For the more than 1.1 million practicing lawyers in the U.S., ramping up their business savvy is the No. 1 priority, according to leading legal publisher ALM.
"Increasingly, law firms—particularly the larger firms—are recognizing the need to bring in outside, nonlegal managers to help run the business side of their practices," said Kevin Vermeulen, VP-group publisher at ALM.
Business development investment by law firms includes such expenditures as customer relationship management software, competitive intelligence and knowledge management tools and services, Vermeulen said.
In addition, legal services are a rapidly growing area, said John Bigay, VP-marketing and programming at Captivate Networks, a media company that helps marketers reach lawyers and other office workers via video stations in office building elevators. "For example, lawyers have used LexisNexis for years, but now RFP and database software are making inroads at law firms. These software tools are designed to help in the search for clients."
Professional managers—those who oversee business development and other administrative functions at larger law firms—are very receptive to targeted messages, Vermeulen said. "However … law firm partners, through committees or managing boards, remain the ultimate decision-makers on many major purchasing decisions," he said.
The best way to establish a long-term relationship with a law firm is to focus your efforts on the administrative staff, said Peter Koeppel, president of marketing agency Koeppel Direct. "They're the ones who open up the doors," he said. "After those doors have been opened, you can target individual partners directly."
Savvy marketers know they must market at multiple organizational levels at larger firms and connect with as many influencers of the purchasing decision as possible. "Every partner is, in effect, an owner of the business, investing his or her own money in every product or service purchase," Vermeulen said.
While smaller law firms may not have as many owners of the purchasing decision, the marketing process can be equally or more challenging, Vermeulen said, because the lawyers take on the role of purchasers.
But the extra effort involved in engaging smaller firms is definitely worthwhile. "Small firms—those with 10 or fewer lawyers—make up about 90% of the legal market today," Vermeulen said. "And 50% of all law firms are solo practices. These firms have the same needs that every small business faces. … In the technology area, quality and support are often major issues, since support staff is often minimal or nonexistent."
Lawyers at firms of all sizes are busier than ever, even more so than your average business owner, said Sadie Peterson, president of marketing agency SD MarCom. "Their time is very valuable, so any offerings that require a major investment in their attention span will most often be overlooked."
Other ways to best engage lawyers in the workplace include advertising in legal publications, sponsoring e-mail newsletters and building Web microsites that not only market a product or service but also provide them with useful information for their jobs. "Lawyers continue to get more sophisticated about using the Internet, especially when it comes to research," Koeppel said.
The best marketing approach with lawyers, however, is to make personal contact, said Barry Solomon, VP-general manager for the LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell Network, a database of lawyers and law firms. "Relationships between vendors and lawyers are built on trust, and firms must trust that their vendors are reliable and committed to the legal marketplace," Solomon said. "This might require very close hand-holding and relationship-building at the beginning, but putting in this face time with your prospective law firm customers … will go a long way in earning their business."