Sue Bramall, managing director of Berners Marketing, looks at the impact anxiety has within law firm marketing, and what you can do to support both employees and clients
The UK charity LawCare saw a huge increase in calls from lawyers who were experiencing anxiety in 2020, up to 111, from 45 people in 2019.
By 12 November 2021, LawCare had received 77 calls about anxiety. Anna Buttimore, Support Services Manager at LawCare, explains that “For most of our callers it is generalised anxiety disorder, fear of making a mistake, anxiety about job insecurity, or not being sure they are cut out for law.”
In 2020, anxiety was the second most common reason to contact their support centre, at 15%, after stress (23%), and above bullying, depression or worries about career development (all at 10%). So far in 2021, anxiety is the reason for 13% of calls.
Witnessing the effects of anxiety
Personally, it was not until a close friend described the physical effects of their anxiety that I recognised exactly how debilitating it could be.
I had only heard about anxiety as a recognised medical condition a few years ago, and it had never crossed my mind before as having implications for marketing. But it is easy to see how the idea of attending a networking event, calling a prospect, or giving a presentation might be made more difficult with anxiety.
My friend described how he experienced shaking, sweating, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations and nausea before many social situations, not just professional networking. I’m sure if we knew this was an issue, we would not wish this level of distress on anyone.
It made me wonder how many ‘reluctant marketeers’ had been misunderstood over the (many) years that I have been working in professional services. How many lawyers have been wrongly criticised or overlooked for being ‘poor at networking’? And how many clients or potential clients have been neglected because they never attend events?
Could many lawyers have benefited from better support in finding alternative ways of marketing, compared to the traditional techniques? Dazzling people with public speaking is not the only way to acquire new contacts and win work – as has been seen throughout the pandemic.
Hopefully we have all recognised how much value an inclusive workplace culture can have for clients and growth.
I’m sure that anxiety is not being deliberately ignored by law firms and their marketing teams (but an article needs a strong title!). As firms strive to develop a more inclusive workplace culture via their HR strategy, does anxiety and mental health need to be recognised in the firm’s marketing strategy? Here are some key areas to consider:
Horses for courses
There is no correlation between being the best talker in the room and being the best at client care. Being able to work a room full of potential clients has immense value in making new connections, but it isn’t necessarily the only way of raising your profile or marketing your services.
I have often heard partners who are great rainmakers lament why others ‘can’t just do what I do’. Without stepping beyond their own frame of reference, they can be oblivious to blind spots, something psychologists call ‘perspective blindness’.
This means important and valuable opportunities for marketing can be easily missed by focusing on a narrow sphere of marketing techniques, such as dismissing the potential of digital marketing because physical networking works for them – when you need both in your marketing mix.
Those less dominant in social situations are often great at proactively listening, reflecting, and implementing suggestions. Supporting and encouraging employees to focus on their unique strengths will enable them to be more authentic, engaging, and productive. People are naturally far more confident in what they are already good at and success is significantly more likely if energy isn’t being wasted on trying to be different.
Event-based marketing is hugely time-consuming, and it is not uncommon to see events where there has not been enough time allocated to preparing the talk, building a mailing list, creating interesting audio-visuals and (most often) properly following up on leads. If you work out the cost-per-contact or cost-per-opportunity of your various marketing activities, including lawyer time, you might be surprised at the ones which give the greatest return on investment.
Lawyers who prefer to remain behind the scenes can also do an important job by supporting those colleagues who are prepared to be centre stage. For example, simply sharing posts about events on social media with your own contacts and groups will greatly extend the marketing reach and only takes a moment. Of course, your firm needs to recognise the value of this too.
What do your clients need?
Firms always claim to be client centred, but do you really understand the needs of all your clients? Or do you invite the same ones because you enjoy the same activities?
Have you looked at your key clients and asked them about their entertainment preferences? Maybe the prospect of a black-tie dinner is not as enticing as you might assume.
My friend commented that he was happy to attend dinners where he would be sat at a table with someone he knew, but he could not cope with an unstructured buffet event. He also had to know that he was free to leave easily if he felt unwell – for example, he couldn’t attend a sporting event where transport was laid on and everyone was expected to travel together.
Can individual business plans contribute to an inclusive culture?
By supporting your employees to be who they are, you can empower everyone to play a key part in your law firm’s marketing. There are plenty of tasks to be undertaken and everyone can play a role.
A personal business plan allows each lawyer to suggest how they can best contribute to the firm’s objectives – of course, this assumes that those objectives have been clearly communicated. It also provides an opportunity to ask for support.
Asking what does and does not work for someone, and genuinely considering their feedback and ideas, is key to establishing a strong basis of communication, collaboration, and trust. Remember that there is no one experience of anxiety – or one way to grow a business!
Risks and resources
A Junior Lawyers Division survey found that over 93% of young lawyers were stressed at work, with almost one-quarter feeling “severe / extreme” stress. Just under 60% of respondents reported anxiety, fatigue, and depression. More than 100 were experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Given the stigma associated with mental health, and pressures associated with the legal world, many employees may fear asking for help. They might worry about being seen as weak and unable to handle normal stresses of their job, or that it could impact on their career progression.
Anxiety, or any other mental health condition, can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if it has a substantial and long-term negative impact on daily life. This can raise the legal duty for employers to make reasonable adjustments, including in the realm of marketing and business development.
LawCare provides a factsheet on anxiety and offers advice on coping with anxiety and building resilience, and the charity Mind offers free Wellness Action Plans which help ensure there are practical steps in place to support everyone at work when they’re not feeling great – mental health is something we all have.
Remember your brand as an employer
Is it time for your marketing team to have a conversation about recognising anxiety? How can you proactively support employees to bring their whole selves to work, while building the business? No firm wants its employer brand to be tarnished with the expression ‘toxic culture’ – a better goal is surely the Great Place to Work certification!