On Friday, we brought you news of litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel requiring associates and counsel to assist with at least one marketing project during the year. The requirement was tied to bonus eligibility, to which some of our sources objected.
Over the weekend, I corresponded with founding partner John B. Quinn, who explained the firm’s marketing program and defended it against criticism. Here’s the transcript of our discussion (lightly edited, mainly for capitalization).
ATL: Can you briefly describe Quinn Emanuel’s new initiative to get associates and counsel to take a more active role in marketing efforts?
JBQ: We’re asking every associate and counsel in the firm to participate in at least one marketing project during the course of the year. These projects might include contributing to a presentation to a prospective client about a potential new engagement, helping to write an article, doing some research on an industry, or a host of other things. The project must be approved by a partner.
ATL: Why did the firm decide to implement this new initiative?
JBQ: Our profession has become hyper-competitive, especially since 2008. Virtually every new case we get is the result of a beauty contest of some sort where we are up against very high-quality firms. Every week brings new claims, new theories of recovery, new developments in the law, new clients with new business models. We have to be not just on top of these things, but ahead of them.
ATL: Some might say: isn’t business development really best left to the partners?
JBQ: Associates and counsel are a huge untapped resource. They have law school classmates who, after three to four years, have moved in-house and — guess what? — are participating in decisions about whom to retain. We’d like our lawyers to be comfortable knowing how to take advantage of these opportunities — really, how to create opportunities. If we are successful, this could be transformative. From time to time we have conducted “how to” programs for associates on marketing topics. As part of this effort, we will do more of that. We also pay associates a percentage of the revenue from work they bring in, subject to certain requirements.
ATL: And some might say: shouldn’t business development and marketing be left to the people who are actually good at it, whether they’re associates or partners, instead of getting the entire firm involved?
JBQ: In this effort, there is a role for everyone. The idea that some people are marketers and some are not is simply wrong. Whether they know it or not, all lawyers are marketers, making impressions for good or ill in the business and legal community. A very few are naturally good, some get good by working at it, some are oblivious, and some are just bad. We should find a way for all to be contributors. It’s important for the firm to succeed, but it’s also important for the associate to succeed. It’s very empowering to to know how new work comes in and what succeeds and what doesn’t. It’s like the saying about giving someone fish to eat versus teaching them how to fish. We’d like to demystify the process of how work comes in the door.
ATL: You’ve made a great case for why this new initiative is good for both the firm and its individual lawyers, especially given the state of legal practice today. But let me ask you this: why is the new initiative being tied to bonus eligibility, and why is time spent on these (very worthwhile) marketing efforts not includible in the 100-hour non-billable allowance towards bonuses?
JBQ: It’s important; we want to make sure people understand that we think it’s important, and we really want them to do it. If we tie it to bonus eligibility, I hope we’ll get 100% participation. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to do this without expecting to be paid more for doing it. We also conduct deposition and trial training programs; we expect people to attend those, but we don’t pay them extra for getting that kind of professional training. Marketing is important too.