Big Law Gives it Away #LCMO

Each year DLA Piper puts on one of the foremost real estate conferences in America.  You would think that at a conference like this they would want to highlight their best and brightest attorneys, but they don’t.  In fact, I learned yesterday at the Law Firm Business Development Forum (where many of you have seen me tweeting under the hash tag “#LCMO”) that DLA Piper doesn’t have a single one of their attorneys on the panels.  The panelist list reads like a “who’s who” in the real estate industry from big hitters like the CEO of Global Hyatt Corporation to the Managing Director of Barclays Capital.  What do they charge attendees for the content, the conference and the cocktails afterward?  Nothing.  This event is free to attendees.

So why are they giving it away for free?

Why aren’t they stacking each panel with an attorney or two?

There are a lot of different reasons that Attorney Jay Epstein explained for this at yesterday’s conference.  They didn’t charge so they could get a better turn out, they didn’t stack the panels to give the sessions greater credibility.  The real reason for these tactics though wasn’t explained by Jay.  It was just below the surface.  I suspect the real reason for the conference wasn’t to pitch legal services- but instead to build goodwill and strengthen relationships.  Taking clients to a Yankees game is smart, but helping your clients make more money is brilliant.  Jay Epstein explained that a different lawyer was in charge of organizing each panel- networking with each of these thought leaders along the way.  You better believe that during the breaks between sessions that the DLA Piper attorneys were pressing the flesh and making their presence known right on through the evening cocktail party.  At the end of the day, when the panelists and participants are all drinking cocktails- what are they thinking about?  They are thinking about what they learned, and how they can apply it to their business.  When they remember what they learned in the weeks and months that follows they will remember DLA Piper not as the creator of the content- but as the source.  DLA Piper has figured out that you can gain credibility without tooting your own horn.

DLA Piper has picked up on a HUGE trend that is sweeping not just the legal community but society at large.  People are very cynical of anything “sales” related, and brand marketing just doesn’t work the way it used to.  Airport billboards or charity golf tournaments for example are so in-your-face that they lose firms more credibility than they gain them.  This trend is especially true online.  Law firms need to stop broadcasting “we are awesome” and start showing they can help their prospects- by helping them.  The more you give, the more you get.  DLA Piper get’s this, and many other large firms are catching on.  Like Wilson Sonsini that has a free term sheet generator on their website, or Latham and Watkins that is doing the same thing with LPO contracts.  Big law is starting to realize a simple marketing truth that grocery stores figured out decades ago:

People love free samples.

When you need an answer to an easy question- you can Google it to find your free sample.  If the second time you run a search that same source comes up- you may go straight to the source next time.  Buyers of legal services are doing the same thing, and your snappy marketing slogans aren’t coming up in their Google searches.  They want that free sample, they want to get their questions answered- and answering their question is a great way to get their attention.  Think GC’s aren’t yet “googling” to find their answers?  Wednesday morning Anne Chwat, General Counsel of Burger King, told the story of being surprised with a class action suit for violating an anti-trust rule she didn’t know existed.  What did she do?  She did a search for it, and one name came up with the right content right on topic.  She found her free sample through Google, and that led to an engagement.

Does this concept conflict too strongly with the world view of many of the big law players?  Will the partners fear a slippery slope where nobody pays for anything anymore?  Change always causes fear, but while your older partners are wasting time debating the question “is it or isn’t it worth it to give away valuable content?” the DLA Pipers and Wilson Sonsini’s of the world will be generating traffic, building relationships and eating your lunch.

Adrian Dayton is a New York attorney and author of the book Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition.  Adrian works with law firms to implement organizational change and adoption of social media best practices.


8 Responses to “Big Law Gives it Away #LCMO”

  1. Great post, Adrian. I think this speaks to the other real trend we’re seeing in the legal industry, which is that it’s all about the clients (as it should be). Although lawyers have a very specialized service that they’re offering, and as experts in their fields, they do know more than their clients and should be helping to guide them, it’s traditionally been more about the firms than their clients – the idea of “we’ll tell you what you need, we know best, etc.” And now because of the recession, clients can afford to be pickier and have to be pickier to trim their budgets, and as a result, they’ve gotten back a lot of the control (or although they’ve always had the control, now they know it). So now it’s got to be about client service, and firms MUST think “how can we help our clients? What do our clients really want? Let’s ask them.” I think there’s a lot of firms that do a great job of this and they’re the ones who will continue to get work and meet client needs. I’m curious to see if more firms will go the way of DLA, offering seminars and materials with content NOT produced in-house for the benefit of their clients, and being seen as service providers because they are facilitators.

    • It would be tough for a lot of other firms to replicate DLA Piper’s success because of the quality of their contacts, but any of them could do something to show they understand the industry. DLA is really just about throwing a party and inviting the right people.

  2. Jack Greene says:

    Great post Adrian. I think a lot of people who are selling services have a general reluctance about giving away “things” for free. But what people should be asking is: What is it that I (we) REALLY want to sell? My wife even questions me about “giving away” reports that she knows I spent hours crafting. Having met with many larger law firms, I always try to ask the question: what differientates you from other firms or your competitors? The answer I frequently hear is universal… better service. Wow, that’s exactly what they said across the street! If you are really looking at differientiating your firm or practice, perhaps one way is to provide compelling information of value to your existing clients and prospective clients in a manner that is to their liking. You’ll set yourself apart by demonstrating area expertise and thanks to social media will begin to be share with others.

    • The hardest part is creating reports that people want. Many firms have tried blogs, tried corporate alerts or even mini-seminars- but they need content that really resonates. Creating that kind of content isn’t easy.

  3. Nice post.

    I am not sure I would view Wilson as a “give away for free” firm that cares about clients over $$ but I agree that even big law firms understand that giving help is a better approach than a marketing campaign. Giving begets getting. This is particularly when those free giveaways naturally lead to questions like–how do I make this template better and what does it mean? In other words, give away the razor and sell them the blades they need down the road.

    As we both know, everything for larger firms comes down to dollars and cents. Law firms are not in the charitable business–least of all our friends as Wilson, Sonsini. So in the end, this is not about giving anything away–this is about making decisions that lead to lasting relationships based on a client focus. Simple, smart business sense.


    • Yeah, it certainly isn’t charity that is motivating these big firms. They have figured out the right types of gifts to give.

      The firms hungry to grow would do well to pay attention.


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