Archive for January, 2011

Can a database tell your firm’s story better than you?

Author: Debra Baker
January 24, 2011

The following post is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Moire Marketing Blog on January 24, 2011.

By Debra Baker

My first job in legal marketing was as a “writer” for Heller Ehrman. They wanted someone with a law degree who could work with the attorneys to strengthen their messaging. At the time I was a senior writer for the ABA Journal and was doing pro bono work on the side. The fit seemed perfect.

As a reporter I was always looking for stories, so that is the approach I took when working with the practice group leaders to develop copy. I asked the basic questions to better understand what they did and  what made them different. For example:

  • So how many M&As have you done in the last five years?
  • What size deals do you handle?
  • Do you represent the buyer or the seller?
  • In what industries are you strongest?

What I quickly learned was, like many firms, Heller didn’t have a writing problem – they simply lacked enough data to tell a good story. The firm had gone through so much growth that they no longer knew all the great work that they were doing as a firm.

That’s where database marketing comes in.

At Heller, I worked with several partners to create a database to manage and track key matters. This not only allowed us to create compelling marketing copy, it became the foundation of building out the business development arm of the firm.

Without an experience database that allows you to quickly access representative experience or compile important metrics like trial experience or deal flow, you lose the opportunity to effectively validate your marketing message and firm value proposition. What’s more, you end up in a legal marketing Ground Hog Day, where it’s “first time every time” with each new pitch or initiative that comes along.

Experience databases are a critical component of the legal marketing and business development mix, but far too often law firms avoid such projects because they feel like they will be too resource intensive and costly. The biggest challenge is turning the need into execution. Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Define your goal. Determine up front what you are trying to accomplish and what data you need to be successful. Before you start building something, you need to understand what you want to do with it.
  2. Keep it simple. For large firms in particular, it can be challenging to come up with a set of parameters that will be all things to all practice groups. One of the biggest risks of a database project is spending too much time trying to create the perfect database and, as a result, nothing gets done. Start with version 1.0 that gets you 80% of the way there and then improve upon it.
  3. Find your champions. Marketing cannot do this on its own. You need a directive from your management committee and attorney champions who are going to sell the initiative to the partnership. If the firm as a whole is not committed to the project, it won’t work.
  4. Don’t wait to start collecting current data. When a database gets built you need two things: Historic data that you can use today to tell your story and future collection so your story remains relevant and current. Don’t wait to collect all the historic data before you focus on your ongoing collection. Do it at the same time. It may take six months to collect five years’ worth of data. If you aren’t collecting the current information, you will end up with an outdated database before your start.
  5. Identify a marketing owner. Marketing can’t do it alone, but marketing does need to own both the system and the process. Without a marketing champion, your database will quickly lose steam.

Database marketing is as simple as it is complex. Typically where the rubber meets the road is with the people and the process. You need an organization that is committed to the project. You need a process to maintain the system that is simple and can be executed in a consistent and ongoing way. With an effective experience database you will not only tell a better story about your firm, you will be more efficient and effective in doing it.

What will 2011 have in store for law firms?

Author: Debra Baker
January 5, 2011

Happy New Year everyone! My hiatus from posting was brought to my attention earlier this week when a client mentioned she hadn’t received any blog updates in awhile. Well, I’m back and hope to stay on track throughout the year.

I’ve spent the last day or so catching up on commentary about what the future holds for law firms. Richard Susskind has predicted greater acceptance of cloud technology and greater influence of the iPad. Larry Bodine opines “innovate or die” will be the new law firm watchword. Jerome Kowalski predicts the current system of legal education and training of lawyers will undergo revolutionary changes.

These observations clearly hold merit. So for my 2011 forecast, I add merely a corollary: If, to paraphrase Jonathon Livingston Seagull, “every problem is an opportunity in disguise,” then I predict great opportunities for law firms in the coming year.

Even with an increased demand for services, law firms will continue to face rough waters in the year ahead.

The underlying problems — illuminated, not caused, by the economic crisis — of failing to adopt new technology, to shore up billing and compensation plans, and to respond better to the needs of a more sophisticated legal market is in fact an opportunity.

The firms that do leverage new technology such as cloud computing, that do innovate, that do undergo revolutionary change in the way they train lawyers who will be the ones who ultimately survive and create a new model for practicing law.

I hope your firm is one of them. Have a great year!