Law Firms Lean On Marketing Teams Amid Virus' Disruption

By Aebra Coe
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Law360 (July 22, 2020, 1:29 PM EDT) -- Many attorneys are relying more heavily on their law firms' chief marketing officers and marketing teams as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the usual ways lawyers generate business, a shift some say creates opportunities for marketing professionals to gain prominence in their organizations.

Marketing professionals at law firms have been working "harder than ever," with some putting in 12- to 14-hour days to keep up with the demand for their expertise, which ticked up after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., according to John Lamar, managing director of The Alexander Group a firm that recruits CMOs in law firms and other organizations.

While regular in-person client meetings, dinners and events were once the norm when it came to business development, that has now shifted to virtual methods for engaging clients.

Some attorneys may be less comfortable or experienced with those types of virtual business development interactions, while marketing professionals are often trained in online engagement and have more time to dedicate to thinking solely about creative new ways to interact with clients and market the firm, experts said.

"The dynamic has changed. Firms have to rethink how they're going to market and how they're going to engage clients," Lamar said. "I do find that [attorneys] are kind of at a loss and many of them are seeking the assistance of the marketing function to guide them through."

In addition to the massive and sudden shift from mostly in-person business development to digital, many law firms are also facing declines in new matters as clients tamp down their legal budgets, creating a need to find new business opportunities where possible, according to business development consultant Allen Fuqua.

"Demand for legal services has been impacted in a dramatic way," Fuqua said. "Law firms have to figure out: How has the service environment and needs of clients changed? That's not a skill many attorneys have developed."

A report earlier this month from LexisNexis' CounselLink found that between January and May, the industry saw a decline in new litigation, as well as in mergers and acquisitions and corporate and tax matters, when compared to the same time period in 2019 and 2018.

Chief marketing officers can help law firms with a wider marketing and business development strategy and use market research to understand what sets the firm apart and how that can be highlighted to generate new business, Fuqua said.

"For those CMOs and their organizations who understand how business development and sales needs to really be done in the professional services industry, this period in time offers them huge opportunities to differentiate themselves," he said.

Lavinia Calvert, the head of marketing and business development solutions at Intapp, hosts a recurring advisory board with law firm marketing professionals.

She says she has heard from them that marketing professionals are taking on more work, with longer days, and adopting more prominent roles in their firms as attorneys can no longer rely on face-to-face events like speaking opportunities or client dinners to generate business.

"They're beginning to get more of a voice at the table because firms can't rely on the old, traditional tactics they relied on year after year," Calvert said. "Many see it as an opportunity to step up the level of strategic advice and coaching they provide to partners and attorneys."

Because marketing and business development teams often have access to large amounts of data and knowledge that stretches firmwide, they are positioned to provide advice that is more strategic and holistic than someone who provides insight on a singular geography or practice group, she added.

"They bring that firmwide perspective to the table," she said.

That allows for personalized and pinpointed marketing toward clients that goes beyond things like mass mailings or non-specific content creation, she explained.

"The challenge is understanding what clients are interested in and what will help them and then marrying that with the expertise within the firm," she said.

Law firm marketing and communications consultant Deborah Brightman Farone says she too is seeing law firms move away from mass marketing to individualized insights.

"We're in uncharted waters and law firm leaders are looking to their marketers to help them recalibrate their strategy," Farone said. "The CMOs and [business development officers] are becoming even more essential players in finding the right tactics to employ."

--Editing by Rebecca Flanagan and Kelly Duncan.

Law360 is owned by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a RELX Group company

Update: This story has been updated to include more information about John Lamar's professional experience.

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