Law firms gain business savvy

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Marketers are eager—even desperate—to reach and sell products to attorneys and their law firms. And they have good reason to be.

According to the American Bar Association, the U.S. has more than 1 million licensed lawyers. But the size of the audience isn’t the most appealing aspect of the market. It’s that their practices—of all sizes—have become infinitely more sophisticated as business entities.

They’re more technologically adept than ever, and they are recognizing the importance of complex marketing campaigns and even sales teams to reach prospective clients. This "professionalization" of law firms presents tremendous opportunities to marketers, said Gary Mirkin, VP-national advertising for ALM, a legal publishing company formerly known as American Lawyer Media. "Marketers now have better access to sell business services because a growing number of law firms have dedicated procurement managers to make or influence purchasing decisions."

Though the legal profession is steadily getting more business-savvy, the majority of firms are still somewhat old-fashioned and slow to change, said Mark Young, general counsel and co-director of the professional services group at Partners+Simons, a Boston-based marketing communications agency. "Generally speaking, the biggest changes are happening with the largest firms," Young said.

The largest firms are quite large in terms of both annual revenue and number of attorneys on staff. The top five-Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Baker & McKenzie; Latham & Watkins; Jones Day; and Sidley & Austin (now Sidley & Austin Brown & Wood)-each generated more than $1 billion in gross revenue in 2004, according to the ALM 100, an annual ranking of the nation’s largest law firms. These five also each employed more than 1,400 lawyers. Baker & McKenzie has nearly 3,000.

About 90% of lawyers, however, work in small firms—defined as those with up to 10 lawyers—according to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association.

For volume’s sake alone, these firms present an attractive target. But because they are geographically dispersed across the U.S. and often focus on specialized areas of law, they can be difficult to engage, said Tom Simons, president-creative director at Partners+Simons.

Reaching firms, large and small

Marketers can afford to directly approach large firms with direct sales teams and customized pitches, but they must look to broad national and niche media to reach the smaller ones, Simons said.

The good thing is that although lawyers are a busy and demanding lot, "they are hungry for knowledge and information," said Jeri Owen, director of product marketing and marketing communications for Fios Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based provider of electronic delivery services to the legal industry. (See Case Study, p. 23.)

"You can get their attention with good, informative marketing messages if you show them how you can help them do their jobs better or give them a competitive edge in a case," Owen said. "But, of course, you have to be very respectful of their time and make sure that you make good use of it when you get it."

One often-overlooked sector of the legal market is in-house corporate counsel. "They’re being given more autonomy to purchase products and services for their departments that may not be total company solutions, especially in the security and document management areas," Mirkin said.

Those b-to-b marketers that also have business-to-consumer interests, such as credit card companies, real estate brokers, travel services providers and home office supply companies, eye the lawyer market as a lucrative double-dip, he said.

"Lawyers make a great deal of money, and their demographics are extremely high-quality," he said. "They are discriminating consumers who have the disposable income to buy high-end consumer products."

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