‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession (Part 1)

‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession (Part 1)

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That’s right. In fact, let’s throw two books at them – most lawyers can speed read and commit to memory, so these two should be an entertaining breeze compared to the volumes of case law they’ve endured.

  1. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!
  2. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Why is it that some of our society’s brightest minds have no idea how to translate their “no holds barred” skills from the court room to the public domain of marketing communication in a battle to win more clients?

Maybe they just don’t need the extra business, maybe they don’t know how, or maybe the truth is a combination of arrogance and ignorance steeped in tradition.

If you want to understand the historical reasons why the legal profession is the way it is when it comes to marketing and advertising, read this excellent exposé by the (American) National Law Journal.

A joke or reality?

A young lawyer, starting up his private practice, was very anxious to impress potential clients. When he saw the first visitor to his office come through the door, he immediately picked up his phone and said:

“I’m sorry, but my caseload is so tremendous that I’m not going to be able to look into your problem for at least a month. I’ll have to get back to you then.” He then turned to the man who had just walked in, and said, “Now, what can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” replied the man. “I’m here to hook up your phone.”

Q: What’s wrong with Lawyer jokes?

A: Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and nobody else thinks they’re jokes.

At the risk of pissing off the very people who can test our professional indemnity insurance cover limits, we decided to examine the websites of the top Australian law firms as well as look at their public relations communication in the business press. What became blatantly obvious was that there is a serious misunderstanding of what branding is and how to do it well, especially amongst the Tier 1 law firms.

Perception is reality. And the reality is that:

“…public do not have a warm and loving feeling about lawyers. To say, in political spin, you have a ‘PR issue’ is an understatement. That TV ad about bankers, when all the friends around the pool go quiet, could just as easily be about lawyers except the punch line would be harder to write. St George are marketing themselves as the “non-bank”, the bank that does away with the old problems and puts you at the centre. But who are the non-lawyers or the good lawyers these days? Reflecting back through the centuries, lawyers seem to have always been disliked – for their fees, their ability to argue their client’s case (and therefore be seen to believe in nothing) and their skill in employing technicalities to wriggle around truth or responsibility. On the other hand, if ever in trouble, everyone wants one in their corner.”

– Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon’s incredibly passionate speech to Australian Women Lawyers’ Conference – 29th September 2006, titled – The People Vs Lawyers: The Case For An Ethical (and Influential) Profession. Ms. Roxon was an industrial lawyer and senior associate with the law firm Maurice Blackburn and a judge’s associate to the High Court.

If you take a look at the websites of the “leading” commercial law firms in Australia, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Law Institute had issued “good website guidelines” and all the major firms followed along like lemmings. In terms of their branding – that is, a defined point of difference – it is almost impossible to tell what benefits one firm offers over another.

All firms have lots of smart people, do some pro-bono work and have won awards. But what makes you tick? Who are you? How can you help me sue someone’s pants off or protect myself from same? Why would I use you instead of the other eight glass-tower, high-priced, legal-eagle guns-for-hire in town? At least when watching Boston Legal, one knows that Crane Pool & Schmidt represent only the most weird and wonderful.

Interestingly, the personal injury “fight for the battler” type firms seem to have a better grasp on their branding (differentiation) and speak to an audience (as opposed to an enterprise) than the “corporate” firms do. Almost without exception, the commercial firms have dull messages that are all about them and provide no compelling reason why a client should choose them over their competitors.

In the next post we’ll examine what the legal profession could do to fix the status quo.

Gene Stark is the principal of Stark Reality a marketing consultancy that provides SMEs with simple, effective and accountable marketing solutions that increase their marketing R.O.I using brand communication disciplines and processes previously only affordable for large corporations.

Jeremy Samuel helps businesses and individuals generate greater profits through smart marketing, personal branding and social media. He is also the founder of Dads Flying Solo, a community and resource for single dads.

Photo: Sebastion Fritzon

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  • http://legaleasyaustralia.blogspot.com Jeanette Jifkins

    Sadly, its not just marketing! Lawyers are a conservative and fearful bunch. This is perpetuated not just through our system of education in law, where EVERYTHING comes back to who wins, but also the inherent backbiting culture of law firms. Using some ‘new age’ terminology, its a whole ‘scarcity’ mentality and the problem is, you don’t recognise it unless you get out of the whole law firm environment.

    I moved from mid-tier firm to inhouse counsel about three years ago and now work in an environment populated by psychologists. This has led me to realise that the one key thing missing from education and training in the legal profession is emotional intelligence. Lawyers get so caught up in the rules of the game that we can easily forget there are people involved who are emotionally attached to the work we are doing. We talk about dispute resolution and mediation, but it still has a rule based legal focus, rather than any focus on examining the strong feelings that keep people wrapped up in disputes long after rational attitudes and realistic expectations have flown out of the window.

    Without any real awareness of the responses that lawyers generate and encourage in their clients, is it any wonder there is little understanding of marketing within the profession?