Dr Silvia Hodges (2011, Ark Group)
I must start this review with a declaration of interest. I was Silvia’s supervisor for her PhD, and this book is based on her PhD research. She is a hard-working, enthusiastic person who put a great deal of energy into her doctoral studies, and the fruits of that energy – as well as the insights it generated – are apparent on every page. Her passion for the topic is exactly what you’d expect from a marketer, and yet is so often lacking in the marketing efforts of lawyers. Hopefully, some of it will rub off on readers!
Winning Legal Business is innovative on a number of levels. First, it seamlessly weaves together marketing theory and Silvia’s extensive real-world experience as a marketer in law firms. That said, despite its origins, this is not an academic text. Second, it is aimed at an often-neglected segment of the market – medium-sized clients. Third, it analyses the perceptions on both sides of the fence – clients and law firms. Fourth, it recounts in their own words the views and expectations of clients in relation to the advice and service they need, and how they look for and select law firms (including how they assess firms they don’t know). These clients often think quite differently from the conventional wisdom of marketing texts and practitioners, who are often focusing on larger clients. Finally, not only does the book set out the issues, but also offers practical tips on putting together an appropriate marketing strategy and the supporting communications and business development responses.
The eight chapters are supplemented by four appendices which include a marketing assessment checklist, an end-of-matter questionnaire, and a sample marketing plan for targeting medium-sized companies. They can be read at one sitting – the text flows easily enough for this – or they can be used in a workbook style to work systematically through client reviews and new opportunities.
The messages in this book are important for the vast majority of commercial lawyers (including, I believe, those who seek work from larger companies). In some ways, they are not surprising: understand the client’s needs, don’t patronise or use jargon, and be flexible. But what often does surprise is the strength of clients’ feeling about aspects of law firm delivery. Taking the example of the CEO who says, “Sometimes, you really wonder, why do [lawyers] always assume they know what I want for my business instead of asking me?” Or another CEO who says, “I don’t want to pay for your [firm’s] inefficiencies. Get in gear, do your homework and don’t reinvent the wheel all the time. I’m not paying for that.”
So, lawyers can’t afford to take a ‘I know best’ line, and assume that the client is happy to pay for tailored advice created on a bespoke basis all the time. Such approaches might well defer the lawyer’s perceived need to review practice and billing tactics. But it’s quite clear from these (largely pre-recession) conversations that, in medium-sized companies, buying decisions and evaluation take place at a higher level (CEO or owner-entrepreneur) than in larger organisations. These people also have a more acute perception of cost and efficiency than most lawyers have about their own businesses let alone about their clients’ businesses.
Personal information sources are so much more important to medium-sized businesses, and this provides much greater scope for failing to win new work and, through word of mouth, to create a ‘multiplier effect’ of not being on the radar screen of many more opportunities. The lessons are not difficult to learn or apply. The old adage of listening and speaking in the same ratio as the organs involved would certainly pay dividends.
Winning Legal Business is full of data and insight – far more so than many other marketing books. It’s a must-read for anyone involved in marketing legal services to medium-sized companies. It’s an ought-to-read for those marketing to larger businesses. The price might be high (at £295 plus postage); but read this book, apply its insights and lessons, and change the way you approach clients, and it will repay every penny. Indeed, combine this purchase with a copy of The Naked Lawyer, and your return on investment will multiply beyond your unreasonable expectations. It is, as they say, a no-brainer. But then, as I admitted at the start, I am biased!