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Long distance clients, part 2. How does this impact legal marketing?

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As mentioned in my last blog post, our society has recently hit an inflection point — and we are now entering the era of the long distance business relationship.

Better technology has made it largely unnecessary (on a practical level) to work with local folks. Additionally, after 15 years of widespread internet usage, people now have less of an emotional need to be located near their clients and co-workers. As a result, geography is becoming less of a consideration when purchasing all sorts of products and services, including legal counsel.

How will marketing shift?
What does this mean for legal marketers? Lots. As geographic barriers are brought down, I expect that you will see the following changes, among others:

  • Micro-specialization: Adam Smith once said that specialization is a function of market size. As the market for legal services goes global, expect to see an unprecedented level of specialization.
  • More thought leadership: Clients looking for a highly specialized expert will expect you to prove your expertise. As a result, you can expect to see a large increase in volume of attorney-generated content, like articles, blogs, videos and podcasts.
  • Increased meritocracy: The “old boys’ club” will diminish in importance as the playing field widens and there is increased specialization. In short, a person with a reputation as the “leading authority” will win out against “the familiar.” Read Ian Brodie’s fantastic blog post about this subject.
  • Emphasis on website bios: People will increasingly turn first to the web for information about attorneys. In many cases, the information contained within the bio is what will determine whether a referral turns into a client (or at least a meeting). Judging by the number of flimsy one-page attorney profiles, most law firms haven’t yet realized the importance of improving their online bios.
  • More personal information: As face-to-face meetings become less essential (and thus less common), attorneys in the “Facebook generation” will use their website bios as a platform to create an emotional connection with prospective clients. Expect to see more engaging attorney portraits and increased use of video as well as lots more personal information about attorneys.

Will these changes happen overnight? No. However, I think that five years from now, the legal industry will be noticeably different. And, as is the case with any industry shake-up, there will likely be big winners and big losers. Am I overstating this? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Comments

9 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Mike O'Horo says:

    Dion,
    You’re right on all counts, so this will be a “Yes, and…” post. If lawyers accept the notion that the market is becoming global, opening up more possibilities to escape the tyranny of geography, they’d be wise to also shed the tyranny of the Law Dept. Looking at a company solely through the tiny aperture of a small cost center is as artificially limiting as is geography. If a company has 1000 employees, and only 20 of them work in the Law Department, for the other 980 employees most outside lawyers don’t exist.

    Worse, the law department is often, by definition, trailing the play. Is the law department the source of new products, services or other corporate innovation? No. By the time a business problem has matured to where it’s a defined as a legal problem, it’s dated. The innovators and other key stakeholders have moved on to the next challenge.

    The Law Department’s job is to rationalize the purchase of recurring legal service and drive down cost. Those goals are not well aligned with those of outside counsel who aspire to do interesting work — and have pricing power.

    So, lawyers, get off the Law Department couch and get out into the business units, where the interesting emerging problems live.

  2. Jay Pinkert says:

    Hi Dion,

    A very important topic.

    Your point about microspecialization is the most persuasive because online search and social networking has made it easier to find niche players, and for solos/smalls to build profitable practices within very narrow niches.

    But the biggest market shift caused by virtual space is the need to more rapidly adopt and innovate with the technology that enables law firms and their clients to work effectively at a distance — cloud computing, collaboration platforms, real-time data access. Drawing on examples like the FMC Technologies tender (http://www.law.com/jsp/tx/PubArticleTX.jsp?id=1202431043345&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1), the upcoming generation of GCs assumes authority and domain expertise by all of the firms in their consideration set. The differentiators are the firms’ technology profile and demonstrated knowledge of enterprise-level business processes.

    I think the whole “thought leadership” trope is overstated. It’s good at raising a firm’s/lawyer’s social media profile and generating speaking opportunities, but there just isn’t data to support that it will be an advantage in actually winning new business from geographically distant clients, especially if the “authority” doesn’t have the technology infrastructure required to work remotely.

  3. Ian Brodie says:

    Hi Dion – very thoughtful piece – thanks.

    I think we’re already seeing the fact that clients can find potential legal suppliers “at a distance” and (provided the size of the work justifies) then build that relationship face to face as the law firm sends it’s team physically to see them.

    We’re also seeing a lot of relationship building and nurturing activities happenening online.

    But as you say, it’s going to take a few years before they’ll feel comfortable working remotely.

    I also feel I ought to respond to Jay’s comment that “the upcoming generation of GCs assumes authority and domain expertise by all of the firms in their consideration set. The differentiators are the firms’ technology profile and demonstrated knowledge of enterprise-level business processes.”

    This is just nonsense.

    Firstly, while these days GCs assume basic competence from most law firms, they certainly don’t assume authority. That’s just wrong by definition. An authority in a field is the top, influential expert. That can’t be everyone. That’s like saying GCs assume everyone is in the top 5%.

    Now authority isn’t always wanted or needed. Legal work tends to fall into three categories – rocket sciene work at the top that requires the very highest capabilities, commodity work at the bottom that basically any qualified laywer in the field can do, and “important” work in the middle where a veriety of factros such as expertise, relationship, price, location etc. are all factored in.

    Being a recognised authority in your field clearly is most valuable for rocket science type work. It’ll help you win important work – but other factors come into play. And it’s overkill for commodity work. But guess what – rocket science work is the most lucrative.

    As to differentiating on technology profile? The article Jay references as support says no such thing. Jeffrey Carr, the GC of FMC profiled in the article talks about primary factor being risk/reward billing, with the compatibility of the lawyers (whether he’d “he’d like to go out and have a drink” with them) being important too.

    You can see from this that the sort of work he’s talking about is somewhere between the commodity and important areas. Price (or risk/reward) is important – but not the only factor. He recognises that relationships are important (the lawyers “are part of our business team, and they need to be compatible”). he says nothing about technology profile or enterprise-level business processes (whatever on earth they are).

    You’ll see a similar pattern when GCs of large corporates talk about hiring lawyers. But be careful: they’re talking about their “bread and butter” work. The legal support they need day in, day out. The picture can change drastically when they have exceptional needs.

    If Mr Carr found himself incarcerated, accused of a major felony would he select the lawyer to represent him based on their use of alternative fee structures and their relationship skills? My guess is not. He’d hire the best darn trial lawyer he could afford – the authority.

    It’s vital to understand these different types of client requirements/situations and not overgeneralise. I’m a big proponent of authority marketing – but i don’t claim it works for everyone all the time.

    Ian

  4. Jay Pinkert says:

    Ian:

    I used the word “authority” in the sense of experience-based mastery, not elevated status.

    Clearly you’re not familiar with the FMC tender. That particular article did not reference risk/reward, but I’ve had the opportunity to hear Jeff t present the case study and speak with him about it on more than one occasion, and shared risk and alternative fee arrangements were central to the tender.

  5. Ian Brodie says:

    Jay – that’s my point. I think you’ve misread my comment.

    In the article – and seemingly from what you heard, shared risk and alternative fees were central.

    But what you wrote (and what I disagreed with) was that “The differentiators are the firms’ technology profile and demonstrated knowledge of enterprise-level business processes”.

    it’s that that’s not mentioned anywhere.

    Ian

  6. Ian Brodie says:

    PS You may define authority in the sense of experienced based mastery rather than elevated status, but that’s not the sense it was used in my original article which Dion references. Best to stick with the original definitions if you’re going to argue against the conclusions drawn using them.

    In terms of data points supporting the use of thought leadership in winning work from geographically distant clients (without the technology infrastructure to support remote working), to be frank, it’s just common practice now in consulting and coaching. Client searches for specialist skills. Client finds website and calls/emails consultant. Consultant speaks to client – maybe even hops on train/plane to visit. Client hires consultant. It’s how my business works, and it couldn’t have worked that way before the web – I’d have had to have moved to a big city, or focused on having a small practice in the countryside. Technologywise I have nothing more advanced than skype or in many cases the phone.

    I can’t speak for lawyers or law firm clients, but I can’t see why it would be impossible for the same thing to happen. In the “olden days” prestigious firms and well known lawyers used to win work from geographically distant clients thanks to their reputation. Now it happens thanks to google and/or social media. Not every time, not for commodity work, not where geographic proximity is important. But often enough

    Ian

  7. Jay Pinkert says:

    Hi Ian,

    You concede that you “can’t speak for lawyers or law firm clients,” so I’ll just leave it at that.

    Thanks for the exchange.

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