Clients may not buy when firm brands its attorneys as 'products'

Published on: 
Published on 6/16/08

Where there's smoke, they say there's usually fire. When people begin to talk about "sales attorneys," attorneys whose function is to sell the services of the law firm rather than perform legal work, the closer to reality that position will become.

Recently, a San Diego law firm placed an ad in a local legal publication and on its website seeking a licensed attorney to perform business development and sales activities for the firm. Whether this is a trend remains to be seen. But it is clear that more law firms are marketing themselves, not their lawyers.

Do clients really want to "buy" legal services from the individual lawyer who does the work? Years ago, when I was a general counsel, our company engaged a major law firm. That firm always handled our matters with three lawyers: a senior partner, a junior partner and an associate. The thinking behind this policy was to assure that our company remained with the law firm even if any one of the three firm lawyers left the firm. Teams institutionalize the work done for a given client as they involve other firm lawyers in the delivery of legal services, even if one lawyer remains the client's primary contact.

Ultimately, clients belong to the firm and not to the lawyer, and that is in the best interests of firm, lawyer and client alike. Lawyers who have successfully "branded" themselves as personalities have been few and far between. Most clients presume each lawyer is as competent as the next.

If clients place primary reliance on the firm, the lawyer benefits as the firm itself maintains relationships and generates new ones. When the selling function promotes the law firm, even if a lawyer with special skills is the "product" being sold, I suspect that it will be the law firm as an institution that will be seen as the service provider in the attorney-client relationship.

It's a different issue for the lawyer in a sole practice, where there are new twists in branding efforts that I find intriguing. One California lawyer, Laura Wasser, recently had a tequila drink named after her. The beverage promoter said that the drink "captures Wasser's spirit." The drink is rather highly priced as are the fees of Wasser, a divorce attorney. In another instance, a New York lawyer did battle with the state bar for the way she posed on top of a large motorcycle while promoting her services as a lawyer.

These are ways to be memorable and distinct from other lawyers. If it works to reach your target clientele, one might ask: Why not? How are we different from others who do the same type of promotion? Why should this not be permitted? So far as the ultimate concern of the client - and legal ethics, the quality of legal service and not the degree of salesmanship and promotion is what's important.

This Coach’s Corner Article is listed under the following categories: