But 393 Communication is not Pravda – dissenting voices are welcome.
Legal directories are not everyone’s cup of tea, and many see them simply as a waste of time and money.
Heather Suttie, a Canadian legal marketing consultant, is one of those people.
In a recent post, she urged lawyers to “walk away from directories and invest in yourself”
Ms. Suttie wrote a longer and more thoughtful piece on the same issue in 2012.
I understand where she and others come from.
I sometimes share her sentiments when I see law firms sink astronomical amounts of time, effort, and money into these products.
One of the more alarming aspects of my role as consultant to law firms in this area is when I am asked to do a directories audit.
Typically, this takes place when a new chief marketing officer or marketing director tries to take stock of the firm’s approach to directories: what they’re doing right/wrong, where they’re focusing efforts, how they’re managing the process, and what can be done to improve effectiveness and efficiency.
I have done a number of these in recent years, and the results of my work show that larger law firms regularly spend several million dollars annually on their directory programs.
Some of that goes into the various profiles, advertisements, and biographies that provide legal directories and publishers with their revenue.
But that’s eclipsed by a far greater cost: time.
Partner time, fee earner time, staff time, marketing time.
Law firms have responded by hiring full-time staff to manage their directory programs.
Some large US law firms have several full-time directories managers and coordinators.
An employee costs a law firm around double their salary.
Other firm use agencies, consultants, and freelancers.
So, it’s not cheap, but firms do it because they believe that directories are worth the time and effort.
But the directory publishers and law firms have allowed huge inefficiencies to develop.
The industry needs more technology, and better technology, to make the process smoother and less onerous.
If we are to judge directories, though, we have to distinguish between the concept of a legal directory, and the process involved in gathering matters.
To go back to first principles, if you will.
Unfortunately, the two are seen as one, and the information-gathering process is so burdensome for law firms that it threatens to undermine the core purpose and value of a legal directory: to provide transparency in an opaque industry, and to provide consumers and businesses with helpful information that they would otherwise struggle to obtain
I believe there is some dignity and purpose in that.
I’m not going to outline all the positives about legal directories – I’ve written extensively about that in the past, as have other commentators – but I will address a couple of points in Ms. Suttie’s post.
The people who hire external counsel don’t care about directories?”
If this is true, why do I receive calls every week from lawyers who tell me they just spoke to a client who found them or saw them in a directory?
Of course, directories are not the principal factor that drives hiring decisions, but it’s not true to say that directories are not read by buyers of legal services.
For law firms, directory participation is the equivalent of dropping a match on a pile of cash. You’re better off plowing resources into elevating your online presence.”
90% of the articles I read criticizing directories – and there are many – are written by consultants who think there is a better way for lawyers to spend their marketing budget.
And, in all cases, the author-critic just happens to provide those services.
In other words: “directories are a waste of time. Save your money and spend it on SEO/legal project management/web design/events/CRM system/business development coaching/sales training/social media.” *
*Delete as applicable depending on what services your agency provides.
I have no problem with consultants and vendors hawking their services – I’m in that game myself.
But I wouldn’t suggest to any law firm that they shouldn’t spend money on any of these other marketing initiatives if they believed there was some benefit in doing so.
This view supposes that there is a finite amount of money in the pot, and you have to make stark choices.
It’s a zero-sum game: instead of directories, spend your money on SEO. Brochures are a waste of time, spend it on social media. Twitter is so 2012, your law firm needs a Pinterest page.
Your hear this stuff day in day out.
As if there is a “right” answer.
I admit it’s not a fashionable view in this hyperactive “do the latest thing or die” world, egged on by voracious consultants and commentators, but why not try a bit of everything and see if it you like it?
Sure, solos and small firms have limited budgets and have to make tougher choices, but in large firms, you get a divergence within the same partnership.
One BigLaw partner told me recently that he hated directories. It was the thing he dreaded most in the entire year, he said.
But the following day, another partner in the same firm said he liked them.
He said that it gave him a chance to step back from the day to day of client work, and think more broadly about his practice, how it’s positioned in the market and what other firms are doing. He enjoyed chatting to the researchers and discussing developments in his area of practice and in the market.
There are many ways to market a law practice, and you have to pick those marketing activities that you enjoy.
I’ve always believed that a law firm marketing department should act as an internal agency in which lawyers (the internal clients) can pick and choose what suits them.
Yes, advise – lawyers are natural skeptics – but don’t force lawyers to engage with directories if they don’t see the benefit.
But there are plenty that do see the value in directories, so let them do it.