Thursday, November 30, 2006

If Your Law Firm Could Only Do One Marketing Thing

Some firms initiate large plans but only wind up getting one thing done while others are not sure what to do first and never get anything off the ground. More commonly law firms dive enthusiastically into a grand plan but after the first effort gains no visible ground, the grand plan is abandoned. So the question is: What is the one thing that might succeed if a law firm only did that one thing? My answer: Gain agreement among all the partners that, "this is who we are" as a firm. The answer is easy to say and not so easy to do, but if you only get one shot by whatever road you travel -- this is the shot to take. Here's how I do it.
  • Hire a great facilitator (This go-round I had Merry Neitlich and Jim Hughes facilitating). Someone experienced at working with groups of individuals, collecting their thoughts, and capable of boiling down a myriad of thinking into concise, easy to understand statements.
  • Get all (or as many as possible) of your attorneys into a large room and ask them the question, "What does (your firm name here) mean to you?"
  • Write down everything they say on a large flip chart (this may take several pages). They may state things relevant to themselves, relevant to clients, or relevant to nothing at all. Just write it all down.
Let it rest for a few days.
  • Get the group(s) back together. Have all of the pages of statements lined up around the room for all to see.
  • Using the facilitator as discussion leader work through the list of statements and combine thoughts and ideas where it makes sense (Here's where a great facilitator's talent really comes into play) . You may start with 300 statements that can be reduced to 100.
  • After the first go-around do it again. Get the list down to 60... then to 40... then to 10. It is a hard process that will invoke passionate discussion -- and yet that is exactly what you want -- passion.
  • Once you can work the list to 10 or less
Let it rest for a few days.
  • Using the 10 or less statements write one or two paragraphs that capture, in story form, the essence of what the firm has been boiled down to.
  • Take the essence statement back to the attorneys for more discussion. Always refer any discussion to the agreed list. Resist all efforts to reopen the discussion of what should be on the list and instead get people to focus on the best way to tell the story.
  • Success!
So what is this one, really hard thing all about? It's about creating a common language. Firms that need marketing typically need marketing less than they need a common language.

Imagine this: 300 brilliant scientists who all speak different languages working on the different parts of the same goal. Each has something equally important to contribute, but because they cannot understand the words of their colleagues will each be brilliant in a vacuum. They may each achieve wondrous results but ultimately the grand goal will not be reached because they could not talk about how each was adding to the whole.

Without an essence statement each lawyer (and employee) will have their own way of describing the firm. Create an essence statement and everyone starts saying similar things and more importantly, everyone starts feeling like they are part of something bigger and grander than themselves.