IBA_Logo_MarkWhat will the future law firm marketing department look like? A recent panel discussion sponsored by the International Bar Association (IBA) sought to answer this question.

 With new challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms and lawyers are being pushed to adapt quickly to retain existing clients and grow new practice areas.  Around the world, law firm marketing and BD departments have swiftly pivoted to provide training in new media skills, innovate with producing events online and show lawyers that while objectives may not have changed, the tactics certainly have.

What will the future law firm marketing department look like? A recent panel discussion sponsored by the International Bar Association (IBA) sought to answer this question.  Moderated by consultant and author Deborah Farone, the panel included senior legal marketing experts from around the globe:

  • Lavinia Calvert, General Manager, Marketing & BD Solutions, Intapp, Auckland
  • Michael Hertz, Chief Marketing Officer, White & Case, New York
  • Gaia Francieri, Head of Communications, Chiomenti, and President of Marketing, Professional Services Association, Milan
  • Jennifer Johnson, Founder and CEO, Calibrate Legal, and Co-chair Legal Marketing Association’s Advocacy Committee, Texas

Attendees from 77 countries heard discussions on the following topics….

How legal marketing has pivoted during the pandemic

Many law firms questioned routine marketing tactics and stopped communicating about deals and wins.  Instead, they focused on their firm’s core values, embodied in initiatives like CSR, pro-bono, ESG, and charity. While firms were already doing many of these things pre-COVID, the pandemic has brought these initiatives to the foreground.

Panelists agreed that the pandemic has influenced them to take a more personal approach to marketing – and this has actually proven to be more effective.  Firms are investing in key client programs, and on deepening “trusted adviser” relationships with their clients.  The style of client interactions has changed – panelists report that their firms are connecting with clients in a more authentic way.

Members of marketing teams report that they are checking in with each other more often through emails, calls, and Zoom meetings. Barriers between private life and work life have lowered. Everyone has discovered more about each other.

In many cases, the pandemic has helped lawyers appreciate all their staff, including BD and marketing professionals for their unique contributions to their firms.

Since the pandemic, lawyers have been seeking out more help from BD and marketing professionals. Panelists reported that their teams are working well above capacity.  Team leaders are attempting to moderate demand by coaching lawyers on the roles of marketing and BD professionals, and their highest and best use.

More and more firms are recognizing the value of an industry-focused approach to marketing and BD.  In part, this means that lawyers need to speak the language of the industry, rather than their practice specialties.  As one panelist put it “The fact that someone is a deal lawyer doesn’t mean anything from a client’s perspective.” Consulting firms have been focusing on industries for more than a decade, but it’s taking law firms longer to adapt this change.

The growing importance of technology

Panelists emphasized that the pandemic has shown that technology is fundamental in how law firms conduct business and go to market.  The  importance of CRM, Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM), email marketing, and content management has been reinforced and underlined over the past 12-18 months.

Firms have also recognized the huge value of experience management and knowledge management tools.  The reality is that many firms don’t know their experience, especially valuable/specific deals and cases that they should use in legal directories and proposals.  There are significant demands from lawyers in this area, and turnaround time depends on the experience information you have at your fingertips.  Panelists stated that they are increasingly analyzing past experience for trends/insights: for example, white space opportunities and where firms can grow.

New language has entered our vernacular – for example, “tech check” – the activity required to ensure that online/virtual events happen without a technical glitch.

While many smaller firms do not yet have an in-house marketing technology team, panelists believe this will change.  Firms of all sizes are realizing they need certain technology tools to succeed and grow  in the market.

How marketing and BD roles are changing

Event managers have felt the impact of a pandemic-related shift from physical to virtual events.  Panelists stated that at first, firms were reluctant to conduct webinars. Then lawyers discovered that digital events allow you track attendees and questions. As a result, follow-up was more customized and effective. The advanced streaming platforms give the audience a feeling of a ‘big show’. Panelists state that they are amazed by how many people attend digital events — but coming out of the pandemic, they foresee challenges with hybrid live/virtual events and how can they offer a unique experience.

Panelists agreed that Social Media has emerged an essential channel for communication with clients. One panelist stated that Social has become a ”must” in the IP area.  LinkedIn has grown dramatically in number of users and volume of content – that’s why dedicated social media specialists will be needed in the future.

Data and access to information are proving to be fundamental to the legal marketing team. Panelists referred to Microsoft Power BI as an example of a data analysis product that, when integrated with financial or other sources of data, can help you understand your clients and practices. The goal is to have dashboards that provide holistic insight to the firm’s business and activities.   There is a growing need for BI expertise, and leading firms are starting to recruit dedicated in-house BI professionals.

CRM professionals are being challenged to bring ideas to partners, rather than simply managing processes and data quality.  CRM systems produce huge volumes of data, and CRM professionals are uniquely positioned to analyze and draw insights from it, suggesting areas for development with clients.

The pandemic was a reminder the world is constantly changing.   Law firm marketing leaders are looking towards solving the next challenge:  attributing marketing/BD activity to ROI.  There is a consensus that the legal marketing profession is making progress on this front, but not quickly enough.  Panelists agree that tracking metrics on marketing content is an essential first step – it can help firms shape their marketing strategy by revealing what content is most engaging.

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