Recently, I posted a few polls about lawyers and marketing: how much time lawyers spend marketing, whether lawyers think about their personal brand, and how important lawyers consider marketing versus client service. I was trying to gather information about how much emphasis lawyers place on marketing.

There are two loudspoken minorities on the internet: First, there are the “gurus” who are generally young lawyers or have a license but never practiced law, but still think they are qualified to tell everyone else that all it takes is a Twitter account or pretty letterhead. Second, there are the “curmudgeons” like Scott Greenfield and Brian Tannebaum (who opened his new Above the Law column with a screed to this effect), who seem to think the first group is taking over the practice of law.

I disagree with the second about the significance of the first. The vast majority of the lawyers I know—young and old, new and experienced—aren’t on Twitter, don’t have blogs, and the technology in their offices went out of date five years ago. They don’t need to learn how to serve their clients, because that’s what they do all day, every day. They are so busy serving their clients that they don’t have time to think about marketing or technology. Offline, I don’t know anyone in the first group.

I wanted to find out whether the curmudgeons are right.

Results of the polls

First, our sample sizes are small, and our polls are hardly scientific, since the respondents are mostly limited to people who read Lawyerist. This means we probably can’t draw too any sweeping conclusions about the practice of law. But if the curmudgeons are right about the influence of the gurus, our poll results should show it.

On the poll of time spent marketing, over half the respondents (88 total) said they spent less than a quarter of their time on marketing. Over one third said they spend less than 10% of their time marketing.

However, 90% of respondents (36 total) to the poll on personal branding said they do think about their “personal brand.”

On the survey, 3 respondents (23 total) said they thought most lawyers emphasized marketing over serving clients. The other 20 disagreed. Only 1 respondent thought lawyers should emphasize marketing over serving clients. I’m hopeful that person will show up to defend that vote, if it wasn’t a joke or a mistake. 17 respondents did not think lawyers have to emphasize marketing over client service in order to be successful. 2 disagreed. The other 4 got to the survey before I added the last question, which I mistakenly left off at first.

“Everything is marketing”

Before I try to interpret the results, an aside.

Quite a few lawyers wanted to fight the premise of each poll. They contended—on Facebook, in the LAB, on Twitter—that everything they do is marketing. This means, as I understand it, that when a lawyer is making an appearance in court, for example, the quality of his work is an opportunity to “build his brand” and attract referrals or potential clients, depending on who else is in court. Or that when a lawyer volunteers at a soup kitchen, the same thing happens.

While it is true that being a good lawyer is highly likely to get you more business, being a good lawyer is not marketing. It is being a good lawyer. You don’t need a marketing expert to tell you to be a good lawyer; it’s just your job.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen isn’t marketing, either. Only a twisted person would spend a day helping the homeless just because it might bring in some more clients. It may have that result, but it’s a sloppy (and morally questionable) way to get there.

Marketing is not a side effect of other activity, it is an activity in and of itself.

What the results (may) mean

The results definitely do not support the curmudgeons’ view of the practice of law. If lawyers are spending 25% of their time or less on marketing, that seems entirely appropriate. Most lawyers I know spend more time doing the administrative work that goes with serving clients (timekeeping, billing, paying bills, etc.).

The vast majority indicated in our survey that they don’t emphasize marketing over client service, and that they don’t think lawyers ought to.

Depending on what you think “personal branding” means, the results of that poll are either consistent with the rest, or an anomaly. I think most Lawyerist readers understand branding to be roughly equivalent to reputation, which is something lawyers have probably considered important since the beginning of lawyering. I’m guessing at the respondents’ understanding of the term, of course, but I think emphasizing personal branding over marketing—as seems to be the case when looking at the three polls together—is consistent with the lawyers I know.

Taken together, the respondents do sound more like the lawyers I know, who aren’t starry-eyed about social media or the newest iDevice. That’s why they don’t think marketing is—or should be—the be-all and end-all of lawyering, even if they have fallen well behind the curve on marketing and technology.

It’s also possible that the crowd of marketing gurus exists, but they just don’t read Lawyerist.