Does anyone really think that the downturn in the nation’s economy is or will not impact law firms? Of course not, we have already seen that it is having a profound effect on large firms. A few include: Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft (35 lawyers), Thacher Proffitt (“about 50 associates”), Dechert (13 associates), and Thelen (26 associates and 85 staff – I’ll bet there are a few marketers in that number). If BigLaw is impacted, certainly smaller firms are also feeling the pinch, even though they (happily) are not making the headlines their larger brethren are.
The result: cutting where cutting shouldn’t occur. In my more than two decades of experience in this business, when the belt tightens one of the first areas to feel it is the marketing budget. That’s a BAD. My point is that now is the wrong time to be cutting back. Rather, now is the time to increase marketing and business development efforts.
Bruce Marcus of The Marcus Perspective agrees. He addresses the competitive advantages that a firm could have during a recession (yeah, sorry but that’s what we are in IMHO), if a firm first recognizes that marketing is integral to the practice of law. As Bruce puts it in his article “6 Steps For Being A Tougher Competitor In A Weak Economy” that appears on RainToday.com “now is not the time to save money – it’s the time to spend money wisely.”
His six steps to being a tougher competitor in a weak economy are:
- Service the right market – you can’t be “all things to all clients,” so narrow your marketing focus to the firm’s more profitable emerging (not declining) markets;
- Target your business development efforts – rather than aiming at a broad marketplace. I’d personally recommend focusing on existing clients over prospects, but if you do target prospects at least pick individual targets;
- Look at your infrastructure – in order to become more productive. Your assessment should include management processes, technology, and skill sets, as well as the most effective (on an individual basis) business development techniques;
- Modernize your firm – by sharpening your skills, particularly as it relates to: assessing your market, planning, communicating internally (and with clients), and selling (oops, I mean developing business);
- Don’t market on the cheap – Bruce is right in saying that “do-it-yourself-marketing is expensive.” You can do it effectively if your lawyers have the skill sets, but “it is still not a game for amateurs.” Invest in help where you need it; and
- Don’t wait – do it now. Learning to compete may be your firm’s best protection, especially in today’s market and economy.
I particularly like Bruce’s concluding paragraph:
“It’s true that when times are tough, it’s easier to cut costs – including marketing costs – and to hunker down until it’s over. But that’s like drilling a hole in the bottom of a flooded boat to let the water out. For a professional firm in an economic crisis, there’s no place to hide, so learn to fight back."