7 Essential Laws of Legal Marketing

November 6, 2020

Guest Post by Johanna Mills, Marketing & Business Development Manager

When I began as a solo marketing manager three years ago, I was hot and fresh off of a role at a large national law firm, surrounded by seasoned experts and generously supported by a large and diverse team. Having jumped at the opportunity to move into a manager position, I suddenly found myself at a smaller firm with fewer established marketing programs in place and no marketing team. In other words – a nearly clean slate!

I was shown my office and computer, taken out for a collegial lunch at The Keg, and then left to figure out how to bring this new role to life. During the interview process I had been clear about my experience level, and was reassured that if needed, we would “all learn together”—cut to me, staring at a blank computer screen, sipping coffee nervously, wondering if I remembered anything about marketing. Anything at all. What is that rectangle thing called again?? Oh right… it’s a stapler.

My previous experience in legal marketing had been largely tactical, in other words, I was good at doing what I was told. Now I was going to have to take those years of experience, and the two-page marketing “wish list” that I had been provided with, and somehow bring it all to fruition—and hopefully add a few clever ideas of my own.  

In the ensuing three years I am relieved to report that I was able to do just that, but there have been many lessons learned along the way, and a few “two steps forward, one step back” experiences. And even the occasional NOPE situation. I am happy to share a few tips that might help you become a more effective legal marketer, and which have helped me to keep a hold (however tenuously) of my sanity.

  1. Find and focus on your champions

It does not matter how fabulous and innovative your idea is. If you do not have an enthusiastic lawyer to help you champion the idea and inspire others to get involved, it will likely go nowhere. Find the person who is as excited about the initiative as you are, and together you are much more likely to make the dream a reality! 

  1. Start small and then grow

I read that NASA doesn’t use the word failure – they simply call it “early attempts at success”. I love this! New initiatives often take a few tries to get right. Rather than bet the farm on a new venture and risk losing all credibility if your project goes south, start with a small pilot project (enlisting your champions!) and be prepared to pivot and adjust until you get there. Then, gradually expand your pilot.

  1. Time is money

Like an NYC subway station, lawyers are usually busy and always under a lot of pressure. Every communication you conduct, whether online or in person, should observe the following guidelines:

  1. Your first sentence should clearly state your main point and indicate what action is required, if any. 
  2. Keep it short and concise – remove every unnecessary word you can. Be brutal! 
  3. Anticipate all obvious questions. Include a “See below for more details” section so that those who are not interested in learning more can move on quickly, and those who are will not have to take additional steps to get more info. 
  4. Grammatical and spelling errors loose you the crebidility. 😉 Triple, quadruple, fiftiple check! 
  1. Be a leader 

Early in my career I thought lawyers pretty much knew what they should be doing for marketing and business development and that my job was simply to help facilitate. And some do. But in many cases lawyers want and need you to help them develop their marketing strategy. They simply don’t have time to think about all the things that you’ve been hired to take care of. Carefully consider the input they give you and then tell them what you think they should do and why.  You are there to add value – use the opportunity to lead. 

  1. Play to strengths

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them a successful public speaker. If your lawyer is a good writer, focus on that! If they are comfortable speaking, look for presentation opportunities. If they won’t shut up, look into creating a podcast. Everyone has a skill or interest they can leverage to connect with potential clients – help them find it. 

  1. Healer, heal thyself 

As you coach your lawyers on business development and client service, remember that the lawyer is YOUR client. Are you practicing what you preach? Check in with them periodically. Ask them what they need from you and how they prefer to receive it. Always show up with a couple of possible solutions to a challenge. And always follow through. 

  1. Build and rely on your network. 

Being a solo marketer can be lonely. Working on a team isn’t always enough! Get involved in your local marketing or professional services organizations, such as the Legal Marketing Association, and build connections with the wonderful people you will meet. These people know your pain and will be generous with ideas to help you – I can’t stress this enough! And most importantly, they will join you for the occasional Friday happy hour to celebrate another week you both survived as legal marketers! 

Johanna Mills (Watson Goepel)

Johanna Mills is the Marketing and Business Development Manager at a law firm in Vancouver, Canada. Connect with Johanna on LinkedIn.