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Boot Camp – Law Practice Management Style

Article Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Written By: Erik Mazzone

The conventional wisdom is that unless a program offers CLE credit, nobody will sign up.
They say (whoever “they” is) that free programs don’t work because on the day of the program if attendees haven’t plunked down cold, hard cash they won’t feel compelled to show up. Last month, the Law Practice Management Section Marketing Conference proved them wrong. Those ideas might be conventional but they ain’t wisdom.

Under the guidance of Section Chair Beth Voltz and CLE Committee Chair Damon Duncan, the LPM Section put on a spectacularly successful free Marketing Conference – the first of its kind at the North Carolina Bar Association. Over 150 people packed the Bar Center Auditorium to spend a day learning, planning and re-tooling their firm’s approach to business development.

The curriculum of the day-long program began with a broad brush overview of marketing a law firm, presented by the nationally-recognized legal marketing consultant, Tom Kane. Attendees spent the morning learning the foundations of legal marketing and preparing individualized plans they could take back to their practices with them to implement immediately.

The afternoon session focused on advanced topics in legal marketing: North Carolina lawyer James Scott Farrin presented on developing a systematic approach to generating client referrals; John Peterson of Raleigh-based Capstrat (a strategic communications firm) discussed how to use the media and harness the power of public relations; Dale Tincher, CEO of ConsultWebs, taught attendees how to take their firm websites beyond the basics and on to the next level; and Steve Matthews, President of Stem Legal, shared the basics of the modern-day alchemy known as search engine optimization (SEO).
If you missed the Conference, don’t fret: the sessions were recorded and video will be made available shortly on the NCBA website.

While putting on a successful conference was great, perhaps more important was that the Law Practice Management Section quietly provided thought leadership on the state of marketing and law practice management subjects within the profession. A glance at the attendees at the Marketing Conference vividly demonstrated that the need for education on law practice management topics like marketing crosses all boundaries of years of experience, practice area, and firm size.  LPM Section Member and Brooks Pierce Managing Partner Ed Winslow, remarked to me once, “with law practice becoming increasingly specialized, about the only thing we all have in common any more is law practice management.” Underscoring the truth of this point, the Marketing Conference attendees defied easy categorization in all respects but one: they all recognized the need for systematic business development efforts in a successful law firm.

Law Practice Management, as a topic, came into vogue 25 years ago. The idea that a law firm could (or ought to) be operated as a business, that management and marketing theory have a place in our profession, that technology could elevate rather than degrade our practices – that was cutting edge stuff. 25 years later, the NCBA LPM Section has broken ground again, pointing the way to a need for broader acceptance, inclusion and respect for law practice management courses in the pantheon of legal education.

Where this will lead is anybody’s guess: a liberalizing of the CLE rules for receiving credit for law practice management courses? A change in the basic coursework of a legal education in law school? A cultural shift within the practice to value keen business alongside keen lawyering?

Wherever it leads, kudos are due to Beth and Damon for putting on a great and important conference, to the LPM Section Council for volunteering their time and energy to improve the state of law practice management for all NCBA members, and to the lawyers who led the way on this subject 25 years ago.

But most of all, kudos are due to you – LPM Section Members and friends who toil in the vineyards of law practice and who take all of this theory and education and put into practice daily into service of clients. That’s what it’s all about, after all.

No matter what “they” might say.

Erik Mazzone is the Director of the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association.
Views and opinions expressed in articles published herein are the authors' only and are not to be attributed to this newsletter, the section, or the NCBA unless expressly stated. Authors are responsible for the accuracy of all citations and quotations.