By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read October 2020 — During this time of crisis, the legal sector has shown that it is capable of being flexible in its adaptation and adoption of technological innovation. These are traditionally characteristics not commonly associated with the legal profession but firms both small and large have had to quickly adapt and immerse themselves in the virtual world in order to continue to conduct business as normally as possible. Michelle Martinez Reyes, the chief relations officer for Kelley Kronenberg, noted these changes in her interview with Invest:, as well as touching upon the importance of diversity in today’s legal world and how firms can be more engaged in their own business development practices.
From your perspective and experience, how does the legal sector in Florida react to changes like the pandemic?
My career has spanned over 20 years in the legal industry and I’ve worked within some of the largest and most successful firms in Florida and in the United States. Many would say that the legal sector usually trails behind corporate America in technology and innovation, among other areas. It’s a very formal and traditional profession that has existed for hundreds of years but it has not taken swiftly to change, adaptability or progression regardless of era or geographic location. I think there definitely have been exceptions to the rule and disruptors but not many over time.
However, COVID-19 has thrust all law firms fully into the virtual world and remote working conditions. This is a phenomenon of sorts in a profession that does not take very kindly or lightly to flex work schedules or remote work in general. The typical motto of most law firms, particularly for staff, is if you’re not in the office, you’re not working. There haven’t been many exceptions to that rule. I think that technologically, we have seen and will see big strides in this area, most particularly in order for firms to ensure survival and more readily compete.
How has COVID-19 shifted priorities in the legal sector over the past months?
After more than 20 years of working up the marketing ladder, I can attest with data and experience that if your marketing is not working with or for sales, whether indirect or otherwise, you have the formula wrong. Law firms have started to shift their priorities to marketing and business development and turned off the cruise control during this pandemic. Law firms have also started to take a closer look at their talent and spending. The financial health of most firms is coming seriously into question now more than ever.
How can businesses and specifically law firms be more engaged in their own business development and branding practices?
Law firms have an ongoing conundrum involving sales and engagement. Law schools traditionally trained students in multiple areas of the law to later become apprentice-like practitioners who would inherit business and clients from their predecessor partners. However, with an oversaturation in the field, intense competition among firms and globalization, it’s more of a “dog eat dog” world now where relationships, client service and even pricing have become key. Geographic location is not even a factor anymore with technology, communications and modern-day travel options. Clients now have a menu of options and lawyers, all waiting for their business. So clients are mostly no-longer “lifers,” and books of business rarely get passed on anymore.
I often tell my partners that, “we’re going to talk about the S word and it’s not sex, it’s sales.” It was always frowned upon to use the word sales in law because lawyers considered themselves essential advisers, much like doctors, so they alternatively use the term business development. However, the legal profession is ever-changing, and with access and competition come other factors, such as relationships, expertise, and in the end, the S word, “sales,” which equals revenue, and hence profit. Public relations, business development and engagement are all part of the sales process and if firms don’t figure out how to penalize and/or incentivize their attorneys for direct or even indirect marketing activity, rather than the traditional model of formulaic compensation and bonuses, those firms will eventually inch themselves out of the game. Would you trust your or your company’s business affairs to someone you don’t know or even like? I doubt it. Public relations is the backbone of marketing, engagement is a superpower, relationships are the “yellow brick road,” and now, let’s go sell, aka, focus on business development.
What is the role of community outreach and social engagement in business growth?
Public relations and relationships are the core of business development. Social engagement is key for business growth, maintenance and sustaining positioning. People gravitate both personally and professionally to other individuals with which they can relate and connect with on a variety of levels. Communication and relationships take time to cultivate but they can only be achieved via engagement. Social engagement in particular allows businesses and business people to engage with their contacts and their communities on a more personal level. Community outreach allows you to most closely participate in the geographic areas in which you live and work.
How can marketing best practices help or harm a firm’s identity?
Marketing best practices are not a “one size fits all” approach to business, but definitely do allow for benchmarking and analysis in order to facilitate successes. Best practices can help focus and strategize, help develop short- and long-term goals and foster innovation and analytical approaches.
Diversity is important to any business or firm. How should firms approach diversity, both internally and externally?
Diversity and inclusion are an expected norm in today’s business environment. The makeup of the U.S. population is now more diverse than ever. According to PBS, News Hour and Dudley L. Poston, Jr., a demographer who examined population data from the U.S. Census Bureau and from the Population Division of the United Nations, “[In 2020,]…projections show that whites will decline; the number of old people will increase; and racial minorities, mainly Hispanics, will grow the most, making them the main engine of demographic change in the U.S. for the next 10 years and beyond.” The U.S. population at the start of 2020 had over 331 million people. Today, there are approximately over 74 million people under age 18 and 56 million people aged 65 and older. White Americans are the racial majority, Hispanic and Latino Americans are the largest ethnic minority and African Americans are the second-largest racial minority. Our businesses need to reflect not only our population but our workforce and clients. Firms need to take a conscious and proactive approach to recruiting to start, in order to take a positive and productive approach to diversity internally and externally to increase their reach, awareness and remain genuine.
What new trends or technologies are emerging in the marketing/business development world?
The world of business development and marketing is always trying to find the edge of the norm to push the envelope further and further into the unknown toward the next new norm. Innovation is key to pre-empt trends rather than be reactive in nature. Following the pulse of your customers, key audiences and prospects, while tracking competitors, is always a vital element that will never change. Under COVID-19 conditions, enhanced virtual and remote workplaces have taken the forefront. Virtual meeting spaces, networking forums and professional and social events are competing for even more precious time as individuals are struggling to balance and compartmentalize personal and professional time and spaces. Artificial intelligence, analytics, tracking, social media, digital advertising, public relations, video marketing and engagement are now more important than ever. With most people running laptops, desktops, tablets, mobile phones and a multitude of electronics on a regular, even daily basis, sometimes simultaneously, we are competing for more attention and seeking to capture it for more than just a glance with less time to do so. In the end, pushing the boundaries of how to connect, build and maintain relationships, interactions and engagements is always going to be first and foremost.
What has made you successful as a CMO/CRO?
I believe the definition of success varies greatly depending on the individual. Success is addictive for many who are extremely ambitious and often, it can be contagious.
During my career, I have had the good fortune of being able to capitalize on opportunities that have raised the value and exposure of the brands that I have worked for and in turn expanded market reach and market share for my companies, which brought more business to our table to drive and boost revenues. I am a true Alpha female. I believe in the power of choice, expertise, “being best in class,” leading by example, equity, sponsorship and fierce loyalty. Working with great or up and coming companies, with good or unique products and services, at the right time in history can make absolute magic. Empowerment is always a key component. However, the path to success is often not linear and failures teach more lessons than success in the end. I am very passionate about my work, which creates a great deal of intensity in my work ethic and fuels my work product. I am fully vested in whatever endeavor I undertake and am very involved in the process from beginning to end. I really reflect on and own my trials, tribulations and also successes, which creates a lot of resilience. Success is fleeting so you’re just as good as your last win. I am always working toward the next win. I really love it.
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