Trade Show Marketing for Lawyers

Lawyers as "Vendors" Sometimes Work, Sometimes Don't.

By Micah Buchdahl

Is it an effective use of time, budget and money for promoting a law firm?

The sign outside the "South Jersey Exposition Center" said it was a regional Chamber of Commerce exhibition, but I must have arrived on the wrong date. In front of me were square, flat, lifeless cardboard figures leading me to believe it was a baseball card show. Instead, I realized those were some of the lawyers representing their firms.

There were about a dozen law firms present. Most were from the satellite offices of major Philadelphia firms. Others were the big machers of South Jersey firms (you would not know who they were if you did not live here). I was amazed how they generally were not too interested in meeting me (which would not be a surprise if they knew me; they did not). A few brochures on the table, an FAQ, maybe a chatchki or two.

I would never embarrass by name the firms that sent the children to represent them (probably first or second year associates) or the ones that sent office administration instead of attorneys, or the group of lawyers sitting toward the back of the booth chatting with each other. I did recall some very outgoing attorneys representing Cozen O'Connor and Duane Morris, but that is about it. One firm had more giveaway items with the logo on it than you would see at a novelties convention.

Going the show route can be a very effective way to meet and greet the clients of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Just make sure you pick the right shows, spend the right cash and send the right spokespeople to engage attendees.

WHICH SHOWS SHOULD WE ATTEND?

Pick the shows that will get you in front of your firm's core prospective clients. It might be a chamber of commerce. Some are stronger than others. At a recent Philadelphia Chamber exhibit, not a single law firm was in attendance. Yet, there was Pre-Paid Legal targeting companies seeking to lower those bills. I mentioned to a Philly firm that they would be wise to attend next year, since law firms were not well represented. Of course, there might now be two dozen thinking the same thing next year.

Neighborhood-Specific - Chamber of Commerce, civic groups, charitable functions.

Neighborhood-Legal - Local, state and regional bars.

Practice-Specific - Conferences designed around your industry or focus (i.e. franchising, bankruptcy)

Client-Specific - Conferences reaching your client base (i.e. GCs, CEOs, small businesses, entrepreneurs, specific industries).

National Law Organizations - From the ABA to a slew of ?law firm groups? that band together to help each other develop stronger referral networks.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR...

The Boondoggle ? There is a law marketing conference that attendees know is nothing but a big, expensive boondoggle. A few parties, a few networking events. Most of the people are looking for their next jobs. The "conference" is just a for-profit business designed to get attendees drunk, and frequent flier miles. Eventually, your partners realize that you are vacationing on their dime.

Your Sponsorship Package ? For many, unless you are one of the big sponsorship spenders, you can expect lame exhibit space in the lamest part of the floor. If nobody will find you, or in some cases, nobody will ever remember if you were there or not, you should probably stay home.

ROI ? The return on investment is not necessarily how many clients you get from attending, but how many qualified leads present them to you. There is a big difference. The show?s responsibility is to provide quality foot traffic. See what they assure you.

WHAT SHOULD WE BRING...

Attorneys with a personality. You can not rent them, so do the best you can.

A good mix. You know your firm brochure that shows a man, women, someone young, someone old, someone of color. Try to find them as well. If in doubt, bring experience. While it is a great training ground for developing rainmakers in young lawyers, make sure there is someone showing them the ropes.

A decent booth. If you are going to do these things a few times each year, invest in a booth with some professional signage and the firm logo. Make sure it identifies you as a law firm. No reason to break the bank, but it is better than a card table and a draped banner in front.

Quality Collateral. At a recent event I attended, there was a nice one-pager about each practice from one thousand-attorney firm, a solid FAQ on trademarks (on letterhead) from a Center City boutique firm. And an embarrassing photocopy on cardboard from a sole practitioner. Stay away from the glossy annual reports. Provide some intellectual property. And have a nice mix put aside to provide an individual with something specific. You do not want someone just grabbing every piece of paper on the table.

Knick-Knacks. Keep it simple. Most of your big prospective clients are NOT the ones looking for t-shirts, mugs, calculators and key chains. Those are the people you are suing.

HOW TO PREPARE THE VENDORS (YOUR LAWYERS)...

Make sure you provide a one-page memo in advance detailing what the show is about, the expected attendees, what the firm is looking to accomplish. Include reminders about engaging all booth traffic, not chatting on a cell at the booth, not hitting on the Associate you brought along (i.e. talk with visitors, not amongst yourselves).

Include Dress Code. Here is a hint. Business Formal. Unless you are selling software on the side, or the show is in Hawaii (see "Boondoggle" comments above).

Mock Trade Show ? Consider in the preparatory meeting doing a little role play and peppering your law firm representatives with the types of questions they are likely to field.

Visit the booths yourself. Many of the vendors are often the people you actually want to meet. Make the rounds.

Follow a Strict Schedule ? If the hall is open from 9-5, you need to be there from 8-6 (set-up time) and have the booth staffed by more than one person throughout. There is little worse than the firm logo representing an empty space.

FOLLOW-UP...

Compile a list of all leads generated. Here are some hints. A list of all attendees are not leads. All business cards put into a fish bowl to win a Palm are not leads. Cards collected by folks you engaged are leads. People that ask for more info are leads. Make sure your marketing leader has all of these - for both follow-up and to help determine whether you go back next year.

See if the "show" provides you with any follow-up short of offering a 10% discount if you commit to coming back next year. What did the show do to make your money work for you?

What was the total real cost of participation? Include any fees paid for participation, expenses incurred by staff (travel, hotel, etc.), cost of collateral and give-aways, lost billable time by attendees. Evaluate what you got and how much you spent. Many firms only look at the initial sponsorship dollars.

Review the show with your attendees to see if they found it worthwhile, whether it is worth returning, leads, suggestions. Flush out data to provide feedback to the marketing committee or whoever is interested in your law firm.

CONCLUSION

Trade Shows can be one of the biggest wastes of money possible. They can also be some of the most lucrative. Be sure to take a thought-out strategic approach as to whether this is the type of business development endeavor that will work in your law firm.

Also be sure to check your state’s ethics rules in regard to trade show participation!