We’re smart. We’re old. And we’re the best at everything.
The World’s-First No-BS Guide to Legal Marketing and Branding
By Ross Fishman, CEO, Fishman Marketing, Inc.
Reviewed by G. Steven Henry, Executive Director and General Counsel, Litigation Counsel of America
When I practiced law in Dallas in the early 1980s, I marveled at the book-lined hallways of one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious law firms. It was big, revered, sat high above the largest bank in town (its client forever), in the tallest building in town (at one time), and was, with fast-growing progressive firms plucking its formerly loyal clients, hopelessly stuck in the past. It would soon close its doors. Dallas was beginning the infancy of law firm marketing and either you recognized and accepted it, or you went away.
Until the last decade of twentieth century, the term “law firm marketing” was still a bit of a misnomer. Partnerships publicized themselves the old fashioned way ‒ through cozy connections: word-of-mouth referrals on the golf course or in the clubhouse. Perhaps a firm would run a staid black-and-white ad every now and again in an appropriate legal publication, recognizing a lawyer who received a professional award. But aggressively putting your firm “out there” as the focus of a commercial ad campaign? Heavens! That was just gauche, and practically called for smelling salts and a fainting couch.
In the early 1990s, though, stodgy legal marketing started getting shaken up. The waters roiled. True pioneers, such as Chicago’s Ross Fishman, entered the picture and brought new ideas and a fresh perspective to the starchy, pretentious scene. Law firms, said these innovators, could and should reflect cohesive business strategies in their marketing. They could be creative. They could run ads… in color! They could even have a bit of fun in the process. Progressive, aggressive firms were winning the day and leading the way, overcoming previously inflexible ethical rules relative to advertising.
A few renegades like Fishman managed to persuade some of the firms they served to break out of their crusty shells and bring their marketing to a new, inventive level. And the outcomes were laudable. Firms that were brave enough to embrace new approaches and differentiate themselves from the crowd saw results. They got noticed… and they got business.
In “We’re smart. We’re old. And we’re the best at everything,” Fishman shares the valuable insights he earned over three decades in the legal marketing trenches. As you might glean from the title alone, he imparts this wisdom in a non-pretentious, funny, and thoroughly entertaining way. A popular speaker at conferences and other legal events, Fishman ‒ a lawyer himself and marketing partner who has owned and managed Fishman Marketing since 1998 ‒ tells the backstories to dozens of powerful marketing campaigns he’s spearheaded.
Whether a firm comprises a solo practitioner or a multi-national roster of thousands of attorneys, most of these entities now recognize that, in spite of their traditional attachment to the ideal of above-the-fray country club gentility, they are businesses, first and foremost. And, as businesses, they must learn to market like businesses. That, however, is much easier said than done, as Fishman points out.
Law firms tend to be conservative, cautious, and risk-averse. Fishman explains that, before they’re ready to make the leap to signing off on a new branding effort or ad campaign, lawyers need an education of sorts. That is, a crash course in marketing. Educating the law firm audience is an essential part of launching a successful promotional push because it maximizes the buy-in that prompts lawyers to amplify the firm message on their own. Although it can be time-consuming and even sometimes contentious, the process of guiding firms through self-examination and Law Firm Marketing 101 is always well worth the effort. Clients and prospects are persuaded by each firm’s unique story and how credibly it is told. Finding the key differentiating aspects of that story and showcasing them authentically helps firms stand out and attract the right kind of attention ‒ the kind that leads to increased revenue.
In this entertaining and humorous guide, Fishman gives practical, no-nonsense advice and lays out the thinking behind making marketing strategies that work. It is full of valuable insights and provides a look at major and minor do’s and don’ts of promoting a law firm. For instance, Fishman suggests not to portray your partnership as being all things to all people. In other words, as the title suggests, resist launching a marketing initiative based on the premise that your firm is smart, old, and the absolute best at absolutely everything. Firms need to use discernment in selecting which strengths and specialties they should shine the spotlight on, and, Fishman notes, it’s crucial that they embrace their own true characters and cultures and reflect these in their marketing.
We’re smart… pushes firms to go beyond tired clichés and staples of law firm advertising such as using photos of globes and columns. (“If I see a gavel or striped book on your website,” warns Fishman, “I’m going to smack you with it.”). He discusses the critical need to whip your firm website into shape lest you scare off potential clients, and gives an overview of the many pitfalls to avoid when choosing a firm logo.
Case studies based on his work with dozens of firms walk readers through marketing strategies to consider if, for example, your firm has a noticeably bad name. Or a good name. Or if it has a useful focus, niche expertise, size, or culture. Or if it needs to attract lateral attorneys, or set up shop in a new location.
Fishman’s witty, straightforward approach will leave readers eager to implement creative but sensible marketing strategies in their own organizations. His engaging, well-crafted prose, tightly edited by Steve Taylor and Cindy Collins-Taylor, combines with decades of vital experience to make this handbook a must-read for law firm professionals.