Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Do We Lead Our “Products” or Do They Lead Us?

Companies that manufacture a “product” typically have marketing team members called “Product Managers” who are responsible for the strategy and tactics around a specific product. That job usually includes knowing product capabilities, market penetration, opportunities and gets programs off the ground to support the product in keeping with the overall company strategy.

In law firms the equivalent process is the annual marketing plan developed by each attorney. Unfortunately for law firm marketers the resources do not exist to assign Product Managers to individual attorneys. The closest a law firm can come to that ideal is if they have marketing resources assigned to practice, industry, or office groups.

The practice of having attorneys create an annual marketing plan works on so many great levels for a firm; accountability, goal setting, manpower planning, etc. What I struggle with is that so many law firms begin their planning process at the bottom (individual attorneys/partners) and work up, instead of starting at the top (executive committee) and working down.

I was interviewed by a large firm not long ago and one of the tasks they wanted to start on right away was getting the partners to complete their annual plan so that they could put together the overall strategy.

Did that sound backward to you?

With so many “owners” in law firms, and with so many dotted line reporting structures and leadership trees it’s understandable that some attorneys would resist “top down” direction. Law firm power structures is a study in itself.

A law firm, like a product company, needs to know who they are and where they are trying to go (as a whole firm). Then, they need to look at all of their little pieces and determine the best way to get there. That means looking at existing clients (some may need to go), setting guidelines for what prospects are pursued, and having hard fast rules around what words and images are used to represent the firm right down to the smallest, individual detail. It means that individual attorneys MUST conform, at least as far as the look, feel, and direction of the firm are concerned. With everyone headed in the same direction it becomes easier for the marketing team to get more done.

Having attorneys who insist on “staying their course” is like letting half the air out of the tires of a race car. It will still go around the track, but not nearly fast enough to be a factor in the race. The "stay their course" attorneys detract from marketing resources by insisting that they have help to go their own way.

I’d like to see executive committees and marketers that are strong enough to LEAD their firms; mentor attorneys in new ways and help them to help the firm.