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11 October 2020

'The trick is to sell without selling' - experts on the best law firm marketing

Top executives from Dentons, White & Case and Jenner & Block on how to excel at business development, marketing and PR

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Ahead of the Law Firm Marketing Summit this Tuesday, we asked three speakers to reflect on aspects of marketing, business development and public relations.

How confident are you about the legal profession’s future? Why?   

Richard Macklin, global vice chair, global client partner, Dentons: Very – we’ve learned to adapt fast post the Lehman crisis and we will do it again.

In the long term, what permanent impact will Covid-19 have on law firm business development?

Macklin: Not much in reality – we were already communicating with our clients virtually most of the time.

What inspires you about working in law firm communications?

Anne Gallagher, director of global communications, Jenner & Block: The lawyers and professionals who are really good always want to get better. Having the skills to help them do that is a daily challenge and enormously fun when it works.

What are the biggest challenges of legal marketing – and how have you met them?

Gallagher: The biggest challenges change all the time.  I don’t claim to have learned how to meet them but I do work very hard at listening to what’s needed and wanted… and collaborating with many good colleagues to find and execute on solutions, which are sometimes simple, sometimes creative and always interesting.

How has Covid-19 affected your firm’s business development programme?

Matthew Fuller, head of business development, Americas & EMEA, White & Case: It has put a lens on the importance of personal engagement.

What advice do you give young BD executives starting out on their career?

Fuller: Listen; don’t be afraid to ask questions; and seek out role models and ask yourself what makes them successful.

How can marketers/business development executives convince sceptical partners of their worth?

Fuller: By listening first and building up trust through doing some basics – such as being responsive and doing what you commit to do.

What are your three business development tips for young lawyers starting out their career?

Macklin: 

  • Get into the office (or start work at home) twice a week one hour earlier than you otherwise would. Use it like a morning work-out, where you focus solely on business development. Focus on your peers in client businesses, read books and watch podcasts on growing business; read up on the market. It’s never too early to start.
  • Insist on getting taken along to pitches with the partners – after all you’re the one who’ll be doing the work.  And clients want to see the team they’ll really be interacting with.
  • Treat business development just the same as legal work. It is tough, needs real attention to detail, and when it is done well it is intellectually stimulating.  You will be far more successful if you develop a real flair for growing a practice.  And remember it’s not taking clients to the pub, dinner or rugby.  It’s a subtle game – of being genuinely helpful and becoming trusted. The trick is to sell without selling.’

What are your three top tips for dealing with a PR crisis?

Gallagher:  It depends, of course, what type of crisis is at hand. That said, the old-school theory of the 'three Cs' still gets my vote to guide crisis strategy: care, concern, compassion.

Who in the legal sector outside your law firm has most inspired you?

Gallagher: For many years in my career I had a mentor: Dave Baum. Dave spent 40 years as a journalist and then started a media training business.  He was caustic and crusty and always distrusting of corporates. He told it like it is and taught me everything to know about how the media work and how to do ‘business’ with them. He had a heart of gold and a set of daggers when he questioned executives.  “Annie,” he’d say, “I don’t make the rules, I just tell them how the game is played.”

Macklin: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Fuller: David Morley, former senior partner at Allen & Overy: an inspirational leader and strategic thinker but who coupled this with a great personal touch and ability to connect with people.

What is your favourite book, blog or podcast on business and/or marketing strategy? 

Gallagher: On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  The foundation of business/marketing strategy is the ability to write well.  And, as my mother always said: “If you can write, someone will always give you a job."

Fuller: Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.

Macklin: Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

The Law Firm Marketing Summit, a virtual one-day event, takes place tomorrow (13 October). Click here for more information.

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