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Roundtable Discussion – Part II

Marketing Law firms

No matter what size they are, law firms need to let people know who they are and what types of services they offer. Whether they target prospective clients or possible referral sources, law firms are engaged in ongoing marketing efforts. Wisconsin Law Journal editor Tony Anderson sat down with a panel of lawyers and marketing professionals to discuss how they go about bringing attention to their law firms.

WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL: I want to follow up on the idea of networking and referrals. Darryl and Sandy, both your firms are involved in a group that is designed for that. Can you talk a little bit about it?

DARRYL J. LEE: Sure. We’ve talked a bit about the amount of time that it takes to analyze marketing, what works and what doesn’t work. We find that we don’t really have the expertise to do that full analysis. So we joined a group called Primerus.

It’s a national organization of small law firms — right now I believe it’s about 60 firms in 25 states — which has the expertise that we need. They help us with our marketing plans. They do print ads that the various firms can use. They do TV ads if you want.

It’s also a great source of referrals — especially for our practice because we specialize in complex product liability and automotive crash-worthiness. When lawyers in other states have those kinds of cases — a Blazer rolls over and the roof crushes in and kills the driver — any firm with a case like that is going to send it our way. So we find that it’s very useful.

But Primerus is really trying to raise the bar for lawyers. They have six pillars [ideals for members to uphold] — integrity, excellence of work product, reasonable fee structure, continuing legal education, civility to bench and bar and community service. They market the Primerus name on a nationwide basis. They have their own Web site and we feed off of that. We rely on their expertise to help guide us on where we should be spending our marketing dollars.

Marketing Group

(Front) Sandy A. McGee, The Schroeder Group, SC; Jennifer R. Rupkey, Michael Best & Friedrich, LLP; Amy C. Westrup, Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP; (Back) Darryl J. Lee, Slattery & Lee, Ltd.; Willard P. Techmeier, The Techmeier McCormick Group SC

SANDY A. McGEE: For us it’s been a good fit because with there being so much law firm competition, it helps us to be able to say we’re affiliated with Primerus. They’ve kind of done the homework. Good Housekeeping gave them the Seal of Approval for law firms.

AMY C. WESTRUP: We belong to Legal Network Alliance. It is a group of over 200 law firms, both national and international. They just opened an office in Brussels. … It provides some marketing tools, although we haven’t taken full advantage of those yet. We’re still kind of looking at them. They are made up of firms that have complementary practice areas, mirror us in size and setup and our fee structure. So it’s almost like you have a satellite office now. It does help you compete with the larger firms.

[Unlike] Michael Best, I don’t have a Chicago office. But I have no problem at all referring you to our [networked] firm down there. … We meet with them quarterly. We discuss cases, discuss issues. Every network does this. It’s a very, very valuable service particularly for firms in Wisconsin. Because the majority are small and midsize firms.

LEE: Those types of entities allow the small firms to pool their resources to more effectively market themselves and reduce their overhead. So it’s a win-win situation for us.

JENNIFER R. RUPKEY: We belong to what’s called Lex Mundi or Law of the World, which is a global affiliation. It does the exact same type of thing. Actually, Lex Mundi recently formed a marketing committee so that the marketers could get together and share benefits and things like that. It has really proven valuable for the firm. Obviously, the network works on referrals and things like that across the world. So if we’ve got a client who needs help in Switzerland, we can feel confident in referring that client to the firm in Switzerland because they do have certain standards in being a member of the affiliation. That has worked out quite well for us.

Tech
meier

“It’s good if you can establish relationships with newspaper reporters. Then, when an important story comes up, they will call you and ask for your comments. I’ve been able to do that over the years.”

Willard P. Techmeier,
The Techmeier Mccormick Group SC

WLJ: We touched briefly on Web sites, but I’d like to take a closer look at the Internet and how things have been evolving. As the Internet evolves and its role changes, how does your use of it for marketing change?

WESTRUP: We just redid our Web site, and I’ve been with Weiss for two years. When I first got there, one of the first action items on my plate was to get the Web site redone. That is not an easy task, because the technology is changing so quickly that by the time you get it ready, it’s completely obsolete.

I think that everyone, regardless of the size of your firm, has realized that you can’t do the entire thing in-house. … Some of the really, really large firms, I’m sure, do. But you really need the consultants to track all of the data, all of the marketing data, all of the technology, the emerging technologies, how to code the meta tags.

We’re kind of in Phase I of our Web presence. When we put on seminars, we have people register online. That’s very effective. I’m cutting back on much of our direct mail. We do very little. I’m trying to do everything via the Web. Our clients and our referral sources appreciate it.

We just did a survey for an upcoming seminar where I sent it out in the morning to 300 people. By 5 p.m., I already had a 38 percent response rate. That is unheard of. If I had done a mailing and I had gotten 1 percent, it would have been amazing. And it would have cost me $2,000 to do. So … it saves you a lot of money. But you do have to have people who understand it. And you have to keep it … up to date. There’s nothing worse than going onto a site and it’s not working.

McGEE: I don’t think you can just have a site. There are so many boilerplate sites that you go to that are just cookie cutter. I think your site has to set you apart. Going back to the branding, it has to tell people what you’re about, what you stand for, and what you do and how you can help them.

WESTRUP: What makes you unique.

McGEE: Exactly.

WILLARD P. TECHMEIER: In our practice, you have to figure out how you’re going to be the first person who shows up when they go into Google or any other search engine. We’ve subscribed to different services that help us do that. But I think that there’s a lot more that can be done along those lines.

LEE: There’s no shortage of companies trying to sell you top spots in the search engines. To get in the top three or five listings, you can pay an exorbitant amount of money. Again as a small firm, we’re very conscious of how we spend our money. We sign up for as many free sites as we can, and it’s working okay so far. I’d like to hear, if anyone has an experience buying those top spots, if they think it’s money well spent or not.

TECHMEIER: I’ve never done it because it blew me away in terms of what they wanted to charge. Like you, I’ve subscribed to some of the more inexpensive ones. And I’ve actually checked them out to see where I was. When you first subscribe, you are right up there at the top. What I’ve learned is, as these come through, you have to grab them. But I don’t have the time to devote to the Web site. I know ours should be improved upon and Internet marketing is really important.

(To Lee) You’re doing referrals with lawyers, so they’re going to be on the Internet more. But many of my clients, people who I’m appealing to, don’t even have a computer. It’s becoming more important, but we haven’t had a big response to our Web page.

We’re doing some mass torts and I think it certainly will work there. Because that type of a person, whose been injured from Fen-Phen or asbestos or silicosis or something … will go on the Internet and check out who might be able to represent them in a case like that.

WESTRUP: Well, there’s no doubt that it’s a very valuable tool. There’s an external marketing use for it and then there’s an internal. Jen, you probably have more experience with this than our firm does. But there are Internets you set up for your individual clients so they can track their cases. … The possibilities are endless and I have no doubt that the larger firms really take advantage of that.

I think that pretty soon everyone is going to have to open a fi
le for a client; then open a Web site for that client so they can track their [case]. That’s just the way it’s moving. I don’t know if you do that or not.

RUPKEY: Yes, we have. Extranets for clients are very popular. It’s exactly what you mentioned, they can track their files and see where we are on a certain matter or a document or anything like that. Some clients now, with the RFPs that we’ve seen, are requiring that you have the capability of providing an extranet for them…

When I joined the firm, we were just getting our Web site up and running. So we are looking at revamping it… But in terms of content, it’s changed dramatically. Our home page has a daily feature item. It changes every single day based on a new rule or something that has come down. The media likes it because they know that if they’re looking for a story … they can come to our site and there’s something brand new every single day.

The other thing that we do, which is more recent, is we offer our publications online, either for purchase or for free. One of our publications also offers a discussion forum where our clients or any visitor to the site can e-mail a question to our attorney and the attorney responds. So that’s something new that we’re doing that is actually working out quite well in terms of selling this publication and in terms of exposure for this attorney in a particular area — HIPAA. … That really has generated a lot of traffic.

For one of our largest clients, we have a Q&A session where the client can ask several different questions and the attorney responds with the answers. And it’s posted on a certain site where other clients have access to that as well. That has worked out really well.

Obviously, we also have registration for seminars. People can contact us through our contact page, things like that. But we’re always changing it. We’re always finding new ways to not just provide information but to provide value to our clients.

WESTRUP: Creating sticky content that people want to go back to and that keeps them engaged is … invaluable. It’s not an easy task to develop. One thing that is very important to let your attorneys know is anytime they give a speech, anytime they write an article, that also translates onto the Web. If you put four outlines on the Web, that’s very valuable information.

If [you put] that information out there, what are you going to get from the person visiting? You have to capture their information. You just don’t want people going out there willy-nilly without knowing who they are or, getting some of their information so that you can contact them.

The ABA will provide you information to put on your Web site. It’s very, very affordable. I think it’s like $500 a year or something. And they will provide you content that you can stream onto your Web site.

Lee

“Those types of entities allow the small firms to pool their resources to more effectively market themselves and reduce their overhead. So it’s a win-win situation for us.” (Discussing participation in groups such as Primerus, Legal Network Alliance and Lex Mundi)

Darryl J. Lee,
Slattery & Lee, Ltd.

McGEE: I think the Internet has made consumers that much more knowledgeable. I don’t know how many times we’ve had a potential new client or even a potential new employee jump on, check out our site, have all that information when they come in so they’re able to ask important questions.

WLJ: A little earlier in the discussion, we started moving into the realm of public relations. I just wanted to come back to that for a moment and give you a chance to talk about the role of public relations in marketing.

RUPKEY: For us, it’s huge. I think it always boils down to, what do we sponsor and what don’t we sponsor. We get calls daily. Do I do this or don’t I do it? You have to really take a look at what’s in it for you and be ready to negotiate with whomever you’re working with. What will we get out of doing this sponsorship?

One of our best sponsorships is also sponsored by the Journal-Sentinel, a radio station and, believe it or not, Sendik’s over in Brookfield. We get so much exposure out of that because our logo is huge in Sendik’s. A lot of our attorneys live out there, and our clients live out there. They see our logo in there in affiliation with this sponsorship. And they comment on it…

Just doing a golf hole will not do you justice. If we do the golf hole, can we also give a five-minute spiel abo
ut who we are? It’s really a matter of looking at what the benefits are of doing the sponsorship and not just divvying out dollars here and there. Otherwise, you’ll be spending so much money on sponsorships that you don’t get anything out of.

WESTRUP: I kind of lump PR with some of the advertising. But I agree with you that if you’re going to sponsor something you have to work it. You have to get your money’s worth and make sure that you capitalize on every opportunity.

As far as free public relations goes, you can’t put a price tag on that. It’s so powerful having an article and getting your firm name out there, getting an attorney, or an individual out there.

For our firm, I make a point of meeting with the editors of all the area publications. People find the press to be very intimidating. … There’s no reason why you shouldn’t call and talk to them. “Can I have 10 minutes of your time? I just want to tell you about a recent … issue that’s going on and how our firm is handling it.”

There’s nothing stopping you from calling the most obscure publication and saying, “Hey, I’ve got this person who is heading up this estate planning area and the way he practices estate planning is kind of cutting edge. Here’s why.” Sometimes you totally strike out. The bottom line is, you just can’t be intimidated by the press because they do need you.

RUPKEY: But you have to keep in mind PR is not just media. PR is a whole host of other things. It’s community relations. It really is a sponsorship. It’s all of the ways that you can get your name out there. I think that sometimes attorneys have blinders on when it comes to PR. It is the networking events. It is your community involvement. It is even your alumni relations. It is keeping in touch with your law schoolmates. PR is all of that combined.

McGEE: As a small firm — 25 of us — we’re all marketers. Everybody is out there doing the PR. We’ve tried to create a great atmosphere at work and hopefully that spills out to people talking with their friends and family and other businesses about us. You want the people who are working with you to be able to say great things and mean it.

TECHMEIER: It’s good if you can establish relationships with newspaper reporters. Then, when an important story comes up, they will call you and ask for your comments. I’ve been able to do that over the years. Reporters change all the time, so you have to keep up with who’s doing the legal reporting.

The important thing is that you have to be prepared for that call. How do you get yourself prepared for that call as an attorney? I have my legal who takes the call, try to get as much information as she possibly can as to what the reporter wants, so that when I call back later I will know what the call was about.

If it required some research on my part, I’m then ready to respond. And I know that there are going to be sound bites that are going to come from that call, so I have to be prepared. That’s the way we handle it, so then when your name appears in the paper and you’re quoted, you’re sounding right; you’re presenting the image that you want; and you’ve accomplished something for the public.

The other thing is … you referred to how you treat other people or your appearance and that type of thing. I’m always very aware that I’m an attorney and people who I don’t know might know who I am. So, I don’t go into a store and get rude with a clerk or something because they’re rude with me or throw my weight around inappropriately on different occasions just because I happen to be a lawyer. I always try to remember that my image with the public is very important.

WLJ: I do have one question specific to the two lawyers. There has been a lot of talk about how much you do in your own marketing and the time that you spend on that. How do you balance that while continuing to practice law?

LEE: It’s difficult.

TECHMEIER: It’s hard.

LEE: It really is. We just don’t have the personnel to have one person focus their time on marketing, so it’s a collective, ongoing effort. We actually rely on Primerus to do most of that for us, to put together our marketing plans and figure out where we should be spending our money. We all are constantly seeking ways to get free exposure, free publicity. One of the best things that we find is when we have a good result in a case, we make sure that that result gets published. There are various magazines and organizations — the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers, ABOTA, AIEG, ATLA, Verdicts & Settlements…

RUPKEY: Wisconsin Law Journal.

LEE: Wisconsin Law Journal. … When we have a very successful result, we get more calls from those types of things than from any other source.

TECHMEIER: Well, your business is probably more of a referral business than ours. On the larger cases that our office has handled, they’ve all actually been on a referral basis. But we do other general type of injury work as well. So that our advertising sometimes is more call-to-action type advertising to generate the calls.

WLJ: But in balancing the time that you spend practicing versus marketing?

TECHMEIER: You try to do as much as you can on marketing by yourself. But in my case, I have to rely on people who I trust and who I know as well. Some of these people help me informally where I don’t have to pay them. Others I have to pay. But they are people who have knowledge and experience and people who I trust. As I said, we have a consultant who I recently retained to help us with figuring out what’s best for us.

LEE: The only thing I’d like to add is we like to look for people who are active in their communities. Even though it’s not direct marketing, it’s indirect marketing — people who are active with their church, with the Cub Scouts, with the sports teams or any kind of community level activity. Your name gets out there.

McGEE: We’ve taken advantage of some of the free advertising this year and have been actually very successful at it. We’ve won now our third award this year. It’s having the time to sit down and respond to some things. It’s been very successful for us. It’s gotten the name out there.

LEE: Didn’t you just get an award for the small business…

McGEE: Yeah. Top Business of the Year for Waukesha County. Then we were on the Future 50 list. And … we’re actually one of the Innovators through the Wisconsin Law Journal … for our community service work.

WLJ: Any final thoughts?

Related Article

Roundtable – Part I

LEE: Well, we do pro bono work on a regular basis, but we don’t promote that. We don’t market that. And I’m just wondering what anyone’s thoughts were on how to do that. Is that something we should be…

TECHMEIER: If you do pro bono work, I think the community should know about it.

WESTRUP: Yes.

RUPKEY: Yes. It’s a definite feather in your cap. In fact, we do an annual report that goes out about the different clients that we’ve helped and the different cases we’ve won and things like that. At the back, we talk a little bit about our pro bono work. And we get comments from our clients: “I had no idea Michael Best did this much pro bono work; this is great.” So I think it’s definitely a feather in your cap to get the word out on that.

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