Over 800 legal marketers and business developers, more than 50 of them from Canada, descended on the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center March 10 to 12 for the 2010 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference.
It was a dramatic increase in attendance from 2009, when slashed budgets kept many at their desks, and a renewed energy and enthusiasm ran high over the three days. Most sessions were full with the most popular ones offering standing room only.
But it was the dialogue before, between, and after the sessions, both live and via Twitter, that for most delegates, really made the conference worthwhile.
Heather Gray-Grant, former LMA international president in 2003 and founding president of the LMA Vancouver chapter in 2006, said one of the best benefits of the conference was the opportunity to meet peers from around the world to discuss global trends in legal marketing, especially during this post-recession time of re-positioning.
For Gray-Grant and the majority of Canadian legal marketers who spoke with Canadian Lawyer, the major take-way was a variation on a familiar theme — the importance of client relationships as the key to business development.
“The key thing I heard over and over, and it’s something you already know, but it’s nice to hear it from others and that’s the emphasis on the relationship with the client. So many firms look alike and have the same expertise, so the only way to really differentiate your firm is how your clients perceive you,” said Caroline Cody, regional leader business development at the Calgary office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
“Clients want to know you care and I think lawyers need to be focused, or re-focused on their client relationships, especially given these economic times.”
André Mazerolle, manager of marketing & business development at intellectual property boutique Bereskin & Parr LLP, shared this insight: “I was pleased to hear so many people discussing trust — in their lawyers and law firms. One person defined it as competence plus character.
“Competence is almost a given at the partner level. So lawyers with both high emotional intelligence and solid relationship skills, agreed those with whom I spoke, appear to win more clients and keep clients longer.”
The legal profession’s migration to a model of business development focused on client relationships was evident in many of the sessions.
No longer do legal marketers feel the need to tiptoe around such topics as strategic business plans, cross-selling, and measuring return on investment, an approach that was very much the case only a few years ago.
“Marketing is a thing of the past and business development is moving in, but you better make sure these two groups work together,” said Michelle Isaacson, client relationship manager with Stikeman Elliott LLP in Calgary.
These sentiments were touched on again and again as presenters provided numerous tips and case studies that demonstrated how to move from a culture of “random acts of marketing” to a business development style focused on client relationships with opportunities to measure return on investment. A style where strategic marketing initiatives are wholly integrated with the business development activities they support.
In a session entitled, “Transitioning from a marketing to a business development mindset,” presenter Anne Malloy Tucker, chief marketing officer for U.S. law firm Goodwin Procter LLP, said: “There is now a clarity around the focus on the client — around surveys, teams, and the whole world of alternative fees. Sales in a law firm is no different than anywhere else. Stuff goes through the pipeline — there is a process.”
Her co-presenter José Cunningham, chief marketing & business development officer for U.S. firm Crowell & Moring LLP concurred: “We encourage tracking of how new matters originate, for instance did they come from a webinar or from cross-selling? Lawyers will appreciate seeing the results.”
Added Tucker, “There is a need to understand how many ‘client touches’ it takes to generate a new matter. Is it 17, 18? [A touch] includes things like subscribing to a newsletter or attending a seminar.”
For those in the room whose firms may not be leading the pack in this transition, Cunningham and Tucker had these tips for getting started:
1. Understand your key partner’s top 5 clients.
2. Know your firm’s top 100 clients and prospects.
3. Be an agent for cross-selling; start with “low-hanging fruit.”
4. Focus on initiatives that get your lawyers in front of their clients.
5. Identify and nurture those lawyers with untapped potential.
6. Involve yourself with lateral integration efforts.
7. Make it strategic; if there is no plan, make one.
8. Micro to macro, not macro to micro; shift money and resources to higher priorities.
9. Persuade with facts and stats.
10. Measure your programs and communicate the results.
Commenting on the transition that most firms are making to a business development model, Gray-Grant, said: “The biggest challenge for a firm is to turn the bus.
“Our role is twofold: first we needed to convince our firms that a change of behaviour towards more productive business development was necessary, and second, we need to help with the heavy lifting as we develop the processes to make it work. This is complicated when you have a large group of equal partners, an intelligent group that like to make decisions through consensus.”
A followup session, “Tactical approaches for developing key marketing initiatives that align with the firm’s overall objectives,” focused on aligning the goals of each practice group or business unit with overall firm goals.
Presenter Nathaniel Ford, a partner and head of the mergers and acquisitions practice in the Colorado office of Faegre & Benson LLP, spoke to his role as a member of the firm’s business development advisory committee and his responsibility for mentoring and training lawyers in business development. In 2009, he also served on a committee to develop its first formal strategic plan.
Joining Ford was Silvia L. Coulter, vice president and chairwoman of client development and growth practice for professional services consulting firm Hildebrandt Baker Robbins. Coulter acknowledged the importance of buy-in from all of the stakeholders in order to achieve these goals.
“The stars need to be aligned. Big rainmakers and big billers need to buy in to the business development strategy,” she said.
Time and again throughout the conference, discussions came back to the importance of gathering and acting upon client feedback as a focus for enhancing client relationships and subsequently, business development for the firm.
As Amish Morjaria, manager of marketing services for Calgary-based Macleod Dixon LLP, put it: “We all can appreciate that client feedback is an important component, if not vital, to the success of fostering client relationships. However, do we solicit it frequently enough, and with the appropriate level of enthusiasm?
“Furthermore, if we are brave enough to accept the negative feedback or, fortunate enough to receive positive feedback, are we bridging the gaps and/or building on the foundation we have created? More importantly, are these actions immediate in nature — they should be. This last point is the most important, if we ask, we better deliver, and quick.”
Stikeman’s Isaacson agreed: “Client feedback is so important, not only getting it but following up on it.”
A related conference stream focused on client service and the development of client teams. Ogilvy Renault LLP’s Andrew Fleming, a senior partner in the business law group, and Lise Monette, the firm’s chief marketing officer, joined Maria Zagalis, associate director of business development at Arent Fox LLP to present, “Current best practices for creating substantive and successful client teams.”
Fleming was quick to provide some key tips for success: “Select partners who are eager, engaged, and sharing. Choose clients where success will be obvious, have an impact, engage many sectors of the firm, and be large scale and complex.”
Monette took attendees through the client team pyramid, an integrated set of activities that starts with a client dossier including financial information, culture, recent transactions, media coverage, and more.
She adds that a SWOT analysis is very important, “We need to know what other firms are doing work for the client and the strength of those relationships.”
A successful client team can provide many benefits to a client. “Value adds include business referrals, secondments, and pro bono,” said Fleming. “And we report the value of these things to our clients.”
Soliciting client feedback is an integral part of the Ogilvy Renault culture — the firm conducts face-to-face interviews with many of their clients on an annual basis.
“Client feedback is addictive”, said Monette. “Ogilvy Renault now has 45 clients who want interviews this year. We started with 10.”
Karen Lorimer is the group publisher of CLB Media Inc.’s professional group, which includes Canadian Lawyer and Law Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.
More take-aways from LMA 2010
1) Twitter enhances experience for many — visit www.twitter.com and enter the search term #lma10 to read the thousands of tweets that were registered pre-, during, and post-conference. As of yesterday, tweets were still coming in. Not only can you get the real-time comments, there are many re-caps available and even a link to a YouTube video.
2) ACC Value Challenge — this initiative from the Association of Corporate Counsel has gathered real traction over the past year and received a shout-out in almost every session. Visit www.acc.com/valuechallenge/ for more information.
3) Social media matters — the session on leveraging social networking was jam-packed, with many overflow attendees opting to sit on the floor, rather than miss the presentation.
4) It’s not all about alternative billing practices — although an important part of doing business today, members of an in-house panel, moderated by the BTI Consulting Group’s Michael Rynowecer, were not all fans.
5) Measuring the success of lateral hires — in a session called, “Developing metrics for measuring your marketing ROI,” presenters advised that firms develop a tool to help retain “good” laterals, defined as those who not only bring in new clients, but also successfully cross-sell other practice areas.
6) Canadians punched above their weight in the Your Honor awards, snagging 6 of the 50+ presented, including Chapter of Year for LMA Vancouver. See below for the full list of Canadian winners.
Advertising — Single Ad
First: The Pink Ad, Bennett Jones LLP
First: Signal Flag Branding Campaign, McInnes Cooper
Second: First national Canadian law firm to become carbon neutral, Stikeman Elliott LLP
First: Changing the Rules, LMA Vancouver Chapter
First: Registration Reform, Stikeman Elliott LLP
Second: The Exceptional People Campaign, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP