I have always been a fan of marketing and felt that there was something special about it, even back before I had any real practical experience with it. My career started at an international law firm – Hogan Lovells – where marketing was handled both centrally and locally. I became a fan of the field and learned to consider the brand as something potentially very valuable and helpful both in attracting new clients and employees and in retaining existing ones. It also showed me that marketing activities must be conducted systematically.
When I joined Rowan Legal in 2014, it was clear that the firm was great at systematic work with existing clients and at deepening relationships. At the same time, there was potential for building on that, especially in the area of core marketing. In short order, we hired an internal marketing team, launched a new website, started systematic work with social and traditional media, and developed quite a few other things. Now what still lies ahead is mainly the unpopular standardization of processes and their improvement to lower the capacity required of fee earners for some tasks. Most importantly though, we will be working on combining marketing and business development to make sure that we use them both to their full potential.
What I really like about marketing is that it allows me to know the firm as a whole in quite some detail, including major cases and topics from areas I do not specialize in. That then helps me with my own business development activities, including international outreach. There are, of course, things I would prefer to avoid – there is not much fun to be found in administrative activities such as keeping and updating databases and records, though of course they are crucial for presenting the firm with the best and most accurate data. And there certainly are things which I would now do differently – from the faster implementation of changes and a unified approach across the firm from the outset, to the more careful selection of some vendors. What is important though, is that our past mistakes have led to improvements in how we do things.
Of course, in addition to the downs, there have also been many ups. One of the best was the building of our dedicated data protection practice between 2014 and 2019. We fortunately recognized the topic very early, identified important international associations and became members of them to obtain top know-how, and then organized conferences and published articles and commentaries, and so on, leveraging this expertise. We became the most visible Czech firm in this field – the amount of marketing activity was enormous, and it was effectively followed by business development activities. This was a big investment, but the returns were impressive – during 2017 and 2018, the resulting volume of incoming business far exceeded our expectations. Currently, we see great potential in social media. Content is said to be king, and that is what we pursue in all our formats, from written articles to interactive webinars. One of our recent activities in that field, aimed primarily at law students, was a series of practical webinars called Unique Law, which we organized together with the Czech Republic’s PRK Partners and TDPA law firms.
Overall, I am very optimistic about the role of marketing in law firms in CEE – it is clear that not only the big firms, but perhaps even more the new and rising players in the region recognize its importance. There are a few challenges, though, likely to affect legal marketers and BD people in the region. These may materialize especially if a longer and deeper crisis unfolds. Law firms will be under pressure to lower their hourly rates to keep or increase their share in the declining market. As we have seen in the past, the decrease and dumping of hourly rates can be very damaging to the legal market as a whole and has lasting effects. This applies especially to the Czech Republic, where the hourly rates are the lowest in the region. I hope that the legal industry will be able to withstand that pressure, but it will surely be a challenge.
Marketing as such has undoubtedly been most impacted recently by limited personal contact. The current restrictions make it quite difficult to meet in person for legal breakfasts, seminars, conferences, and so on. Everything is moving online, but the value of marketing and business development online tools are still, at least for now, lower than onsite events. After all, this is a people business.
By Michal Nulicek, Partner, Rowan Legal