A small Louisville law firm has diversified its business, added young talent and launched a marketing campaign to stay viable as the legal profession changes.
In the last few years, Weber Rose has hired five associates under age 35, added areas of expertise, launched a marketing effort, and altered its name and logo.
Rachel Dickey, one of the young associates, told IL that the firm had traditionally focused on bringing in partners from other firms, which it still does, but as the six partners are aging — all but one is older than 60 — they wanted to invest in some younger legal professionals.
Three of the partners have worked together their entire careers and have been integral to building this firm, and they want to see it continue, Dickey said.
CEO Darryl Durham told IL that the firm “has specifically committed to hiring a younger generation of lawyers, recognizing that they will be the future of the firm.”
One of the key findings in a 2015 survey by legal consulting firm Altman Weil found that while in nearly two-thirds of law firms partners aged at least 60 control about 25 percent of total firm revenue, less than a third of firms had a formal succession planning process.
Weber Rose was founded as Weber & Rose more than 30 years ago. The firm dropped the ampersand as part of a rebranding campaign. The firm also didn’t want to keep adding names, particularly given that neither Weber nor Rose is still with the firm.
The partners also tapped Dickey to serve as the firm’s first marketing director, a response to changes in the legal profession since the great recession and to changes in advertising rules.
After the recession hit, Dickey said, businesses scrutinized their legal expenses more than ever before.
When Dickey graduated from Pepperdine, in Malibu, Calif., in 2009, the industry was rocked by big layoffs. Some big Los Angeles-based law firms cut their summer hiring from 50 associates to three. A lot of firms folded, while others merged or were acquired.
Whereas a good reputation and good lawyers used to be enough to land clients through referral business, Dickey said the market has changed.
And the way people shop for lawyers has changed much like the way people shop for painters or plumbers.
“Lawyers now have to market,” Dickey said.
Traditionally, state rules have made it difficult for law firms to advertise, but Kentucky this year changed its advertisement approval process, which previously required law firms to get their ads pre-approved by the Attorneys’ Advertising Commission. For example, Dickey said, before the change, Weber Rose would have had to send to the commission every single page of its website for pre-approval.
While ethics rules still apply, the pre-approval is no longer necessary, she said.
Law firms also increasingly have to contend with online competition, such as websites that allow for the creation of a will, and more clients who want to pay a set amount for a service — rather than being billed by the hour.
Beyond infusing the firm with youth serum and strengthening the firm’s marketing muscle, the partners also have diversified their practice.
Early in the firm’s history, it served a few large clients, mostly in the health care industry. In the last few years, Weber Rose has focused on adding divisions, including real estate, led by Jim Lobb, and now handles employment law, trust and estates, and litigation.
Dickey said the firm can now help entrepreneurs as they’re starting their businesses, but also can support them as their companies grow — and guide them through bankruptcy or business succession plans.
The approach has allowed the firm to land more clients — and to handle a greater variety of legal needs for each client, she said.
Dickey handles employment law, which involves helping businesses comply with employment law, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. She also represents employers when they get sued by a current or former employee, whether in cases of termination or injuries sustained on the job.
Weber Rose now can handle the “full life cycle of the business,” she said. “No matter where the business is … they can come to us,” she said.
And, she said, Weber Rose can do work for $150 to $375 per hour, whereas larger firms routinely charge $500 per hour for the same services.
Dickey said the firm changed its logo and website in part to convey that its lawyers are accessible, to land clients who do not think they can afford an attorney — or would rather not deal with one.
The reality is, she said, attorneys can be good advocates for businesses when they’re growing — not just when they get sued.