Saturday 22 July 2017

Leading law firm embraces art to help enhance its craft in a crowded sector

Natalie McGuinness, director of marketing with Mason Hayes & Curran, explains to John McGee how it uses events and articles to help position it as one of the top legal practices in Ireland

Natalie McGuinness, director of marketing at Mason Hayes & Curran
Natalie McGuinness, director of marketing at Mason Hayes & Curran

John McGee

With over 550 staff, including 80 partners, and offices in Dublin, London, New York and Silicon Valley, Mason Hayes & Curran (MHC), which has been in business since 1970, is one of the country's top law firms.

Providing a broad range of legal services to multi-national, institutional and Government clients, the firm has grown considerably in recent years, with 2015 revenues amounting to €72m.

The firm has developed particular expertise in corporate law, dispute resolution, financial services, real estate and taxation while it has also developed specialist advisory abilities in technology, construction, healthcare and energy law.

An experienced marketer, with stints in Eircell, Vodafone and more recently UCD, Natalie McGuinness has responsibility for the strategic marketing of the firm in all its key markets and has been working for it since 2010.

How do large legal firms like MHC market themselves?

"Unlike traditional consumer marketing, we don't run big advertising campaigns. Instead, we focus on direct communications with our key clients and contacts.

"Almost everything we do is based on showcasing our lawyers and their expertise. Sometimes this can be through events or thought leadership articles, but we also partner with organisations like Dublin Chamber of Commerce or UCD.

"Buyers of legal services are very sophisticated and they expect to get high-quality value added services. My job is to ensure that we meet this expectation and to ensure that we have a strong profile for the firm, promote the lawyers and help them build lasting business relationships with their clients. Because we are a full service law firm, we advise a wide range of clients in different sectors from public to private, so there is a lot of variety."

"Unusually for a law firm, we have an entire art marketing programme. Art is part of our corporate social responsibility activity in the community and is also a great connector with other businesses. In partnership with the Royal Hibernian Academy, we run an initiative called 'Art Avenues', which works with local school children. It is a really rewarding programme and it is great to have the children exhibit their art creations in the boardroom for our staff."

Historically, many large legal firms didn't pay much attention to marketing. How has this changed?

"The market is increasingly competitive and clients are rightly more demanding, so law firms need to keep pace. Traditionally, one lawyer would have been responsible for marketing, but most big firms now have a dedicated marketing function as you are frequently competing against sophisticated international providers.

"A specific piece of legal marketing, for example, is our work with directories. Law firms are independently ranked by directories such as Chambers and Partners. We manage this programme from written submissions to follow-up interviews and have done well with two 'Client Service' awards and one 'Irish Law Firm of the Year' award.

What, if any, are the sector-specific trends that may impact on the legal profession?

"Globally, there has been a lot of consolidation by law firms during the recession so there are fewer but bigger international law firms. Ireland has so far escaped this trend although we do see more international law firms active in the market.

"I also think Artificial Intelligence and technology generally are going to be very disruptive in the coming decade and for many law firms it will be a case of lead or get left behind. Although, I don't think there will be a full 'Uberisation' of the industry, there will be some types of legal work that will become less attractive for big firms.

"In addition, lawyers are also very suited to the so-called 'gig economy' so it will be interesting to see if we end up with more project-based professionals in the future."

How does MHC differentiate itself from the other big legal firms?

"It tends to be a case of how we do things as opposed to what we do.

"Our visual identity is very different as we draw on our art heritage and use bespoke illustrations in our communications. The reaction to this style can be Marmite, but it is always memorable. We are also innovative in how we manage our events and partnerships. In our first year working with Web Summit we had an eight-foot robot called Titan that got us a lot of attention and for the final year we handed out 10,000 rain ponchos with 'Covering Your Assets' on the back, which caused a few smiles.

"As my background is technology, we tend to have a bias for digital marketing. We launched the first cyber security app in Europe and also have one of the top legal Twitter accounts in Ireland, plus a weekly technology and employment blog.

"Digital gives us a lot of international reach, particularly in markets such as the UK and USA where it can be harder to penetrate. Within a week of Brexit we had launched a web and social media campaign with video, articles and podcasts. Our Brexit content generated a lot of web traffic and enquiries from all over the world."

What are MHC's growth areas?

"We tend to follow general economic trends and the flow of foreign direct investment into Ireland. Sectors like technology, energy, financial services and health are very active.

"An interesting development is the merging of some sectors to create new areas like fintech. We now have a number of lawyers working in teams across different practice areas to serve these new markets. Unsurprisingly, Brexit is also a growing area of activity as organisations need to open or expand an Irish office. A lot of big financial companies can't take a 'wait and see' approach, so we are helping them to implement hedging solutions irrespective of outcome. Our London office is very active at the moment.

"Globalisation isn't going away, so we have put additional resources into New York and we are opening our new San Francisco office."

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