Two breakout sessions at this year’s Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Annual Conference that I attended covered common-sense, “feel good” ways to bring more clients to a law firm. But hearing about good ideas is one thing. Deciding whether the investment is worth giving them a try is another.
Diversity and inclusion at law firms
In a standing-room-only session, Lia Dorsey, U.S. Diversity and Inclusion Director for Dentons US, LLP; Barbara Miller, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta; and Candace Rodriguez, Associate General Counsel, Home Depot, discussed the fact that if law firms have a more diverse group of attorneys (especially as partners and in management), it could be easier to attract more clients.
Federal civil rights laws date back to the 1960s. They embodied a changing society where discrimination became an issue covered by federal law. At the time, critics argued that how we relate to each other shouldn’t be legislated by the federal government but should be based on decisions by individuals and businesses.
Those positions didn’t carry the day, but now, about 50 years later, more clients are deciding they want to use law firms that reflect the make-up of their managements and/or customers, whether that’s considering race, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation. We are living in a society now where the core values of organizations and businesses increasingly include diversity and inclusion. As time goes on, law firms ignore that at their peril.
As was pointed out during the LMA session, it may not be enough for a law firm to maintain a long-term relationship with a client simply because of that history. If the firm won’t keep up with the times and provide the services clients want with the people they want, the work may come to an end.
One speaker said that while she and her staff were discussing legal services with a group from a law firm seeking their business, they asked about the firm’s efforts to diversify its legal staff. They were handed a brochure about the firm’s diversity program and told to call the phone number in the brochure if they had any questions. The firm seemed to think diversity issues were worth providing a brochure, but not worth the time to learn about or discuss.
The importance of diversity and inclusion will vary from client to client, but for society, it’s certainly in all our interests that a rising economic tide lift as many boats as possible. For a law firm, the upside of taking extra steps to have a more diverse legal staff and management could mean more clients.
Law firm alumni programs
Alumni programs are efforts to keep track of former law firm attorneys and maintain relationships that benefit not only the attorneys, but their former employer as well. The hope is that good will and cooperation between the parties will result in referral work or, if the ex-firm member has an in-house position, additional work created by a new client.
A session featuring Graziella Reis-Trani, Alumni Program Manager for White & Case, LLP, and Amanda Stipe, Global Alumni Relations Manager for Latham & Watkins, LLP, was an example of how to create and maintain an alumni community with the help of social media, websites and networking events in the “real world.”
The first question before starting such a program should be, whom do you want in the alumni community? Attorneys fired for performance issues probably shouldn’t be part of the club (nor would they probably want to be), but law firms may differ on whether they want to include associates who simply didn’t fit into the firm or summer associates who were offered, but turned down, positions. European firms are more open-minded and may include non-attorneys as alumni.
Key tools to use include independent, password-protected websites for these law firms and their alums (or at least a page or two on the firm’s website), a LinkedIn group, and social media posts. What’s interesting about these efforts is that the content, paid for by a law firm, would be trumpeting the success of those who no longer work there. A network of potentially hundreds or thousands of lawyers could see what a great job a person is doing and refer work to this attorney, not to the law firm publicizing that work.
There are no guarantees that any alumni marketing effort will be effective, but maintaining good relationships with as many people as possible is always a good idea. A huge percentage of most law firm’s work is generated through networking of one sort or another. An alumni program is just another way to encourage and leverage another important group of people who could generate business for a firm. As was pointed out in the session, generating just one new client could more than pay for the cost of an alumni program.
Feelings are one thing, facts are another
Either, or both, of these efforts may be a good idea for your firm. Employing attorneys from diverse backgrounds and maintaining positive relations with former firm attorneys are feel-good proposals, but if those taking a dive into these efforts track their work and successes, can they justify continuing the efforts based on more than generating positive feelings? Was the fact that a firm’s workforce and management is diverse help win a client? How much being billed is the result of a firm’s former lawyer connecting back? Law firms need effective efforts to help bring in more work, and data showing those efforts are yielding positive results will keep them going.
What do you think are creative ways to market a law firm? How should their success be documented? Let me know by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.