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Bragging rights

Rosie Cresswell


Lawyers love gossip. If a partner jumps ship to another firm, everyone in the legal market will be talking about it and sharing their opinions about the 'real' reasons for the move. From a journalist's perspective, lateral hires make great copy.

Recently in Brazil there has been a spate of behind-the-scenes lateral hiring. Not of lawyers, but of marketing managers. In the last few months, a good number of leading law firms have been poaching such professionals from each other – implying marketing is a seriously thought-of activity.

For example, Tauil & Chequer - affiliated with Mayer Brown LLP's new marketing head joined from Linklaters in March. 'That shows how important we think the area is; we are trying to go to the market and get the best professionals we can,' says partner Bruno Werneck.

As Latin America's economic outlook improves – Brazil's in particular – there are greater opportunities for law firms. But rivalry in some markets is fierce and firms need to set themselves apart – especially in jurisdictions where competition from international firms is on the rise. Firms from the UK and the US are well versed in marketing, but their counterparts in Latin America have approached it with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Parts of the region's legal market have been slow to embrace cutting-edge marketing tools. Many law firms still bestow bulky, expensive-to-produce literature on visitors, while few would claim to have a handle on the benefits of blogs, let alone Twitter. But in the last two decades, law firms have come to accept the value of marketing – albeit at different stages. This is largely down to the fact that the region follows US or UK markets, which have embraced the concept for some time. It fits into a growing tendency among Latin firms to siphon off tasks that fall under the umbrella of professional management or legal administration. Increasingly, firms are hiring non-legal professionals to handle matters as they grow as an institution, leaving lawyers to concentrate on what they do best.

Estudio Echecopar's Javier Castro notes that legal marketing is relatively new to Peru. "Peruvian law firms began to attach importance to this six or seven years' ago," he says. "In that sense we are just taking off; we think that much still remains to be done. In the coming years we will see major developments in this area." At first, his firm started with basic tools, with one person in charge. Now the firm not only has a marketing department, but a communication area too. Even graphics are produced in-house. Last year, Estudio Echecopar was the only Peruvian firm to put an advertisement in the UK's Financial Times promoting investment in Peru.

"Of course, as the firm grows the marketing grows," says Claudia Amore, marketing manager for Posse, Herrera & Ruiz Abogados in Colombia. She says all the top firms in the country employ marketing professionals now. "In the last three years the firm has changed a lot,"she says. "When I first arrived our firm had 30 lawyers and today we are 75, our efforts were different." Perception within the firm has changed too. "Partners now are interested in investing time in marketing, which is interesting – an evolution, as it wasn't always like that." Amore talks of a transition between the old-school lawyers that hated to talk about marketing; "expressly having to deal with issues of image, presence communication and so on, while the new generation put a lot of thought into this."


Choosing your tools

A recent email from Brazil's Araújo e Policastro Advogados delivered an attractive, branded guide on Rio de Janeiro to their contacts' inboxes in the run-up to the city's extensive list of sporting events. Presumably the idea is that clients visiting Rio will be reminded of the firm after an enjoyable dinner at one of the restaurants it recommends.

There are all sorts of marketing tools, many of which can be loosely grouped into 'one-way' and 'two-way' marketing. One-way marketing tools are more traditional – websites, press, articles, legal directories, client alerts and brochures for example. Two-way marketing techniques involve interaction between a lawyer or law firm and their target audience – presentations, networking and relationship development, and law firm networks.

At Brazil's Demarest e Almeida Advogados, partner and member of the executive committee Paulo Rocha sees a big difference between the value of one-way and two-way tools. 'One-way marketing tools such as brochures are essential, but in our view not extremely effective; the firm's website can be more effective, but needs to be modern, interactive and constantly updated,' he says. 'In our experience, two-way marketing tools tend to be more effective since they give us the opportunity to be face-to-face with our clients and prospects. We also feel CRM [customer relationship management], marketing research, client satisfaction survey and business development (competitive intelligence) can be very effective.'

Most would say some are more necessary than others. 'Certain things you need to have – the website, a presence in certain legal directories,' says Luis Carlos Rodrigo Prado of Rodrigo, Elías & Medrano Abogados in Peru. 'There are always lawyers writing articles in publications, teaching in law schools, lecturing in seminars or congressing. That is constantly done by different members of firms and we think it's important. It all keeps you in clients' minds and gives you a presence in local and international markets.'

Argentine firm M & M Bomchil carries out a detailed analysis of its target market, clients and practices. Managing partner Javier Petrantonio agrees with the above suggestions, adding, 'What is less successful is isolated sponsoring or attendance to conferences, participation in trade associations.'

Most firms believe in the power of appearing in select directories, like the Latin Lawyer 250 and Chambers, and find commenting for niche publications useful. 'It's good to be ranked in Chambers and sending deals to Latin Lawyer, and it's good to write articles often,' says Werneck. 'That's something we really focus on, as well as client alerts and being a source to newspapers and magazines.'

Zang, Bergel & Viñes Abogados in Argentina is exploring new challenges, like Web 2.0 and social media. At Arias & Muñoz, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles and a faster and more interactive website are 'in the works'.

Most agree that personal relations are most important (suggesting a preference for the two-way route). Networking remains an essential part of Estudio Echecopar's marketing efforts, and partners make regular visits to main clients, international law firms, and contacts around the world.

One of Zang Bergel's most successful tools is its breakfast meetings, now in their third year, which bring together clients, economists and politicians. Mexico's Santamarina y Steta invites clients to breakfast, organises talks and sponsors events – particularly in finance and infrastructure, but always combined with speaking roles.

Brazil's Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados is another fan of close client relations and it is keen to promote seminars and in-company presentations. The firm keeps track of attendees and communicates with them on a regular basis via newsletters issued by the practice areas. In recent years, it has dedicated resources to producing legal publications, in English, covering taxation and arbitration issues. A book on infrastructure is being launched in mid-May. 'We have had a good response from clients and I can anticipate that other practices will produce something in the near future,' says Angélica Pedroso, marketing head at Mattos Filho. '2010 was a remarkable year in many aspects and we will look back at the firm's achievements and growth in the 2010 annual report, which will also be released in May. We are very confident that this report will be a successful marketing tool not only for clients but also for our business partners.'


Delegation

What these lawyers and marketing managers are saying ties into a recent report by information provider and legal analyst Lexis Nexis Martindale-Hubbell on the subject. More than 130 firms took part in the study; mostly Brazilian. While the report only focuses on Brazil and Mexico, it argues that despite this narrow focus, between them these two countries are among the region's most sophisticated – where they lead, other markets follow. Some of the report's conclusions could be predicted; for example, larger law firms are more likely to have marketing professionals and departments. One-third of the firms that responded have at least one full-time professional or marketing department.

Similarly, it is perhaps little surprise that only a few firms actually plan their marketing strategies or measure the results. The report found that one-third of firms have a formal plan, with two-thirds of those firms monitoring or evaluating the results. Again, this tendency is more prevalent in larger firms. The report concluded that smaller firms are still 'sceptical' about the value of marketing, but presumably there are also budgetary concerns.

The level of attention this subject gets can be seen in how firms staff their marketing needs. The general trend for marketing-minded firms seems to be a partner committee dedicating some or all of its time to marketing, and a marketing professional, who may or may not have a team. (Arias & Muñoz, which has offices across Central America, has a regional marketing coordinator developing the strategies with each managing partner, with five local coordinators implementing them.) They work in close coordination, as Posse Herrera's Amore notes: 'We are in constant communication. As you move fast and have to make decisions fast you work very closely with partners. Every day I have conversations with partners, which is hard as they are so busy.' She also works closely with human resources and the administrative area to coordinate efforts.

Rodrigo Elías has an executive committee and a committee overseeing the firm's international presence. Both play a role in marketing, although general supervision is in the hands of the executive committee. There is also an in-house person providing a link with media and an external adviser who has some participation in the firm's image and communications. Then there is a lawyer in charge of dealing with publications such as Latin Lawyer. 'We find that is important as non-lawyers do not have the same understanding in some aspects as to what can be informed or not,' explains Rodrigo.

Mattos Filho re-evaluated its marketing strategy following its recent restructuring to create its 'one firm' standpoint. That had to be translated to marketing and two partner committees were created. One committee looks at international initiatives for promotion. 'Although we already have a strong and reputable presence abroad, the initiatives were somehow disorganised and too often we found partners not sharing their road shows and seminars with the rest of the team simply because they were not used to doing so,' explains Pedroso. The other committee is responsible for business development and again, in the past, the practice areas focused mainly in their own potential clients. 'As the committees start to work, we hope to have the firm's client segmentation system implemented which will give us more accurate client information and opportunities for new businesses,' she adds.

While marketing strategy might be delegated to non-lawyer professionals, authority over budget still falls to lawyers almost entirely (only Santamarina y Steta's marketing manager said she has control of it). Marketing managers may have some spending power but the Lexis Nexis report shows that when budgetary authority is granted to non-lawyers, it is limited to small amounts of money. This changes when firms want to engage in more complex marketing, which more than half the respondents would outsource to specialist outfits. (It's worth noting that in the last year Latin Lawyer has noticed a distinct increase in firms outsourcing their press activities, even among those which already employed professionals dedicated to just that.)

Largely it is the marketing manager and partnership who dream up the strategies, although some firms – like Estudio Echecopar – will take advice from high-end advertising agencies in some cases. Posse Herrera's Amore – who has a marketing degree – and her team take courses on latest strategies through the Meritas network, which is 'always giving us information about trends in marketing for law firms.' Others draw on literature and discussions in law firm marketing forums. Santamarina y Steta's marketing manager, Kerstin Kindl, compares notes with peers in other countries, uses LinkedIn and refers to the Legal Marketing Association.

Getting the whole firm on board is key – not only reluctant partners, but new starters too. Amore works with lawyers on this when they arrive at the firm. 'They have an induction to marketing and how they have to work in marketing too.' Similarly at Zang Bergel, newcomers receive an induction on firm values and expectations, and why clients choose the firm. Taking it one step further, this year Mattos Filho is launching a 'client care programme' aimed at providing training for the back office staff that have any kind of client contact and of course for lawyers and partners. Santamarina y Steta had a four-day sales and marketing training event last year and has worked with a UK professional on spokesperson training.


Keeping track

Of course, it's all very well implementing these strategies, but it's also important to evaluate their success. Evaluation can take different forms. At Tauil & Chequer it's comparatively informal. 'We always discuss a situation and area of focus, areas we want to pay more attention, but we don't have a formal tool of evaluation,' says Werneck.

For Posse Herrera it amounts to discussions with clients. 'We really care about that,' says Amore. 'Evaluation is made to third parties for it to be impartial and divided by practice areas. We take the results to analyse information and implement new strategies in order to have a better service. The firm has grown a lot so we have to be closer in front of clients as there are a lot of changes. We have to adjust.'

Basham Ringe y Correa SC's Daniel del Río says his firm has direct feedback programmes with some of its clients and is working on a CRM project. Demarest & Almeida has key point indicators, which allow the performance of marketing actions and efforts to be evaluated. The board also evaluates the marketing actions at year's end.

Rodrigo Elías has two ways of keeping track. Each time a new client comes to the firm, they ask how they learned of the firm. Secondly, the partners leading each practice area have to keep a close relation with their relevant clients. 'Cross-selling is important,' says Rodrigo. 'Every year we evaluate how we see the international presence of [the] firm. A lot of times clients tell you they have started a relationship with a certain lawyer because of an event or firm visit, and we keep track of referrals that firms abroad provide. That is part of the committee's evaluation every year.' 'It's more difficult to keep track of the material success of maintaining a presence. Very few clients will say it's because they read [an] article by a lawyer in a magazine,' he adds. 'But there is a general perception that having a presence helps and most clients wills say that's the case.'

Santamarina y Steta hired Kindl almost three years ago, specifically to put the firm at the forefront of people's minds. She measures success on feedback. 'There have been many comments from clients and peers at other firms who are surprised at what we have achieved over the last two years – telling us it's amazing,' she says. 'The local media is looking for us as a spokesperson which is new.'

But she really hits the nail on the head when she says 'In the end it's about getting more client appointments and calls.'

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  • Latin Lawyer [13/May/2011]

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