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By Matt Starosciak
“Tragedy, for me, is not a conflict between right and wrong, but between two different kinds of right.”
Peter Shaffer Playwright
Marketing gives rise to natural conflicts, which are important to identify and manage effectively. A couple short stories will illustrate this point.
Julie is an exceptional litigator I’ve had the pleasure of working with for many years. She and her partner handle massive litigation in complex practice areas for sophisticated clients. They are both very strong writers, and Julie has taken on the responsibility of producing website content to improve their firm’s internet rankings.
Initially, Julie was writing very technical material that covered the minor details of each legal issue. She wanted to be 100 percent accurate, not only in the overall concepts, but in all of the accompanying terminology, exceptions, and applications. One piece she wrote included the following sentence:
“The change from full employment to partial employment, underemployment, or unemployment happened just before the filing of, or during, the divorce, child custody, or child support action.”
For us attorneys, that’s not a terribly difficult sentence, especially when I think back to my law school class on the Uniform Commercial Code. For the average person, however, it’s a tough read. This sentence has six commas, large words, and inclusive text that breaks up the flow. If our goal is to provide helpful and easy-to-understand content to prospective clients, this probably isn’t the best sentence.
To solve this puzzle, Julie and I spent time discussing the idea that there is a natural conflict between effective legal writing and effective website writing. It didn’t take long for her to start boiling down her content pages for the firm’s website. Now, her writing is strong, concise, and more helpful to the people she most needs to impress — prospective clients.
I’ve also worked with a large consumer bankruptcy law firm for over a decade. They have a four-person call center that is responsible for scheduling initial consultations (IC) with prospective clients. Call center team members are evaluated on the total number of IC’s they schedule. In addition, each staff member can earn bonus dollars based on their IC show rate (i.e., the percentage of scheduled appointments that ultimately show for their IC with a lawyer). Therefore, they are very motivated to schedule lots of appointments, and also to have those prospective clients show up and meet with an attorney.
The firm’s attorneys conduct ICs with prospective clients. They are given goals and bonuses based on their write rate, or the number of cases they sign as a percentage of those prospects they meet with. In a perfect world, they would only meet with great prospects and sign up every person who came in for a consultation. Of course, that is not possible because personal bankruptcy isn’t a viable solution for everyone who comes in for an IC. It’s not surprising that the attorneys frequently complain about “bad” appointments set by the call center team, or ones that have little chance of turning into a case.
This situation illustrates a natural conflict between two very important departments within this law firm. The call center has a strong incentive to schedule many appointments and have people show up. There is no incentive for them that’s tied to whether the IC results in a signed case. Conversely, the attorneys want signed cases, because that’s what drives their bonus.
When issues arise at this firm, they must be handled delicately, so that all team members feel they are being treated fairly. This is done through education about what the other department does and the challenges they face, and is key to preventing a civil war.
Always keep in mind that marketing often involves competing objectives that will bump up against each other. Striking the right balance between competing marketing goals is what produces success. (This is especially important when partner goals conflict.)