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A Law Professor Recognizes the Value of Marketing

by Carolyn Elefant on May 21, 2006 · 2 comments

in Articles, Marketing & Making Money

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Lawyerpreneur and marketing guru Nader Anise provided me with an article by one of his former law professors who recognizes the value of marketing.  It’s an interesting article though most readers here may already recognize the basic lessons.  My own question is whether law schools are equipped to teach courses on how to start a law firm and lawyer marketing and whether they should.

I
was invited to observe a former student, Nader Anise, who was the featured
speaker at a Continuing Legal Education seminar. The roomful of approximately
100 attorneys was unusually engaged and attentive, particularly for
a full-day seminar.  Interestingly, Mr. Anise did not dissect a
single case, administrative regulation, constitutional provision or
statute.  Instead, he told the audience,
“Yes, you’re lawyers who practice in a profession… but you’re
also entrepreneurs who have to run a business and ethically maximize
your profits.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  You’re
lawyers who have to be entrepreneurial.  You know what that makes
you?  Lawyerpreneurs.”

And the audience took copious notes, seemingly oblivious of the fact
that they were not being graded or tested on the lecture.

Mr.
Anise, it turns out, is one of the leaders in the nascent field of lawyer
marketing.  While strategic marketing was once nonexistent in “professions”
such as law and medicine, many attorneys have become eager to learn
more about marketing and business.  The facts are difficult to
ignore.  Based on ABA figures, approximately two-thirds of the
total number of lawyers in this country either own a solo practice or
are part of a small law firm.  These solo practitioners and small
firms, or “lawyerpreneurs” to borrow from Nader Anise, have as much
in common with “traditional” small businesses as they do big law
firms.

Yet,
there are more than a few pockets of resistance to recognizing and celebrating
the similarities between the profession of law and the business of law,
creating a catch-22.  On the one hand, legal purists scowl at the
emphasis on the “bottom-line,” preferring that lawyers take a more
dignified and reserved approach, eschewing the more traditional business
routes of advertising and marketing.  On the other hand, the harsh
realities of modern business require lawyers to aggressively market
their services to stay in business and compete against the streams of
new attorneys being graduated each year. While it is not taught in law
school, it is a clear business axiom that passively awaiting business
is not always the best strategy.  For attorneys in solo practice
and small firms, they simply cannot afford to hang around and wait for
the law to “take care of them” – whether they were on law review
or last in their class.

It
would seem at first glance that the practice of law is on the downhill
side of the mountain top. The level of competition and the dissatisfaction
in the legal profession are alarmingly high.  Some areas of practice
appear saturated at the very same time newly minted attorneys join the
lot.  Yet, despite a ready prognosis of “gloom and doom,” lawyers
in a business environment apparently sense something not taught in law
schools – opportunity.

Competition:
According to Joanne Martin of the American Bar Foundation, in 1988 there
were almost 750,000 attorneys in the United States, approximately one
lawyer for every 340 people.  Today, estimates suggest there are
1,000,000 attorneys in the United States, or one attorney for every
260 people.  While an increase in numbers signals increased competition,
there is also in some respects rising opportunity.  One particular
avenue of opportunity is the creation of new practice niches.
Internet law, gaming law and pet law, for example, are just some of
the new niches that are expanding in the current business climate.
Marketing experts suggest that these niches have been supplemented by
attorneys who mine their own practice niches.  These self-created
niches are often narrow, secondary niches, rather than general practice
ones – a focus on a special kind of construction litigation or child
custody case or commercial property conveyance, for example.

Attorney
Dissatisfaction
:  The number of lawyers unhappy with their
career selection is staggering.  A 1992 poll conducted by California
Lawyer
found that 70% of lawyers said they would start a new career
if they could.  The New York Times, in 1990, reported that
40,000 lawyers left the practice of law that year alone.  Possible
reasons for the startling dissatisfaction rate include increased stress,
income disappointments, career disillusionment, a lack of marketing/business
know-how and increased competition.  As some lawyers exit the profession,
however, others find opportunity.  The opportunity they find in
a formidable business climate is the chance to carve out “happy jobs”
– those jobs providing people with satisfaction and rewards, those
jobs people look forward to going to (almost) each and every day.
This ability to rise above the mainstream experience to obtain a satisfying
legal job is but another form of strategic advancement as much associated
with treating law as a business as it is a component of the traditional
practice of law.


Technology
:  Not many years ago, waiting for an important phone
call meant being tied to a desk containing a phone with a cord.
An incoming fax was an “event” people huddled to watch.  The
hidden opportunity in technology is something that is now widely known
— technology gives anyone in business freedom, including attorneys.
“Practicing” from a remote location can mean working in a spare
bedroom or on a beach in Jamaica.   Practicing law with technology
has helped small firms compete with the large national and international
firms.  But technology has proven to be a double-edged sword.
While revolutionizing law practice, it comes at a price, promoting endless
emails, voice mails, fax mails, software tools and upgrades as well.
Technology, like a jealous mistress, demands more and more of the time
it purports to save.  Even though an attorney now can run away
on a quick vacation, technology makes it unusually difficult to hide
at the same time.  Attorneys who succeed learn to manage their
technology, not let their technology manage them.

Marketing/Business
Training
: One of the biggest challenges lawyers face in running
a law practice is learning how to build it – mastering the marketing
and business sides of the practice. An astute and savvy lawyer these
days not only means someone who knows what to do in the courtroom once
she gets there, but someone who can get the clients to send her there
in the first place. Although chiropractors, for example, receive a heavy
dose of marketing training as part of their chiropractic schooling,
lawyers are left to basically fend for themselves in the real world.
Law schools are interested mainly in teaching substantive law, not marketing,
and state and local bar associations usually offer some version of “marketing
lite
.”  But tips on networking and joining associations only
go so far.

To
learn about marketing, instead of returning to business school, attorneys
are turning in greater numbers to marketing experts to teach them the
secrets of building a law practice.  Some marketing experts bill
by the hour, some by the day.  A few write newsletters, others
conduct seminars.  Marketing experts are not hard to find, but
there is a short list of those who specialize in the practice of law.
As one might expect, “gurus” who have a law degree and have practiced
law often have an inside track.

In
a sense, these experts are similar to personal trainers, making sure
their clients not only discover the secrets of business acumen, but
also how to maintain one’s focus on the path to success.
People like Nader Anise and Ed Poll, attorneys in Florida and California
respectively, have authored articles, spoken about the business of law
nationwide, and plied their services to both small and large firms.
They are attempting to show lawyers what chiropractors and gym goers
already know – a personal trainer can help them reach their goals,
no matter what their intelligence levels.   The marketing
experts use a range of strategies to get there, most of which were never
taught in law school.

Of
course, marketing is just one piece of the puzzle in building a law
practice.  Lawyers still have to know how to manage personnel,
use technology properly, manage cash flow, get paid on time, keep accurate
records and maintain a smooth office operation.  But marketing
in today’s truly “free for all” market is a pretty big piece of
the puzzle – getting the word out that an attorney offers a good “product”
matters a lot.

After
watching Nader Anise discuss strategies for lawyer marketing, I realized
that, rather than being an observer, I was now the student.
Our roles had switched.  While marketing strategists such as Nader do
not yet have a niche in the world of American legal education, they
have established a firm foundation in the education of nascent and veteran
lawyers alike.   The strategists are aligned with growing groups from
inside the academy and the legal profession pushing the larger questions
of how to achieve balance, success and job satisfaction.
These are questions that law professors, as well as market strategists,
can well address.   Indeed, these larger issues are becoming as difficult
to ignore as cell phones and Google searches.
Perhaps, having a personal trainer outside of the gym is an idea whose
time has come.

Steven
I. Friedland, J.D., LL.M., J.S.D., is a Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern
University, Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  His
email address is
friedlands@nsu.law.nova.edu

  • http://www.dealsdepot.com.au Mobile Phones

    Ensuring that you manage your technology, and not that your technology manage you, is a phenomenon that is in every type of business these days. What technology has bought us, is faster ways of doing old business and new ways of doing business altogether. The problem with it is that it’s just so tempting when you’re lying on the beach somewhere to just ‘quickly check’ your email on your mobile phone PDA, just ‘quick’ to see what’s going on. Before you know it, you’re working in your mind, and when you get back to your holiday home you just want to ‘quickly’ fire off an email to a work colleague. Before you know it, you’re working.
    This is the kind of discipline you need to have – don’t ‘quickly’ do anything while on holiday! Holidays are there for the ‘slow’ not the ‘quick’ !

  • http://www.factoryfast.com.au Mobile Phones

    Actually, there may be a niche here with personal trainers outside the gym. Especially in the law profession. It seems to me that lawyers are severely overworked (although, not underpaid.) But, they’ve made the sacrifice of good pay for less life. It doesn’t need to be this way. I think they just need to be balanced. But, as you say, many don’t know how to do this… which I find interesting. It’s probably because they’re so used to living unbalanced! A coach in this area could be a good idea… I’ve seen a few people try it and it seems to work very well.

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