I consider myself in the mode of classic marketing heads for law firms and professional services. I am high-energy, monomaniacal about my mission, obsessive about detail and all the other tedious things that fitting into this mode well implies. I am passionate about my job and my firm.
Over the years, I have attended time-management classes, read the latest business bestsellers and networked with my colleagues. I know the OHIO plan (“only handle it once”), the habits of highly effective people, and I have tried to integrate new principles and themes into my workplace behavior as I have grown on my professional services marketing and strategy path.
Yet nothing stopped me in my tracks so cold as the advice that I heard at a business summit this July:
“All of you have a to-do list. How many of you have a stop-doing list?”
I was abashed. It was simple and made such total and compete sense. Why had this never occurred to me?
So I came back to work with renewed hope about a new way of thinking. What was I doing that no longer served me well? Were there things I was doing that never served me well? What could I gain a consciousness about and learn to change in my own behavior and actions?
In case you need help getting started, here are a few behaviors I have had on my personal list from time to time:
Stop trying to block and tackle everything for your direct reports. They will learn much less quickly from your cautionary tales than they will from a few well-skinned knees, bumps and bruises out there on the field. I’m not saying cautionary tales are inappropriate -- just save your store of wisdom for those occasions when it will be truly damaging if one of your direct reports derails.
A corollary to this rule would be “stop trying to hold all of the partner relationships personally.” I have interviewed many marketing candidates over the years and their number-one complaint about former bosses is most often their unwillingness to let the individual build his or her own relationships. It’s scary. The partners can be tough, but your star will ascend higher only when those of your own players rise. Give yourself less credit and your team more credit than they deserve for victories -- it will come back to you a thousand-fold.
Stop competing internally. This is so much tougher than it sounds. We’ve all come to law firms because we are naturally competitive and aggressive over-achievers. For years we’ve been trained to compete. How the heck are we supposed to stop now? One of our core values here at Fenwick is “collaborate internally, compete externally.” Take those competitive juices and redouble them for the external world. Avoid the low-level turf games that afflict many law firm administrative teams.
OK, so this is easier said than done. Many administrative teams at law firms tend to be overburdened and suffering from sever time famine, so it is hard to make it a priority to work through this tension. Marketers suffer from the dismissive law firm refrain of “it’s just marketing.” IT heads suffer from under-appreciation when the trains are running on time and they are confronted by short-tempered, irritable users when the trains are not. Recruiters and marketers are just beginning to find the synergies between their departments. And everyone is competing for scarce administrative dollars to execute on their missions.
But it can be done. Learn to poke fun at yourselves. We recently began a retreat of direct reports holding hands with a group singing “Kum Ba Yah.” It was very funny and touching and set the tone for the day perfectly. We had a great retreat.
Stop focusing on low-return projects. If you have a team with some excess capacity and can deploy them on these things, go for it. If not, find the support of an internal champion and get him or her to commit to focusing all of your effort annually on the five or six things that will truly help your firm build momentum.
In creating the list, consider the economic drivers for your firm as well as the firm’s “sweet spot.” At what can your firm be truly best in the world? In determining what that is, try not to buy into the eternal attorney delusion that your firm is the best and most responsive at everything. It just ain’t so.
Stop taking every line item in your marketing budget as an article of faith. “Because we’ve always done it that way” no longer makes good sense. Make sure every single expenditure ties into your core mission and make sure that the dollars are working just as hard for you as they possibly can. Stop accepting the first price that vendors give you for a product or service and don’t let your direct reports do so either. It’s easy to chew up resources when you’re spending the house money. Try spending every dime as if it’s coming out of your paycheck.
For instance, over the past two years, we’ve introduced custom online holiday cards to our lawyers for easy sending and personal messaging for their clients. This year, we’ve eliminated the printed cards altogether in favor of the cyber cards. We save money on printing and postage, as well as on wasted cards. And our clients and friends get truly lovely online cards with personal messages in each one.
Stop being satisfied with the legal marketing party line. Look outside of law marketing for some wisdom. Consider going to DMA events, subscribing to Advertising Age, reading Sergio Zyman’s Building Brandwidth or Jim Collins’ new book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.
For those of us who love working with lawyers, this is a great profession and career path. Why should we be content with the tools in our own backyard when there’s a universe of other people out there from whom we can learn?
During my early years, I soaked up everything I could about seminars, mailing lists, client events and the usual tactics. Then I got restless, bored and irritable. Since I expanded my horizons, my job has been so much fun and more satisfying than ever.
Stop leaving marketing to the marketing team. It’s just too important a function. Everyone in your firm needs to be a member of the marketing team. Every single client-facing interaction -- be it by phone, e-mail or in person -- either moves the relationship forward or backward. There are no neutral interactions.
Does your facilities team know how to make every client interaction a win? Do your lawyers know just how fast they have to return calls to be considered responsive? Do you model that behavior for them? Some days I fail at this last one a lot. But I pick myself up and get back in the game the next morning. We just have to keep showing up and doing the best we can do. Perseverance gets noticed.
Stop thinking that your job as marketing head limits you. It only does if you let it. While facilitating a recent workshop for senior marketing staff, I was surprised to discover that most did not know what a good range of profitability was for a law firm. Do you?
Do you know how the AmLaw 100 divines its profitability index? Do you know what your firm’s realization rate is? Do you know what your firm’s leverage is? Don’t take refuge in the fact that your peers and even some of your attorneys may not know. Take it upon yourself to learn everything you can about the business of law and then discover how you can add tangible value. Relentless intellectual curiosity will serve you well on this path.
A good start is setting a new business generation goal that you and your department can track. Stop thinking that only your lawyers can generate new business.
Those are a few of my stop doing items. I’d love to hear yours.
Diane E. Hamlin is chief strategic officer at Fenwick & West. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the October 2001 issue of Marketing for Lawyers.