I am looking forward to hearing Daniel Pink speak at the LMA Annual Conference next week. My first introduction to his work was a few years ago, when a friend gave me, “A Whole New Mind”. At the time, I thought, “Oh great, another business book.” Then, a few pages in, I began to think that there may be something in its pages that was game-changing. There was.
As a former practicing attorney turned law firm management and marketing consultant and executive, I have been surrounded by left-brain thinkers throughout my professional life. You know the type: A + B + C = D, therefore E. Left-brain thinking is what makes lawyers good at what they do. Analytical reasoning is what they are all about.
Enter Pink who, although a lawyer by education, says yes, left-brain thinking worked in many professions, but times have changed. Today, clients and customers want more. We all know that law firm marketing still rests on the bedrock of relationships, but in addition to those relationships, CEOs, Boards, and GCs need to be able to understand the story of why the law firm they hired was the best for the big acquisition or the high-stakes litigation – or at least to know that the firm has sufficiently developed and communicated their brand such that the reason for hiring the firm is beyond question, Although it is rarely discussed in sales meetings or listed among the criteria in RFPs, clients are always aware that this is particularly important if the outcome doesn’t play out as planned.
After setting the stage for the “new era” based on market data and other sources, Pink’s research reveals that there are, in fact, six senses that are critical for successful business growth: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. His approach is a radical departure from tradition business thinking – it’s more human, more vital, and more subjective. I believe it applies to law firms as follows:
Think what you want about Apple, Steve Jobs and his company made us care about how something as utilitarian as the technology that we use in our business and personal lives had to be sleek, attractive, well-designed. He taught us that design and usefulness are directly connected. Remember the awful law firm web sites of the early days (and some that are still out there)? Ugh. Today, law firms invest thousands, and in some instances millions, on the design of everything from their web site to their communications materials to their giveaways.
Many law firms still feel compelled to tell their “firm history,” as if a Fortune 50 general counsel will base his/her hiring decision on what “William Prescott, III,” did in 1912 to start his law firm. Truly, firms and their evolution have much more fascinating stories, built around the matters they have handled and the team that they have grown. When I think about “story,” I am reminded Seinfeld’s satire on J. Peterman, and how each item in his catalog items had a full background story and character description, and we found it humorous. Flash forward to today, when the most compelling advertising and marketing is all about story. Some done well and some, well…
In the end, everything needs to fit together. In an era of firms grown via mergers and lateral acquisitions, there has to be some common denominator. Amid the cacophony created by rapid growth you still have to explain to clients – actual and potential — how it benefits them. And you need to do this through a myriad of communication channels, digital and otherwise, to have it all make sense to a potential client.
How frequently and in how many ways can we tell lawyers that their best marketing tool is their ability to listen? To really understand what is going on in the client’s industry and business? Beyond listening, it is the lawyer’s ability to put him or herself in the shoes of the clients and really understand their perspective and what is important to them, so that they can anticipate, instead of react, to changes in their markets. Think of one of those SAT questions – “listening” is to “empathy” as “gravity” is to “physics.” It’s where everything begins.
A law firm that can laugh and have fun with itself, is a law firm of humans. While working hard, lawyers also have enjoyable and fulfilling lives (many very interesting, believe it or not), and often the subtle things that make law firm life enjoyable – the law firm’s rock band, running team, etc. are used as a recruiting tool, but overlooked as a marketing opportunity.
Most lawyers have a strong sense of community. They volunteer on boards and for a variety of worthy causes. They handle a wide array of pro bono matters. Their firms support their clients’ passions and support, and in some instances create, humanitarian efforts that ring true to them and have a positive social impact. Firms and lawyers do these things, to a large extent, because they are the right thing to do and because they help them to contribute to society-at-large. (What lawyer didn’t go to law school with at least a tiny ember of the fire that wishes to make a difference in the world?) There is something to be said for that.
Although the focus of Pink’s presentation will likely be his latest work, “To Sell is Human,” which has a whole other set of helpful strategies for legal marketers, I hope that you will find it worthwhile to check out his previous work and the great observations and ideas yet to come. As legal marketers, we can learn a great deal from him.
Marci Krufka Taylor is the founder of Mantra Partner, a strategy, management and marketing consultancy to law firms and other professional services firms, law departments and high growth companies throughout the country. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the firm boasts strategic relationships with leading thinkers on professional services management and marketing professionals throughout the United States with global experience. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.