The partners of the Georgia firm Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers had a dilemma. Their firm was the largest litigation only firm in Georgia and one of the biggest in the south. But over the past several years, the firm had grown topsy-turvy: it added 60 lawyers since 2017, had added practice areas, and brought in lots of laterals. But its website, marketing materials, and even logo hadn’t changed in years. For its marketing to be effective, a new approach was needed to define better who and what the firm is now versus several years ago. But how to get there?
Rather than looking inward and dumping the job on either lawyers (who had neither the know-how or interest in doing it) or its internal marketing department, Swift Currie decided on an innovative and collaborative approach between its lawyers, its PR firm, Poston Communications, and a well-known website developer, Firmseek.
The goal was to come up with a plan that didn’t just recite dry marketing facts to clients but instead told the clients, potential clients, and prospective talent the firm was trying to attract, precisely who and what Swift Currie was. Its personality, beliefs, and philosophy. It’s culture.
To do this, Swift Currie set about identifying its present culture. It conducted several internal focus groups with its partners and associates. These groups, composed of some 20-25 people each, met and talked about the firm’s strengths, culture, and how best Swift Currie could attract clients and talent. Fair enough.
But once this task was done, Swift Currie decided to convey this culture outwardly. It asked Poston to interview every single lawyer and then prepare the lawyers’ bios that would be used in Swift Currie’s marketing materials and website.
Why? Chad Harris, the Swift Currie partner that headed up the rebranding effort, told me Swift Currie recognized that bios that written by lawyers might sound right to the lawyer but not as good to a businessperson or in-house counsel. And, more important, by using a unified interview approach, a better picture of what and who the firm is could come out. Again, its culture.
Then, the firm turned to Firmseek, a website developer and marketing firm, to help it present and convey the culture to the public. Firmseek not only did technical development, but it worked with Harris and Poston to better present the firm’s culture not only through words but through imagery consistent with Swift Currie’s personality and philosophy. (As recently pointed out here people more and more learn through pictures and images instead of words) Firmseek has been in the website marketing space of over 21 years and is well experienced. But the Swift Currie extended team and collaboration approach was a bit different.
Years ago, my firm, located in Louisville, and I were involved in a competition with some large New York and Chicago firms for a significant piece of business. We got the work, and after the matter was concluded, I asked the client why we were hired. He told me, “all the firms were qualified, but we knew we would be spending a lot of time with whomever we hired. We picked your firm because we liked the people and it was the best fit on a personal and cultural basis.”
Today, clients have an increasing ability to identify multiple firms qualified to do the work; and there is no shortage of them. So, it often comes down to the best fit, which firm has the best matching culture. Why not use every opportunity to demonstrate that fit and culture wherever you are, including your website? Which is precisely what Swift Currie , Poston, and Firmseek have endeavored to do.
This is who we are, what we do and what makes us different from other firms. It tells the attorneys, client, and the rest of the world what it means to be part of that law firm.
Randall Kiser, in his new (and for law firms, terrifying) new book, American Law Firms in Transition: Trend, Threats, and Strategies, defines a firm’s culture this way: “This is who we are, what we do and what makes us different from other firms. It tells the attorneys, client, and the rest of the world what it means to be part of that law firm. It also tells the world what the firm is not.”
The Swift Currie website is clean and straightforward. It doesn’t use many words, but it effectively conveys a simple message about its culture
The Swift Currie website is clean and straightforward. It doesn’t use many words, but it effectively conveys a simple message about its culture that meets Kiser’s definition: litigation is all Swift Currie does; it has lawyers that pride themselves on not being arrogant or condescending, but on working hard and having some fun along the way. Its lawyers are interested in being connected to their clients beyond just the work itself. And they have the knowledge, experience, and Moxy to do the job. Simple enough, but powerful.
Want To Do the Same Thing?
Swift Currie is a little unique because it is a litigation only firm and I wondered whether that might make identifying and conveying a consistent message is easier than with a full-service firm. I asked Janice Ugaki, President of Firmseek, if so-called full-service firms could and should do the same thing. She responded that “there is something unique about every single firm’s culture, beliefs, and philosophy. It just takes time to learn what that is and convey it.”
But says Ugaki, to do what Swift Currie did, does require a full-service firm to make choices. Firms need to ask themselves what their most valuable practice areas are and then use their website to promote those areas. It means getting the lawyers to agree on what the culture is across practice areas and silos. This means some areas, messages, and lawyers may feel left out. But future survival may mean hard choices have to be made.