Laura Meherg is the Director of Client Services at Burr & Forman LLP. Based in the firm's Birmingham office, she is responsible for developing Burr & Forman's strategic marketing and business plans. Ms. Meherg is also responsible for facilitating client and industry teams, conducting client satisfaction surveys, producing all marketing collateral, branding and advertising, proposal preparation, the firm''s charitable giving program, client development training, and all aspects of community and media relations. Laura received her B.S. degree in Marketing from the University of Alabama. Ms. Meherg is past-President of the Southeastern Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association and serves on the board of directors of the LMA, American Heart Association, and Kid One Transport Systems. She was named Marketing Director of the Year 2003 at the Marketing Partners Forum in Orlando, Florida.
What was it like to win this year's Marketing Director of the Year award at the Marketing Partners Forum?
It's always a great honor to be recognized by your peers. But this was exceptionally meaningful because my firm's marketing partner and managing partner submitted the nomination. One of the judges commented that it was the only nomination letter signed by both. They were very secretive about the whole thing and even sent my parents the nomination package as an early Christmas present. At that point they didn't know the outcome, but wanted my folks to see the nomination package. They also arranged to have my parents attend the awards luncheon. I grew up in Orlando so it was wonderful that they could be there.
What are the current trends in the legal marketing profession?
Here are the trends I think are most significant:
- A greater focus on client satisfaction and quality improvement programs in law firms.
- More research-driven strategy development, with marketing involved in the entire process, not just implementation.
- Continued consolidation, regionalization and globalization of firms with fewer one-city, mid-size, full-service firms.
- Business development skills training for staff and attorneys and the addition of sales and business development professionals.
Do you think the trend of "sales in business development" will continue? Do you think we will see law firms begin to build actual sales departments?
Law firms are unique organizations and will adapt the sales model in a way that works best in that unique and challenging environment. Typically, firms don't use a pure corporate model for any aspect of law firm governance so the pure corporate sales model will have to be adapted. Sales and business development professionals will be instrumental in providing sales and large account management training for key attorneys and staff. The business development/sales professionals will drive those training efforts and participate in the sales process with attorneys. The firms who are evaluating this model now and preparing for the future will have a distinct advantage over firms that don't. Right now, law firms really need to focus on managing and mining the accounts (client relationships) they already have.
How are firms utilizing technology to increase business development? (Not just through Web sites but in online training, extranets for clients, etc.?)
The creative use of technology can really differentiate law firms. A great success story in our firm involves a fairly young associate who developed a niche practice in the title insurance industry. He created a communication and litigation management extranet with our technology team for an existing client. Then he used the extranet demo in presentations to potential clients and at some industry events. Attorneys, paralegals and technology staff participated in each presentation. Their team effort has been tremendously successful and inspired other attorneys to look at creative ways to service clients using technology. Most important, he's developed about $500k in new revenue in a year. How many associates do that?
Its not enough to just have a website anymore. Law firms should be looking at technology solutions that integrate all of their key information sources - CRM, accounting, document management, extranets, portals, etc. to create extraordinary knowledge and relationship management tools.
What would you identify as some of the biggest challenges facing the legal marketing profession?
In our precedent-based industry, one of our great challenges is to get beyond reacting and force our firms to anticipate what's coming next. I recently met with an executive at a financial services firm we represent. During the course of our regular client satisfaction interview we talked a lot about his expectations regarding the performance of outside counsel. He said, "attorneys who work with me need to be crystal ball readers." He said that they "need to know what is currently happening in my industry and how the legal climate will affect my bottom line. But more important, they need to constantly look ahead to help me prepare for what's coming next." It's critical for marketing professionals in our industry to have that same approach - to constantly be studying and looking ahead.
What do you think are the biggest changes on the legal marketing landscape in recent years?
On a really positive note, one of the greatest changes I've seen for our profession has been the unprecedented growth of our support network, the Legal Marketing Association. In the past few years the association has grown to include more than 2200 members. Just last year, membership increased by 29%. As a new profession, support networks are critical. I have benefited greatly from my relationships with LMA members across the country who are always willing to share best practices or just lend a sympathetic ear. In the past year alone, the association has developed a website with great resources for legal marketers at every level. They also launched a new listserv for lively information sharing and provided outstanding educational opportunities at the local, regional and national level.
What is the last book you read and why? How has it affected your approach to marketing at Burr & Forman LLP?
One of the best business books I read this year was The Visionary's Handbook, by Jim Taylor and Watts Wacker. The authors take a philosophical look at management, examining nine broad trends or paradoxes shaping business today. Jim Taylor spoke at the LMA Southeastern Chapter Conference last fall in Charlotte, NC. He inspired me to follow four major rules outlined in the book:
- Know who you are.
- Know where you want to go.
- Recognize your own seminal moments.
- Adopt an attitude of insurgency.
I'd also recommend Jim Collins' book Good to Great. Our management team at Burr & Forman is doing an in-depth study of the book to help move our firm and individual departments to a new level.