Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marketing the legal profession

Lara Tibbals, Tampa attorney, discusses legal and marketing issues with Courtney Krueger, AMA vice president, and Dr. Scott Jones, associate professor of Marketing, while two other students (backs to camera) listen. They are Brittney McDaniel and Amanda Meyer, both of whom are AMA vice presidents.

Marketing for lawyers may not be the first thing Marketing majors consider when thinking about a career, but it’s big business – really big business in a new and changing field.

That’s what a Tampa attorney told American Marketing Association members during a recent discussion at the Lynn Business Center.

Despite strict controls and limitations, some Central Florida law firms have high-profile advertising campaigns that saturate various media. Millions of dollars are spent to get their name out there, said Lara Tibbals, a lawyer for Hill Ward Henderson in Tampa.

“It’s a field that didn’t exist before 1977 because lawyers couldn’t advertise,” said Tibbals, a shareholder in the Litigation Group of Hill, Ward and Henderson, a Tampa firm with 86 members. In the late 1970s, a series of court rulings opened the door to the controversial and lucrative field of marketing.

Before that, Tibbals said, all attorneys’ business came largely from word of mouth. But those court rulings changed the way people look for lawyers, especially personal injury practices, and how lawyers look for clients, too, she said.

“Legal advertising is certainly a much bigger field than I realized,” said senior Business Management major Courtney Krueger of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “I came out of the meeting much more knowledgeable about legal advertising.”

The event was organized by the student chapter of the American Marketing Association. The AMA brings professionals with expertise in the field to meet with students and sponsors other events to broaden members’ knowledge of marketing. All during the informal presentation, Tibbals answered students’ questions about referrals, misleading ads, disciplinary actions involving advertising and other legal marketing issues.

Attorney Lara Tibbals answers a question for 
sophomore business student Katie DiGirolama,
 a Sport Management major from Bradenton.

“One of the things that has always fascinated me is the marketing aspect of the legal profession,” said Tibbals. “And as you might guess, they don’t teach marketing in law school.”

Marketing firms who have law firms for clients must be well versed in a complex set of laws, rules and guidelines that govern all forms of legal advertising, Tibbals said.

“The Florida Bar is one of the strictest state bar associations in terms of regulating attorney advertising,” she told students. It has the power to reprimand, suspend and even prohibit attorneys from practicing law in the state.

“I had no idea there were so many limitations on law firm advertising as well as the challenge firms face as to whether or not to market themselves with a method other than word of mouth,” said senior Marketing major Amanda Meyer of Madison, Conn.

“Except for personal injury attorneys, word of mouth is still the basic marketing tool” for attorneys who specialize in a myriad of other fields, Tibbals told the students.

One of her personal marketing strategies is to be an active member and become known in national attorney organizations. She’s a member of the Litigation Council of America, the Federal Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

It might seem odd that you would market yourself to people who do what you do, she said, but that is one way to gain clients. She wants attorneys in other states to call her when their clients need help in Florida.

Tibbals, who practices business litigation in state and federal courts, is also well known in Florida. She is active in the bar associations of Hillsborough County and Florida, and has been honored for her service. Gov. Rick Scott named her to the Judicial Nominating Commission of the Second District Court of Appeal.

Students on AMA’s executive board are Brittany McDaniel, Amanda Meyer, Ryan Carter, Lexie Oliver and Courtney Krueger. Dr. Scott Jones, associate professor of Marketing, is the AMA faculty advisor and also Tibbals’ brother

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