Ask An Expert: What Good is Marketing, Anyway?

BY Ryan Conley


This month, we speak with John O. Cunningham about how to convince unwilling partners that they should invest in marketing for their firm.

Attorneys are sometimes less eager to engage in marketing than other service professionals. This can be true even when one partner is on board with the idea, and others are resistant.

“That’s not an unusual problem,” says John O. Cunningham, a legal marketing and communications consultant from Natick, Mass.

“I have heard a number of different objections raised by lawyers to marketing,” Cunningham says. The most common is that “marketing is either not ethical or not professional in its demeanor.” They may view marketing as akin to “used car sales or some form of ambulance chasing.”

To combat this idea, Cunningham suggests contacting a lawyer from your state bar ethics office. He says they are used to answering questions about proper practice and are usually happy to help attorneys understand how to keep marketing professional and ethical.

Another objection Cunningham often hears: “‘I could better spend my time on real work.’ That objection comes from people who think if they just do great legal work and put their nose to the grindstone, the results will speak for themselves, and that’s enough marketing.”

But, points out Cunningham, the business world is full of examples of companies with superior products that nevertheless succumbed to the competition, as well as businesses that missed critical opportunities for lack of marketing. Attorneys should be aware that a good product does not ensure success.

Many lawyers get the majority of their new business from referrals. For some, this can be seen as a reason not to engage in marketing. But Cunningham says the two are not mutually exclusive. Marketing can enhance communications with existing referral sources or with those who may become referral sources in the future.

“Marketing is the study of what people buy and why they buy it. If you can bring that to your referral networks and try to use your referral networks to understand those aspects of marketing, you can get a lot more out of your referral sources.”

Ask your sources why they refer clients to you over another attorney. “They’ll give you a sense if you talk to them where else you might go to get more business. If you study your referrals like you study your customers or your clients, you have a better chance of generating more clients.”

Studying your clients, in fact, may be the best way to bring law partners together on marketing ideas.

“I find one of the most effective techniques for persuading other partners is simply to bring clients in,” says Cunningham. “Have the clients talk about what works for them in terms of marketing. Why do they hire firms? Why do they fire firms? Why do they give some work to you and some work to other people? Most clients are happy to talk about these things.”

Your clients may convince your partners in ways you cannot. “The message is much better-accepted when it comes from a client or a prospective client.”

Attorneys who are leery of marketing might be more easily persuaded to engage one given aspect of marketing over another. “I generally tell attorneys who are new to marketing to focus on those aspects of marketing that are most attractive to them,” says Cunningham. “Some people like to network, but they don’t like to write. So those kinds of people might do very well at events or event-related marketing. Some people prefer to write, and those people might be interested in blogging, or perhaps working on e-newsletters. So I think you do what suits you and what feels most comfortable initially. Then you can always branch out from there.”

John Cunningham is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. He has written bylined articles for a variety of mainstream and trade press publications, and his writing has spanned a wide variety of topics, including business, law, medicine and sports. In the field of law, John has covered almost every aspect of legal practice, as well as the marketing and management of law firm functions. His written work has now appeared in more than 20 different publications. Read more at

Ryan Conley

Ryan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and a legal content strategist for U.S. based law firms.


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