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4 Steps to Get Your Lawyers on Board with Your Marketing Ideas

Here’s a sentence I’ve often heard marketers say:  “When I want to get the lawyers on board, I always make it their idea.” I’ve never cared for that approach — that’s not respecting the lawyers as intelligent adults. They’re smart, tough professionals who only bestow their respect upon those who have earned it. And marketers who let others take credit for their ideas are teaching their employers that they don’t have any good ideas of their own.

Ross Fishman, JD

Some time ago, I was asked how I structure my arguments to achieve effortless buy-in of innovative ideas and initiatives with skeptical groups of lawyers and marketing committees. My answer: It all comes down to education.

Logically, if what I’m recommending is the best idea or action, and I can teach lawyers what they need to know to position them to make a good decision, then they should see that I’m right and agree with me. However, if they disagree with what I’m proposing, then either I was wrong or I’ve failed to educate them sufficiently. 

As marketers, we spend eight hours a day thinking about marketing — our lawyers may not spend eight hours a year. We exhaustively research every variable before recommending a particular course of action to the marketing committee. Why should we expect lawyers to have all the answers the first time we throw it at them? 

Regardless, in spite of their lack of information and education on any particular topic, if the lawyers are asked, they’ll always have  an opinion.  And once they voice that opinion in front of others, it’s very difficult to persuade them to change it. So before we allow them to subconsciously  formulate that opinion, we must get them to buy into our  view on the topic. 

To do this, I always follow a formula that has increased my professional effectiveness and is arguably the most vital lesson I teach marketers. To illustrate this formula in action, let’s start with a simple example: We are looking to redesign a firm’s letterhead to remove a long list of lawyer names. Here’s how to start.

Step 1: Do not lead with the conclusion. 

That is, I do not open with my closing statement of,  “I think we should remove the names from our letterhead.” If I do that, they’ll identify 100 reasons why I’m wrong, such as, “We’ve always done it this way,” “Everyone does it this way,” or, “My clients like seeing my name up top!” Once that argument starts, I’ve already lost. Alternatively, we must first provide them the information that will allow them to make a well-informed decision.

Step 2: Give the big picture.

In this case, I might start by quickly discussing design trends in the legal marketplace and what the leading firms are doing. I’d show actual examples of beautiful design from competing local firms that don’t have the lawyers’ names on them.

“Some time ago, I was asked how I structure my arguments to achieve effortless buy-in of innovative ideas and initiatives with skeptical groups of lawyers and marketing committees. My answer: It all comes down to education.”

I’ll also validate that what they currently have was the right answer at the time it was created, but that since then, design has changed — as it always does over time. I might mention other obvious types of designs that have changed since the time this letterhead was created. Back then, men were wearing three-piece suits, suspenders and yellow ties, while women lawyers had stiff, poofy hair and dresses with shoulder pads rather than the more open and casual approach we have today. The business culture is less formal than it was back then, and today’s design reflects that.

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Step 3: Create hard evidence in support of your argument.

I might provide highlighted copies or pull relevant quotes from any articles and blog posts that discuss and support the removal of names from the letterhead. I’ll ask a friendly engraving or printing company how many of the past 25 letterhead redesigns they’ve printed have included all the lawyers’ names and quote them. I’d ask a client which design they prefer — all the better if the client provides quotes you can use. Lawyers are persuaded by client quotes. 

I’d print out a sample letter on the current letterhead, then paste that same text into one of the printing company samples that aren’t cluttered with all the names and show them how much more content fits on the new style — fewer two-page letters.

Step 4: Bring the argument home.

After they’re fully educated about this topic, now I can suggest that I’d like to update the firm’s letterhead to the same type of modern layout that all the top firms are using. At this point, they have learned why what they have isn’t good anymore. They may have walked into the meeting loving their stationery, but 20 short minutes later, I’ve taught them to hate it, in a friendly, educational, interesting and highly professional way.

This is the structure I use when pitching anything. I recommend that all marketers and administrators use it regardless of what we are seeking their agreement to — whether it’s a new piece of technology we want to purchase, a marketing-training program or another initiative we want to launch, a new employee to hire, or a big raise or bonus.

One added benefit of doing it this way is that we don’t have to “make it the lawyers’ idea.” I want marketers to make it their idea. It’s a good idea, it’s the right idea, and we are gradually teaching the lawyers that we are high-quality professionals whose ideas and efforts they should respect and trust. We’re not winging it — we’re approaching our decisions with a thoughtful, well-researched process and methodology that they can understand and respect, just like they’d have done it themselves if they were in our shoes. Your lawyers will appreciate it.