What in-house counsel need from law firm marketing

Lextel’s Bonnie de Jonquieres spoke to Ben White, the founder of Crafty Counsel, on why he has set up a new community for legal service buyers and how law firms can do better in their outreach to clients and in-house counsel.

Can you share your background with us?

I’m the Founder of Crafty Counsel, a community for in-house legal professionals. I started my legal career at Clifford Chance, where I spent seven years as a trainee and associate. I mainly worked in the Corporate team, working on mergers and acquisitions, corporate reorganisations, joint ventures and the like. I also spent seven months on secondment with what was then called the Shareholder Executive, a branch of the UK Government that focuses on privatisations and other corporate finance work.

In 2016, I moved to an in-house lawyer role at Global Fashion Group, a venture backed e-commerce platform mainly operating in emerging markets plus Australia.

Why did you decide to leave private practice and your in-house role to set up Crafty Counsel?

I really enjoyed my role at GFG. Like many in-house lawyers, I enjoyed working closely with the business, having a rounded context of how the work I was doing was contributing to the overall mission, and appreciated working as part of a multidisciplinary team rather than predominantly as one legal specialist among many.

However, there were challenges. First, I sometimes felt somewhat lonely and isolated as part of a small legal team in a big organisation. Second, I felt that my work was sometimes reinventing the wheel, and had a lurking suspicion that there must be lawyers, like me, working in similar organisations who could offer me a shortcut by explaining how they’d addressed similar challenges to those I was working on. And third, away from private practice, my professional network was slowly degrading over time.

I started noodling on the idea that others might share these challenges and I could use my experience of both in-house and private practice to build a community that could fill these gaps. From this idea, flowed Crafty Counsel.

Ben White, Founder, Crafty Counsel

When you were in-house, what were the most helpful forms of marketing that law firms offered you?

Actually it was a mixed bag. Working in a scale-up, even one with a unicorn valuation, I was surprised by how many law firms were not banging at the door to invite us to training, networking events, and so on. I found that I had to proactively get on the mailing lists of relevant law firms or look out for upcoming events in the market. The firms we worked with did invite us to events and send marketing materials but sporadically.

Probably the single biggest type of marketing was the activity from my old firm, Clifford Chance, to involve me as an alumnus. I was, and am still, regularly invited to alumni events in London, and when I was an in-house lawyer I would be invited to training events too. Those activities were seriously helpful.

When I was a secondee in the Government, I organised a training morning on takeovers that was led by some partners and senior associates at Clifford Chance. In retrospect, the challenge with that event was that it was a “big bang” – a lot of partner time and effort expended in one single training session. I could have done more as a secondee to arrange follow up comms from my old colleagues, or even just ensured the session was recorded. A little less effort but spread over a longer time might have been helpful.

What did you find least attractive in terms of what law firms were doing with their marketing?

I remember as an in-house lawyer once receiving a client briefing from a firm and saying: “Thanks… but I’ve had six of these on the same topic from other law firms today”. Think of the time spent on that briefing – not ideal.

This example has stayed with me in the subsequent years. As lawyers, we are trained to focus on the quality and accuracy of content. Thus, it’s often the case that marketing efforts descend into a large investment of time (and opportunity cost) on drafting and redrafting briefings, slides, and other materials. And it can be the case that less effort – at least “lawyer effort” – gets spent on distribution, impact, and strategy.

I think that’s probably because, when we’re drafting those briefings for legal accuracy, we’re in our comfort zone – and, we’re risk averse, and don’t like something going out that could be wrong.

At Crafty Counsel, when we’re prepping speakers for events or video and audio content, we try to coach our private practice friends that ‘less can be more’. Don’t give the whole answer, it’s a story not a lecture, leave them wanting more. Fundamentally, this is a different medium than a contract or piece of advice.

And I should emphasise – we do work with some highly strategic and impactful marketing teams, business development professionals, and, yes, lawyers! But I share the above as I suspect that many of those reading will think: “Yep, been there”. 

How does Crafty Counsel build community space for in-house counsel?

Our objective is to bring in-house legal professionals joy, insight, and connection, by helping them grow their networks, nurture their careers, and cultivate their external partnerships.

We’re probably best known for events – for example, we run Crafty Fest, the UK’s largest event for in-house legal. We also hold several sector specific conferences throughout the year, and hold more than 100 online meet-ups of small groups of in-house lawyers annually. We also operate a podcast, videos, and an active community message board.

What is the size and scope of Crafty Counsel’s community?

We’re getting close to 3,000 members across the UK and beyond. We’ve grown so fast that our community has started to hold affiliated regional micro-meetups that we promote and call “Crafty Locals” – for example, in Amsterdam, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford, Nairobi, York and beyond.