Image [cc] Elvin

Let me start off this post by reminding everyone that I am not in Marketing, but I do consider myself aligned with the overall marketing strategies within law firms. Because of this alignment, I attend a number of marketing related conferences and workshops so that I can stay on top of the current issues and trends, and build relationships with the key players in the industry. Over the past few meetings that I’ve attended, there are some common themes that I am hearing, and am finding a bit disturbing. In a very oversimplified (and amplified) fashion, here’s what I’ve been hearing:

  • Marketers: We’ve been telling our attorneys this for the past seven… eight… ten years, and they simply don’t listen. But, here’s what you should keep telling them, because they eventually will have to listen to you.
  • Consultants: By simply getting your attorneys to change the way they conduct their day-to-day activities through (insert buzzword for efficiency, communications, client interaction, etc.), they will become more productive, profitable, and clients will sing their praises.
  • Clients: OMG, I hate my outside counsel because they never listen to me; they never talk to me (other than sending me a bill); they don’t understand my work/industry/pressures. We hate the billable hour and want something that’s better/predictable/less-costly. We want attorneys to ask us how we think they are doing and get our feedback throughout the matter. 
  • Law Firm Partners: Not present. (probably back in the office, billing their time.)
I am not alone in seeing the problem. Usually, some speaker mid-way through the meeting will even say that we are in an echo chamber, or that we are preaching to the choir. I really don’t fault the Marketers or even the Consultants. They will at least go back and keep trying to implement change, and give an honest effort toward hammering the message that clients are not happy and that lawyers need to understand that they can get ahead of the curve and change, or can be left behind. 
The troubling message that I’m hearing is from the client-side. They are mad. Actually, they are disgusted by the arrogance of their outside law firm attorneys. So much so, that I’d say it borders on hate. They hate the law firm lawyers they work with. If you’ve never watched a General Counsel at a Fortune 500 speak at a marketing/client development conference, you should… it’s kind of fascinating to see the obvious dislike that they have for law firm attorneys. 
The biggest missing piece of this puzzle, of course, is the law firm attorney. I know that a marketing conference or workshop is not something that lawyers would or should attend. I’m just not sure that hearing this message second-hand is all that productive either. Somehow, the Marketers need to put these two adversaries in the same room, and have them conduct an honest conversation of what the client needs and wants from their outside counsel, and have the law firm attorneys relay what they are willing to do to meet those needs. Otherwise, we’ll all come back to the next conference (Marketers, consultants, and clients) and repeat the message once again. Law firm attorneys… keep on billing, we’ll just fill you in later.
One of my favorite sayings is that all problems are communications problems. If one side of the conversation is absent from the conversation, then it really doesn’t matter how loud or long you scream.