Like a scene from Mission Impossible, this year’s Senior Session, dubbed What Does it Take to be a Player in the High-Tech Arena, promised to be everything but ordinary. Instead of the traditional, “talking heads” program, Felice Wagner, CEO of Sugarcrest Development Group, and David Baker, chairman of Baker Robins & Company, lead an interactive, information rich session.
If you missed it, imagine yourself as a legal marketing secret agent. Your mission: work with a team of 8-12 of your colleagues to rescue a law firm (a.k.a. “LawLand LLP”), from legal marketing hell. Make use of technology not for its own sake, but as part of a well-conceived plan of action to solve compelling client needs. Then, share this plan with the rest of the record 120 attendees. That was the premise.
The fictional firm’s challenges were all too real for many of the attendees: scattered and disconnected offices; a yet-to-be integrated acquisition; disparate cultures; lack of knowledge sharing; no common identity; inconsistent use of technology; and much more. Sound familiar?
It was enough to make the most ambitious legal marketer, fresh from the Toronto International Airport, think twice about accepting the mission. Fortunately, this was just a fictional case study in the friendly confines of Fairmont’s Royal York Hotel—a far cry from the gritty underworld so often depicted in the movie series.
After clarifying the mission and studying the case file, the 120 attendees divided into approximately 12 groups of 10. Each group was lead by a facilitator whose goal was to keep the mission on track as the group developed and prepared to present a five-point action plan for success.
As the four-hour program unfolded, there were no talking heads and no increasingly weary audience members. Just a room filled with energy and ideas. Diane Hamlin, chief strategic officer at Fenwick & West, was busy at a flip chart, leading a heated brainstorming session around the cultural obstacles her group expected to encounter as they attempted to address LawLand’s numerous and disparate needs. Each of the other groups tackled the mission with equal fervor. In the process, many of the participants shared riveting war stories and made valuable bonds that would endure long after the 15th Annual Conference ended.
This was LMA at its best.
“Every LMA member brought a different perspective and set experiences to the table,” said Keri Cupples, marketing manager at Howrey Simon Arnold & White. “The case study format helped us to share these perspectives and experiences and engage in lively debates in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a traditional lecture-based program.”
After the lively debates, the 120 participants reconvened to hear representatives from each group present their completed action plans. The solutions were well conceived and connected by an interesting thread:
Being a player in the technology arena has less to do with understanding specific technologies and more to do with having a unified, client-focused strategic plan—one that incorporates all of the firm’s goals, objectives and strategies—not just those relating to technology.
The common focus on helping LawLand solve these broader issues not only made sense, it also answered, in part, the question posed in Senior Session’s title. It was also the logical prelude to the final portion of the program during which a panel of attorneys and legal marketing experts shared with the group the specific technological solutions that they had developed at their own firms to solve some of the same problems LawLand faced.
David Hambourger, technology partner at Winston & Strawn, discussed his firm’s use of “webinars” and how this technology could be part of an integrated plan to address some of LawLand’s greatest challenges. Based on his experience, Hambourger recommended that participants use Web-based applications (“thin clients”), rather than applications designed to reside on their firm’s own servers (“fat clients”).
Steven Boutwell, client services director at Hughes & Luce, shared the strategies and lessons behind his firm’s development of a separate web site: Commerce By Net™. Built on a shoestring $584 budget, Boutwell discussed how Commerce By Net solved for Hughes and Luce some of the same content aggregation and dissemination problems that LawLand faced.
Nancy Joyce, marketing/client relations director at Gibney, Anthony & Flaherty, offered a solution for LawLand by sharing her firm’s development of an extranet for several of its immigration clients. Joyce’s extranet was a perfect example of a client-driven technology solution that also fit within her firm’s larger goals and objectives.
Finally, to help LawLand tackle its challenge of successfully integrating a recently acquired firm, Kevin Lee Thomason, manager of web technologies at Pillsbury Winthrop, shared his valuable and entertaining web development experiences. Tasked with building the new firm web site after the recent merger of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, Thomason was responsible for everything from standardizing attorney biographies and practice area terminology, to writing a shared history and addressing jurisdictional issues. With a wry smile, he likened his experience to “trying to build a car while [he was] driving it down the highway.”
In the end, the message was clear: being a player in the technology arena does not mean using technology for technology’s sake. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to become a technological guru. Instead, it means being patient and focusing most of your time on a back-to-basics approach:
- discover the needs of your clients and prospective clients;
- help your firm develop an overall strategic plan as it relates to these needs;
- use this plan to create a shared, client-focused reference point within the firm from which to make decisions about technology;
- obtain a steadfast commitment from firm leadership to support the implementation of those technology decisions;
- take small steps and document the results of your technology efforts in such a way that you can clearly show return on investment; and
- share your successes with the rest of the firm.
Follow these steps, the group determined, and your reputation as a technology player will take care of itself.
Whoever it was that said: “the greatest risk is not taking one,” must have spent some time in the legal marketing profession. In an industry famous for its lawyers’ conservative ways, the struggle for legal marketers to gain acceptance and to influence change has required nothing short of bold and courageous action.
The success of this year’s Senior Session—remembered for its unconventional design and valuable exchanges—symbolizes the tremendous progress that has been made by the legal marketing profession, thanks largely to the bold and unconventional efforts of its members. And, if Senior Session was any indication of the level of passion the participants have for their jobs, the future of the legal marketing profession looks extremely bright.
David Goehl, a former practicing attorney, is president of Sugarcrest Development Group, Inc. and creator of the RAINMAKER REALITY CHECK™, a popular online tool designed to help lawyers assess their rainmaking skills. He can be reached at 202.462.3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.