…said David Maister, of most professional service firms.
When Maister first presented his ideas on ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’ and how to develop a position as ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (together with Charles Green and Robert Galford), he preached that success was less about the content of glossy brochures and more about the substance of relationships. I was (quite literally) in the room when Maister denounced all marketing as a waste of time and effort and urged the partners of a Global firm to ‘just get out there’ and demonstrate their value. I wholeheartedly agreed with Maister’s perspective, although I do think his definition of marketing was perjorative. His criticism was targeted at a specific genre of marketing – that which pushes and self-promotes rather than educates and validates.
Maister remains absolutely correct to this day. The road to riches is not paved with slick marketing brochures. Clients don’t buy your services simply because you’re open for business and have survived longer than the next guy. They don’t care about the founding fathers of your firm. Clients want to know three things:
- How well do you understand my problems?
- Have you resolved these kinds of problems before?
- Will I enjoy working with you?
With the advances of social media and other technology there are so many more ways to answer these inherent questions and to develop a position as a trusted advisor. For those of us looking to change the way in-house counsel select and retain external service providers the following information might be useful to consider.
A 2013 Inside Counsel survey shows that more in-house counsel are turning to lawyer-generated blogs and online data sources for professional reasons (as much if not more than journalist-generated content)
Click here for a Bloomberg law interview and summary of the report.
My synopsisMany (most) usage by in-house counsel of new media channels is as a silent listener/consumer of data. They may not be actively engaging in online dialogue/discussion forums but they are certainly downloading information and being influenced by high quality content. They are forming impressions of lawyers who generate this content.
According to this survey of GCs, Chief Legal officers, Inhouse counsel and related titles, the primary factor influencing the potential hire of outside lawyers BY FAR is still (direct) recommendation from trusted sources (92% state this as very important to their decision).
Other factors affecting potential hire include:
• Bios on firm’s website (29% v imp, 62% somewhat imp),
• Articles and speeches authored by lawyer (18% v. imp, 61% somewhat imp)
• And blogs published by lawyers on topics of relevance to business (15% v. imp, 55% somewhat imp)
Interestingly – amongst the LEAST Influential factors affecting potential hire are peer-driven rankings like Chambers, Best Lawyers etc. with 39% of respondents saying these are not important to their decision to hire outside counsel.
This reinforces the message that creating and curating highly valuable content is essential to influencing change in the profession. So next time you approach your marketing team for a glossy brochure or practice sheet describing all the wonderful things you and your team can do – please STOP! Your time and energy would be better spent on creating thought-provoking and insightful commentary on the client issues you can resolve. Offer stories, examples, tips and guides that the marketing team can share on your behalf to create a positive impression of your expertise. That way – when someone refers you to another, your prospect will discover multiple validation points of your expertise (beyond your firm’s website).