In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk with Melanie Green about law firm marketing and communications.
Melanie Green loves working with lawyers and building teams to support them. She currently serves as the chief marketing and business development officer at Fish & Richardson, a premier intellectual property and litigation law firm. With over 20 years of experience in the legal marketing industry, Melanie is an industry leader on client feedback programs and frequent speaker on law firm change management and operations strategies. Prior to joining Fish, Melanie was the chief client development officer at a global full-service firm, where she helped navigate two of the largest law firm combinations over the last decade.
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Law firm marketing is more than just appetizers."
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While most of the world forms their opinion about lawyers and law firms from billboards and silly jokes and the casual "what we think we know about lawyers" in culture, the in-house professionals at legal firms are working every day to manage complex communication environments with the public, with prospects, with peers. And it's a very interesting dynamic where all of the things we talk about on this podcast come together: the ability to market, the ability to communicate, the ability to manage relationships, crisis communication, everything. And so I'm excited for this episode of "In the House With ..." Of course our host is Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations here in Phoenix. Abbie, what's on your mind, and who's joining us today?Abbie Fink:
Well, the concept of legal marketing is actually a relatively new concept. In fact, the case that decided that lawyers would have this opportunity to market was right here in Arizona. And up until that time, lawyers didn't do that. Their marketing was one-on-one, it was through relationships, and they really didn't advertise or publicize. But since the time of that particular case, that it has evolved to be a very strategic and a business decision, a business line within law firms, no matter the size of the firm. This is down to sole practitioners on up to large multinational firms. And so I'm really excited today to have friend and colleague Melanie Green on with us. She is the chief marketing and business development officer with a law firm based in Indianapolis. Not Indianapolis? Where's the firm?Melanie Green:
Technically no headquarters.Abbie Fink:
But largest lawyer populations in Boston and DC, and largest operations hub in Minneapolis.Abbie Fink:
Well, see, there you go, adding even more context to the story, which basically talks about the fact that you can be anywhere, do what we do without physically being in a location. So with that correction, thank you, Melanie, chief marketing and business development officer Melanie Green is joining us today to talk a little bit about the structure of a legal marketing team, what it means to market the services of a law firm, the different practices and different individual attorneys. And so, thank you for coming on with us today. And if we could just get started, why don't you share a little bit about your role and responsibility and really what sets the tone for our conversation today about the structure of your particular department and the work that you do on behalf of your firm?Melanie Green:
Thanks. That was a really fun walkthrough history and reality of what legal marketing has become. And I have had the opportunity to be in this profession and working in this role for more than 25 years at a variety of firms. And so, that has progressed a lot and changed in that 25 years as well. I often talk about it as this legal marketing evolution, where when I came in a couple decades ago, we were really to be responders to make things more event heavy and maybe some early collateral focused on execution, but it really wasn't something that there was a proactive, strategic role for. And that really evolved. We watched other professional services firms, like accounting firms, be about a decade ahead of law firms and thinking about how to be more proactive and strategic. We really saw the competitive landscape change, where you weren't just competing with a law firm down the street for new work or for client opportunities and having it more local, but you were competing across the country in different ways or internationally. And that changed the dynamic. And then of course, in the years of the financial downturn in 2008 and 2009, we really saw a shift in who had the buying power versus who was bringing the overabundance of work that was overflowing from in-house departments who needed help. It really started to tighten up, and things like client experience and client service came into play. And so in today's legal marketing team, and really we cross into the sales and business development side of it too, you have subject matter experts that could be masters of their craft in marketing technology or digital fields or public relations, graphic design, as well as sales coaching and sales prospecting and research in a way that definitely did not exist in the days of wine and cheese era, where if I picked a really good appetizer, that was success. Now, it's just a much different level of sophistication and requires all of those pieces to come together inside the law firm environment.Abbie Fink:
You talk about that evolution. It strikes me that the professional marketing team would understand that and grasp it and believe in it and want to do it. But there had to have been a lot of education from that set of individuals to the attorneys that were going to benefit from that, who really felt marketing was I'm going to meet a client for drinks. I'm going to take them to the football game, more of that one-on-one entertainment, nurturing relationship, which certainly is part of marketing. How does those conversations evolve when you are bringing what really was some new wave of thinking to a really very conservative industry?Melanie Green:
Yeah. No, fair question. I think one of the challenges of that, too, is that in a lot of law firms, you're working across multiple generations. And so, some of the lawyers in the most senior levels of partnership really lived in a different era of time and how you went to go develop that new work and are rooted in that's what we still should be teaching the next generation. And so, it really has been... I've been very fortunate in the firms that I've been a part of, to have the leadership vision, who was watching the industry progress and looking at ways that clients were responding to the market and realizing we needed to up the sophistication of how we were handling this function inside of our law firm. And then, finding the people who were at the current stage of needing to develop business and really working with those partners to say, "Look, this has really evolved. We have to think about the limited amount of time that you have to invest in these activities and try to make sure they're the things that are aligned to the client expectation." In all of the departments that I've built in and worked on in law firms, one of my key elements is really being driven by that client point of view. And that client point of view has really evolved in that 25-year period, too. They're looking for that strategic partner. It's not just about who's getting out to see them. Sure, that relationship development is a piece of it, but are you coming to see me? Are we forming that relationship? And do you know what I'm facing in my business and what I need to achieve, in order for me to choose you out of the options of lawyers that I can work with? And so, we really teach and coach around all of those dynamics we have to raise. So in my team, we have people who are focused on marketing communications, and probably, I think Adrian and your entry remarks, we talked about, what do you see? You see billboards, or you see ads. A lot of that is personal injury lawyers. And then, when I say I do marketing and sales for a law firm, people usually say, "What does that mean? Are you creating those billboards?" And in a corporate-to-corporate law firm environment, it's really not about that at all. Yes, we have the marketing communications needs, where we want to have a consistency of brand identity, visual identity, web presence, content generation, all of the things that are about the services we offer. And we are looking at clients who are in industry spaces or companies who are in industry spaces, where we have a lot of experience in figuring out what is our relationship map. Do we know these people, do they know what our firm can provide to them to help them navigate? Then we have to figure out lawyers don't go to law school to sell. That's really not what their interest is in the delivery of their services. And so, we do a lot of coaching around demystifying sales and making it much more about a relationship that is helpful to solve the problem of those companies and clients that you're working with. So what questions can you explore in that conversation to find an authentic need that they have, that you can fill that gap in? And so, we are really looking across the board on all of those things within our team, and then meeting those lawyers who are in the stage of needing to build a practice and building a practice that is beyond themselves to support the firm over time.Abbie Fink:
Sounds like it takes an awful lot of manpower, a lot of individuals within an organization. So structurally, what does a marketing, in-house marketing department look like within a firm? How many attorneys are in your firm?Melanie Green:
In my current firm, we have about 350 attorneys and about additional 50 technology specialists. So we're IP focused at my current firm. The firm I previously came from about a year ago had 1300 lawyers across 22 offices. So it can become pretty big. As far as team and structure, I think it really is dependent on that size and scale of firm. And then you're really learning what the resources are that the firm will support. It's been important to me, as I've re-looked at team structures and utilizing resources that we have in the firm, that we are positioning the people that we have on our in-house team for their highest and best use. So because the number of people that we can probably have in an in-house function, it will be limited. Are we putting those resources in positions that are generating the most result for the firm? And are we looking to outsource in strategic partnerships to fill in gaps or to extend that team in needed areas of focus or specialization? So currently, and this is evolved, it's looked a little different in the firms that I've been a part of, we are organized around three primary buckets. So first bucket being marketing communications, where all of your traditional communications design, PR, writing content functions are going to live. We have a second bucket that's growth initiatives and pursuits, so a lot of the research, competitive intelligence, pitches and proposals, looking into what our strategic growth areas are. Where do we see opportunity? What are those industries, a focus that we want to double down in, that lives within that function. And then we have a client relations function, which is really to wrap around some of those key accounts and look for additional opportunities for us to bring our firm together, to best service that client relationship and add value into that relationship beyond the actual service delivery work that we're doing. And some version of those three functions have exist in most teams that I've organized in the last decade or so.Abbie Fink:
And are you brought into discussions ... well, and this is about ... a lot of what we've talked about has been positioning the law firm for its exposure, for the best opportunity for them to be seen in front of potential clients and such. Where does the marketing team come into those discussions? Are your attorneys coming to you at the beginning of a relationship or saying, "We'd like to pursue company X. Can you help us get there?" Are you brought in anywhere along the process, because there has to be an education, again, from their perspective to recognize there is an in-house team there to do these things. When is it that you come into those discussions?Melanie Green:
Great question, and I would say it evolves over time. This looks at that evolution of legal marketing as well, where over the course of the 25 years, I would say marketing BD teams were very reactive. Now, I would say that a lot of teams are starting to move much more into that proactive idea generation, client opportunity phase. For the most part, you're going to find yourself in those positions based off of your ability to develop relationship and add value internally. So we spend a lot of time talking about our attorneys inside the firm being our internal clients and really applying the same thing we are working with them on in servicing their external client relationships to the table in how we work with them. And so if we are adding value, if we are strategically partnering with them on how to get better use of their time, more results for their time spent in these activities, we find ourselves moving up closer to the proactive side, their partner or strategic partners with them. So we'll get into conversations about industry focus. And if you get to that stage of relationship and trust internally, then we can be in the conversation, say, "Have we looked at these companies? Have we thought about this? What about this existing client where we do this kind of work, have we explored additional opportunities where they may have needs?" And I talk a lot about the incumbent advantage internally. I think in the days of plenty, when the work was overflowing for in-house teams, you really could rely on... They had something else to throw over the wall to give you a chance. Now, you have to be a lot more conscious of who is currently serving that need for the client, and what do they like, or where do the gaps exist within that? We can't just send a collateral piece over the wall and say, "Look what we do," to a sophisticated buyer of legal services. You're going to really have to dive in and understand what are they currently dealing with? What are their pricing pressures? What are they being asked by their executive team to achieve this year? And that's a different starting place of conversation that, again, through the voice of the client and hearing what the clients are looking for really changes the way that we take our firm and our lawyers to market.Abbie Fink:
Well, and a lot of what you're describing is, I think, similar in professional services in general, but as a lot of how we would describe the work that we do with our client relationships or the business development. And one of my colleagues likes to say it's about outcomes, not outputs. And so, we have to know what the business is and what their goals and expectations are for their year, for their business, so that we can determine how we best fit into that. Everybody can do what we do that does what we do, but are we the right fit for the work that you want and what your potential business goals are? And so, I think that conversation and education around the role that the marketing team can play and how you can help them be better at what they do... They're going to be the best attorneys they can be. You can help them share that information in the way that's best aligned with the goals of the clients that they're potentially speaking with. You talk about recognizing resources and what you need to do and where you need to do that. So you've got an in-house team within your law firm, what might you do, if at all, that you bring in strategic partners? What kinds of things make sense to be done outside the organization?Melanie Green:
Several opportunities. And I think we've had great partnerships, inside-outside relationship partnerships, over different functional areas over my course and different firm experiences. Again, a little bit of the tolerance of the firm or the investment of the firm and the in-house team, versus what you're going to outsource, what is the best and highest use of that in-house team. So I make sure that those people who have the relationship touchpoints with the lawyers have that activity in their day-to-day job responsibilities. But we've found a couple things. So I'll start with sales coaching and training and a resource. Certainly to scale that over time, it's been good to find a partnership with an organization who shares the same business development philosophy as we're trying to build culturally within the firm. So I've always taken a very authentic sales approach, relationship-driven approach, and we have found partners over time who are great at building that fundamental model, and then partnering with us to align some of their core elements with teachings or core values of the firm, culture of the firm. So partnering with an outside sales coaching resource to scale programs, to have maybe at the associate level or the partner level, but to weave in firm-related elements as well, to marry up with that. And we've done programs in the past where great inside-outside partnership dynamics could be created there. Certainly have worked with public relations firms, trying to find what the right balance of inside-outside relationship is there. I think there's always going to be opportunity for business development manager roles who might be aligned at service level or industry level functions inside a law firm and PR specialists with inside a law firm to really understand people and personalities and opportunities and nuances of those practices that we want to highlight and people that we want to really raise brand and visibility around. And in some cases, it's really helpful to have that PR partner who has a lot closer of the media relationships, or we can scale. We could pick an industry of service where we want to generate more content around that, to raise visibility and have a strategic project alignment with that outside partner. Just to scale because we can't get to that in the day-to-day servicing of the relationship in the in-house team. So if we know what our priority areas are in the marketing standpoint, it's great to find strategic partners from a content development standpoint or resourcing or campaigning development, just to scale up because that in-house person inside our team is going to be pulled in so many different directions. If we have a big project, that's going to take a bunch of time. Certainly nice to have that supplemental resource who can focus on that particular opportunity. We have website vendor relationships, a lot in that looking also at CEO or SEO and checking in on some of that. And then some research services tools, where we have that inside-outside partner relationship.Abbie Fink:
So really, you are creating an internal agency, basically, that... And your client is the firm, and the different projects from within each one of those particular attorneys or the practices in which they are practicing their legal skills. Now, is your staff attorneys? Are they legal educated, or are they marketing sales, communications educated, or both?Melanie Green:
We have a mix. We have those who have a legal background. I have a couple folks on my team today who have been practicing lawyers. It is a great resource to have on the team, to help the rest of us get smarter about different terminology and process and procedure, and to be a communication point to extend that bridge into our internal clients. And then we have people who are trained in graphic design. And I have a very different expectation that they're bringing value to the table of things that are very different than what the lawyer mind is and how it works. And so I think within our current team, we have a variety of people who are border transcenders, really, in that communication realm, and then the subject matter experts who go deeper into a particular marketing communication function. And it's one of the things we work on as a team all the time is bridging between those conversations. And so, the way that our digital team may think about generating SEO performance on some things might be quite a gap from how our business development team knows we generate new work. And so, really leveraging the knowledge of an SEO team to marry up with the knowledge that we have on what is the process to bring in new work for the firm is critical for our team to have alignment on, so that we're supporting each other and building the credibility of the team together for our internal clients. But our starting positions could be very different. And so, that's a lot of work that we do inside our own team to make sure that we are cross-sharing those points of information and different perspectives that we bring to the table, to then put a thoughtful recommendation out to our internal clients.Adrian McIntyre:
Melanie, one of the things that you mentioned can be challenging is the generational diversity of your firm. And it's too easy to stereotype that and assume that that means something about the older partners or something about the junior associates. And so, setting that stereotype aside for a second, I want to ask a more all-encompassing question, and I like to talk about this with people who are in a role where they have to work with professionals, when those professionals bring deep qualifications and egos and everything that comes with to the table. Looking out at the range of attorneys, that your success relies on helping them achieve their business development, sales, and relationship goals, what are some of the things you wish they were better at that would help make your job easier? In other words, I know that some are going to be good at some things, others are going to be good at other things. Could you characterize this and say what are some of the gaps... You mentioned lawyers aren't trained as salespeople. I understand that, but you're going to have some folks who want to lean heavily on golf and others who want to lean heavily on TikTok and everything in between. As a whole, what do you want your attorneys to know they need to be better at so that you and your team can be more successful?Melanie Green:
That's a fun question. So a couple things that come to mind, one, lawyers are trained in precedent. So they're always looking to what else somebody else has done and trying to mirror that in some way. And so, an internal joke within our team is law firms tend to be in a race to be second. And one of the things we're always educating on is actually, it'd be great to take lead on something. Invent something new into the space that is aligned to that client point of view. But that resistance is real, and looking for those proof points is real. And so for our team, we really need to think about that when we're presenting new ideas through the lens of that precedent-based model. I think other things, as you think about the generational difference, is just it is to me a one size fits one in that client relationship, and that border transcends the generational differences. And so when you talk about golf, golf is great if your client loves golf, but if that is your only marketing tactic in your toolbox, and you're trying to apply that everywhere, that's not necessarily going to be effective. And I think for those who developed practices 20, 30 years ago through relationship development with a little less of a competitive environment or geographic spread, tend to teach the next generations tactics that they use. And I think it requires more customization than that. Other things that come to mind in that is not everyone has to be the best at the same thing to have success. And I think law firms haven't done a great job of utilizing different strengths in the sales process to create teams and cohorts. And I think there's a huge opportunity there to get people to work together and partner together across those skill sets. So an example would be a lot of times, law firms would take your biggest revenue generator, your rainmaker, so to speak, and put them out there to lead out some sales training programs. And I would say in most cases, 95% of the rest of the lawyers in the firm were paralyzed. They didn't see themselves as ever being comfortable doing what this person said was required. And what you tend to do is shut a lot of people down. And we've really progressed to say there's multiple ways to find success in professional services sales, find your strength. And yes, you may still have to push yourself outside of the comfort zone, but in some cases you might not be that lead generator, but you might be an incredible relationship manager once an account is established. And if you can play that role and bring others into that relationship from across the firm or expand the relationships within that client, that's valuable. Or maybe you're a great educator, and you can take really complex legal topics and simplify them into great content that we could use and leverage when those opportunities are presented. Or maybe you're an inventor of ... You see the next way we can deliver this service, and you can help us package that in a way. And so, we try to talk about rather than shutting people down... Business development is no longer optional for lawyers who want to practice in corporate law firms. You have to be somewhat aligned to client, at least client service and engagement as you're working with that. And, but let's play to your strengths. And so I think that's a real opportunity for us today is beyond the generational differences, really getting people to more see that there's different ways to have success in the process.Abbie Fink:
And that summarization of the finding the strengths and playing up to the best that that individual can provide is so critically important. Whether we are talking about the legal team or we're talking about the marketing team, we have to recognize the strengths of those that we have working around us, giving them the best opportunity to succeed in whichever way that plays out. And I regularly counsel my clients on that concept about let's learn where our expertise is, let's figure out who the right person is in that role, and be sure that we are doing what we can to set them up for success. And whether that is a front-facing, I want to be on your webinars, I want to be the one that you quote in the articles, put me forward, or I am best once that work is in house, and let me work behind the scenes. And as the marketing team and as truly counselors to our clients, in this case, your clients are the attorneys at the firm, our best opportunity and the best we can do for them is recognizing where they can be the most successful and do that. And so, I think that creating those places for people to be successful to put those strengths forward is where we all find success. And whether we are doing that as a consultant to a firm or another professional services organizations, or whether we are running a team in house, that counselor role, that education role, and that recognition of where our successes are is where we all then create the best outcomes for our organizations. So, Melanie, thank you for joining us today and for sharing a little bit about the structure and how you could operate within a professional services firm in the marketing role and for sharing your expertise in that area. Thank you so much.Melanie Green:
Thanks for having me. It's been great talking with you both.