For a planning process to mean something, it is imperative that your firm supports a thriving marketing and business development culture. In other words, as firm leader, you must run your firm more like a business and less like a fraternal profession. Firms that embrace the corporate model – and the marketing culture that drives it – are the ones best positioned to succeed and profit in today’s intensely competitive marketplace.

If you don’t market, you risk falling behind your competition…perhaps for good.

That said, you cannot implement a marketing culture overnight. Foster it gradually and methodically through basic, focused, step-by-step efforts.

First, be a passionate leader. As managing partner you need to enlist the firm’s leaders…those lawyers with the greatest clout and respect. If you as a group aren’t committed to marketing, no one will be. Cultivate a senior level business development czar who is passionate about marketing and inspires others.

Apply structure. If your marketing effort is to succeed, it must involve concrete, tangible benchmarks and requirements that demonstrate that the firm is serious. Start by setting clear expectations for non-billable time devoted to marketing and business development…say 200 hours per year for partners and 100 hours per year for associates. Overcoming the billable hour fixation is critical to the success of your marketing efforts.

Other ways to establish a marketing culture at your firm:

Incorporate marketing into partnership requirements.
Create marketing plans at every level…attorney, practice group, on up to the firm as a whole.
Communicate marketing successes by every tool at your command…meetings, emails, newsletters, you name it.
Monitor the firm’s marketing and business development performance. Reward the performers and hold the underperformers accountable.
Did you know that most marketing initiatives must be repeated ten or more times over a period of two-plus years before they pay off? Rewarding only the ultimate result isn’t enough incentive. Attach some compensation to efforts that support the marketing plan.

Provide training and resources. They don’t teach sales techniques in law school. There are, however, plenty of marketing and sales training seminars for lawyers that teach the basics. Exposure to marketing best practices will help the uninitiated get their individual marketing efforts off the ground.

Create a forum for results and accountability. We suggest regular marketing forums where groups of 10 to 20 attorneys can report on their initiatives, share leads and ideas, and be held publicly accountable for their marketing efforts. Make it clear that these forums are about results and accountability…then use them to reinforce both.

Invest time and money…hire marketing professionals. Every firm’s needs are different, but certain rules of thumb apply: one in-house marketer for every 40 attorneys, a marketing budget roughly equal to 3% of gross revenues. Overcome skepticism by appealing to lawyers’ lemming instinct…demonstrate which other firms are doing at least as much.

Identify your A, B, and C clients. Face it…it makes no sense for your firm to spend as much attorney time and effort getting the $5,000 real estate contract as the $5 million IPO. Identify your A-list clients — those you really want to encourage – and emphasize winning more business from them.

Focus on industries, not an area of the law. Competent legal technicians are a dime a dozen. Law firms that speak the language of a specific industry are valued much more highly. Try not to be all things to all people…focus, focus, focus. Check out the next section for more on establishing industry practice groups.

Get an identity. Emphasize that you’re not just another law firm. And remember that a well written brochure or effective website constitutes just a small part of a total marketing effort.

Lawyers tend to be better at communicating with groups (juries, for example) than individuals. Think about hiring lawyers who are extroverted, flexible and can embrace change. The same applies to support staff – basically anyone who can contribute to your marketing efforts.

Manage lawyer expectations. All the steps discussed here take time, and the plan they support will continue to evolve. As the Managing Partner, make sure your lawyers know and understand this from the start. Don’t try to move too far too fast – but do make certain that you deliver everything you promise.

That, in the end, is the definition of effective marketing…deliver on the promise. And it’s a promise that all attorneys in your firm should make…with their own marketing plans.