"Mission" Trumps "Marketing"--Law Firms & Lawyers Need To Get to the Heart of Things Before Making Their Splash
Clearly the premier law firms are getting on the marketing bandwagon. They now have professional marketeers, image consultants, not to say bone-rattlers and entrail-readers. Plus, I as a headhunter for partners and associates alike encourage individual lawyers to be continually branding themselves in their markets and communities, even if they plan to stay put--one always needs more visibility.
On the other hand, one must take care not to get lost in the shuffle--the "message" can begin to run rough-shod over the reality. I see firm websites that tout image, ethos and even practice areas that don't fit, aren't believable, and just don't plain fly with the history, present tense, or even honest aspirations of the firm. It pays to do one's homework first.
Process over Product
One useful way of getting at what "message" to put out there is to take full stock of what the firm (and/or individual lawyer) already is, already values, already believes. This sort of taking stock is the conceptual framework for a professional plan. The term "professional plan" is thrown about quite a bit, and it is something of a misnomer as it describes only the end-result of the true point of having one--and that is the exercise of putting it together.
A Better Paradigm
The huge caveat is that the first part of creating such a plan is the most important, and that is the identification of the values, skills, assumptions and drivers that already exist. The goal is not to rush to conclusion, but to embrace the questions for a while, kicking around the ideas for long-enough, and coming to some honest appraisals of where the firm stands already. Really, a better paradigm than "professional plan" might be a "personal constitution."
"Constitution"--Drill Down then Work Up
We as Americans find this a potent analogy. Our constitution is all about stating core beliefs (e.g., freedom of speech is essential), irreducible assumptions (e.g., all men are created equal), and cultural/sociological/practical realities (e.g., long-standing practice and enshrinement of the separation of powers). Something similar has to happen when firms get together to decide how to better exploit their markets and take advantage of opportunities--or just get a better PPEP. This gut-level and very hard homework is essential to success in that endeavor.
Grass Roots Stronger than Ivory Towers
And another thing: A firm "constitution" cannot be something that a committee cooks up with lots of cool PC soundbites and marketing glitz. It cannot be created out of whole cloth and then shoved down the throats of the rank and file. Rather, it must reflect and honest history, an open appraisal of current realities, and be the product of a gestalt, a process, of continual discovery and renewal of the firm's goals and strengths.
A parting shot: don't think these issues are just "airy-fairy" 21st Century post-modern psycho-babble--these issues have been thrashed around for centuries. Political philosopher Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre (a fairly notorious anti-democratic figure writing in the aftermath of the French revolution) scoffed at the notions of written constitutions--and for the same reasons. He feared that "constitutions" (at the time a new-fangled thing) would invariably be irrelevant as the true body of law of the land was contained in the hegemonic assumptions held dear in the hearts and traditions of the people as a whole--and could not be contained on a mere "bit of paper." I fear many firms' strategic plans are similarly not worth the "parchment" they are written on--but they could be.
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