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Legal marketers around the world confront the new economic reality

Amy I. Stickel


It may come as little surprise—or comfort—to legal marketers in the United States and Canada, but many of their colleagues around the world are also struggling with decreasing budgets, less work for their attorneys and an atmosphere of uncertainty.

For example, in the United Kingdom, getting named a partner at a major law firm has become extremely difficult in the last year.According to a September report in “Legal Week,” new partner promotions are down nearly one-third at the UK’s 50 biggest law firms. In 2009, 399 attorneys made partner, compared with 598 in 2008, the Sept. 4 article reported.

The situation in the UK may look very familiar to many on this side of the pond in other regards, too. According to Paul M. Jaffa, managing director of Myddleton Communications Ltd., in London. “The collapse has really been in the corporate (M&A, private equity, high-end funding, etc.) and real estate sides,” he says. Specialist areas, such as energy, tax, international, restructurings and insolvencies, have seen an upturn, though. “There has not yet been the anticipated dramatic rise in litigation, despite some large and high-profile cases,” says Jaffa.

The Italian market has also been hit hard. “We definitely saw a reduction of budgets starting at the end of last year,” says Simone Pasquini, a facilitator at Legal Marketing Italia.“In fact, some international firms have shut down their Italian marketing departments. It is definitely a very extreme approach.”

Of course, all markets are local. In some jurisdictions, the bad times weren’t quite so bad, and better times are already on the horizon. The Brazilian capital markets were not hit nearly as hard as those in the United States and the UK and are rebounding more quickly, according to Marco Antonio P. Gonçalves of Gonçalves & Gonçalves Marketing Jurídico in Rio de Janeiro. “As regularly stated by the media, Brazil was considered one of the last countries to be hit by the crisis and one of the first ones to come out of it,” says Gonçalves. “The fact is that business for some major Brazilian firms has slowed down during the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, but has got back on track since then.

And in Australia, law firms have been able to achieve the traditional economic balance of offsetting their struggling practices with busier ones, according to Graham Seldon, managing director of Seldon Gill Consulting. However, many mid-tier firms are doing well at the expense of larger firms. “As clients are more price conscious than ever before, there has been an increased demand in the mid-tier law firms who often have the same specializations and experience [as larger firms]– but don’t offer the ‘bells and whistles’ of the larger firms,” says Seldon. These mid-tier firms are “flourishing” and are continuing to grow or merge with other small and mid-tier firms as a result, he says.

Smaller and niche firms in France also seem to be faring somewhat better than the large international firms, according to Caura Barszcz, publisher and founder of “Juristes Associes,” a publication for lawyers in France. “The French market was hit the same way and responded the same way to the downturn,” says Barszcz. However, French law firms did not experience the mass layoffs that firms in some other countries did. “The way it’s done here is softer,” says Barszcz.“But the market is facing a lot of tension.”

But in the Benelux market—which consists of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg—big law firms are “doing relatively well,” particularly as the M&A market has improved somewhat, according to Rik van Zutphen, communication & marketing manager at Loyens & Loeff N.V. However, he points to Anglo-Saxon firms that have laid off attorneys and staff in their Dutch offices.


Aiming Low Abroad

Like many North American firms, many international law firms are pulling back on their marketing efforts in the roiling economy. Retrenching could hurt efforts in markets that have their own unique legal and cultural standards, according to some experts.

“The Italian market is very particular, and it is important to have someone on the ground here in Italy to be able to communicate back these idiosyncrasies to the UK and/or U.S. parent companies,” says Pasquini.“The other side of the coin is that there has been more interest in legal marketing coming from small to medium firms, which has been followed by a growth in the number of legal marketing consulting firms which have opened.

Getting more bang for the proverbial marketing buck is a priority worldwide. French firms are among those cutting back on the social, sporting and cultural events that are the hallmark of many marketing efforts, according to Barszcz. “Sponsorships have been cut down, and some advertisements as well—law firms want to be able to get a quick ROI.”

Seldon suggests that law firms view the current economy as a way to focus on marketing activities that truly pay off. “It’s more important than ever to demonstrate ROI on various marketing activities and demonstrate that the investment made has been worthwhile,” he says. “This will involve being more strategic and savvy with marketing budgets and ensuring that marketing campaigns aren’t just rolled out ‘because we’ve always done it.’ Rather, every activity should be analyzed to ensure that it’s aligned to the firm’s overall strategy and will enable the firm to meet their financial objectives.”

Jaffa in the UK agrees and says many law firms there are doing just that. “Unlike previous downturns, many firms have not cut back completely and are continuing to invest, particularly in client relationship and business development tools and people—all forms of attributable marketing that are perceived to impact the bottom line,” he says.

Marketers should also take the opportunity to market themselves, Jaffa says.“As we come out of the downturn and management is looking one to two years ahead, it is a real opportunity for senior marketers to shine and display their strategic thinking. Marketers have a real opportunity to assist the management team to identify profitable markets early on in the cycle, ensure the firm is resourced to exploit them and the firm’s lawyers have the correct tools and information to do so.

“This is true at all levels, and marketers should really be studying the markets—local, regional, national, international—to ensure their firms are best positioned to take advantage of current and future market conditions,” he says. “They should not just be doing what they are told but should be expressing an informed view.”

Unfortunately, many law firms—and marketers—are not willing or able to seize the opportunity to position themselves while their competition cuts back. “Law firms should be investing more, but they are too afraid to do so,” says Barszcz. “It’s too bad.”

Sobre o artigo

Veiculada na publicação:
  • Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing [Out/2009]

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