The global pandemic forced the entire legal profession to function without its social ecosystem of in-person client meetings, working breakfasts, lunches and dinners, receptions, entertainment at events, live conferences or symposiums. Even court access has been limited.
These venues disappeared quickly. Some will return, but many have been replaced or supplanted with an online and virtual world in which today’s rainmakers were not trained.
Rainmakers attract premium business and clients. Some are trusted C-suite advisors or problem solvers with a niche, specialty or expert knowledge. So, what are three strategic questions to acquire premium business in this paradigm shift:
- How do we retool today’s rainmakers?
- Should we identify, train and create rainmakers for the next generation?
- What are new skills rainmakers must master to capture business in 2022 and beyond.
Multiple rainmakers whose observations form the basis of this article, seem to personify a Winston Churchill quote, “I am always ready to learn … although I do not always like being taught.
The Difference is Thought Leadership
Data shows that for large and medium size firms, as well as specialty firms, a considerable percentage of new business comes from attorney referrals. Most referrals are not bound by geography.
When one attorney refers a matter to another, that counsel must have credentials, as well as street cred that shine in the eyes of clients. Usually, referring attorneys have only modest financial gain, but could lose standing with their client … if that referral falls flat.
In a recent discussion on this subject with Ron Levine, senior litigator at Herrick and a recognized thought leader, he said, “When asked to recommend an attorney, I seek a leader in the relevant practice area.”
“My client and I may not have seen the lawyer in action, so we begin by reviewing their bio and experience. But the icing on the cake is references to their presentations, media commentary and writings on the subject, as well as noteworthy observations by others who sought out that lawyer’s perspectives and predictions.”
Thought leadership today is a cross between intellectual distinction, innovative positioning and marketing. For that reason, lawyers must develop online business attributes peers respect and value.
The differentiator is thought leadership.
Post Pandemic Repositioning
In this evolving and zippy digital world, many firms – with hard marketing costs considerably reduced due to the pandemic – are spinning wheels generating vast amounts of materials, emailing clients to appear relevant and keep up with competitors. In far too many cases, clients do not find value.
Junior associates looking in rearview mirrors generate countless alerts about new laws or court decisions with little differentiation or innovation, in simple words …..more sell then jell. Wannabe marketers craft invitations to indistinguishable webinars, posting on social media with few innovative ideas.
If a tree falls in the woods is there a noise? The falling tree generates sounds even if no one is present. When a tree falls, motion disturbs air and sends waves making noises. Sounds depend on tree size, how fast it was falling, ground covered where it lands, etc. Sounds may also vary: bang, boom, crash or thug … but, who hears it?
If a law firm keeps distributing and posting information that does not capture new business or noticeable client feedback, is anyone reading or seeing it? Perhaps. But brand recognition and new business ensue only if correlated to quality, innovative and substantive content, important and helpful to existing or potential clients, not the writer or the law firm. Academic writing for the law review is over.
Research points to alarming statistics about how clients value law firm postings. Two different reports note: C-suites cite more than 50 % of content was not relevant; in another, on a scale of 1 to 10, almost 70% of C-suite executives rated quality of content produced by law firms, between a 3 and 7. Few rated contents 8 to 10. That’s astonishing and should cause leaders to rethink efforts.
The paradox: excellence in practice is vital, but alone, it does not always provide a clear path to victory in new business.
Understanding Marketplace Revolution
By many measures law firms are doing quite well right now. That will not always be the case.
The marketplace has been transforming for some time … and is on steroids these last two years. It has evolved globally, regionally and locally. And no law firm, no matter how well they are doing, enjoys losing existing business or bids to other firms.
Law leaders might see comparisons to work my company does for non-legal Wall Street organizations. One company management approached us as they noticed a downdraft in their business the last two years. They were not invited to submit some RFPs, not requested further discussion following submission of extensive RFPs. And in other cases, not awarded new or follow up business.
Following investigation and research, the main reason for losing these new business opportunities was that the ‘client journey’ had unprecedented transformation, however, the company did not keep pace with that transition.
Specifically, Zoomers or Gen Zs, as well as younger millennials were making recommendations or decisions – based on online research with no personal contact or connections – what companies would be invited to submit RFPs, and following submission, which are asked in for further discussion.
Another noticeable change was that several client functions were now involved in some way in the decision process: boards members, C-suite executives, procurement, legal, compliance, others.
The significant difference in order to reverse this sales downdraft was to understand and accept the dramatic change in the ‘client journey,’ as well as focus online content to appeal to these new gatekeepers.
So to remove the barriers, the Wall Street financial firm’s digital presence had to be retooled to include relevant website content, insightful articles about specific product or service in plain English, success stories, supported by regular postings on LinkedIn, as well as other skills for success outlined later in this article.
It is also important to note surprising statistics which underline shifting buyer behaviors:
- 84% of C-suite buyers use social media interaction to influence purchase decisions.
- 90% of B2B decision makers never respond to any form of cold outreach, while 75% of them use social media in their decision-making process.
To stay connected with shifting markets – or penetrate new markets – understand new buyers and buyer influencers, define who you and what you do through easily accessible and compelling digital materials, explain why your firm is different, and how you strategize with clients to optimize their desired outcome.
New Skills for Success
Indeed, all revenue generators must be viewed in the real and virtual world as thought leaders that deliver value that have a winning formula for new business.
In my book Digital Assassination, Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks, we stated “Age needs to approach technology with greater skill … while youth needs to approach technology with greater wisdom.” Something firm leaders should think about as they look to retool or identify, train and create a new generation of rainmakers.
Seven key actions for new business success in ever-changing digital world are:
- Challenge alerts and event topics: Are your firm alerts relevant to news, trends, geography, client base, etc.? Have other firms covered the same information? What innovative ideas are suggested that others have not written about? What particular expertise does your firm have in this area?
- Target: Spray and pray does not work. Everyone on your distribution should not receive all communications. Many are captured in spam filters. Target by subject, then by title or company. Also, send content to those frequently quoted in media on that subject and other thought leaders in that space. Takes longer, but much more effective.
- Engage the reader: Up front -- that means first two sentences -- show how your material provides new understandings that will be helpful to clients, readers or listeners ... NOT important to the writer or the firm. Content should engage readers, not encourage them to press their delete button. For treats, everyone seeks chocolate and marshmallow ‘smores.’ That repetition works. Not so with content.
If readers think content offers new and innovative ideas, they will pass it on for discussion or engagement. If that is accomplished, it will show how smart you are
- Ordinary Words: English is the official language of more than fifty countries. However, simple communications seems alien to lawyers trained to write briefs. All public content should be consistent, written in plain English – as if you were explaining information to first year college students – not in corporate speak or legalese. Also, avoid acronyms or industry jargon.
- Ease of read: We live in a Twitter world of 280 maximum characters. Direct, to the point. Yet, some lawyers are still writing 2,800 words as one paragraph that covers several pages. If copy is dense, eyes glaze over... and will not capture reader interest or engagement.
- Eye and Ear Appeal: A photo is worth 1,000 words. For rainmakers, perhaps 10,000 words. Video is worth one million words. Few firms provide colorful, moving graphs or post videos online. Fewer provide simple checklists in alerts on issues. What are the three, four or even five key processes clients should follow for a successful conclusion to an issue?
- Seek Media Coverage: If you have a specialty, know key business and industry media that cover that space... and send them alerts or writings about that subject. They always seek comments on trending topics. However, if you want to play in this space, two points are noteworthy. Must get back to reporter calls immediately, that means minutes not hours, as journalists are usually on deadline. Provide insights on that issue that no one else has been stating.
For some Baby Boomer or Generation X lawyers, these efforts involve an abrupt change that they have struggled with or rejected for some time. The debate is over. The world changed and will not revert. For others, it is a matter of advancing or polishing skills. If your firm develops and leverages these digital tools and sets a significant strategic road map, you will be amazed how your brand and recognition improves, as well as new business achieved.
Published March 23, 2022.