Much of what we learn at the many legal marketing conferences and programs we attend addresses the challenges of competition, innovation, change management and data analytics. Add to that the threat of Artificial Intelligence and myriad alternative legal service providers.
These are all important and relevant topics. Yet we are especially challenged, on a core level, in persuading lawyers and law firm leaders to implement the best practices and innovative business development ideas legal marketers propose to them. This is particularly noticeable in the context of motivating so-called sales activities.
I have previously authored numerous articles and books about re-framing the concept of “sales,” from an act of intrusion to “an act of service,” to motivate lawyers to engage in more client development efforts. Since that approach seemed to find some traction, it prompted me to consider that maybe we should bring a little more humanity into the legal profession.
The Human Touch
Sometimes the legal profession can seem to be too much about money and the chase thereof. So, maybe it is time to talk more about the human impact of what we do — we almost never talk about what could arguably be the most important aspect of our professional lives: How what we do as professionals impacts the lives of real people, in meaningful ways.
The professionals we serve are called lawyers, but that is just a professional label. The individuals and teams that lawyers serve are called clients — but lawyers and clients are really just people with hearts, minds and feelings; people who have good days and bad days; people who have blessings and challenges.
For purposes of this article, I will take a break from the educational and training topics you usually find in this great publication, and share some observations I have made over the years on the ways in which marketers actually impact the lives of the people in their firms, and how lawyers can impact their clients in a personal way.
For example, I am sure most marketers provide client service and communication skills training in their firms. I will never forget one time when a lawyer came up to me after a client service program and shared, “I don’t know if doing the things you taught us today will attract clients, but I can assure you, by being here today I am going to be a better husband and father.”
For every person who says that, there are surely dozens of people in your programs experiencing it. I receive emails from legal assistants thanking me for the way a lawyer has changed after a training program. I have saved one such email, which says, in essence, “all of us who work on the 14th floor have been talking about how Lawyer X has changed and is treating us so much better. It’s as if the curtains were opened and the sun has started shining through. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Let’s be clear, this has nothing to do with my training skills or content — it is the same content that all legal marketers and consultants — focusing on empathy, listening, communication styles, asking for client feedback and forming authentic relationships. Don’t under-appreciate the importance of what you do, as a highly skilled marketing professional.
Making a Difference
Maybe it was that time that the head of HR was having a particularly tough day, and the time that you spent supporting him with empathy, support and ideas enabled him to go home to his family or friends with a sense of calm.
Have you ever trained and mentored someone who went on to be a star in the legal marketing industry? That is not benign — you likely changed that person’s life in a profound way.
I bet many of you have coached lawyers who are questioning the direction of the profession or their decision to practice law, and I suspect that you assured them either that they made a good choice or that the profession has not gone completely off the rails. In those moments, you may have given them new resolve or even clarity about alternatives — you made a difference in their personal lives.
Next time you work with a lawyer who is wondering about whether or not she is making a difference, because she is too focused on the money she can make or the intellectual skills she has developed, ask her to think about a client whose life she may have changed in their career.
It might have been a tough deal she successfully made happen to save a family business — impacting generations of family members. It could have been the time she insisted that someone create a Will, and tragedy struck soon after.
You might remind her of the time that a small agency was served with a restraining order, putting them out of business (at least temporarily) and threating the jobs of a dozen people whose families depended on them — the lawyer got an emergency hearing and the TRO was lifted the next day.
“Yes,” they may say, “that is what I am paid to do; that is my job.” But their job matters!
Early in my career as a lawyer, a client asked me to represent her in a case of “undue familiarity.” (A therapist had crossed the line, engaged with her inappropriately and hurt her marriage.) The Christmas after the settlement, which provided for 10 years of much-needed therapy, I received a card in the mail saying that the money gave her comfort that she could overcome the trauma, and ended with her saying that I had saved her life. Maybe that one life is why I became a lawyer. Much like a Gratitude Journal, maybe we should all keep a journal on how we make a difference.
I really encourage you to appreciate more how much it matters when, in the context of your professional life, you make the people around you more fulfilled, skilled and successful. It can resonate in their homes, the firm and the industry. Sounds a bit touchy-feely, I know, but when I delivered a presentation on this subject at a firm retreat last year, lawyers ranging from the senior-most partners to the youngest associates approached me at the end of the program to share that the presentation I had made gave them a greater appreciation for what it means to be a lawyer.
There is an old motivational story about a two people walking on a beach covered with hundreds of grounded starfish. One of individuals stooped down to pick up a starfish and returned it to the water. The other person looked around at the mass of starfish still on the beach and said, “What are you doing? What possible difference can that make? The first person replied, “For that one, it makes a difference.”
We certainly cannot solve all of the problems in the world or in people’s lives, but if we make a difference for even one, that is a good day at work.
***** Jim Durham is the Chief Marketing Officer at Clark Hill. He is veteran legal marketer who has worked with hundreds of law firms and lawyers as a consultant and coach. He has also written The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering, among other books. He was inducted into the Legal Marketing Hall of Fame in 2010. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.