Monday, May 7, 2007

Not ALL publicity...

So Field Fisher Waterhouse has opened an office in Second Life. I'm inclined to agree with Nearlylegal - "Please, no. It's just wrong." Although at least they didn't sacrifice a goat.

God only knows where they're going with this. Possibly the idea is to attract more IT-literate juniors than the usual crop of Law and History grads, although you'd have thought that having (i) the intellectual curiosity and (ii) the time to lead a 'second' life (actually a third. Your second life is that brief period between leaving the office and coming back in, and is mostly spent asleep) is a cast-iron guarantee that someone isn't cut out for eighteen hour days spent proofing changes into an SPA. That said, the insensitivity to mockery that any lawyer with a second life avatar presumably possesses could be handy in client meetings.

But on balance it's more likely that this is designed to raise the firm's profile, and this is where FFW have run slap-bang into a very basic problem.

Lawyers make terrible marketers - see for example this. To make things worse, lawyers don't always make the best choices in staffing their marketing departments. Given the choice between some dull old marketing buffer with experience working for clients and a bunch of cheap twentysomethings from Oz on a gap year, law firms all seem to jump the same way when it comes to staffing. Better hope that your clients like sport and drinking, because that's what most of your marketing events are going to be! It's perhaps not surprising that this is one area where US firms tend to perform better, although they aren't totally immune to bias either - the assumption isn't that you'll love rugby and beer, it's that in the few hours outside work you can grab each week, what you REALLY want to do is to discuss your job in excruciating detail with bright, keen and very earnest people who will ask difficult questions about it (this also applies to any firm which runs seminars outside normal business hours). It's perhaps not surprising that someone who thinks this is a good way of getting business also thinks that buying a digital representation of a glass-and-concrete office is a good way of spending their marketing budget. But they've missed their market - FFW would probably get more views if they rented space on the playboy site, and it would in all likelihood be cheaper too. Come to think of it, now that Olswang's founder has departed for pastures new, there's probably space for a suitably unorthodox law firm to run a stunt like that, in which case you read it here first.

But perhaps the problem's deeper than dodgy staffing. After all, what are we really selling as lawyers - a better chance at winning a future dispute? Transaction-process-management? Common sense advice? Different clients want different things from their lawyers, which I imagine makes it a bit tricker to offer them something appealing to part them from their coins. So it is that 'marketing' too often is a pathetic attempt to bribe clients with their own money. Guess what - they know we're doing it.

It seems the world is still waiting for a law firm that can offer innovative or personalised events to clients and in-house counsel with the gift of work. In the meantime, back to mass leafleting clients with invitations to our summer drinks reception/Wimbledon-peripheral-court package. Let's hope we get a few more clients turning up than last year. The guy from Glaxo looked sort of lonely surrounded by a pack of partners.

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