Should lawyers go to market, and how?

The ban, on lawyers promoting themselves, originated way back in British social history. The delivery of legal services was considered a public service, and not a means of making a living. However if you have ever received a bill from a lawyer, you will realise that this has changed in practice!
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

The ban, on lawyers promoting themselves, originated way back in British social history. The delivery of legal services was considered a public service, and not a means of making a living. However if you have ever received a bill from a lawyer, you will realise that this has changed in practice!

So the Law Society in many other jurisdictions has begun to relax on the matter of promotion of professional services. As a marketer, and as someone whose business delivers a professional service, I am in favour of business promotion.

But, as in all categories, successful promotion of Law or indeed Accountancy must begin with the definition of a target audience. And an honest appraisal of what that audience thinks and feels about what’s on offer. This is hard for first-time marketers, and harder still for people who consider themselves pillars of the Establishment.

They have a tendency to view the market from the lofty battlements of their offices. They draw on the confidence of many years of giving advice to other people, but this makes it harder for them to take advice themselves. And they also have a problem unique to the structure of their businesses. They are partnerships.

Their business strength lies in building up a diverse group of professionals who are experts in their own areas. The more experts, the broader their offering to the market, and the more revenue streams they command. Apologies to anyone reading who feels that there is much altruism left.

But a large group of opinionated experts means a large group of strong individuals. Which in turn makes it hard to get consensus on the values a shared brand that they will all buy into. And even when they agree what they are going to stand for, many of them may leave the brand discussion with a attitude that says:’ well I agree with the overall brand, but I disagree with points b, d and f.’ Thus the process of brand fragmentation begins.

I speak from experience of advising law firms and accountancy practices, which I generally do in short, sharp workshops. These have introduced me to lots of strong characters; and we have enjoyed good discussions. But there’s always a battle of wills required to achieve and maintain consensus. I also suspect that they think marketing isn’t a very serious activity. Witness how they task the Senior Partner’s secretary or the Office Manager to ‘do the Marketing’.

Fortunately neither the Legal nor the Accountancy professions in Africa face anything like the image issues that their international counterparts do. Not yet.

But the more they open themselves up to Marketing, the more they will. Remember Enron, and the public vilification of the role of the accountancy firms? Remember Tiger Woods and his impact as a brand representative on Accenture? And consider how the legal profession is disliked in the United States. How does the old joke go?  ‘ Do I smell s**t in here, or is there a lawyer in the room?’

My wish, as African professionals turn their faces to the market, is that they with do so with modesty, with understatement and with decency. Let us have no ambulance chasers here. We live in hope!

Chairman Young & Rubicam Group Africa
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