While there were clearly standout firms in terms of remarkably good results, the majority of U.S. Big Law firms continued to experience sluggish growth in demand, negative growth in productivity and continuing downward pressure on rates and realization in 2015. Demand for law firms’ services was essentially flat, which continues a pattern seen over the last seven years. The legal industry is struggling with dissatisfied clients and arriviste competitors taking market share that was unforeseen even five years ago.
So how do innovative law firms meet the challenges of this new, disruptive legal marketplace? Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once explained the secret to success in his sport by noting that “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” This, in a nutshell, is really the essence of great marketing, although Steve Jobs may have been more succinct at actually putting it in marketing terminology: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
The importance of both of these statements is that neither is reactive. Both men speak to predicting and preparing for where the target will be – whether it is a market or a puck – not where it is now. Otherwise, any action is reactionary, and late, largely promotional – and not brilliant marketing at all.
In an era of hyper-competition, innovative firms and their marketing organizations need to start thinking along these lines and beyond. Any marketing organizational transformation will always be a work in progress. Its ability to be agile and dynamic as it tests new value propositions, develops new client-oriented activities and metrics, and explores opportunities for making connections with the marketplace is the key and may help determine the firm’s ability to thrive, and even survive, in today’s disruptive legal marketplace.