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Focus: Law firm not afraid to cold-call other lawyers

|Written By Julius Melnitzer

In a high-tech era where concepts like social media, webcasts, podcasts, blogs, and a continuing stream of innovative techniques dominate the thinking of law firm marketers, one Ontario firm has returned to fundamentals with an old-fashioned technique: the cold call.

“We routinely make cold calls or e-mail lawyers who we believe could be helpful to our firm either by working together or through business referrals in either direction,” says Jon-David Giacomelli, who co-founded Cambridge LLP in 2010.

The initial reaction, for the most part, is unsurprising and very lawyer-like.

“We get many astonished responses from lawyers who can’t fathom why they’d want to connect with a so-called competitor, but once we explain our partner in advocacy program to them, it engenders considerable interest and we’ve built many mutually beneficial relationships as a result,” says Giacomelli’s colleague Chris MacLeod.

The Canadian aspect of the partner in advocacy program envisages Cambridge lawyers reaching out to firms that do legal work that’s different from its menu of services. As it turns out, that leaves a fairly large population Cambridge can reach out to.

According to the firm’s web site, Cambridge has “developed a special focus and expertise in serving the legal interests and requirements of individuals, businesses, and governments on an international level.” Not many small firms can make that claim, which includes an international legal services group that lists cross-border litigation and dispute resolution, cross-border corporate and business law, international estates, privacy law, cross-border real estate, and immigration services among its competencies.

As it turns out, the firm’s original six lawyers came from the international legal services group at Ross & McBride LLP of Hamilton, Ont. They left to establish Cambridge’s original office in Toronto. The firm now also has facilities in Burlington, Ont., and Ottawa.

In addition to international legal services, Cambridge also lists practice areas in business litigation and dispute resolution; estates, trusts, and wealth planning; immigration; real estate law; corporate legal services; and government relations. What becomes apparent from browsing through the particulars, however, is that there’s a definite international and cross-border flavour that permeates the firm.

“The U.S. market represents about 50 per cent of our revenue,” says Giacomelli.

“We built that practice by successfully reaching out to U.S. lawyers and corporate counsel and doing a lot of speaking and writing aimed at American bar associations.”

Typical retainers engage Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. companies, enforcement prosecutions and defences, and letters rogatory matters. Indeed, the U.S. bar has become so familiar with Cambridge and its connections south of the border that its lawyers have even received calls from U.S. lawyers asking for referrals to colleagues in that country.

“We’re committed to networking on steroids,” says Giacomelli.

“We can really connect people, something that produces a great deal of goodwill because people are always happy to broaden their own networks.”

It took some time before the firm really applied this focused marketing mentality to the Canadian market that, after all, also contributes 50 per cent of its revenues.

“We were getting our local files simply by being here and doing good work and then realized that we could build our Canadian practice and revenues by doing what we had been doing in the U.S.,” says Giacomelli.

Given the geographic proximity of the local market, however, cold-calling became an added weapon in the arsenal.

“We actively solicit relationships using one person to lead us to the next,” says Giacomelli.

Having connections in the United States hasn’t hurt the Canadian marketing effort. “We’ve met thousands of U.S. lawyers and we tell our partners in advocacy about these U.S. contacts,” says Giacomelli. “The upshot is that Cambridge has become a hub for connecting Canadian and American lawyers.”

To that end, lawyers from Cambridge travel to the United States monthly on average. “There’s a big uptick in referral business when you meet lawyers face-to-face,” says Giacomelli.

With that in mind, cold-calling in the Canadian market is just the beginning.

“We’re planning to invite lawyers we’ve cold-called to our offices on a regular basis simply to discuss ways of achieving common objectives through new connections,” says Giacomelli.

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