Thomas Figel is the managing partner of Lake Effect Communications LLC. The firm concentrates on the business development needs of professionals and companies in a region that curves around the lake from Milwaukee to South Bend, Ind.
Lawyers are notably careful about the way they look.
By and large, lawyers make careful, significant investments in the clothing, cars and physical shape that help them compete for attention among arrays of intelligent people with similar education and experience credentials. Even though each cohort of lawyers in early and middle stages of a career includes a number who spend time developing reputations and connections that magnify professional value, the majority fight for importance with steady workplace presence and fresh wardrobes
While they make steady and sometimes large investments in some things that keep them competitive, few professionals are as careful about the personal reputation that can accelerate and protect their power to create revenue. For that, they rely on the services of their law firm.
Lawyers who believe that the present trends in law will continue are increasingly willing to expand their reputation activities. Extrapolating from the present, they foresee firms compensating certain key members at great multiples while the firms add and subtract other lawyers in quick reaction to market circumstances. Lawyers with such a view are increasingly willing to invest time and some funds in guidance, articles, introductions and other activities that complement the good impression made through grooming, briefcases, vehicles and other image accoutrements.
Now, firms of even modest size have embraced marketing through the creation of a position usually titled chief marketing officer. Meant to resemble the planned activity of corporations dependent on the introduction and sale of many products and services, the work of a chief marketing officer would bring cohesion and focus to the development of a professional firm’s relationships with chosen markets. For one thing, the chief marketing officer’s attention would help the firm discern markets of proper size and proper importance so that opportunities would fall into recognizable categories of cost and expected return.
Whether the addition of the chief marketing officer has given the majority of professional firms defined and valuable distinctions in their markets, or has just given the modern organization another modern component of corporate staffing, the addition is a fact of professional practice today.
On the surface, a lawyer in such a firm benefits from the chief marketing officer’s presence. The position means that the firm has set aside resources for a number of activities and services that aim at an attractive result: an increase in business.
But even for firms of global reach and grand size, every resource, from marketing to electric power, is finite. Furthermore, the chief marketing officer’s time is finite. Like any senior staff member’s pressures, the matters that press on the chief marketing officer fall into a hierarchy that can leave scant time and scant resources for those who fall outside the top spheres. Can the chief marketing officer attend to the ideas of a single member of a practice when there are annual budgets to develop and present, when there are partner conferences to organize, when there are expenditures that must be allocated for conferences, advertising, websites, and brochures? When there are competitors to follow and fire drill RFPs to complete? And when, after all, there are messages, calls and requests flowing toward the office from the senior members of the firm, those who head practices and account for the firm’s most important revenue relationships? Finally, what about the need for personal downtime, the urge to squeeze a vacation and a simple breather into a relentless calendar of meetings, conference calls, and presentations?
Yes, indeed, wait. Wait a long time if a professional in the novice and mid ranks wishes to receive singular assistance from the department the firm has established for marketing.
Of course, a chief marketing officer who has a good effect on the revenues and value of the firm creates value that can reach all the members of the firm.
But, even then, how secure is the ambitious junior professional? To grow in importance within the firm and for the firm, the professional needs relationships with clients, with people who choose to use the firm’s services because of the individual who is their direct link.
Without that personal reputation, even a professional in an important, growing practice is a vulnerable, somewhat expendable provider of service. What if a sudden change in regulations or an altered marketplace diminishes the value of a whole set of professional services?
Maybe the firm’s marketing department will have decades of successes that provide plenty of work as the professional’s career unfolds. Such success does occur. But maybe, as a precaution, the professional should take charge of his or her own reputation development. At a certain level, the obligation is already one the professional manages. From the first day with the firm, the professional has chosen a certain wardrobe. Personal impression is always important. The professional is careful about haircuts, about having shoes shined, about an appearance of success.
Taking on responsibility for the growth of a reputation is logical and practical, even if the professional has to add the cost of reputation activities to the costs of a professional wardrobe, grooming and other normal personal expenses. If the resources of the chief marketing officer are unavailable, the need is still present. The professional ought to invest personal funds in a series of activities that can ensure an increase in the value of the individual practice. Modest allocations of time and funds can turn a professional into the practice leader and rainmaker whose calls get deference from the chief marketing officer.