Study reveals positive impact of marketing and business development

Pete Sullivan, BridgeTower Media Newswires

It’s a good time to be a law firm marketer these days, as well as an attorney who benefits from the business development expertise they bring to the table, according to the results of an April 2018 joint study from the Legal Marketing Association and Bloomberg Law.

Conducted annually, the study examines the dynamic between attorneys and marketers in a law firm environment, including: (1) investment in marketing and business development; (2) shifting roles and responsibilities within the firm; (3) interaction between attorneys and their marketer counterparts; and (4) impact of technology on the business of law.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the survey’s 325 respondents (190 marketers, 135 attorneys) stated their firms expect to continue to grow their investment in marketing and business development activities. Though down slightly from 2016 (67%), all indications suggest that the pace of investment in marketing and business activities continues to expand.

For marketers, the news gets even better: anticipated increases will come not only in the form of staffing and head count — which 41 percent of attorneys said was most effective in driving new business — but also from overall spend in project-related activity, which all respondents expect to increase over time.

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Evolving roles and responsibilities

As the legal services industry evolves from a practice of law to business of law mindset, it also appears to be more keenly aware of the impact marketers have on the firm’s business development, client relationship management, and strategic planning activities.

“Compared to 2016,” the report states, “there is a significant increase in the proportion of attorneys relying on business development professionals to complete marketing, business development, and competitive intelligence tasks.”

Call it division of labor. Call it task specialization. Call it letting lawyers be lawyers. Whatever the term, the fact is this evolution of law firm roles and responsibilities may explain why attorneys and marketers have developed a more “positive mutual relationship” with one another — one that’s based on “credibility and trust.”

Legal marketers now appear more willing to share their well-honed business development expertise with their attorney counterparts, who seem more inclined to accept it.

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Direct involvement in business development

The result is a “client-first mindset,” initially recognized by LMA-Bloomberg Law years ago and one that continues today.

The 2018 report states, “. . . a full 60% of legal marketing respondents reported involvement in direct business development efforts for their firms.”

Marketer contact with law firm clients usually occurs at the beginning and end of the engagement. Once limited to initial outreach and pitch meetings, and client exit interviews and debrief, marketers have expanded their participation throughout the process to include discussions with in-house counsel and other business professionals, the report explains.

“This multi-pronged approach helps to solidify the overall firm relationship with the client organization in a way that transcends any one individual function,” the report continues.

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Demonstrating value of marketing & business development

Demonstrating value from the expense side of the ledger is always a delicate business. Perhaps more true in the cost-driven legal services industry than in other corporate settings, legal marketers seem well prepared for the task.

To help tell their story, respondents cited several key challenges as the “catalysts” driving their continued investment in marketing and business development activities:

• Internal pressure to increase revenue (61%, compared to 68% in 2016).

• Corporate counsel reducing the number of firms they will work with (51%, 46% in 2016).

• Pressure from other firms that are effectively using marketing (48%, 43% in 2016).

• Clients requesting new billing models (41%, no change from 2016).

• Trend toward corporate counsel in-sourcing more work (40%, 36% in 2016).

• Demand for specialized expertise (35%, no change from 2016).

• Increase in number of RFP and auction-type bidding processes (29%, 30% in 2016).

• Entry of alternative service providers (ASPs) and new legal technologies (13%, 15% in 2016).

The data highlight two “statistically significant” shifts over the past couple of years. First, attorneys are somewhat less likely than they were in 2016 to perceive internal pressure to generate revenue as a catalyst; second, marketers are more likely to cite pressure from other law firms.

Taken together, “This may reflect an overall shift toward an outside-in viewpoint that prioritizes the external perspective provided by clients and the marketplace,” the report indicated.

Also of note is the surprisingly low impact of ASPs on marketing spend. ASPs are specialized companies that provide many high-demand legal services outside the traditional law firm structure.
Document review, contract management, litigation support, eDiscovery legal research, and IP management, to name a few. These companies break down tasks within the common legal process and craft ways to make it work more efficiently.

Analysis of the survey detail suggest that law firms may not “feel threatened” by ASPs and other disruptive technologies, such as legal process outsourcing, artificial intelligence, data analytics, etc.

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Emphasis on most effective investments

Regardless, survey respondents cited increased social media efforts, investment in new technology, and increasing in-person events as the most effective business development initiatives.

Attorneys continue to rely on “social media” (52%) and “hiring/increasing marketing staff” (41%) as their most reliable investments. Marketers also support social media efforts (39%) but seem to prefer “in-person events” (42%) and “new technology” (41%). The LMA-Bloomberg report suggests that the difference in preference may be because marketers adopted social media strategies early on and are now beginning to look beyond those strategies.

Attorneys and marketers see these investments as solving their greatest challenge to success: time. Eighty-three percent of attorneys and 62 percent of marketers cited “lack of time” as their greatest challenge. Attorneys also listed difficulty with finding leads (53%) and getting “face time” with clients (34%) as other key obstacles.

Legal marketers were more likely to cite internal pressures such as “collaboration or engagement” among (59%) and with (35%) attorneys as their greatest roadblocks. Unfortunately, the report indicated, these and other internal challenges (i.e., lack of adequate staffing/budget (35%), insufficient tools and resources (29%), and scarcity of support from the firm (24%)) have changed little from 2016.

Generally speaking, attorneys and marketers have much to celebrate, based on the results of the 2018 LMA-Bloomberg Law study. It’s clear that their firms recognize the challenges that come with a crowded, competitive marketplace. And they also acknowledge that competition for their slice of a shrinking pie is as fierce as ever.

They have responded, the survey results indicate, “by continuing to accelerate the pace of investment in marketing/business development and placing emphasis on these functions at firms of all sizes. And this knowledgeable group of professionals continue to gain traction, voice and influence.”

As long as law firms maintain a “client-first mindset,” structure themselves to efficiently deliver innovative solutions, and invest wisely to enhance their visibility and boost their brand, the future will continue to be a promising one.

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Pete Sullivan is the founder and president of lexperitus. He is a marketing communications writer and a legal industry blogger with nearly three decades of legal publishing experience. In his roles as editor, content developer, and project manager, Pete developed the efficient Content Through Conversation process to help busy professionals create cutting-edge content that reveals their expertise and elevates their brand.

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