speak at the Annual Conference on Thinking via the web this summer. I am trying to figure out how to best influence a culture that is largely individual-based and move it towards a culture of teamwork and collaboration. Perkins defines corporate culture as the sum total of all the conversations we have within an organization. Are those conversations progressive or regressive? Are we working towards effective teamwork or building roadblocks to collaboration? The example of King Arthur's Round Table seemed fitting for application in law firms. Arthur's knights -- around the table -- are much like we'd like to see a true partnership work.

I tend to read several books at once, rarely finishing any one. I've also been reading:

  • The Pressure's Off, by Larry Crabb
  • Creativity, by Matthew Fox
  • The Experience Economy, by James Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine, II
  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, By Robert Putnam
  • The Big Sky, by A. B. Guthrie