Law Firm Marketing: The Transformational Role of Marketing

Marketing and Technology should certainly work together at law firms. But unless your law firm also produces hi-tech gear, only one of those roles will be a transformational one in the long-term.

Andy Havens, Marketing Management Consultant and co-founder of Sanestorm Marketing. Questions, comments, and criticism welcome. Contact Andy at 1.877.SSTORM1 or andyhavens@sanestorm.com.



Back in the caveman days, the first team of engineers in history went out and invented the wheel. Problem was, it was square. “Our customers,” the marketing director reported to the head of engineering, “are complaining about the bumpiness of the ride.”

“Ride too bumpy…” the chief engineering officer jotted down on his stone tablet, and off he went to correct the problem. A week later he and his team had a big unveiling ceremony at which they revealed… the triangular wheel.

“How is this an improvement?” asked the head of marketing, scratching his protuberant forehead?

“There are 25% fewer bumps per revolution!” crowed the head of engineering.

Transformational vs. transitional infrastructure

I love that wheel joke. In the ten years that I worked in the wireless industry I had the chance to work with many engineers, programmers and other technical professionals. Great folks, brilliant folks. Even earlier in my career I had been a network supervisor, a database programmer and technical writer. So my geek credentials, while not terribly deep, are at least still valid in the U.S. I’ve taught myself dozens of different software applications, everything from Photoshop to Quark to 3D design software. My ability to and interest in bestriding the worlds of tech, marketing and legal administration is why I write for LLRX.com.

But this month I’m not going to talk about a particular piece of software, hardware, database, hot new trend on the Internet or a new way of leveraging an application for use in a legal marketing environment. This month I’m going to make a suggestion to all the Chief Information Officers out there. Whether you’re called an IT Director or VPs of Technical Services or Grand Frankenstein of Computerized Mayhem. You know what I mean. The person in charge of all the hi-tech gizmos, all the software, the connections, the cables, the PBX systems, the routers, the Ethernet stuff, etc. etc., Upgrades Without End, Amen.

Here’s my suggestion: stop messing with the marketing people. Start playing nice. Do it now before it’s too late. Why? Because IT is no longer a transformational technology in the legal industry.

It may, in fact, never have been transformational in the legal industry. The roil and boil in firms may have been splash-back from the rest of the world where the computer revolution truly did change the way many industries do business. Be that as it may, the sharp part of the curve for how computers will affect the way firms do business is, I believe, over. For the time being. The next big thing will be so big that we can’t predict it and so we shouldn’t worry about it. For the foreseeable future, though, what we’ve got now is transitional infrastructure rather than transformational. So all you IS Directors out there, now is the time to stop with the contest-territory-war behavior and begin working with your marketing counterparts. Because marketing was, is and always shall be transformational.

Marketing and IT Collaboration

Some of you are already behaving very well. I had the great good fortune of being the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) at a firm where the Director of MIS was both great at the technical side of his job, and an industry visionary (if you’re reading this, “Hi, Brian!”). This was partly due to the fact that he, like me, “came up” in another industry. He got his spurs in a shop where they did things the right way. So he knew how (and why) things get done properly. Which meant he could concentrate on the big picture and not on simply protecting his budget, headcount and ego. Like most of the best managers and directors I’ve know, Brian managed to keep his ego out of the game almost entirely. That’s very helpful when you’re working for other people, but somehow very few managers at law firms (both employees and attorneys) have figured this little trick out.

Anyway… Really good CIOs, like any good director of a service department, treat their internal customers in just that way… like customers. They seek to fulfill needs within a set of reasonable parameters. What I hear from many law firm CMOs, however, is that their firm’s CIO treats them (and most staff… and sometimes the lawyers themselves) like children who cannot be trusted to “play” with "their" delicate instruments.

I have heard of marketing people who need to continually use outside sources for simple IT issues like:

  • Getting digital pictures put on CD-ROMs
  • Internet searches of competing firms’ websites
  • Color print-outs
  • Name badge printing
  • A history of work that had been referred
  • Use of “non-standard” software (like Photoshop, Quark Xpress, Pagemaker, etc.)
  • Audio-visual prep of trial materials

The list goes on. Rather than try to accommodate the admittedly different and often challenging requests of the marketing department, the IT departments in these firms simply say, “No.” And because IT has been on a roll for the past two decades, and because marketing is still playing catch-up in the world of legal services, the CIO can usually get away with it.

Firms now understand that they need email and databases and websites. They are, to be generous, ten years or so behind everyone else, but the industry is finally getting on the technological ball. And that means that the person with their hand on the computer switch has some juice at the firm. From what I’m hearing, though, some of these people are now putting more effort into protecting their “importance” than satisfying their internal customers’ IT needs. That’s dumb, short-sighted and, ultimately, will kill your chances to be involved in really interesting, long-term technology that will be transformational in years to come.

Indoor plumbing was transformational once, too

Every new technology was a big deal when it first came out. Indoor plumbing? Yes, that too. The telephone, too. Many people thought it would mean the end to civility and trust, not having to see the person with whom you were talking. And the use of computer technology has certainly transformed dozens if not hundreds of business sectors in the last fifty years.

But when you get done hooking everybody up, and all your competitors have access to roughly the same hardware and software, and it’s all become as ubiquitous as… well… indoor plumbing… then you’ve got technology that is “transitional” rather than “transformational.” Yes, the software will get faster and the computers will get smaller. But email today in 2004 is not radically different than it was in 1996. My guess is that it won’t be much different 10 years from now. We’ll be attaching entire movies to our emails instead of pictures and Word docs, but that’s not a transformation. It’s a transition.

It’s fun being at the center of the attention. And when you’ve got a huge budget to install all kinds of neat new devices and train people and be “the guy who knows all the stuff,” it’s a big ego boost. There’s lots of competition for your services and the job market is wide open. Then (and by “then,” I mean, “now”), when it’s all installed and has moved into about the 4th generation of upgrades, things slow down. No major new breakthroughs. Linux or MS? Yeah… whatever. It’s transitional now. Trust me.

CIOs have two choices

Choice 1: You can behave badly. You can restrict access to the “power” that you have now. You can make it hard for people to get what they need and you can try to be the only one with the “keys” to the stuff. This is a self-limiting decision. Eventually, everyone will get very angry at you. It may take six months, it may take ten years, but the consequences are significant for the enterprise.

Choice 2: Ally yourself with transformational areas of the business. Marketing is, by definition, transformational. It’s supposed to be. Forever and always. That’s what it does. Even with a limited budget, no technology, one employee and no real marching orders, the goal of marketing is to create change.

When you combine the transformational nature of marketing with the ability of technology to enable efficiency, you can get huge returns on investments of time and money. Examples:

  • Early desktop publishing innovators at law firms were able to use new design and print preparation technology to launch materials in 1/10th the time and for 1/100th the price of traditional print production methods
  • Lawyers and firms using blogs to attract search engines and readers to their sites are garnering more hits than much bigger players by utilizing smart strategies rather than big ad dollars
  • Firms that used to send out one standard, printed newsletter a year are now sending out multiple, targeted electronic newsletters every month via email
  • Firms are using extranets to both deliver operational services and keep clients “hooked”
  • Webinars are providing an efficient way to deliver content to firm clients as well as marketing materials

These are all marketing activities that rely heavily on help, guidance and input from IT. In some cases, the CMO can probably go out on his/her own to get the job done. Why would they do that? Because the CIO has said, “We can’t host a webinar. It would take up all our bandwidth. We don’t have budget for another T1 line.” etc.

Well, by saying, “We can’t host a webinar” you may have just shot yourself in the foot. Because if the CMO starts delivering a product or service that brings in clients or revenue and you aren’t dialed-in to that process, you’ve just lost a chance to partake in the mojo.

So instead of jealously guarding your turf, why not sit down with your CMO and talk about ways in which IT can help marketing get its job done. Work as a team to improve the bottom line of the firm. Help bring in new clients and get more revenue from the current ones. That adds up to more mojo for everyone.