Eight Reasons Why Marketing is Essential For Your Firm
Let me list for you quickly some of the key reasons why marketing is so essential for a litigation practice today.
1. Competition. Competition is spectacular for many, many law firms on the local, regional and national level. More and more law firms are seeking the same business. Insofar as competition is concerned I would suggest to you that the old geographic boundaries are broken down. When my firm got started, we worked in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Then we moved to five counties. Then we did the eastern half of Pennsylvania. Then we did the Delaware. Then we did the Eastern Mississippi, and today it’s coast-to-coast and around the world. We’re working cases today in Europe, in Africa, in Asia. Pick a locale. And that’s happened across the country. Firms that had small, little city regional county kinds of practices are reaching all over the place.
2. Specialization has broken down. In the old days, a lot of law firms didn’t want to do litigation. For whatever reason, they looked down on it. Whereas, like the court were dirty or of another ilk or another breed. But today, all of a sudden, as massive books of business dry up a lot of people say what are we going do, we ought to do some litigation. Let’s do litigation. Competition is intense because the law schools keep pumping out lawyers. Every year a thousand lawyers. Thousand, thousands, thousands of lawyers are pumped into your system. And one of the most fertile areas for a young lawyer is litigation. Young lawyers love to do litigation. Number 1, they all have moot courts in law school. Number 2, they spend a year or two with a defender or the district attorney or the US attorney, they’re ready for civil litigation. You’ve got all these young, hungry lawyers being pumped into the system each and every year. Incredible competition.
3. Shrinking client base. A trend that started in the 80’s, stood still for a little bit, but is now back with us in the mid-90s, merger, acquisition, takeover, consolidation. And every time there is a merger, there were two and now there is one. Where there were two corporations, there is one, and some law firm no longer has a client. Every time there is a consolidation, every time there is an acquisition and a takeover, there is one less corporation and one less law firm. Same is true with bankruptcies and liquidations. And I don’t have to tell you how many bankruptcies and liquidations there have been in the last ten years. All those companies that are going bankrupt had law firms that did their work, and those firms are hungry now. It’s a shrinking client base. I have dozens of friends who represented oil companies that no longer exist, who represented insurance companies that have been gobbled up, who represented banks and S&L’s who are not here for one reason or another. It’s a shrinking client base and the litigators had better appreciate it. Because there are fewer and fewer clients each and every year.
4. The trend today in litigation is efficiency and effectiveness. Let’s move the case along, let’s get this case over with. Let’s settle it, let’s try it, let’s blow it out, let’s ADR it. Whatever we’re going to do with it, let’s get it done. And litigation, my friends, is a long pipeline. And all the pressure is in the middle of the end. Let’s get rid of it, let’s blow it out, let’s be done with it. Well as you’re closing out all those files, as you’re successfully winning all those cases, you better have somebody paying attention at the front end of the pipeline. You better have somebody at the front end saying “Here, I’m going to replenish that work-in-process, I’m going to replenish it.” I can’t tell you how many law firms I know of, when they settle a big case, they lay off a half a dozen lawyers. Because nobody’s paying attention to the front end. So we close out this big case, we had seventeen lawyers on it, fourteen paralegals, three law clerks, twelve document people, and we come back after the settlement party and people say “Gee, what are we going to do with all these people?”
At my shop, we’re always paying attention to the front end of the machine. What’s coming in the pipe? What if tomorrow we settle our biggest case? What if tomorrow we free-up a dozen lawyers? What if we free-up 200 support people? We always have those answers and you’re better off having them in advance than waiting for the disaster to hit.
5. Emphasis on house counsel. Big trend. House counsel, let’s have staff counsel. Let’s set up our own law firms. And this is a big trend and it’s going to continue. There are thousands more house counsel and staff counsel today than just 5 years ago. Thousands more. And for those of you in private practice, and you lawyers are in private practice, that’s a direct threat and marketing can help you overcome that.
6. Emphasis on alternative dispute resolution. Everybody’s familiar with ADR? Everybody knows what that is? Arbitration, mediation, rent-a judge, I’ll translate it “Let’s avoid outside counsel.” And when I get angry I say, let’s screw outside counsel, with ADR. That’s what mediation is about, in part, an arbitration and rent-a-judge. Let’s screw these lawyers. Let’s prevent them from getting rich, these “fat cats.” So ADR looks like a wonderful concept, and it’s all very laudatory don’t you see, but a lot of it has to do with cutting and slashing that outside litigation budget.
7. Scapegoat and bias. The next reason I think marketing is so essential is what I call, “scapegoat and a bias”. It’s a scapegoat mentality and a bias against lawyers. I don’t I have to tell you about lawyers jokes. But I do have to share with you that I think it goes much deeper than lawyers jokes. I think there really is a scapegoat mentality. I think it’s a passing fad, but I think lawyers today are the route or seen as the route to all evil. It’s our fault that products are so expensive and drugs can’t get to market because of product liability cases. It’s our fault that the health care system is such a mess. It’s our fault that there’s crime in the streets and drugs and guns. It’s all our fault, it’s the lawyers’ fault. That’s a bias. Every time somebody tells you a lawyers joke, there’s something underneath the joke, do you know what I mean? There’s a kernel of truth someplace. And I think marketing helps to overcome that.
8. Clients think that lawyers are all alike. Clients really think we are “fungible.” If I said to you, “Would you please run out to the stationery store and pick up two dozen yellow No. 2 pencils for me.” If you said to me “Well Joe, do you want Ticonderoga, do you want Dixon, what do you want”, I’d say “What the hell’s the difference, they’re all the same. I want yellow No. 2 pencils.” One is as good as another, they’re all the same. That’s how clients perceive us. One is as good as the other. We’re all the same. You’ve got to market into that and it’s up to those of you who are involved in marketing to help the clients DIFFERENTIATE.
Now, before any of us can market, I respectfully suggest, we need to understand the marketplace. We need to understand, specifically, the litigation marketplace. And I’m going to be differentiating today, everything I’m telling you today deals with litigation, all right? I think we need to separate the litigation marketing function from any other marketing functions in the firm. I think it’s a big mistake for us to try and do “one size fits all.” You know there are all these great lies, “check’s in the mail”, etc. One of the great lies is “one size fits all.” One size doesn’t fit all. And one brochure and one pamphlet and one announcement and one seminar and one anything doesn’t fit all. I want to talk about litigation and I want to separate the litigation marketing function from all the other marketing that you do for all the sides of your law firm. I’m here to talk about litigation. Let’s talk about the litigation marketplace.
About the Author
Joseph A. Gerber is senior counsel at Cozen O’Connor in its Philadelphia office from which he chairs Client Relations and serves in the leadership of the Cozen O’Connor Foundation. He joined the firm in 1970 and served on the firm’s Executive Committee for more than 30 years. Prior to joining the firm, Joe served as a federal law clerk to the Honorable Charles R. Weiner of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. During his more than 40 years with the firm, Joe has tried to verdict many civil and criminal matters in both jury and non-jury settings.
Today, Joe serves as the firm “point of contact” for a number of major clients. He works with these clients to ensure the ongoing compliance with client litigation management guidelines, overall client satisfaction, and otherwise serves as a liaison between the clients and Cozen O’Connor.