Quoted from The Lawyers Weekly, by Geoff Kirbyson, November 25 2011 issue
Some lawyers — not many — have personalities etched deep into the public consciousness. But few law firms project any such image. Pitblado LLP would like to change that. Thanks to a recent overhaul of the Winnipeg-based firm’s brand and website, the varied personalities of its lawyers are starting to come through.
Their profiles posted on the firm’s website are still being tweaked but one thing is clear — broadcasting the year you got called to the Bar or where you articled is out and boxing away your stresses, coaching your kid’s hockey team and cooking for your 11-month old are in. Essentially, the firm wants its lawyers to sound less like, well, lawyers.
“We decided we should reflect our people,” says Ron Greasley, Pitblado’s director of marketing. “We have some lawyers with really cool backgrounds and interests. They were passionate about things beyond being a lawyer.”
Thus far, the response to the new lawyer profiles has been positive. Greasley says he wants firm lawyers to focus on one or more things that they are passionate about in their profiles and ideally relate details about themselves that their clients wouldn’t know. The more they can pique their clients’ interests, the better.
“They’re getting calls from current clients saying: ‘I didn’t know you did that,’ ” he says. “It has generated conversations that are completely unrelated to the law. That’s important to us.” Greasley says people used to grab the yellow pages or consult with their neighbours when looking for information. Now that they have what they’re looking for at their fingertips, thanks to social media vehicles, such as Twitter and Facebook, firms are striving to provide more content and create a personality.
Until Greasley was hired a little more than a year ago, Pitblado did a minimum of marketing. Once he came aboard, he studied local, national and international law firms and discovered the vast majority promote themselves as being “big and old.”
“The point of marketing is to distinguish yourself,” says Bruce King, Pitblado’s managing partner.
So, when presented with the opportunity to do something superficial, such as alter its colour scheme and logo, or change the way it was perceived in the marketplace, the Pitblado brain trust opted for the latter.
King says that in his position, he regularly gets calls from clients or would-be clients about needing a particular kind of lawyer. In the old days, he’d poke his nose into the hallway, see who was free and transfer the call. But today, he keeps the conversation going for a little while so he can understand a little bit about the client and do his best to match them up with a lawyer who will complement both
them and their personality.
“You have to understand the client and what they want to achieve. Some lawyers are more aggressive, they’re pit bulls, while some have a softer approach. You want to match the client personality (to the lawyer) and find the right fit. Some personalities just clash with each other,” King says.
Law firms are still getting the hang of promoting themselves through advertising, according to Robert Warren, a marketing professor at the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. He says restrictions have been eased in recent years and the stigma surrounding promotion in the industry is slowing starting to disappear.
Pitblado is blazing a trail with its new approach as it moves away from uninspiring promotional strategies, Warren says, and acknowledges that clients are more sophisticated than they used to be.
“They want to know the person; they don’t want to know a bunch of cold facts. They want to know the (lawyer) can identify with them,” he says.
“I think it really recognizes that today’s consumers, particularly in a services field like law, are investing in the person, not their degree. Because of that, firms are saying: ‘We’re really people, we’re not a faceless corporation or a big monolith. We care about you, we have a heart and we want to connect with you.’ ”
King says the firm’s external brand is driven by its internal values. For example, there is no distinction between the lawyers and the staff when it comes to privileges around the office.
“We attract an awful lot of staff from other firms. They’ll see that the managing partner will change the coffee filter. That respect of people, clients really appreciate that,” he says.
The delivery of information in this rapidly changing environment presented another opportunity for Pitblado to position itself as a trusted adviser to its clients. It’s no secret that many people in need of information turn to the Internet first but whether what they’re finding is actually reliable is often anybody’s guess.
King says Pitblado wants to be a source in key areas for its clients and potential clients, so it wants to emulate various websites and give away content free. That’s why it offers up the PitbLAWg, a blog on its website where many of its lawyers regularly weigh in on topics of the day.
It’s also why it has developed content, such as a pre-packaged agreement for sharing tickets to sporting events. The impetus was the overwhelming support shown by hockey fans in the Manitoba capital this spring when the Winnipeg Jets were reborn. (About 13,000 season tickets were snapped up in a matter of days.) But because many groups of buyers have just one person’s name registered with the team, Pitblado thought the potential for problems and disputes down the road was significant.
“We saw clients might have that need. A professional season-ticket sharing agreement isn’t something many of them would pay for but they might be interested in looking at it. We’re not giving up any revenue (by posting it) but by helping people with something like this, when they do need a lawyer, hopefully they’ll say: ‘Pitblado has the type of people I want to deal with,’ ” Greasley says.
Warren says giving away this kind of value is an inexpensive way to attract new clients, particularly when it’s all electronic.
“In any business, your major cost is acquiring new clients. They’re hoping once you use (the free material) that you’ll move up to more value-added services, such as wills, incorporations or pre-nuptial agreements,” he says.
The ultimate goal at Pitblado isn’t for its people to be seen as their clients’ lawyers but instead considered part of their business process and a trusted business adviser.
“Our business clients call us up and say: ‘I’m thinking this or that, what do you think? I trust you, I’d like to have your opinion,’ ” Greasley says.
“We become the trusted advisor because we have personality and we’re doing the business differently. We understand the industry and how the world works. Because of that, we can help the client achieve what they want to achieve.”