A Decade of Legal Marketing in Israel

Idan Nishlis, Founder and CEO of Nishlis Legal Marketing, is attending the international Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, celebrating the 10th anniversary of legal marketing in Israel, and sharing a number of insights into the legal marketing field in Israel and its implementation for law firms.

Israeli law firms, for the most part, don’t invest in marketing. They claim that they do and they show signs of moving in the right direction but in actuality what happens is that they go without it while feeling that they are covered.

I am currently making my way to the world’s largest and most important legal marketing conference. The long flight enabled me to reflect on the state of this industry in Israel, since my return to Israel from the US at the end of 2008 until today – a decade of Israeli legal marketing.

Until 2008, the term legal marketing was attributed mainly to PR and to submissions to ranking guides. Attorneys who were tasked with the burden of submissions were also those who took upon themselves the laborious job of updating website content, writing firm profiles, and more.

Between 2008 and 2010, 30 years after the legal marketing field was established in the US, large Israeli firms with an international orientation started to understand the importance of marketing and recruited professionals to manage marketing departments.

Later, other firms saw that this was successful and began recruiting as well. The field began to grow and the range of services expanded beyond submission and work with PR firms.

Today, almost all of the top 25 firms have marketing professionals or marketing departments, and a large number of them even use external marketing services to streamline and professionalize their work. We are also witnessing small firms who are employing marketing people with the understanding that this can give them a competitive edge or at least added value with clients.

Much can be written about the first decade of legal marketing in Israel – how it started and developed, and maybe I will write about it in the future, but right now I want to return to the foundations. It has been 10 years, however investments made in the field have not always been expressed strategically, rather they have been more tactical. With no disrespect, there have been many noteworthy accomplishments. Healthy competition was created pushing firms forward and even triggering a very refreshing change in the legal profession – one might even say a revolution. Entry into the marketing era has indeed changed the face of the legal field!

Here are ten fundamentals that are important for me to raise, each of them could easily have been the subject of an article in itself (and perhaps I may get to do that too), but for now here is a little taste of each. If every firm would adopt one or two of them, it would suffice.

Aligning faulty expectations between the function of the marketing department and its overall mission -

Law firms in Israel are in the marketing stage therefore the main function of the marketing department is marketing (marcom). Business development is a much more advanced stage and many firms are just not there yet. There is a dangerous and dual problem here…

Firms advertise jobs where marketing and business development are required – two very different and separate disciplines! In other words, there is also a recruitment problem (rather than recruiting proper marketing professionals, they continue to recruit business development people who will also dabble in marketing along the way), as well as a problem of the marketing department’s expectations that are not expressed (the recruited professional who thinks that they will be working on business development finds themselves spending 90 percent of their time dealing with marketing tasks that are less glamorous).

Conclusion: The basic function in any firm should be marketing (marcom) and marketing experts should be leading the way. Only after a proper marketing infrastructure is in place can another parallel function of business development be added. However, as I explained, most firms are not yet in the business development stage and they would do well to advance their firm’s marketing efforts instead.

Firms that are not rising in rankings will probably never rise -

I listen to the frustrations raised each year, “How did we not go up in the rankings this year?” The situation won’t change as long as the firm continues to submit its submissions to the ranking guides in the same manner each year, and continues to make the same mistakes again and again.

A firm that truly believes it deserves to go up in the rankings to a higher rank and is not able to rise up should probably reconsider its actions and change its ways. What can they do differently? Purchasing the Chambers Report that will indicate why the firm was ranked as it was, or purchasing the Nishlis Legal Marketing Comprehensive Report that analyzes Chambers, Legal 500, and IFLR 1000 and 500 rankings, or using external services for submissions, as many firms currently do.

Conclusion: If something is broken, it must be fixed, and reach out to external professionals for help.

There is no strategy, only tactics -

Although there is not much differentiation in terms of legal work (everyone knows how to do everything, some are better than others), however each firm is very different in terms of character (innovation, client relations, team personalities, etc.). I don’t know of many firms that really conduct a comprehensive analysis including – who are the firm’s clients, what are the firm’s business goals, and therefore what are their marketing goals, building a strategy-oriented work plan (operations verses meeting the target audience’s needs). There is not much thought invested, mostly just imitation of competitors.

Conclusion: Invest time and resources in building a strategy for the firm, which needs to be reexamined every few years and adjusted / changed accordingly.

The media and digital revolution is stuck in a frenzy -

There is no doubt that something significant has happened in recent years with the entry of law firms into the online arena. The digital world is no less significant (and perhaps more so) than that of traditional off-line PR. It’s cheaper, more accessible, more measurable, and not subject to influence by system personnel. So why do firms continue to invest in PR and not in digital? Why do firms only use the free features? After all, without promoting content there is no exposure. Firms spend precious time creating content (because that’s what they know how to do – although you have to know how to write for digital platforms…) however it ends there. Facebook and LinkedIn are tools for distributing content – where is the distribution? Moreover, digital platforms go far beyond Facebook and LinkedIn.

Conclusion: Invest in digital, with an identical or larger budget than what you invest in PR. It’s not for nothing that US law firms invest more than fifty percent of their marketing budget in online marketing.

Firms invest in the most marginal marketing details instead of the really important things -

Not all that glitters is gold, and law firms are attracted to glitter. An excellent example of this is the abundance of international publications that pull on our ego strings. Those who know the industry well know that these are usually a bluff. On the other hand, there are quality publications and worthy platforms that firms miss out on.

Conclusion: Do your homework and conduct an in depth checkup. Apart from the huge financial savings, it will also allow firms to invest where they need it.

Working with no methodology -

Legal marketing is a longstanding worldwide profession and therefore has many methodologies. Israeli firms are not exposed to this for a number of reasons, including our Israeli character (we always know best), constantly putting out fires, lack of the organizational culture of learning, and firms’ desires to save money and rely on marketing departments instead of using external services which have more expertise.

Conclusion: The right infrastructure of marketing and business development is a step up. Sometimes it is better to take a year to rebuild these infrastructures than to continue to make the same mistakes again and again.

There is no employee retention -

If we look at the professionals over the last decade in the field of legal marketing in Israel, we find that they only stay in their positions for two years, apart from those rare individual who work in the same firm for more than five years (and they can be counted on two hands). In other parts of the world, especially in the US and England, legal marketing professionals stay in their positions for about three years, after which they are promoted to a more senior position in another firm and thus continue in the industry. In Israel, there are almost no cases in which a legal marketing professional moves to another firm into a more senior position because most of them resign and move on to another profession or sector. An industry that does not allow for lateral growth is an industry that will find it difficult to retain professionals in the future. Moreover, firms don’t make an effort to retain their marketing professionals due to lack of understanding of their role and lack of encouragement and appreciation.

Conclusion: Legal marketing people should be treated as professionals rather than administrative staff. In addition, the type of employees that firms often hire are not well-suited for the job and therefore leave after a short period of time in favor of another career.

They still aren’t listening to the client -

If there is one central thing that we learned from the economic crisis of 2008, in the context of legal marketing, it’s that the client is at the center. Historically, law firms conducted a one-sided dialogue with their clients. Today, the trend is to have a true two-sided dialogue with clients. In the evolution of marketing, client retention is very advanced, however firms need to start to internalize that the client is smart, has the right to choose, has many other options, and has an expectation that they will be heard.

Conclusion: Test yourselves. Go to your firm’s website and read the “About” section and a sample department profile. Does the content revolve around how good the firm is or what the client will receive by working with the firm?

Overseas business development -

The importance is clear to everyone but no firm is willing to invest the required amount, both financially and in terms of infrastructure. Competition for foreign clients is growing and offices that will succeed in doing so will bear the fruits of their labor. However, it is important to understand that developing overseas business is a long-term investment and should be done in a very methodical manner by professionals who understand the field and don’t just shoot in all directions in the hope of getting a hit.

Conclusion: This is the time to start investing in overseas business however without a pre-approved budget and systematic work methods it is a lost cause.

Technology -

When will you move on from Excel? Service providers around the world have long since migrated from using Excel to CRM systems and from Word to smart systems. Marketing management requires dedicated tools, otherwise much time and information is wasted and lost. The importance of technology designed to streamline and help is growing, especially for organizations that are so complex, and must centralize and distribute large amounts of information.

Conclusion: The marketing department is the only department that can make order of everything relating to the law firm as a business, since it serves as a central intersection point of information. Investing in technology through the marketing department will give the firm a very significant competitive advantage.

Throughout the conference I will try to relay my impressions of matters that may promote legal marketing in Israel. As someone who has been attending legal marketing conferences around the world since 2010, I can testify that it has significantly contributed to my career. The field of legal marketing in Israel is no longer in its infancy, it is celebrating a decade, and in honor of this milestone it should continue to mature and grow.

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