Influencing Strategy: 5 Tips for a Successful Attorney-Consultant Dialogue

As law firms continue to evolve, expand and shape thought leadership across growing practices, the field of legal marketing has grown in tandem as a result. While the days of putting an advertisement in the yellow pages are long gone, firms still use these essential advertising, business development and marketing strategies in modern practice. As mediums and platforms developed, so did the need for effective consultants well-versed in communications and marketing to strategically spearhead the changing landscape of big law.

Legal marketing professionals have the opportunity to interact with attorneys from a variety of practice areas, departments and backgrounds. These relationships, often both challenging and rewarding, must be approached with the necessary sensitivity and knowledge required of any advisor-advisee relationship. While attorneys are often less comfortable with promotion and display, marketing professionals look for business and growth opportunities through showcasing attorney thought leadership. How do legal marketing professionals navigate these nuances? Read my five tips below for a achieving a successful dialogue.

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Seek a relationship, not an outcome.

"Big law" is called "big law" for a reason. At a firm with a significant number of attorneys, business staff members and legal assistants, it is sometimes difficult to begin and maintain individual relationships with the lawyers for whom you're marketing.

My suggestion: treat attorneys like they're your clients.

In reality, they are. You are marketing for the firm, but you're also marketing for the individual attorneys. Like any successful relationship with a client, gaining trust is an integral aspect of maintaining a positive working dialogue.

For example: Rather than simply contacting an attorney when you'd like to promote a publication, ask to pay a visit to his or her office, have a quick cup of coffee (of course considering time constraints) or even stop by to introduce yourself. By creating this dialogue before marketing work needs to be confronted, the attorney will feel more comfortable working with you.

Be a strategic consultant.

As a legal marketing professional, you likely have a versatile skill set grounded in one or a combination of the following disciplines: communications, business development, risk management, event planning, creative services, and/or public relations.

My suggestion: Use and promote your strong suits.

Regardless of your field, no one likes a show-off. However, what colleagues and managers do like is a confidence in one's abilities with an openness to feedback and suggestion. Many attorneys are not familiar with marketing or the complexities that are involved with the subset of legal marketing. In order to gain their trust and confidence in your abilities to effectively manage their work and promote their thought leadership, assume they are unfamiliar with your background and skill set.

For example: When meeting with an attorney (preferably during an introductory meeting), explain why you decided to pursue your chosen career and how your background has shaped your success in the legal marketing field. By doing this, the attorney has likely not only become confident in your abilities, but has become more informed to your role as a trusted advisor rather than an order-taker.

Base suggestions in fact.

Working with attorneys can sometimes be challenging, especially when legal marketing professionals constantly want to try new things, progress into new territory and explore new mediums.

My suggestion: Bring a suggestion or an argument for a specific action to an attorney that is based in fact and/or past example.

You will likely be met with doubt, reluctance and rejection if you make an unfamiliar suggestion to an attorney without any evidence to back it up. Similar to writing a research paper, substantiate your argument by using examples. It will make your suggestion look and sound more appealing-- hopefully inducing a positive outcome.

For example: If the attorney is new to Twitter and you'd like to promote one of his/her recent articles in a Tweet, don't simply say "let's tweet this." Instead, bring examples of past articles that you've promoted digitally. Even better: show him/her a positive effect one (or more!) of these tweets caused. Maybe another attorney was contacted about a speaking engagement after a related organization saw the tweet. Discuss the potential effects and answer any questions honestly.

Consider client sensitivity.

While some practice areas are typically more confidential than others, all attorneys work on confidential issues at some point during their careers. That means you do, too! Acknowledge this fact before you begin a quest for promotion, and you'll be better off in the long run.

My suggestion: Assume client sensitivity exists before contacting the attorney.

Attorneys are often reluctant to promote their work because it directly contradicts what they learned in law school and in their fields. Client sensitivity hinders a legal marketer's work because it prevents promotion, but don't just assume there's no work to be done.

For example: When working with an attorney on promoting a publication or sending out a client alert, do your homework. Clear a conflicts check before you ask if it's okay to discuss a case. Then, be sure to listen to the attorney about any client sensitivity that exists behind the scenes before moving forward with a project.

Listen to the attorney's ultimate decision.

As a qualified legal marketing professional, your ideas and thoughts are valid, and, if you listened to my third tip, likely substantiated with evidence. However, like any advisor-advisee relationship, there will always be suggestions that are not taken.

My suggestion: Don't be offended by the attorney's ultimate choice.

At the end of the day, you are the attorney's strategic consultant. Your suggestion is simply that: a suggestion. It is the responsibility of the attorney to make a decision he or she feels best suits the work.

For example: You may have pitched a fantastic digital plan for promoting an attorney's recent client alerts. You may have brought hundreds of examples and statistics regarding the effectiveness of the actions described in your plan. Even so, the attorney may still decide not to pursue the plan's contents. That's okay. While it's frustrating, it doesn't mean he or she has a vendetta against you. Don't take it personally. Instead, ask the attorney what he or she would like to see in the future, and what his or her goals are with marketing. That way, you can formulate your ideas based on the feedback you're given.

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I hope you found my tips useful! Legal marketing always has newfound challenges due to the complexities of the work and relationships with attorneys, but it is possible to create and manage successful systems for effective promotion through thoughtful strategy.