Establishing a Culture for Marketing and Business Development in a Mid-Sized Law Firm

Establishing a Culture for Marketing and Business Development in a Mid-Sized Law Firm

By Nancy L. Gimbol

Business development and marketing is no longer limited to big firms in the major metropolitan areas of the United States. In these turbulent economic times, business development and marketing activities are increasing throughout the legal marketplace, and are perhaps more critical to small and mid-size law firms in suburban markets than their big firm counterparts.

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I recently left a post in the big city in exchange for the slower-paced suburban environment. Eastburn and Gray, P.C. is the oldest and perhaps the largest law firm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just 60 minutes north of Center City Philadelphia, and 120 minutes south of downtown New York City.  The main office is located in Doylestown, the county seat, which boasts strong economic ties to both major metropolitan markets. It came as little surprise when I heard Eastburn and Gray was looking to hire its first in-house marketing professional.

Establishing a culture that embraces business development can be a daunting task, but you have to start somewhere, right?  Foremost, buy-in from the top down is essential for any marketing professional to succeed.  Without that support, each and every marketing effort will be fruitless. When the top-ranking attorneys within the firm support an endeavor, they will approve funding for the position and encourage the rest of the attorneys to use the instruments that will increase the firm’s bottom line.

Marketing does not come naturally to most attorneys.  They will be asked to think and act differently while accounting for their business development time and efforts, a concept that may meet with hesitation, especially among the more senior skilled attorneys. Rainmakers at the top of the organization are needed to overcome this mindset. One important word of caution: do not hire an in-house professional without this infrastructure in place.

Not surprisingly, practice group marketing may not always be practical in a mid-sized law firm, because the numbers may not warrant it. Many times, the lack of depth within the practice group prohibits appropriate practice group marketing techniques.  If this is the case, it may make sense to market the firm’s top one or two practice groups only.  This can be effective if these groups are sizeable, and the outlay of time and funds can be substantiated.  An internal review of your mid-sized firm’s practice groups can easily determine the appropriate approach to practice group marketing.

Knowing your audience also is imperative in establishing a new culture within the firm. If time permits, meet with each attorney at the firm. Interview them to understand how they perceive the firm’s position within the marketplace, to ascertain their personal marketing needs, and to gauge their level of interest in business development activities. In smaller firms, individual marketing efforts are more crucial.  This initial meeting will assist in measuring the attorney’s interest in a personal marketing plan that would help them stay on course to achieve a larger book of business. Personal coaching and individual marketing plans are an alternate approach to practice group marketing and may be more appropriate for your firm. The desire to participate is crucial; those that meet the concept kicking and screaming are unlikely to succeed.

A personal, one-on-one meeting can provide invaluable information that should be shared with the firm. Generalize your research findings and present them to the firm’s management committee (or the equivalent) in a way that does not expose the remarks of your interviewees. These findings should outline the firm’s business development priorities for the next six months. This exercise is a great way to obtain approval to move forward with individual marketing plans for those interviewees interested in doing so.  It also provides the firm management with an initial sense of the overall firm interest in business development.

Every personal marketing plan is a work in progress. Meetings to discuss the progress of the plan, the status of outstanding items, and any other recent or relative developments should occur no less than monthly, but ideally two or three times per month. These meetings are like sessions with a personal trainer – the marketing director helps make sure that the lawyers stay on course to meet their personal goals.

Beyond personal plans, basic marketing resources are necessary to establish a culture of business development. Within the first three months, it is important to develop[ a small arsenal of marketing necessities, including: a media list; clean and professional individual website biographies; comprehensive and detailed practice group web pages; marketing collateral, including business cards, folders and notecards; and a business development operating budget.

To keep all of the attorneys apprised of progress, consider hosting a monthly marketing meeting and invite every attorney at the firm to attend. You can lure them with calories and carbohydrates. During these meetings, you can highlight the progress of the department including the tools that are available for business development pitches, and  recent press clippings and upcoming seminars that may be of interest to attendees. A discussion may result from one or more of these items. New ideas, questions and further discussion about how each attorney can grow their business are likely to unfold from the conversation.

Over the years, I have noticed that attorneys are curious about the efforts of their colleagues.  They are interested in how their peers develop their business portfolio and what works for one and what doesn’t work for another.  Attorneys can learn lessons from each other, and determine what the appropriate next steps may be, how to satisfy clients, and what they can all do as a firm to obtain additional market share. This environment, an unrestricted open forum, allows for an unobstructed discussion, which provides real answers to fears and anxieties.

These monthly meetings are fascinating, informative and necessary. It helps to recruit two or three attorneys in advance who have done something unique in the marketing world, and ask them to speak about that experience. This helps the conversation move along. Provide an agenda at the start of the meeting and stick to it. After the meeting, circulate an email to all attorneys and provide a marketing meeting recap for those that were unable to attend. Attach a copy of the agenda from the meeting and include a save-the-date for the next meeting. At this point, watch for the disbelievers to slowly change their tune (this isn’t so bad) and their attendance (from hardly ever, to every month).

Remember, keep the management committee abreast of progress (or lack thereof) so that your efforts do not go wasted. Frequent progress reports also will help confirm that you are spending your time on appropriate firm-sanctioned projects. Don’t lose motivation by working on a project (including with an attorney) that is headed for failure (or the competition).  Again, the continued support of the firm’s rainmakers is crucial as you proceed to establish a culture rich in business development and marketing at your mid-sized firm.

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About the Author

Nancy L. Gimbol, MBA, is the Director of Marketing and Firm Administration at Eastburn and Gray, P.C. in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at or (215) 345-7000.

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