By and large, there are currently three generations of lawyers working within a law firm: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials. Each generation has its own attributes and skill sets unique to them. For example, millenials are much more comfortable with new technologies, particularly social media. Meanwhile, baby boomers are more accustomed to getting out from behind their desks and interact with prospects and clients.

For those tasked with developing and implementing a law firm’s marketing program, the goal is not to force a square peg into a round hole by forcing a baby boomer to act like a millennial; the goal is to understand each generation’s comfort levels and talents so that they can be leveraged for marketing success. In other words, a marketing program is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. Trying to make it so is just going to lead to, at best, frustration and, at worst, failure.

So then what does a multigenerational marketing program actually look like? Well, to be honest, it’s nothing new. We are not talking about starting a revolution. We are talking about using some practical sense. And it begins by understanding that even with all the shiny new technologies available to us – from social media to e-marketing to websites – the underpinnings of what makes marketing so effective have remained the same since the first human tried to get another human to make a purchase.

5 Timeless Marketing Principles

The following are five key pillars of marketing. The important thing to remember here is that, regardless of the time, the place and the demographics of the one doing the marketing, these concepts remain the foundation of our profession.

Relationship Building: Making personal connections and building trust between both parties is critical to successful marketing. Without a relationship built on trust, you really don’t have a leg to stand on. Older attorneys tend to grasp this notion quite easily, as they have grown up making handshake deals on the golf course. Younger attorneys, on the other hand, have grown up using technology to help form friendships. Once again, neither tactic is right or wrong. They are just different.

Communicating Value: Marketing’s primary intent is to convince someone that your product or service is worth investing in. Therefore, communicating value is a critical piece to the act of persuasion. There are many ways to communicate the same value principles, and how you communicate these principles depends on both the communicator (your attorney or your firm as a whole) and the audience.

Storytelling: There is probably no better way to communicate attributes of your brand, including its value, than through the vehicle of storytelling. It’s been scientifically proven that information couched in a story format is better received and retained than information that is not organized in such fashion. This skill is one that older attorneys tend to excel at, likely because the longer you remain in the profession, the more stories you amass.

Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is a way to convey value while adding credibility to your brand.

While it might not be as critical in the consumer products space, producing and broadcasting thought leadership is essential to anyone who markets professional services. After all, isn’t a law firm’s main product its intellectual capabilities?

Corporate Culture: A concept that older attorneys might consider a little “touchy feely” but one that younger attorneys grasp quite easily, corporate culture is the core of any law firm’s brand. Actively working to create a specific environment built on unique core values should be a priority for every law firm.

All attorneys, regardless of generation, have the capability to contribute to all of these marketing fundamentals. However, how they contribute will be contingent on their comfort levels.

Stop Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

While it’s important to assess each attorney’s unique comfort levels and skills on an individual basis, we can make some generalizations about attorney behavior based on their generation.

For example, the most senior partners (i.e., the boomers), who are in their 60s and 70s, are much less likely to incorporate newer marketing trends and technologies into their practices.  In fact, they are more likely to actively put up resistance. However, they also hold the most institutional knowledge and years of experience, making them extremely valuable to in terms of relationship building and mentorship.

Then we have the middle tier, the 40- and 50-year-old attorneys. Unlike their younger counterparts, these lawyers are often heavily influenced by the traditions of the legal industry, having worked under the senior partners most of their careers. Some have a greater aptitude for technology than others, but most have at least some high-level understanding of how innovations like social media function.

Finally, we have the youngest generation of lawyers – the millenials. Culturally, these digital natives are drastically different than their senior counterparts, possessing a completely different hierarchy of priorities and relying much less on tradition. They are technology whiz kids, but they are still green when it comes to generating new business and running a successful practice.

Many law firms earmark most of their resources for the senior-level attorneys, including marketing and business development support. While these might be the biggest rainmakers, it’s a shortsighted investment that fails to consider the long-term success of the firm. In other words, if a law firm does not invest in its future, it will not have a future. That’s why legal marketers should advocate that marketing and business development efforts are spread out across the organization. These efforts should capitalize on each generation’s strengths.

For example, senior-level attorneys should have support finding speaking opportunities. After all, they are the faces of the firm and likely the most adept at in-person communication. Meanwhile, middle-aged attorneys could benefit from business development coaching, as they often came up through the ranks working on accounts generated by the senior partners. Finally, millenials could benefit from senior-level mentorship. Pairing younger attorneys with older attorneys to create opportunities for knowledge sharing is one tactic that can create a win-win for all parties involved.

New Marketing Ideas for the Next Generation of Lawyers

As we acknowledge that we are working with an unprecedented three generations of lawyers, we have to begin rethinking our law firm marketing programs to meet the needs of all of our attorneys. Not only will this help set the firm on a path for long-term success, but it also will have a direct impact on the firm’s ability to win new business in the here and now, as your prospects more closely resemble the younger attorneys than the senior-level baby boomers.

The following are three innovative legal marketing tactics you can take to help encourage success across all generations of lawyers.

Develop incentives not tied to the billable hour: The billable hour is the bane of law firm innovation. While making money in the present is important to keep cash flow stable, focusing too much on billable hours can disincentive lawyers from developing new marketing initiatives or investing time in marketing altogether. Senior partners need to appreciate that there is more to maintaining a successful law firm than billing clients, and that includes participating in media relations programs, developing thought leadership-oriented content and booking speaking opportunities. After all, anyone who has studied the sales cycle knows that PR and marketing are just as important to the sales process as making the sale itself. Some ways to incentive attorneys to participate in marketing and PR initiatives include providing bonuses to the practice whose client alerts receive the highest open rates, paying attorneys a flat fee for contributing to practice area blogs, and reducing billable hour quotas for attorneys who contribute substantially to a firm’s PR and marketing efforts.

Build a top-down mentoring program and a bottom-up marketing program: One of the beauties of multigenerational marketing is that everyone has a part they can play. In the law firm environment, older parties are the wise elders of the firm. The knowledge they have gained through experience is invaluable, and a smart law firm will know that retaining that institutional knowledge is a top priority. That’s why legal marketers should work to develop mentorship programs where senior attorneys are paired with younger attorneys to help learn the skills necessary to one day manage aspects of the firm.

Likewise, law firm management needs to have representatives from across the firm come together to inform the firm’s marketing and branding efforts. A law firm’s brand needs to speak to its many audience segments – including audiences from multiple generations – and the best way to do this is to get a diversity of opinion in the room. Through these opinions, legal marketers can develop programs that speak to both niche audience segments and the marketplace as a whole in a way that is tremendously more effective than if the strategy was informed by only a few senior-level partners.

Invest in technology: Don’t force older partners to use technology they are resistant to using. But do provide younger attorneys with the technological resources and training they need to be successful now and in the future. This includes technologies that automate activities so that lawyers can remain actively involved in law firm marketing while reducing their time investment.

Once again, the core principles of marketing remain the same regardless of the tactics used. That’s why not every lawyer needs to be blogging or tweeting. Instead, legal marketers must appreciate the unique strengths of each generation of attorney and capitalize on those to reap the greatest return. Doing so not only maximizes the effectiveness of your efforts, but it also spares you the frustration of developing a marketing program that fails to have a lasting impact. 

Reprinted from The Administrator’s Advantage (January/February 2016 issue) with approval from the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators.