The Legal Marketing Association annual conference, #LMA19, proved to be everything I expected it would be—and more! With more than 1,500 legal marketers and service providers, our association converged on Atlanta for three days of networking, sharing, and learning from the best, brightest, and most innovative in the industry. As promised, below is a recap of the conference and some of the great information and tips I plan to put into practice and share with our local group in Philadelphia. If there is one theme that keeps popping up in each of the sessions I attended, it is this: move beyond a focus on data and system output to insights and results. Below are how each of the speakers advised putting that into practice.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Rise of Legal Marketing Technologist

Where Are We Now? Results of ILTA’s Legal Marketing Technology Survey

To start the day, LISI friend and Philadelphia-based Cheryl Disch, Senior Manager, Marketing Information Systems at Duane Morris, discussed the results of the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA) 2018 survey of legal tech for law firms. Of particular note is that more than 50 percent of law firms are currently planning website redesigns (which we like to hear!). But the primary takeaway from the survey is how firms are struggling with the fire hose of data coming from their technologies and what to do with all of it. “We’re all becoming dot-connectors” to figure out what will best serve the marketing teams at firms, Cheryl said. Legal marketing technology spends on solutions like client relationship management (CRM) and website-visitor tracking systems are increasing with many of the firms surveyed.

Key Takeaway:

Use the data across all marketing systems in ways similar to how other industries do to make data-driven decisions with a business-minded approached.

Overview of the Digital Marketing Stack

Next, the legendary Chief Information Officer, Adam Stock of Allen Matkins, explained not only what tools a firm should use, but how to look at technology overall.

Integration with back-end systems is critical, he said, stressing that firms should work on unifying the back-end data with the marketing data centralized in their CRM. He also suggested in order to be effectively using CRM — his tool of choice is Hubspot— firms should ‘score’ each contact’s engagement with the firm, giving points for opening an email, reading a blog article, or attending a law firm event, etc. Using a similar type of behind-the-scenes contact scoring that other businesses use will help the firm bridge what Adam called the “pipeline gap” in the legal business model to effectively track the ROI of a firm’s marketing efforts. The marketing journey should follow this path:

Target > Visitor > Lead > Client > Loyal Client

Key Takeaway:

Utilize graphical visualizations to deliver data insights. It’s much more effective than showing already-busy lawyers (who are not marketing experts) spreadsheets of numbers.

The Quest for the Holy Grail of CRM — Are We Getting Close?

With the mantra of, “Data is a means to an end, not and end unto itself,” Jennifer Klyse, owner of Klyse Advisory Group, explored the myths and realities of working with CRM in law firm marketing and business development. She poked holes in CRM misconceptions such as, “Once I find the right product, all my problems will be solved” and “once I have clean data, all of my problems will be solved.” She preached the gospel of measurement of what the data shows. “It’s not what you put into your CRM, it’s what you get out of it,” she said.

Key Takeaway:

Getting correct, up to date, and relevant information into your CRM is only the beginning. You must understand what you want to get out of the CRM and keep a laser focus on results, not output.

Data Visualization

Since most people are visual learners, helping decipher data that a firm collects around marketing and business development is very important. So, David Ackert, president of his own company, is a champion of meaningful data visualization. This practice greatly helps in a firm’s tracking of KPIs integral to a firm’s strategic plan. The highest level of engagement is when the client is not only loyal to the law firm, but a vocal advocate to others about the firm.

Key Takeaway:

The BD process is no longer a linear ‘funnel’ but now a ‘flywheel’ of marketing, sales, and service that revolves around the client, constantly providing service and producing opportunities for further engagement and cross-selling.

Law Firm Mobile Apps: The Good, the Bad and How to Make Yours Great!

In an effort to further engage with clients and form loyal relationships, many firms are creating smartphone and tablet apps, says Ian Broom, founder and CEO of Fliplet, a company that offers the ability create apps even if you are non-technical. If you’re on the fence about using a mobile app, ways to measure app value include total users, time/cost saving, and an increase in sales. Apps are not only for outward-facing uses, Ian said, but could also be for internal communications within the firm in areas such as HR, events, and even practice innovation.

Key Takeaway:

Use apps to engage your audience, whether it be internal, external, or both, and measure success by understanding what users gain from the experience.

Open to Everyone: The Business Case for Law Firm Web Accessibility

Websites must be accessible to those with physical disabilities, says Lynn Foley of fSquared Marketing, and making them accessible requires close attention, cost, and rigorous upkeep. Accessibility is making sure that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with a website. But it’s not merely a ‘nice-to-have’ feature that creates a culture of inclusion for users, it could avoid costly lawsuits. In 2018, Lynn said, there were 2,258 civil suits against businesses and organizations for failure to have websites that are properly designed and coded to be accessible. For the legal landscape of the suits (Netflix, Nike, and Burger King have all been targets), Lynn referred the audience to the global firm of Seyfarth Shaw, which compiles statisticson lawsuits and how they resolve.

Key Takeaway:

Many tools exist to check websites for accessibility, including www.w3.org. Find one you like and use it regularly to check the accessibility of your firm’s website.

SEO 2020: Building Your Strategy for On-SERP SEO and Beyond

In this final session of the day, Diane Kulsethof Siteimprove discussed how to research a searcher’s intent. For example when someone uses a search term like “M&A lawyer,” which could mean an interest in everything from “What is an M&A lawyer?” to “Who are the best M&A lawyers?” to “Do M&A lawyers work long hours?” (spoiler alert: most do). You can use tools such as Google Search Console and AnswerthePublic.comto discover common questions around a topic. There are many ways to rank well, and Diane made two technical suggestions as a starting point:

  • Clean up excess website code so the content loads quickly
  • Make sure the content is organized logically based on the questions you are trying to answer for search ranking.

As a deeper dive, Diane discussed structured data markup, which is an expert-level method of formatting your webpage to provide greater context to search engines about the content found on the page.

Key takeaway:

Audit your firm’s website content for SEO optimization!!

Conference Day 1

Spotlight Session – Is ABA Rule 5.4 Keeping “Non-Lawyer” Competitors Out, or Lawyers In?

This pre-keynote session presented by William D. Henderson, Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and Scott A. Westfahl, Professor of Practice and Faculty Director, Harvard Law School, offered an eye-opening analysis of the underlying issues driving the lawyer vs. non-lawyer conflict brewing across firms large and small. Rule 5.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers sharing equity interest with “non-lawyers,” in any business engaged in the practice of law. The ultimate impact of this outdated rule, according to these venerable speakers, is that the traditional law firm model finds itself being left in the dust. Innovative approaches to legal services, not the least of which includes robust and booming in-house legal departments, are far outpacing the growth and development of big law.

The billable hour, Henderson said, incentivizes the attorney to continue to work rather than efficiently complete the engagement in a business-minded fashion. This is in direct contrast to the agile, business-minded approach in-house legal departments are following. To get with the times, Henderson recommended in the Legal Services Landscape Report, commissioned by the State Bar of California in July 2018, that the legal services industry liberalize the market, and open up ownership to non-lawyers, or has he prefers to call them, “allied professionals.” Above all else, law firms and their like must break down hierarchical structures to make room for equality of opinion and experience at the table.

Key takeaway:

Organizations with pyramid-based structures are stifling progress and innovation. Aim to create a “pancake” organization. To do so, look for the coalition of the willing that want to go on this team-based journey. The journey will take time, but the time to start is now.

Keynote: “We can All Be Movement Starters,” Jennifer Dulski, Head of Groups and Community, Facebook.

As expected, this keynote was inspirational, and full of motivational insights that we can all put into practice as soon as we just take the first step. At the outset, Jennifer posed the question to the audience, “What do you do if you don’t want to wait for the rules to change, but you want to create change and start a movement? How do you do that?” Jennifer offered a six-step approach to getting a movement going:

  1. Garner the courage to get started. Keep telling yourself, “if I can do this, I can do anything.” (Funnily, she came up with this mantra when one of her first jobs after graduation was as a high school sex ed teacher.)
  2. Create a compelling vision. Define the future you envision + a clear purpose + a compelling story.
  3. Mobilize people around your vision. The best way to do this is to embrace supporters. Encourage them and welcome them into your movement – you need all the support you can get!
  4. Persuade decision makers. This does not have to be a “David vs. Goliath” story. Make it easy for decision makers to say yes by answering questions quickly and fully, making the story relatable, and making it understandable in a non-threatening way. Don’t forget to understand who it is that influences the people making a decision. Rally those influencers to get decision makers on board.
  5. Navigate criticism. Find your allies. They help you remember what you’re doing and why. And don’t forget to maintain perspective. None of the criticism matters in comparison to achieving the things you care about.
  6. Overcome obstacles. There will be good days and bad. Don’t let a bad day make you forget that good days are right around the corner.

Key takeaway:

Important above all else is understanding the answer to the question, “Should I do it?” Anyone can start a movement. But we all have the “Response-ability,” which is the power to influence your situation and the integrity to do so in alignment with your values.

How to Turn Your CRM into an Insights Engine

By response to the in-app poll, audience members in this session indicated that they have a CRM, but adoption/utilization is low. This is in line with the Ackert Group report on the current state of CRM. The speakers represented the full range of CRM implementation stages, from just beginning, to fully deployed and somewhere in between. All three firms started with these basic questions:

  • Who do we know?
  • Who do we know well?
  • How strong is that relationship?

All three agreed these questions are nearly impossible to answer consistently in the absence of a CRM. Most importantly, if you doubt the quality of the data, think about what you have to do to start fresh. If you have any doubt at all, it’s not worth bringing in the outdated information.

Key Takeaway:

Don’t treat your attorneys as a monolithic construct. Don’t worry about the attorneys who will never user CRM, it’s a losing battle. Just focus on what you can get out of the people who are interested in working with you and the CRM.

How to Use the Right Data, Right. Validate Initiatives, Create Transparency and Engage Your Fee Earners

In an increasingly competitive market firms must focus on ways to more effectively win and maintain clients. When the people responsible for doing this are already stretched to capacity before business development efforts even cross their minds, marketing and BD leaders can enable them to be more effective.

In very simple terms, firms need to be investing more in Marketing and BD to provide greater support to attorneys and partners. Of course, this is easier said than done. Barriers to this approach are cultural, financial, and technological. But you simply need to get started with the data to demonstrate the value that is being derived from what is already being done. It is our job to distill the abundance of data into something truly unique and actionable, something the attorneys care about that delivers value to their clients (and to their pockets).

By show of hands in the room, attendees overwhelming indicated they are at the beginning of their data insights journey. Robyn Addis, Director of Marketing at Ballard Spahr LLP, and Brian Conway, Head of Business Development and Marketing Operations at McDermott Will & Emery, outlined a high-level plan to get the journey started on the right foot:

  1. Define the data. What data are you going to distill and why? Select data you are comfortable understanding, dissecting, and presenting with confidence.
  2. Create a plan. Identify the sources of this data. Don’t be short-sighted. You may need to pull together information across systems and find a way to tie one data set to another.
  3. Report and Optimize. Determine the KPI’s and best, most digestible outputs to drive action.
  4. Recommend. Don’t just deliver the data and walk away. Make a solid recommendation that your findings support.

Key Takeaway:

Keep a laser focus on data insights, not output. Insights will help you drive bottom-line revenue growth for your firm.

Conference Day 2

An Inside View: General Counsel Perspectives on the Use of Alternative Legal Service Providers and Artificial Intelligence

  • William P. Barnette, Associate General Counsel, The Home Depot
  • Alexia J. Maas, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, Volvo Financial Services
  • Mark A. Smolik, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, DHL Supply Chain Americas
  • Richard Caruso, Vice President and General Manager, Legal Media, ALM Media, LLC (Moderator)

As always, this session was full of useful information and insights direct from the client’s perspective. The ever-increasing level of competition is forcing firms to find new and better ways to try and provide deeper value to their clients. Yet, some of the messages we heard in this session have been repeated for years, including:

  1. Visit the client
  2. Invest in technology
  3. Give us advice like a business person, not a lawyer.
  4. Consider the CFO as a key decision maker.
  5. Focus on your client’s industry, not which practice group you are in.

Key Takeaway:

Know the business and talk to them like real people. Not like lawyers.

5 Essentials for Becoming a High-Powered Digital Marketing Organization

This was a great session full of tactical tips and advice to transform your organization’s digital marketing efforts, including:

  • Know what to measure and how to measure it. What matters to the business? What are you trying to achieve? Do your due diligence! Focus on outcomes, not outputs.
  • Build an effective content strategy. That content strategy must include a channel strategy. Build a library of custom content that works, and take inventory of its efficacy across each of your digital channels.
  • Make video central to your strategy. Ask yourself if your goal with each video is to educate, entertain, or inspire? What is your end goal?
  • Reach the right audiences. Think about your distribution funnel – who is your audience and are you building the right custom content tailored to each of your audience pools?

Key Takeaway:

A comprehensive digital content strategy takes effort and involves a lot of trial and error. Tailor your approach and analyze the results along the way.

As always, the annual LMA conference was a source of inspiration. On to Denver for #LMA20!!