This article was originally published in India Business Law Journal.
A robust marketing strategy can distinguish a law firm from the competition, writes Aman Abbas
Legal services marketing as a discipline is mostly unheard of, at least in India. As marketers, we did not get the opportunity to learn this in any school. There are no specialized legal/professional services marketing firms that can provide a 360-degree view either.
Those who work in this field must know the business of law, policy environment and deal market in order to understand the dynamics that bring in work for law firms. Marketing is impactful only when it is in line with business goals. Public relations (PR) agencies carry out media relations, which is a small part of the whole mix.
The Indian legal profession is one of the last few sectors to remain closed to foreign players. Indian firms bill in US dollars for work that comes in through the “best friends” system, which consists of warm and reciprocal business ties with foreign counterparts. With newer firms growing bigger and expanding their reach globally, this will become tougher. Therefore, marketing professionals need to consider all the elements to create a robust strategy that focuses on below-the-line activities such as content marketing, social media marketing and PR.
So, what are the measures that Indian law firms can put in place to ensure that they are strategically positioned for success?
In global firms, a marketing professional supports roughly 20 legal practitioners, while in India, he/she supports over 50 fee earners. The overall strategy rests primarily on: (1) content to establish thought leadership; and (2) client engagement, which can build the brand and provide visibility.
For any professional services firm, content plays a major role in marketing efforts. Law firms generate a huge amount of content but the challenge is to make it more usable for clients. The legal marketing professional needs to make use of their business and legal knowledge to do this. Since a lot of high value work comes from overseas, activities must be chosen wisely in order to reach clients from different parts of the world in a more focused way.
With intense competition among firms and almost no differentiators (as everyone claims to be a full service law firm), doing good work and collecting client testimonials is a great way to be remembered by prospective customers. Client referrals work wonders for business development and they help in improving your ranking and visibility in legal directories.
With a complex and evolving regulatory scenario, covering the legal angle is a growing need for business media, and provides a good opportunity for law firms to be visible to their target audience. Law firms must be quick to react to policy changes and be able to provide legal insights to media and their clients on a regular basis. Law firms should also be able to understand business challenges and provide clients with commercial solutions to legal problems.
Indian firms regardless of size need to focus on areas such as business intelligence technologies like their international counterparts. Activities regardless of firm size include tracking industry trends and financial markets. The commonly deployed tools to execute these tasks are customer relationship management, litigation tracking, news aggregators, and return on investment analytics. Among firms that outsource to external agencies, the objectives typically include online presence management and audio-visual content creation.
Social media are seen as a big disruptor with more than half the international firms increasing their digital marketing budgets in the next two years. It is an important aspect of an omni-channel approach to marketing and widely regarded as a game changer for lawyers who want to build relationships at a scale required to sustain their legal practice. Notably, law firm social media profiles are emerging as a valued digital asset for firms looking to go global.
The focus on marketing and business development is essential and needs concerted efforts and professional support. There are already some good examples being set by global law firms and the “Big 4” consultancies that Indian law firms should take seriously if they want to build agility and resilience in what may soon become a hyper-competitive marketplace.
Aman Abbas is the CEO of Commwiser Consultants. He was formerly director of client and markets department at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and head of communications at KPMG. He specializes in legal and professional services marketing