Bar News - May 15, 2009
Are You Overlooking Your Best Marketing Tool?
By: By Sylvia Hsieh
Many law firms are missing a marketing tool that is right in front of them: their own staff.
While all law firms believe the mantra that every staff member is an ambassador for the firm, few make it an explicit element of firm culture. In fact, your staff is already marketing all day long – they just need to be reminded of it.
“If you really believe, as I do, that everybody is marketing from the moment they wake up to the moment they sleep – meaning that you are persuading someone as to the validity and worthiness of your idea, whether the idea is ‘Hire me,’ or the idea is selling your story to a judge or jury – then everything that involves your people and you is marketing,” said Edward Poll, founder of LawBiz Management Co. in Venice, Calif.
But lawyers and law firm management have not successfully transmitted this message, said Tom Kane, principal of Kane Consulting Inc. in Sarasota, Fla. and author of www.legalmarketingblog.com.
“Everyone needs to understand and buy into the idea that they have a significant impact on the firm’s brand,” he said.
For small firms, whose clients more often visit the office in person, it’s even more critical that everyone from the receptionist to the paralegals to the people in the copy room know that they represent the firm.
Make it a policy
Your staff is usually on the front lines of communicating with clients, so “smart marketing” includes empowering them to make calls and communicate with clients on your behalf, said Kane. Written policies and training are a starting point.
“Teach your staff that they are marketing the firm. Give them instructions on how to answer the phone and interact with people and the standards of care you would like to see,” said Poll.
This message should come across as early as the hiring process. When Dan Hull, a partner with Hull McGuire PC in Pittsburgh, interviews potential employees, he introduces “The 12 Rules of Client Service,” a 30-page book of required reading created by his firm that includes such items as Rule #6: “When you work, you are marketing” and Rule #9: “Be there for clients – 24/7.”
He bluntly tells everyone in the firm the rules are not a gimmick and anyone who doesn’t buy into them will be fired.
“The only way you can get fired in my firm is to make a joke about client services. We are dead serious about it,” said Hull, author of the blog www.whatboutclients.com.
And he has followed through on that promise; he fired an employee on the spot for refusing to take a phone call from a client over a weekend when both partners were out of town.
Employees at his firm know they will be evaluated based on their customer service skills and are encouraged to evaluate the partners on the same skills. The lawyers have to set the example.
“If you’re a blunderbuss with clients and others, your staff will see that. If you are courteous and solicitous of clients, they will follow suit,” said Poll.
Another rule that Hull lives by is that a client should never have to call him for information. “The client should always know what’s going on,” he said, referring to Rule #5: “Over-communicate: bombard, copy and confirm.”
According to Poll, about 80 percent of calls from clients are questions that are best answered by staff, such as where to appear, what to wear and other questions about the process, rather than substantive law.
“People want to deal with your staff rather than you, because the staff isn’t going to charge them and they’re going to go away with an answer,” said Poll.
Another policy that Hull instituted at his firm to involve staff is that every person who works on a project for a client, including the paralegal and secretary, knows what the client is being billed.
“Every person has to know how much money that client spent, because our job is not to maximize cost but to keep costs down,” said Hull.
Making staff an integral part of marketing and retaining clients empowers them and can create positive morale.
“The staff [members] feel they’re important and know we’re not treating them like peasants,” said Hull.
“The bottom line is that if it’s a good place to work and people are happy working there, oftentimes [this happiness] carries over and the public hears about it and clients hear about it,” Kane added.
Published in Lawyers USA, Jan. 19, 2009. Reprinted with permission.