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May 08, 2001
Case Study

How Big Law Firm, Mayer, Brown & Platt, Markets Itself Through Web Sites Focused on Potential Client Needs

SUMMARY: This Case Study proves that Web marketing has come of age for all types of organizations -- not just high tech firms, dot-coms and other "early movers." Founded in 1881, Mayer, Brown & Platt is a very large traditional law firm serving governments, financial institutions and corporations around the world. Learn how the firm has won new clients by launching a series of focused informational sites. They are also using customer-interest focused Web marketing tactics that we could all learn from.
CHALLENGE

How do you market a mega-sized law firm on the Internet? Mayer, Brown & Platt has almost 1,000 staff in seven time zones around the world, representing expertise in a wide range of legal specialties. Jonathan Asperger, the firm's Director of Marketing and Communications, had a wide range of strategic approaches open to him.

He could focus on a mega-site to represent the firm's size; or a series of regional sites for each city the firm had offices in; or on sites for each legal specialization such as litigation. Instead Asperger chose to place the majority of his efforts into looking at the Internet from the prospective client's point of view.

CAMPAIGN

Asperger explains, "People don't say, 'Oh I need a law firm.' Clients hire us for selective purposes. They say, 'I need somebody to represent me in a shareholder fraud class action suit.' They don't just hire a litigator. They hire a litigator for a Supreme Court appeal."

Therefore, Asperger decided to launch a series of sites (or as he says, "a mosaic of sites") each dedicated to a specific client need. For example, instead of launching a general litigation site, Asperger launched sites such as Appellate.net that focuses specifically on the Supreme Court.

Rather than build highly promotional sites that list credentials, Asperger decided to focus on useful information. He says, "People don't want to be advertised to on the Web. We're selling our intellectual capabilities, insights and experience. When you're selling an intangible, it's good to make it as tangible as possible. So we use the Web site to give free samples of our skills." These include substantive articles and reports. Asperger explains, "We show them what we're about, rather than tell them."

This means Asperger's Web team carefully examines all the articles they gather from attorneys before they add them to the Web. Asperger says, "I grapple with attorneys -- marketing versus content. Only if we think it's substantial, do we put it in there."

Working with an outside designer, Asperger chose a site layout that would entice visitors to drill down, interact and return again. He says, "It's lively but not disorganized. I like it slightly cluttered, kind of like CNBC or Amazon as opposed to something that's slick and cool and reserved."

Mayer, Brown & Platt's target market is not a mass audience, so Asperger uses five, low-cost, methods to drive qualified traffic:

1. Personal word of mouth -- attorneys and staffers refer clients (and potential clients) to the sites for useful resources.

2. Virtual word of mouth -- site visitors can use the "forward this article to a friend" function to share content with colleagues.

3. Events -- Asperger adds "a couple of big monitors" to his firm's booth at conferences, and collects sign-ups for opt-in newsletters at that time.

4. Opt-in newsletters -- rather than deluging people who sign up with regular newsletters, Asperger is careful to only send out emails when there's new content that applies directly to their interests. Just like the sites themselves, emails are not heavily promotional. They are usually short notes with a link back to the site for the complete story.

5. Mondaq -- like many law firms, Mayer, Brown & Platt distributes its attorney's articles through the Mondaq system which then feeds them into corporate intranets around the world through Factiva's news service and others. Asperger has paid for each article to include a link back to the appropriate site, so corporate viewers can click through.



RESULTS

Asperger says, "We've found we're getting clients who wouldn't have found us otherwise because many people don't know law firms outside their city." He also notes that potential clients outside the US rely more on the Internet for legal selection. So much of Mayer, Brown & Platt's recent growth has been international.

While Asperger doesn't have hard numbers on how many clients the firm has gained online, he says, "We have anecdotal information -- people say they hired us because of what they saw on the site. Usually that's because of the substance. They'll say, 'I had an appeal in this court and I went to the site and saw you had a lot of experience in this venue.' It reinforces my belief that people are looking for very specific expertise."

The sites have also definitely helped Mayer, Brown & Platt's recruitment efforts at law schools. Asperger says, "We're competing for the top talent, the creme de la creme. Our Web sites speak volumes to them."

NOTE: When we told Asperger he'd make a great Case Study he was a little reticent because he feels his sites aren't all perfect yet. He said, "Some of them are cool, some of them aren't. But that's the beauty of the Internet. It's not like I printed 100,000 brochures and now we're stuck with them.

I'd rather have a site up that could be improved, that will act as a magnet to attract other stuff from the firm. You attract attention internally by getting something up. So, some of our sites are still brochures on the Web. OK fine, you're up. Now let's start improving it!"
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