It has often struck me as odd that articles aimed at categories of lawyers (newbies, middle-age, old and the extremely long in the tooth) can just as well and should be directed at lawyers of all ages. Such is the case with a download I ran across on Attorney at Work.
It is entitled “25 Tips for the New Lawyer.” It is really good, and contains snippets that apply to all lawyers. I found it a good reminder of the things that lawyers should pay attention to no matter what stage of their career they find themselves. The following are a few I particularly like relating to marketing (as usual, my comments are added in parentheses):
- “Your client is always right. (Most of the time, that is.)” (My only disagreement here is that clients are always right all the time, at least from a marketing standpoint);
- “Return phone calls promptly. Really.” (Within no more than a couple of hours in this day and age. If you are unavailable, empower someone else to at least communicate your unavailability and when you will get back to them);
- “Before beginning the work, ask your client or supervisor what success will look like. Don’t just guess. You’ll probably be wrong.” (Certainly, this is more applicable to the new lawyer, but all lawyers should apply this tip when it involves two a new matter from a client);
- “While your client or colleague is in your law office, you are the hosts. Act like one.” (Make sure your receptionist knows this, and courtesies – including short wait times – are followed);
- “Under-promise and over-deliver. Never the other way around.” (Particularly when it comes to deadlines, I like to recommend to lawyers that they beat the deadline by a day or two. Most clients would be favorably overwhelmed.);
- “When you complete a matter or a task, ask for feedback. Be clear that you’re not looking for flattery-you want to know how to improve next time.” (Client satisfaction is so important in order to obtain additional work or referrals from a client, failure to demonstrate that you really care about the quality of your services may border on marketing malpractice.); and
- “Remember that clients don’t always one a lawyer. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them.” (In a marketing context, make sure that is at least 50% of the time.).
In addition to this document being an easy and a short 5-10 minute read, it has links to additional articles and blog posts bearing on each tip. This is a valuable tool for lawyers of any age, even if it only to serve as a refresher.
I’m a strong believer in the adage I first heard from a marketing partner, who was a friend and mentor at one of my in-house marketing positions; and it is “marketing is everything you do as a lawyer.” The thought came to mind when I saw an article by Jared Correia on Attorney at Work last week in which he provides five tips for better client communications. Although his article was addressing what a lawyer could do to better manage his or her law practice, it could have just as well been talking about how to market your practice better.
He mentioned technology and how keeping a client informed as to your technical capabilities to protect their information, and how client files could be handled over time, as well as document management generally. Again, keeping clients informed about such things is not just good management, but could serve as a good marketing tool, as a result of effective client communications. Correia also suggests it is good practice management (and I would add marketing) to introduce members of your team to clients, so they are aware of whose working for them and are not surprised by a call from an unknown person at the firm.
The two tips that particularly struck me as clearly deal with marketing issues are:
- Lack of communications. According to the NY (which I wrote about before) and NC State Bars, 80 percent of grievances are due to poor communications and inattention to client matters. Correia suggests regular contact with clients to “just to check in” is much better than waiting to communicate only when you need something. And the best way is to pick up the phone and call them. IMHO that’s just smart marketing;
- Ask For referrals. In my experience a lot of lawyers are reluctant to ask clients for referrals. Sorry folks, but get with the real world. If you have a happy client it really makes no sense to not ask for referrals, since business people do it all the time. It is not strange to them and is considered a normal business practice.
Correia’s article is a good read and one well worth your time. I particularly liked his “With a twist” addition to each tip. Communication is so basic to good client relationships.
Although there is a tendency to jump right into it new matter as soon as the client gives the go-ahead, that is the wrong thing to do. Not only from the standpoint of adequately serving the client and meeting client expectations, but it could end up being a financial disaster for the law firm (Read: client imposed discount/lower realization rate).
Patrick Lamb had a post on Legal Rebels this month that talks about a two-day program at which in-house and outside counsel addressed what each interprets their job to be in a legal relationship. He then provides a number of bullets on what “some of the notes on the ideal future state from the inside counsel group” viewpoint included.
It struck me that the highlights of the two-day program covered by Lamb in his post were really all about project management. My colleague Jim Hassett, founder and president of LegalBizDev, has written the definitive book (3rd edition will be out next month) on the eight key issues that comprise legal project management.
So, what does the future look like? Some of the points mentioned by Lamb are in quotes (with Hassett’s relevant key issues in parentheses):
- “Detailed, succinct quality communications” (7. Manage client communication and expectations);
- “Never having to review a bill/agreed fee and terms” (1. Set objectives and define scope, 4. Plan and manage the budget);
- “Managing to a number” (3. Assign tasks and manage the team, 4. Plan and manage the budget));
- “Both sides have skin in the game” (5. Assess risks [to client and firm] to budget and schedule);
- “Outside lawyers understand what risks client is willing to except” (5. Assess risks to budget and schedule);
- “Syncing legal approach with business perspective” (1. Set objectives and define scope).
The inside and outside counsel discussion mentioned by Lamb emphasized the importance of better planning, budgeting, execution and communications in their relationship. Legal project management clearly can do just that to improve the attorney-client relationship.
Food for thought.
You have just begun. It really is no secret to folks that have been around law firms for as long as I have that when in an associate is promoted to partner oftentimes it’s because they’re a very good lawyer. But they may have little or no capability of fulfilling all of the other responsibilities of a partner. They may have been selected because of a powerful mentor, or the firm recognized their long-term value to the firm and didn’t want to lose them to another firm.
What is very important for any new partner to recognize is that they really are not a full partner in the practical sense of the word. To be successful they must recognize the need for certain skills that are critical to that success.
Recently covered on Attorney at Work is an excerpt of a book by Marian Lee entitled Building Your Ladder: An Associate’s Guide to Success Beyond Partnership published by the ABA. It is true that as a partner you will need “an entirely different set of skills for the later phases of your career,” according to Lee. She goes on to warn avoiding becoming just an overpaid associate, pointing out the need to gain strengths beyond your legal skills in the areas of business development, client relations, practice management and leadership
Let’s take a look at each:
- Business Development. Included here Lee mentions skills such as “networking, branding yourself, developing a niche, self-promotion, client consciousness and the ability to recognize and seize opportunities.” Not possessing these skills is the reason that some partners are unsuccessful. And it is not always the young partners fault, with the firm discouraging their gaining such skills when they were associates;
- Client Relations. This skill involves going beyond bringing in new clients. It requires growing client relationships. Successful relationships are mainly built through good and frequent client communications;
- Practice Management. A big part of managing a practice involves “understanding what makes a firm profitable, allocating your time wisely, recording your time diligently,” handling billing statements in a timely manner, and letting go of unprofitable clients and work; and
- Leadership. Important here is the development of the talents of others who work with you, and to “inspire, encourage, and persuade” them, as well as setting and reaching personal and firm goals. I really like her suggestion to associates prior to making partner. Since it is hard to gain firm leadership skills while an associate, it is a good idea to develop such skills outside the firm by volunteering and taking leadership positions within various community organizations.
Lee sums up the excerpt by emphasizing the significance of maintaining a great attitude and building relationships both internally and externally; and, as a partner, adding overall value to the firm, which may just ensure job security and more freedom.
EVERY partner or prospective one should get a copy of this book, either from the ABA or Attorney at Work bookstore. It just may add to your success as a partner.
Sometimes I run across an article or blog post that just strikes me for its simplicity and clarity. Such was the case when I ran across an article by Orlando attorney Tony Sos that appeared in the most recent online issue of Law Practice Today. His “boots on the ground” marketing tips were primarily designed for the young lawyer, but I find that too limiting. Many experienced lawyers can benefit from the advice, even if only as a refresher.
So let’s get right to them:
- Work at being top of mind with clients and referral sources. (Sos only mentioned referral sources here, but I include clients since, to state the obvious, they are an incredible source of referrals.) I liked his idea of planning each month to takeg “X” referral sources to lunch (or coffee if your budget is limited). I also favor building a quarterly contact list of contacts to at least touch in some manner (by email, telephone, visit, lunch, or sending its information of interest) each quarter. Say your list is only 50 people, that amounts to 200 touches/top of mind opportunities in a year. It works;
- Speak to overcome inexperience and raise profile. That is why this tip is No. 6 on Kane’s Top Ten Marketing Tips. And when you have an upcoming speech, let people know about it on social media, as well as those on your contact list (you can also turn your speech into an article for publication (No. 7 on my list) in both print and online media);
- Actively seek out opportunities to make referrals. One way to do that according to Sos is to make a list of noncompeting attorneys and their areas of practice. When you have the opportunity or are asked, you can quickly refer to your list and make a referral(s) quickly when the opportunity presents itself. Make sure to let the referral source or sources know that you have made the referral;
- Become involved in organizations where your ideal clients hang out. This is No. 10 on my list of top marketing tips, and can include local chambers of commerce or trade groups that current clients and/or your ideal clients belong to. Keeping abreast of issues affecting such groups, you can offer to make a speech (or write an article) for their members. This also helps with accomplishing tip number 2. above; and
- Do excellent legal work. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about this one. Not really! Us old guys can relate to the bygone days when all it took to get more business was to do good legal work. We know better today, and that is why it is number five on this list. It is critical for success, but you need to do much more in today’s competitive marketplace.
As I say, these are pretty basic and straightforward tactics to increase your business development for both the younger and more experienced attorneys. Stop procrastinating and start implementing these tips today.
Recently, I receive an RFP to provide marketing services to a large regional firm with a deadline of today. I declined. The request included strategic planning, advertising plan, pitch training, part-time consulting, and more. Nothing sought in the RFP I had not done in some fashion in my 27-plus years as a legal marketer. It was a large project that was going to be very expensive. A consultant’s dream. Nevertheless, I decided not to bid as I thought in the end the client law firm would not be happy.
I extended the courtesy of telling the managing partner of the firm why I declined. A combination of too general an approach, and the amount of time it would consume to the detriment of other clients. Mainly, I saw a lot of planning effort but not a lot of focus on individual lawyer efforts. The one thing I have learned in my quarter century in legal marketing is that lawyers are pretty good at planning, but when it comes to implementation, not so much. There is a lot of money in planning. I once saw a national consulting firm rip off hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning efforts that wouldn’t likely (and didn’t) go very far. All C-level staff was opposed to the effort, but attorney management was in favor.
So, how can marketing and business development work? By ensuring that the individual lawyers plan and implement individual action plans – whether part of a larger group or firm plan. It could happen with the firm in question, but the RFP didn’t point in that direction. But, it isn’t just individual plans that are needed but a structure that actually ensures the plans are implemented. Honestly, the only way I see that happening is for the lawyers to have an internal or external coach (aka nag and motivator) to assist with and ensure the each lawyer implements his/her plan. And further, there needs to be assurances that regular coaching progress reports are submitted to management so it can see and evaluate the success of the firm’s overall business development efforts.
It seems like a really nice firm. I merely think they are trying to do too much all at once, which can result in wasting time and money.
Some lawyers still are hesitant to give a lot of information away. Whether when asked a legal question or during seminars. What brought this on was an experience I had with my computer. Stay with me here.
My computer died last weekend. Problems began with a blank screen and when I tried to reboot, nothing happened. The “experts” at a computer supply store couldn’t figure it out, but did refer me to a local one-man shop. He told me in about 15 minutes after some Internet research, and taking the back off the laptop, that it was the motherboard in combination with the graphics card. With this particular computer model, he said he gave up trying to fix the problem, because he had learned from previous experience (and unhappy customers), the problem was likely to return in six to eight months. He referred me to someone else. I decided to buy a new computer.
In all he spent about 40-45 minutes with me, and didn’t charge me!! I said “aw, come on, certainly I owe you for your time,” but he refused. He suggested I purchase a Gateway (didn’t know they still made them), Toshiba or Dell, since I was insisting on sticking with Windows 7. Now, do you think I will refer others to him, if I get a chance? Of course!!
Bottom line: received my new Dell Wednesday, and even though I had a recent backup of my hard drive, who do you think I went to transfer my old hard drive to the Dell? Duh! And I didn’t even ask him what he charges to do that. It’s call trust.
Which brings me to today’s meditation from my old standby 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications. It is: “The best client giveaway is information. They’ll value it enough to pay for more.” Amen.
More and more employers are finding that social media is an effective way to network. However it is not an excuse to sit at your desk and think that that is all there is to it. Social media can be and is for many an effective way to make friends connections and raise one’s profile. However, it doesn’t replace the need for, or quite frankly, compare to the effectiveness of the face-to-face networking. Let me repeat that social media does not replace the need for face-to-face networking.
As I have often said lawyers are in the personal services business. You can only be so personable via social media. Nothing replaces the face-to-face encounter when it comes to building truly meaningful relationships. At some point you need to take those new “friends” you met on social media and enhance the relationship by face-to-face meetings.
An online article by Dan Schawbel last year in Time’s Business & Money section entitled “Why Face-to-Face Networking Still Trumps Social Networking” remains right on. I particularly liked the quote attributed to Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T professor, on the “sad state of affairs” due to the over reliance on social media. She said “we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”
A couple years ago I wrote a post entitled “Networking Requires Getting Off Your Duff!” which I still think is timely. Also, it contains some common sense tips that might help you network face-to-face. As I said at the time the tips are pretty straightforward, but we all need to be reminded occasionally on the kinds of things one needs to do in terms of networking.
Bottom line: don’t let social media replace the true benefits gained though face-to-face meetings.
If you or your firm lawyers have a formal marketing plan, it was likely prepared with the help of a consultant. Often these plans are lengthy and full of jargon or boilerplate to justify the fee. As a result they are frequently put on the proverbial shelf and not implemented.
Worse still is the failure to have a plan at all and/or have one that is too broad and vague bordering on the worthless. A discussion on LinkedIn initiated by lawyer and consultant, David M. Ward asks the question whether your marketing plan is “void for vagueness?” The reasons for having a plan are straight forward, according to Ward: you need one, it should be simple, and it must be specific. I concur:
- To paraphrase the comment by the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “if you don’t know where you are going (with your marketing efforts), any path will take you there.” And “there” is nowhere;
- It has to be simple, or it won’t get implemented; and
- It must be specific (and measurable) as to the who, what, when, where and how your efforts will be accomplished.
The plan cannot be made up of generalities; for example, saying you will take part in a networking event, take a referral source to lunch, or write an article or make a speech in the next quarter. Rather, it needs to be more detailed as to what events you will network at (best if ones that your clients or referral sources attend); the person(s) you will take to lunch and when; what publication/blog you will write an article/post for and on what topic; and what focused organization you would like to speak before and on what topic in the next quarter. These are just a few examples of the specificity a plan needs.
Short of that your plan is void for vagueness.
There is a lot of hoopla flying around the legal space about the “new normal” and predictions that “law firms will never revisit their prerecession heyday.” It is hard to disagree with all the evidence out there, including the joint client advisory by Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group and Hildebrandt Consulting, and the joint report by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Rueters Peer Monitor. Both studies, by credible organizations, point out clearly that the legal profession is experiencing real change.
Those changes are discussed in two posts by Sara Randazzo on The AmLaw Daily (here and here) and include:
- Lesser demand for legal services currently (although Georgetown- Peer Monitor study had demand increasing slightly by 0.5%;
- “Too many lawyers chasing too little work”;
- Slower increase in billing rates;
- Client pressure for more discounts and alternative fees;
- Forty percent of lateral hires (apparently in attempts to increase market share) are unsuccessful;
- Requirements for increased capital contributions as bank LOCs are less available; and
- “Historic lows” in realization rates (82.5%) in AmLaw 100 firms.
What does all this have to do with marketing, you may ask? Everything, actually.
Other than the need to get hungry enough to ensure your law firm gets its fair share of the legal business out there, especially in light of the highly competitive marketplace (not just from other law firms I might add), it is more crucial today than ever that firms do a lot of smart marketing.
So, in light of greater client scrutiny over rates, less overall legal work, too many lawyers, and basically just a mature industry, one highlight from the Georgetown-Peer Monitor study by Randazzo says it all in one bullet point in my mind: “Competition is increasing among firms, meaning that ‘the only way (short of a merger) for a firm to capture market share is to take it from another firm.’”
That takes marketing, and that’s why it is critical that firms demand greater business development efforts from their partners today.