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Delegates explore a world of differences at inaugural international roundtable

Jason Dinwoodie


On March 8th, inside the Signature Room restaurant, high atop the 95th floor of Chicago’s famed John Hancock Tower, views of the city skyline were obscured by thick clouds. But the 12 delegates in attendance at LMA’s inaugural international roundtable, moderated by LMA Board Member Mark Greene, didn’t need to be able to see out the windows to have a worldview on the state of legal marketing.

Attending the auspicious gathering to discuss common goals, challenges, opportunities and best practices were:

  • Bert Van Drie, Dutch Legal Marketing Network (Netherlands)
  • Caura Barsacz, Publisher Juristes Associes (France)
  • Cat Wirth, Australian Professional Services Marketing Association (Australia)
  • Claudia Schieblon, Professional Management Network (Germany)
  • Eric Gardner de Beville, Circulo de Marketing Juridico (Spain)
  • Heather Gray-Grant, LMA (Canada)
  • Paul Jaffa, Professional Services Marketing Group (United Kingdom)
  • Rik van Zutphen, Dutch Legal Marketing Network (The Netherlands)
  • Silvia Hodges, Legal Marketing Luncheon (Italy)
  • Sue-Ella Prodonovich, APSMA (Australia)
  • Vicki Cummings, LMA (Bermuda)
  • Marco Antonio P. Gonçalves, Dannemann Siemsen (Brazil)

Also on hand to help sponsor, facilitate, participate in or document the discussions were:

  • Trevor Delaney, Editor-in-Chief, Law Firm Inc. and Small Firm Business (ALM)
  • Kevin Vermeulen, Vice President, Group Publisher (ALM)
  • Jack Berkowitz, Senior Vice President (ALM)
  • Kim Perret, LMA President
  • Diane Hamlin, LMA Immediate Past President
  • Nathalie Daum, LMA Strategic Alliances Chair


The Starting Point

The evening started with a general question designed to identify the Americans’ thoughts on the state of legal marketing today. Daum began the discussion by pointing to a number of interesting developments propelling the profession forward as of late. She recounted hearing of cutting-edge positions rumored to exist on both coasts of the United States within the DLA Piper Rudnick marketing organization to illustrate the point: those of non-lawyer sales professionals that pre-qualify sales targets without the assistance of lawyers. The trend toward an increased emphasis on pro bono hours and commitment to diversity efforts and planning were also highlighted.

Picking up where Daum left off, Hamlin remarked that she thought that a greater acceptance of the value of marketing in general has led to the increased “specializations” within the profession. But at the same time, she expressed concern over the fact that a number of senior CMOs had decided to leave their positions after a number of years. Hamlin postulated that this may have been the result of CMOs being more closely tied to firm management, and that when there are changes in firm management, marketers are sometimes unprepared for the transition. Hamlin also expressed some concern that we could see “the marginalization of marketing” in a down economy.


Getting the International Perspective

The international attendees were asked to give their perspectives, in the context of what the Americans were seeing as the current state of affairs. Below is a summary of some of their thoughts:

Paul Jaffa: “The single difference in London is the rise of U.S. firms, and this has been a most extraordinary development over the last seven years. There is no doubt that the American firms in London have made serious, serious inroads into the living of the major UK law firms both in London and internationally. Despite the fact that Magic Circle said ‘No, no, no, this will never happen — they’re only going to work at the margins.’”

Caura Barsacz: “Within the last 10 years, at least 40 percent of the Franco-French firms have disappeared either because of merger, partners leaving the firm, etc. The Anglo-Saxon firms are very powerful in the market right now. But I wouldn’t say that marketing has grown because of that. It’s a question of a maturing market. What I can see right now is that all the U.S. firms in the French market don’t do any good in marketing.”

Eric Gardner de Beville: “There are differences between the U.S. and Europe, and there are differences within Europe. In Spain, the legal profession is very popular. There are more qualified lawyers in Madrid than in all of Holland. That is to say that the environment in Spain is very legal friendly. Having said that, legal marketers in Europe are not very sophisticated. They have a lot to learn from the UK and from the U.S. We have the advantage of being able to see what has happened in the UK and the U.S. and learn from them, though.”

Silvia Hodges: “From my perspective, lawyers in the UK view themselves as businesspeople. In Germany, they think of themselves as independent organs of the legal system, and in Italy, they see themselves as academics. So legal marketing has a different kind of standing [depending on the country]. And the kind of people that go into legal marketing are different. In Italy, most of the people that go into legal marketing are women in their 30s.”

Claudia Schieblon: “In Germany, most of the German firms have merged with U.S. or UK firms, which means they have directors of marketing in the U.S. or UK. Most marketers in Germany are complaining that they are just doing things like making brochures.”

Rik van Zutphen: “Lawyers are matter-oriented [not client-oriented]. You give me a case, and I will handle it as well as possible for 24 hours a day. A client orientation is something different.”

Sue-Ella Prodonovich: “[In Australia,] what we’re seeing as a client-driven change is a rise of mid-tier boutiques that look like they are coming about because clients are pushing it through and are following the lawyers. There is also a lot more movement around CRM.”

Bert Van Drie: “Once a year, I think, ‘I’ll quit this business.’ And then the managing partner will say, ‘Look back three or four years, and you’ll see major changes.’ And he’s right.”


Pulling It All Together

While the conversation continued to focus on international nuances in light of the current state of affairs, it was clear that most were in agreement that the profession of legal marketing the world over still struggles to some extent for legitimacy. In a follow-up interview, Marco Antonio P. Gonçalves discussed the emerging role of legal marketers. “I would say that our greatest challenge, without a doubt, is acceptance. Legal marketing is fairly new in Brazil, and I would estimate that we are today where the U.S. was approximately 10 years ago: basically doing tactical work. There are some firms in Brazil with internal marketers and some working with external consultants, but the overall number is still low [but growing]. My feeling is that most law firms view legal marketing as an important trend to follow. But we need to be viewed as more than just a trend. What we need is acceptance in the sense that legal marketing is here to stay and must correctly be understood and embraced by lawyers as an essential tool to differentiate the firm and to show new directions.”

At the end of the meeting, the group decided that further discussions among a senior group of international marketers would fill a much-needed communication gap in the industry and agreed to explore the creation of a senior marketer international conference, details of which are only in the formative stages. No doubt, the subject matter that arises from those discussions will provide ample fodder for the pages of this magazine in the near future!

Jason Dinwoodie is executive editor of Strategies.

About the story

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  • Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing [Mar-Apr/2006]

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