Header graphic for print

Legal Marketing Blog

A blog dedicated to lawyer marketing in any size law firm

How to Seek Client Feedback

Posted in Client Communications

Well, 2015 is almost here. Time to plan your business development strategies for the coming year. One simple one (albeit a feared one by some lawyers), involves seeking feedback from clients to ensure (or improve) the quality of legal services provided. No one needs to be reminded of how tough and competitive the legal marketplace has become.

Mary Taylor Lokensgard, a former practicing attorney, has an interesting post on Attorney at Work today. She delves into the realm of asking for feedback, her take on what it is and isn’t, how to get it, the reason you ask for it, who to ask, what to ask, and finally, how to ask. It is worth a read.

I have my own take on some of her thoughts on feedback, and as usual include them often in parentheses.

  • What it is, what it is. It isn’t a blaming or defensive effort, nor intended to merely gain praise. Lokensgard prefers to call it “corrective feedback.” (In my personal experience feedback has been more positive than negative, and particularly helpful if done by someone other than the responsible/billing attorney. It is better done by the managing partner, the firm’s marketing director, or an outside consultant). She also talks about neutral feedback, which I had not thought about previously and I like it because, as she puts it, it might spark “a new idea that never would have occurred to you if left to your own devices”; and
  • How to get feedback. Start by asking yourself what you want to improve, and who, when and how you should be asking. (I’m not sure that many lawyers would know what needs improvement until they ask the feedback questions, quite frankly. So let’s go directly to the who, when and how);
    • Who should be asked? Obviously that would be clients and former clients. I’ve gained valuable information from asking past law firm clients, more good than you would think. Lokensgard also suggests asking the clients’ non-lawyer staff (not without clearing it of course), and other outside people you may come into contact with in your practice. That may include courthouse personnel, and judges and jurors (not without their permission);
    • When to ask? During and after an engagement. Also, one could seek feedback (more accurately input) at the beginning of the matter which could elicit good information about how matter should be handled. (Here’s Telephone Interview Questions) I often ask); and
    • How should you ask? I have argued for some time the best feedback is obtained in-person, next by telephone interviews, and last, IMHO, in written form. If in written form, I’d like Lokensgard’s suggestion of making the questions VERY specific and detailed enough to obtain a yes or no answer. Clients are busy people too, and often the reason they don’t respond well to written surveys.

The important thing to remember regarding any feedback or client satisfaction program, is that if you don’t do it and there are problems (minor or otherwise), your clients may leave for another law firm in this most competitive market. And you may not even know it until it’s too late.

I’m a Good Listener… What Did You Say?

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

Actually, I’m not a good listener or at least not as good as I should be. Bad listening isn’t just a malady of lawyers, as it is a common ailment suffered by many, many homo sapiens.  With that said, a post by Annie Little on Attorney at Work points a finger at lawyers when discussing the topic.

She states that that is one reason that “attorneys are among the least trusted professionals.” I’m not sure how much weight I would attach to their listening skills as the reason. Nonetheless, Little lists ways to be a better listener, including:

  • Act Like You Care. This would require a change of mindset by some lawyers to act like they really care and are interested in what the other person – whether a client, prospect or potential referral source – has to say. It’s easier if you maintain eye contact, and avoid looking at your smart phone every few seconds while pretending you are not doing so. It also helps to gain the other persons confidence by focusing on them while they’re speaking for nonverbal clues that will keep the conversation moving ahead in the right direction;
  • It’s Not About You. Try to make the conversation about them so you fully understand their point and don’t respond too quickly or interrupt their thought process. Until the other person has completed their thought, they’re not ready for your comment or input. You are not truly listening if you’re trying to plan what you will say next to show off your expertise. It is better to think and admit if you do not know the answer right then.  Offer to look into it and get back to them later. This could actually lead to paying work; and
  • Silence Is Your New Best Friend. Gaps in a conversation are not a bad thing, and can often lead to the person continuing to speak and share important information. It also can provide respect for you as a listener. Remember you already know everything there is to know about yourself.  So, why not spend the time letting the other person talk and provide you with information you do not have about them and their potential issues.

Bottom line message: the more you learn to be a better listener the more “clients feel listened to. And respected,” according to Little. Further, you won’t have to ask them what they just said.  If we are honest with ourselves, there are lessons to be learned there.

 

Here are some additional posts of mine on listening:

Hush up and Listen!

The Less You Talk, the Smarter People Will Think You Are

Do Clients Wish You Were like a Good Waiter?

How To Prove Your Firm Is Different

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

It amazes me that so many law firm websites say the same thing. Like we “are client focused”, “care about our clients”, “efficient”, “responsive”, “client’s interest comes first”, etc., etc.  Your firm may actually do and emphasize all these attributes. Problem is, how will prospects know that before hiring you.

One way is to truly differentiate your firm from others when pitching a prospect or client for work. Sally Schmidt in a post this week on Attorney at Work has suggestions on how to do that; including:

Offer more than promises:

  • If you claim a team approach, include a group picture and bios;
  • Demonstrate your experience on a matter by laying out the strategy and process (consider a Gantt chart or spreadsheet);
  • Provide an organizational chart with each person’s role and contact information; and
  • If you offer an alternative fee arrangement, indicate how you arrived at the figure to show it didn’t come out of thin air.

Give a service guarantee:

  • Lawyers cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of a matter, so provide a service guarantee.  It might include returning calls and emails within a specified period of time (as I have preached in the past, empowered other lawyers or staff to respond to inquiries, if for no other purpose than to let the client know when you will get back to them); when and how you will provide status reports (ask the client for their preferences); and communications in general; and
  • Offer to visit the client (off the clock) to better understand their business issues (a big client complaint about outside law firms), plans and how the issue relates to the business.

Back up your claims:

  • If you claim a particular expertise, back up the claims with the types and number of matters handled.
  • List representative matters handled, without naming clients without their permission even if it is a matter of public record; and
  • Provide a list of references happy with your services.

Your behavior matters, not your words:

  • If you say you are accessible, mean it by giving out your direct dial and cell numbers;
  • Send a welcome letter that sets forth how the process will proceed, who will handle their matter, and how to reach members of the team; and
  • Show how responsive you are likely to be by getting the proposal to them ahead of the deadline.

If you want to show that your firm is really different from the competition, prove it from your very first contact.

Sharpen Your Bio and Tell a Compelling Story

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

Lawyers should update their bios regularly to keep it fresh, and because it is an important marketing tool.  It should be well written, brief and to the point on the benefits a prospect should gain by retaining your services.

Since there will likely be opportunities over the holidays to meet people you will want to send a bio to, it is a good time to update it. Heather Suttie referred on LinkedIn to a post that sets forth some excellent bio do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  1. Target your desired client base.  Include benefits that such an audience would be interested in by hiring you;
  2. Give your story some personality.  The best lawyer bio I ever saw is the one for Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which portrayed both his excellent credentials and sense of humor;
  3. Make it brief.  But not written like one.  Suttie suggests it be 150 words maximum. Sometimes that maybe too long depending on the occasion and audience;
  4. Include examples of cases or transactions you have handled.  However, do not name the client (even if it’s a matter of public record) without the client’s approval.  They may not want their matters publicized on the Internet, and very unhappy if you do; and
  5. Include a recent photo – emphasis on the word recent. You can send the wrong message when you meet a new client in-person, and you don’t look like your 20 year old picture.

Don’ts:

  1. A resume is not a bio. Suttie points out “clients don’t care about your career path, they care about what you can do for them”;
  2. Self-aggrandizement is a no-no. And of course using words like expert or specialist (unless so certified by an acceptable bar organization) creates ethical problems;
  3. Although it may be okay to mention your Pulitzer Prize, lesser kudos unless related to your legal practice are not.  Your law school Moot Court award 30 years ago won’t cut it;
  4. Education should be downplayed the further into your career you go.  I hate to say it, but you didn’t become a great lawyer in law school.  The only thing that really matters is what you have done since; and
  5. Avoid stating your bar admission year.  If you’re a recent grad, it highlights your youth and inexperience.  If it is well back in the last century, it may show you are not only long-in-the-tooth, but expensive.

Bios are important and since they are a form of self-marketing, put your best effort into making it sharp, short and a compelling story.

Drats! Time to Think About Holiday Cards – Or Not

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips

One of the most dreaded tasks that lawyers and law firms encounter each year is the annual holiday card marathon. The only exception I can think of that might be more painful is the yearly collection fiasco that goes on in the last month of a firm’s fiscal year.  At least there is obvious value to the partners/firm in the collection spectacle.  With the effort and time put into getting those damn cards out the door, not so much.

Most firms put way too much staff and lawyer time into an effort that in my IMHO is one of the most worthless marketing tactics undertaken.  Of course, it must be done, if only for the negative connotation, if the client realizes that YOUR firm sent no card.  I wonder if clients even pay attention to the cards they receive or remember who did or didn’t send one.

One reason is that too many firms send out cards with NO personal touch.  If the cards have signatures at all, many times they are computer driven and added to the cards at the printer. Heaven forbid that the cards be signed by human beings and contain a handwritten note. Without those two latter actions, the cards are a total waste of time. I’ve heard clients comment that such impersonal cards are meaningless and lack feeling.

Although cute, email holiday cards are as bad in my opinion.  Talk about a lack of attorney involvement or interest. They are emailed to the firm’s database of clients and other contacts by the marketing staff.

My apologies to all of you who painstakingly take time and effort to send meaningful cards with a personal signature and note.  You are the exception!  However, I still question whether the clients or referral sources – forget about prospects – will remember come January who sent them a card.

Okay, they are one tool in the marketing toolbox, albeit of little or no value in gaining new work (helping to stay top of mind, maybe).  I have two suggestions to make them slightly more meaningful:

  1. Make your card REALLY stand out.  Look at the suggestion of Ruth Carter on Attorney at Work earlier this month. As she puts it “If you must send a holiday card, send a personalized note…”, or send a unique, memorable postcard such as she did celebrating Captain Kirk’s birthday (or Elvis Presley’s or some other memorable occasion).  Her main thrust is to make your card unforgettable. (One firm that consistently sends unique holiday greetings” is Boston’s Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, due in no small part to their great client services director, Sara Crocker); or
  2. Send a Thanksgiving Day card instead.  At least that will be more memorable than a December card.  Also, you will beat the December crowd, and might have a chance of being remembered for it.  What is more appropriate than sending a card that THANKS your clients, friends, referral sources and any other contacts for their friendship, business, and thoughtfulness.

Whatever you decide, put forth a meaningful effort on holiday cards, or forget it.

Collect a Bunch of Business cards….or Not!

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

As the holidays approach, there will be many opportunities to meet and greet, and collect business cards. One might think the more the merrier.  But not so fast, there are reasons to not start a variation on a baseball card collection (some of you may remember when such a collection was a big thing).

What got me thinking about business cards was the marketing meditation of last Friday in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals by my friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick strategic communications. It states:

“Always have an excuse to collect a bunch of business cards. During a speech, mentioned some great article you can send them. ‘Please leave me your business cards and I’ll see to it that you get the article.’”

Over the years I’ve given similar advice at my marketing seminars.  I go one step further and invite participants to come up and, in case they are out of business cards, put their name on a pad of paper placed up front.

The reason I agree with the tactic mentioned for speeches, is that it is more difficult to come away with contact information in order to follow up with a large audience. So, I see no reason for not gathering as many business cards as possible in that setting.  At a minimum it will help you build up your database.

However, I have a different view about gathering as many business cards as you can in a networking situation. At a networking event, presumably you have more face time, and can determine more readily the persons you would like to follow up with. Further, you don’t want to be seen as a gadfly who walks around the room asking for business cards with no purpose in mind.

After either event, following up is often the biggest problem for lawyers.  Grabbing a bunch of cards really means little, because often lawyers merely throw them in a drawer when they get back to the office.  I suggest that you focus on coming away with a half dozen or so cards from people you want to follow up with.

Then make sure you follow up with those people you obtain cards from.  Suggestions might include sending a handwritten (preferably) “nice to meet you” note, or at least an email, to continue the dialogue and possible set up a lunch, if the person is local.  The goal is to build on the relationship and your network.

Collecting business cards from strangers is a good business development tactic, but not if you don’t follow up, or have no strategy on how to capitalize on them.

Make Sure Your New Clients are Happy Campers

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Team, Marketing Tips

Getting off on the right foot with new clients is important.  Because happy clients will refer others to your firm from day one.  There are several things you can do from the get-go to ensure your clients will be pleased with having hired you.

John Remsen shares “Ten Golden Rules to Make Your New Client Happy” that will help (with my typical paraphrasing and additional thoughts):

  1. Send a Welcome Kit.  It should include all the initial information the client will need – names of the team members, direct telephone numbers, and emails, as well as a letter from the managing partner and firm brochure;
  2. Understand client’s business and/or personal situation.  That can be accomplished by asking questions and, most importantly, listening to your client over 50% of the time; and putting the legal matter into the proper context;
  3. Meet or exceed expectations.  As Remsen suggests, work with the client to ensure reasonable expectations on their side, and then beat them (not the client, the expectations).  If problems come up, communicate asap;
  4. Keep your commitments.  Set reasonable deadlines, and then beat them.  Knowing lawyers are always up against deadlines, set an earlier one for yourself.  That way if you promised the draft contract on a Friday, deliver it on Wednesday or Thursday instead;
  5. Return phone calls and emails asap.  In today’s world, returning calls or emails can’t wait a day or two.  If you can’t return them, empower someone on your team to do so on your behalf, within an hour or two,  to let them know when you will get back to them;
  6. Learn client’s preferred means of communication.  Some people prefer emails over phone calls.  Ask;
  7. Introduce your team.  Let the client know who is on your team, and introduce them in person, if possible.  Also, the client should be advised that they may contact any of them.  It also helps your team feel important;
  8. Don’t overlawyer a matter.  Clients will not tolerate it anymore anyway.  Clients will accept less than perfect, particularly when it has an adverse impact on their wallets.  Communicate often with the client to ensure you’re on the same page on the work to be done;
  9. Never surprise your client.  This is especially true for an invoice.  But, it also applies to anything within your control.  No one likes (unpleasant) surprises; and
  10. Show appreciation.  Thank clients, entertain them, and seek feedback so they know you are thankful for their business.

I totally agree with Remsen, if you want to have happy campers as clients, you need to do more than good legal work.  You also have to provide outstanding service.  These tips will help in doing that.

Simple Networking Tips to Overcome Shyness

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

As we get closer to the holiday season (yeah, they’ll be here sooner than you think), it means there will be more and more networking opportunities.  A lot of lawyers, including yours truly, are not always comfortable in every setting.  However, these events can be very important to developing business for one’s practice, and should not be avoided due to some discomfort.

I had initially overlooked a post by Mary Ellen Sullivan on Attorney at Work last month I think is pretty good and worth sharing.  It provides 10 suggested icebreakers by Debra Fine., the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  They are:

  1. “What is your connection to this event?
  2. What keeps you busy outside of work?
  3. Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.
  4. How did you come up with this idea?
  5. What got you interested in … ?
  6. What do you attribute your success to?
  7. Describe some of the challenges of your profession.
  8. Describe your most important work experience.
  9. Bring me up to date.
  10. Tell me about your family.”

Fine and Sullivan also suggest a number questions which might be considered too personal or problematic, which should be avoided.  No. 10 above might fall into that category depending on the situation, but obviously it is a judgment call.

Notice that the questions are open-ended. This should keep the other person talking, and that can help overcome any shyness.

New Lawyers and Marketing

Posted in Marketing Tips

Now that all the recent grads and other bar exam takers are about to get their results, particularly those lawyers that will be in small firms or even solo, it is time to give thought to developing business. (Those going to BigLaw, don’t read any further, since those firms don’t want you to learn about marketing, only crank billable hours – thousands of them.)

For the rest, it is time to be thinking about marketing, something not taught you in law school.  The smaller the firm, the sooner you need to gain business development skills.  Everyone (after a honeymoon) will need to contribute to the success of the firm in that department. Solo’s from day one.

Don’t panic.  It is a learnable skill set. Start by going over to Attorney at Work and download the free “25 Tips For The New Lawyer.”  It’s an easy read with excellent tips about your new life in general, and marketing too.  Another post on that site provides “17 Things I Wish I Knew as a New Associate.”

You might want to read a few of my posts bearing on the subject as well:

Finally, for those going solo, I strongly recommend that you buy a copy of Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for Solos and Small Firm Lawyers published by the ABA.  The fourth edition is relatively inexpensive on Amazon.

So, new lawyer start thinking and learning about marketing and business development. Your professional success WILL depend on it.

How To Get New Business NOW!

Posted in Marketing Plans, Marketing Tips

I was intrigued by post I ran across on Attorney at Work in which several marketing consultants offered their views on what was advertised as the “the best way to get paying client work right NOW.” Although there were many good business development tips provided, I was disappointed somewhat because only one consultant, Gerry Riskin, really offered what I consider practical advice on the “NOW” issue.  Not that the other ideas wouldn’t lead to more legal work, it’s just that most will take longer, a lot longer sometimes.

Riskin’s advice? Go see your clients.  It is something I have preached in my 28-plus years in the legal marketing business.  Visit your clients, past and current, off the clock. It worked for me when I practiced law, and I have had hundreds of lawyers tell me over the years it has worked for them.  Clients can be procrastinators just like the rest of us.

A visit often, if not 80% of the time, leads to immediate work. Matters that have been sitting in the clients outbox for a while.  Riskin suggests taking along a checklist or article that would be meaningful and helpful to them. He states there is a “zero” chance of visiting 10 clients and not coming back with work. I would agree, and go further by saying that the ROI will be a lot better than that.  Maybe not 80% return, but IMHO you will experience a better than 10% return.

Of my Top 10 Marketing Tips, “Visit Your Clients” has always been my No. 1 for obtaining work.  It is the best, quickest way to get work “NOW”.