Marketing becomes a top priority for Delaware ‘s law firms

By Larry Nagengast
Business Ledger Contributing Writer

In 1978, Eric Doroshow became one of the first lawyers in Delaware to advertise in newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

Coming just one year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for lawyers to advertise, Doroshow’s action caused a stir within Delaware ‘s genteel, conservative legal community.

Doroshow still practices law, and his two-person firm has grown into the Law Offices of Doroshow, Pasquale, Krawitz & Bhaya, with 20 attorneys in six offices. While Doroshow still advertises, his marketing efforts pale in comparison with the initiatives now being taken by Delaware ‘s older, larger firms that wouldn’t have dared think about advertising a generation ago.

The move into advertising and marketing by Delaware lawyers evolved far more slowly that in most other parts of the country. Brenda Thompson, now a recruiter and marketing consultant for law firms, recalls when she joined the Bayard Firm in Wilmington in 1996 as its marketing and administrative director. At the time, only one other firm had a professional actively engaged in business development, she said.

“I went to a bar association meeting and asked about the marketing directors at other firms. They said, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t have to do that here. This is Delaware .’”

That was then. This is now.

Consider Delaware ‘s oldest law firm, Potter, Anderson & Corroon, founded in 1826. The current chairman, David Brown, remembers older lawyers telling him of the days when handing out business cards was frowned upon.

Potter Anderson, with 67 partners and associates, has turned its marketing over to Jaffe Associates, a public relations consulting firm that specializes in representing lawyers.

“Our practice has largely become a national practice,” Brown explains. Relying on word of mouth and personal relationships for business development, as the premier Delaware firms had done for generations, remains important but is no longer sufficient—not when the competition can be located anywhere in the country. “We’ve got a great firm and we need to make sure people know about it,” Brown says.

Other Delaware firms share that sentiment. Whether they’re facing increased competition locally or from the opening of Wilmington offices of larger firms based in New York , Washington or Philadelphia , or seeking to expand their own reach—they’re turning more often to help from marketing professionals, either as staff members or consultants, Thompson says.

The competition is stiff, not only in seeking new clients but also in finding marketing pros to show the way. “The compensation is phenomenal–$60,000 to $150,000, turnover is high and it’s hard to find professionals with law-firm experience,” Thompson says.

That’s why some firms have signed deals with public relations and marketing specialists. The Jaffe PR people who work for Potter Anderson and the Bayard Firm work from offices in their homes and serve law firms throughout the country. Bayard’s specialist, Pam Ulijasz, works out of Chicago ; Cari Brunelle, who has Potterson Anderson as a client, has a home in Wilmington .

Connolly, Bove, Lodge & Hutz, founded in 1944, is another well-established Wilmington firm that has recently added a marketing director. Nancy Hoffman, who hadn’t worked for a law firm before, joined Connolly Bove last fall after earning an M.B.A. in marketing. Hoffman wears many hats—public relations, media buys, placing and designing ads, helping with newsletters for several of the firm’s practice groups, business development and preparing a strategic business plan—as she works with attorneys in the law firm’s Wilmington, Washington and Los Angeles offices. And she’s won the respect of virtually the entire staff, says Max Walton, an associate at Connolly Bove.

Thompson says it’s particularly tough to be the first marketing director at a firm, because results aren’t instantaneous and partners often have differing expectations. Hoffman faces an additional challenge, Walton notes, in that experts recommend that a firm have a marketing pro for each 40 attorneys on staff. By that measure, the 100-lawyer firm should have two or three. But, he says, “we only have Nancy .”

Hoffman acknowledges that she spends much of her time looking for ways to place Connolly Bove’s name, and the names of its attorneys, in professional publications related to the attorneys’ specialties. Identifying them wasn’t difficult, Walton says, “because we have so many people familiar with the key publications in their practice areas.”

The Bayard Firm also bases its marketing targets on its practice areas, says Douglas Hershman, chair of the 25-lawyer firm’s executive committee. The targeting, however, is quite varied. For trusts and estates, real estate and family law, the marketing is primarily local. But Bayard’s marketing must reach businesses nationwide that might need legal representation in bankruptcy, corporate transactions and commercial, corporate and intellectual property litigation. That means promoting the firm in publications that cover bankruptcy issues, international business, securitization and financing, among others, Hershman says.

In a competitive national legal market, Hershman says, “there is a need not only to be exceptional at the work you do and the client service that you provide, but also to make your capabilities and experience known to current and potential clients.”

As the Delaware firms extend their marketing reach, they often cross paths with larger out-of-state firms that also have offices in Wilmington . One such firm is Saul Ewing, with 260 lawyers spread among eight offices between Newark , N.J. and Washington D.C. Saul Ewing has a 12-person marketing team, headed by Philadelphia-based Steve Carrington.

If marketing law firms seems specialized, marketing within practice areas is even more so. At Saul Ewing, the marketing team is developing marketing packages for each individual attorney. “Each attorney has his own needs, and his own comfort zone,” Carrington says.

Some like to do speaking engagements, others prefer continuing education programs, and others enjoy presenting new ideas to the news media, Carrington says. Saul Ewing customizes the marketing to emphasize each attorney’s strengths and preferences for reaching new clients—but the packaging much be consistent with the objectives of the attorney’s practice group and the firm’s overall branding, he says.

Good marketing pays off in various ways. Not only does it help Saul Ewing expand its client base, it also helps the firm recruit experienced attorneys who want to move to a firm that they feel has a greater potential for career growth, Carrington says. “Attorneys making lateral moves often ask about the marketing capabilities of a firm, so we do play more of a role in lateral recruitment,” he says.

Marketing takes many firms. Saul Ewing, as a regional firm, has found it worthwhile to place billboards and banners in transportation hubs—like the Wilmington Amtrak station and the Philadelphia International Airport . Deardoff Associates, a Wilmington advertising agency, handles the creative work, Carrington says.

Walton, from Connolly, Bove, Lodge & Hutz, helps show his capabilities—and his firm’s—on government issues by teaching classes at the University of Delaware’s Institute of Public Administration.

And Doroshow’s firm is hardly the only one in Delaware to employ its Web site as an educational tool for current and potential clients.

A few months after he began print advertising in 1978, Doroshow’s law office burned down. He wanted to use radio advertising to notify and reassure his clients, but was told this would violate Supreme Court rules.

Now his marketing program includes a weekly legal issues television show on Comcast Cable Channel 28.

Is this what Doroshow envisioned when he bought his first newspaper ad?

”Not in my wildest dreams,” he said. “It’s really amazing.”

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