Many attorneys already share intellectual capital by writing articles or delivering presentations with the hope of attracting additional business. However, most individuals, and even firms, have not developed a cohesive plan to ensure maximum exposure.
Marketing the Law Firm has previously published my articles relating to creation and implementation of successful content marketing programs. If interested, check out Thought Leadership Initiative: A Road Map for Law Firms, in the March 2016 issue of MLF and Engaging Lawyers in a Profitable Speaking Initiative in the March 2017 issue.
Firm-Sponsored Educational Events
Indeed, speaking at programs offered by bar associations and trade groups helps attorneys build a robust professional brand and develop relationships. However, firm-sponsored seminars or workshops can have an even greater impact. The firm controls the message, targets the audience and can schedule multiple sessions over the course of a year.
In this article, I dig a little deeper into the arena of self-sponsored educational programs and events. Consider whether any of the following approaches should be included this year as a component of your law firm’s marketing plan.
Educational Seminars for Clients, Professionals and Friends of the Firm
By way of background, I built and sold my interest (after close to 30 years in practice) in a boutique estates and elder law firm and have personally tried almost every technique that I recommend to my law firm clients, including those outlined below.
Client Appreciation Seminars
Each quarter, my marketing assistant invited all estate planning clients to a two-hour evening seminar held at a local conference center. Clients were encouraged to bring their friends and relatives, as long as they pre-registered. We served only coffee, tea, water and dessert as our focus was on the program. The schedule was naturally pre-planned a year in advance and was treated as a series. For example, I offered an annual session specifically geared toward executors and invited the clients to bring designated fiduciaries to the session. We normally attracted approximately 40 guests per quarter, which allowed us to continue cementing relationships and asking for referrals.
If your firm’s venue is large enough, you may wish to host seminars in-house. Hosting programs on your own turf gives you the opportunity to show off your beautifully appointed office space. Inviting potential and existing clients to be a guest in your “home” can also lend a congenial feel to the relationship, especially if trained staff are on hand to extend a warm welcome.
Workshops for Professionals
Sponsoring quarterly continuing education sessions for professionals who are potential referral sources is another worthwhile undertaking. Participating lawyers are branded as “in the know” and the firm benefits provided that the sessions are held on a consistent basis — year after year.
Again, the event can be held either at an outside venue or inhouse. Even firms with limited space can host workshops (with or without CLE credits). After all, a small conference room can accommodate five or six professionals for a “Lunch and Learn” or “Executive Breakfast.” Small groups allow the presenting attorney to connect more deeply with each individual, which should be one of the major objectives.
Full-Day CLE Event
For the past 14 years, Kansas City, MO firm Shook Hardy & Bacon has sponsored a full-day CLE program designed to attract lawyers in their locale. Touted as an update of the law session, the firm showcases a variety of the law firm’s attorneys as featured speakers for a full-day event in a top-notch venue. In 2014, the firm retained me as the opening speaker and I was informed that 600 lawyers were expected to attend in person and that the webcast would have a broad reach.
As I mingled with the sea of attendees in the luxury hotel (with fabulous and plentiful food), I realized that Shook Hardy had created a cadre of “raving fans” — ambassadors and referral sources all rolled into one. The event attracts firm alumni, solo practitioners, in-house counsel and lawyers from other large firms. People told me that they look forward to attending every year for the excellent programming as well as the networking opportunity.
I wouldn’t recommend sponsoring an all-day program until you have a few smaller events under your belt. However, once processes for shorter programs are memorialized, why not scale up and put on a larger event? Certainly, an event of the magnitude described in this section is a significant financial investment and strains both participating staff and attorneys. However, it is a safe bet that Shook Hardy & Bacon has realized measurable (as well as immeasurable) results from this annual initiative. Otherwise, it is unlikely that the firm would have continued holding the event for the last decade and a half.
Forward Thinking Law Firms
Many have leapt further ahead of the game, having created their own virtual platforms through which they can easily update clients and prospects with respect to current legal developments. In the course of researching this article, I ran across the website for Duane Morris Institute, which offers programs at “client work sites” and online.” Attention is drawn to this particular initiative as it is an example of a firm that has, and continues to make, a serious investment in showcasing the expertise of its lawyers.
As practice groups create an annual marketing calendar, consider collaborating on at least one session with a co-partner who serves the same segment of the market. Attendees benefit because multidisciplinary events offer broad context for the legal issues. The lawyer and law firm receive increased exposure as the session will be promoted to the database of the co-partner.
By offering a session together, the relationship between the attorney and other professional deepens, which should lead to referrals. If the event goes well, why not submit a proposal to various associations that will give the speaking duo even more exposure?
Naturally, the most powerful collaborative co-partner could be another attorney within the same firm who practices a different discipline. By encouraging professionals in different departments to work together on a project, we are playing a part in the organic development of a potentially fruitful cross referral relationship.
As you begin to formulate your marketing plan, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Map out the event calendar for the entire year. Most importantly, choose the dates so that the calendars of all stakeholders may be reserved. Naturally, flexibility as to the scheduling as well as the topics will be necessary.
- Seek accreditation to offer CLE credits to professionals for whom you wish to sponsor a program. Because ethics credits are less frequently offered, including an ethics session generally increases attendance. An option is to develop a relationship with a private CLE provider, especially if your state does not extend CLE credit for in-house programs.
- Create a written process with a step-by-step checklist for each type of event. Refer to it each and every time that a program is offered to avoid unnecessary errors. Capturing detailed information will save time of “reinventing the wheel” as the marketing department plans new sessions.
Leveraging the Event
Savvy legal marketers are well aware that the event itself is only one phase of the business development process. A few suggestions that can be easily implemented are to:
- Ask the presenting attorneys to provide a 300-word summary of the key points made at the session. The summary provides the foundation for: a) writing a short blog about the content of the program; b) creating a press release to be posted on your website, distributed to your press contacts as well as select contacts on your database; and c) social media posts.
- Provide attendees with a menu of appropriate courses that your firm attorneys offer to members of associations to which they belong or even to employees of their company.
- Create evaluations that are completed by your guests before adjourning the workshop or educational session. Asking for completion on the spot will result in a higher rate of return than if you wait and send an online survey. Consider including the following questions:
- What was the most useful part of today’s program?
- Are you likely to apply any of the information or to share it with your colleagues?
- Was there any part of the program that you didn’t like? If so, please describe.
- What topics would you like us to address at future workshops?
- Do you know of any organization or association that would benefit from the information presented today?
- Are you interested in having one of today’s speakers present an in-house educational session at your business location?
Devise a Self-Evaluation Process
As we seek to improve upon our experiences, it is critical to outline specific criteria upon which to rely in order to determine whether the event was successful. Criteria could include: a) Percentage of invitees who actually attended; b) Feedback from evaluations; c) How many guests brought their own guests; d) Spin off presentations generated; and e) New matters.
Plan and facilitate an in-house speaker training session, which may qualify for CLE credit depending upon the applicable regulations in your jurisdiction. Encourage firm attorneys who have proved themselves on the platform to attend in addition to those who are novices. A seasoned perspective will add to the overall experience. Even veteran speakers may pick up a new technique or two.
A comprehensive training session would include consideration of various speaking contexts. For example, preparing and delivering a “solo” presentation differs from participating on a panel or online event. Particular emphasis should be given to the art of audience engagement and subtle persuasion as well as on how to identify and succinctly articulate the core message. Email me at email@example.com if you are interested in reviewing the curriculum of the program that I personally offer entitled “Essential Speaking Skills for Attorneys”.
Lawyers and leadership willing to invest in an initiative under which the firm creates speaking opportunities through self-sponsored sessions will reap financial benefits if a sound plan has been designed and is properly implemented. As with any other marketing endeavor, persistence and consistency are key.
***** Business development strategist and veteran attorney Cynthia Sharp served as Dean of the Speaker’s Academy of the Philadelphia National Speakers Association. She helps attorneys generate more revenue for their law firms and 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.