I recently attended the Legal Marketing Association – New York Chapter’s annual General Counsel Forum. As usual, the event was very well attended by marketing professionals at some of the leading law firms in the country. This year’s forum featured a panel that included: Marla Alhadeff, deputy general counsel and global head of litigation and suspicious activity reporting at The Bank of New York Mellon; Fabio Bertoni, general counsel of The New Yorker; and Kevin Finnegan, senior vice president and associate general counsel at MetLife.
The panelists discussed what law firms can do to differentiate themselves from the competition and what each of them believed to be important elements of a successful relationship between law firms and corporate legal departments. During the Q&A portion of the presentation, I asked the panel to rate the importance of two marketing strategies commonly used by law firms to generate new business: content marketing and award submissions.
They answered unequivocally that they did not find any value whatsoever in lawyer or law firm awards. All three of the panelists agreed that they do not pay any attention to awards and do not ever consider awards when deciding to hire a new lawyer or law firm. Alhadeff mentioned that the only time she ever looks at any awards is when she is looking for a firm that is focused on diversity. However, she warned that an award on diversity is not enough and that she often looks at firm leadership to determine if the firm is truly diverse.
I have spoken to in-house counsel in the past, and they have confirmed what the panelists said. They do not place any value or importance on lawyer awards and simply ignore them. Unfortunately, it seems that law firm leaders are not getting the message. Numerous Big Law firms have entire departments and full-time employees that focus exclusively on award submissions. Whether its Chambers, Legal 500, Super Lawyers or others, these firms spend an inordinate amount of time, money and resources in order to be considered and ranked. WHY?
The answer, of course, is that this is not about business development or marketing. Awards and award submissions are mostly about lawyer egos. Lawyers like to compare themselves to their competitors and are infuriated and feel slighted if they are not selected for an award. Legal marketing professionals are left with no choice but to follow orders and make sure that award submissions go out every year, even if they know it will have little impact when it comes to generating new business.
Some will argue that legal awards are good tools for recruiting younger lawyers and laterals who are not equipped to make judgements about the firms they are considering. Awards can also be good for law firm morale and cohesion, allowing lawyers to tell their colleagues “our firm is great and we get all these awards.” However, when it comes to their value as a business development tool, I think it’s fair to say that their influence is minimal.
On the topic of content marketing, the GC panel indicated that they did perceive some value from firm newsletters, client alerts, blogs and social media posts. However, they qualified the value by stating that most firms are focused on redacting facts rather than providing analysis and insights on new legal developments and court decisions. Both Bertoni and Finnegan said firms need to show they understand their clients’ and prospects’ businesses. They can highlight this by publishing and sharing content that demonstrates an understanding of a client’s business and their industry.
This is not easily accomplished, and it requires that lawyers, business development and marketing professionals gain a true understanding of what clients care about and the challenges and opportunities they face. My hope is that law firm leaders will check their egos at the door and start focusing on delivering true value to their clients and prospects. Investing in a robust client-centric content marketing strategy will reap rewards and lead to new relationships and opportunities. Law firms should stop wasting time and money and focus instead on creating valuable content, not awards submissions.