I’m serious! The world has changed. In my 27 years as a legal marketer and in-house in several firms, I have never seen the situation more serious in terms of lawyers being de-equitized or flat-out fired for not bringing in business. Back in the nineties I was with law firms that quietly – very quietly – would advise partners to leave because they were not pulling their weight in terms of bringing in work.
That was the inspiration behind a post I did in the first month of this blog in January 2005. My post “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired” discussed a messy firing of a partner at then named Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. As I pointed out then, I had not seen a rainmaker who developed significant business for themselves or other lawyers in a firm ever be let go.
And it is no different today. But, more and more lawyers will be let go in today’s tough, competitive legal world. The reason is simple. Clients are more demanding and less willing to pay whatever a firm wants to charge. Accordingly, there is and will continue to be much smaller pies to share, and too many partners do not want to “sell” or don’t know how. In the the “good ole days” most lawyers didn’t have to market, because their plates were usually pretty full, especially in BigLaw firms. So, not to worry. Things will be fine.
With the definite move to outsourcing specific work to smaller or foreign firms, and to the use of high quality, mid-size regional firms, it is only going to get worse for the non-producers in any size firm. It is time partners woke up to the need to develop business NOW!
Further, if your firm has a marketing department, don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will (or should) solve the problem. Developing business (selling) is primarily up to the individual lawyer. The marketing/business development staff is there to assist, guide and otherwise support the lawyers’ efforts.
Fellow legal marketing coach, Mike O’Horo had an interesting article last week about how lawyers avoid selling in favor of the latest marketing fad, which, of course, they hope means they won’t have to personally sell.
Well, folks. That ain’t going to cut it. More and more partners will get fired, if they do not get involved in serious business development efforts directly. Planning to do it won’t work alone. If you haven’t been developing business all along, you will need a coach to help you IMHO. He/she could be an internal coach (if you are lucky enough to have one in-house) or an external one that you feel comfortable working with. Because chances are you won’t pull it off by yourself.
Bottom line: time to start developing business or looking for a new job.
Over the years that I spent in-house as a marketer, I encountered a lawyer or two in most of my firms that were just plain difficult to deal with. Most people didn’t want to be around them. They just poisoned the well with their personality and actions, including bullying. Whether that be in terrorizing the staff or junior lawyers. They may even be a very good technical lawyer, but came across as a miserable human being nonetheless. And the worst part is they many of these type of individuals haven’t got a clue.
The reason for my brief rant (I’ll spare you the stories that involved last minute demands, or throwing items at people, or the one who couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a month) is thanks to Otto Sorts, the curmudgeon’s rant over on Attorney at Work yesterday. He tells the story about the Mordred (notorious traitor of King Arthur tales) in his firm. I’m not sure I’d refer to these types as traitors as much as a notorious jerks. The Curmudgeon proceeds to suggest several ways to deal with them, including: ignoring them, carefully standing up to them, calling ’em out publicly, and so on. Take a look.
So, what does this have to do with marketing?, you may ask.
More than you may think. Particularly when it comes to the people who have to work with such a lawyer. They are not as a rule happy campers. Accordingly, they may have a normal reaction and take their grief out, unintentionally I might add, on clients, referral sources and others in the world they come into contact with. They are only human after all, and a client demand could hit them the wrong way on a bad day. They may not even realize that their grouchiness could come across and be misunderstood by clients and others. It happens.
Law firm leaders should understand that not only do such people contaminate the atmosphere at their firm, but can have an adverse impact on its marketing efforts. Unfortunately, some firms put up with these individuals for far too long.
It’s been awhile since I harped on how important client satisfaction with their legal service provider is. Since starting this blog in January 2005, I have preached many, many times on how important feedback is for firms to retain existing clients or obtain referrals from them (See a few posts below on the subject). It started with my Top Ten Marketing Tips posts; and ranked No. 3 on the list in terms of prominence when it comes to developing (and holding on to) business IMHO.
With the significant changes in the legal profession that have occurred since the “second” great depression, client feedback is needed even more now. In fact, I should probably move it up to No. 2 on my list of best practices.
The topic has been mentioned in the Citi/Hildebrandt client advisory before, and it is again in the “2014 Client Advisory.” This year’s advisory addresses, under the topic of firm growth, three areas: organic growth, laterals and mergers. And under organic growth, it covers the issue of client feedback and the interrelationship with cross-selling, to wit:
“In Citi’s 2013 Law Firm Leaders Survey (LexisNexis® subscription req.)…57 managing partners of predominantly Am Law (sic) 100 firms described how critical cross-selling efforts have become….(T)he survey also found that while a substantial number of firms have a formal client feedback program, the majority (53%) do not.”
Two-thirds of those that have a formal program talk with clients about cross-selling; and those who don’t often talk about price. The advisory states that law firm clients more often ”talk about the importance of relationships with their firms.”
“Implementing a formal client feedback program is a key means by which firms can further cement their client relationships and capture greater market share.”
In today’s new world, it is important to solidify as many client relationships as possible in order to avoid reducing your firm’ market share. Nah, more than that, it’s critical.
Client Satisfaction Surveys for Law Firms
How Satisfied Are Your Clients? Ask Them
Client Interviews: Think Defensively
Client Interviews: Why They Really Are Necessary
Your success in landing new clients, or retaining existing clients for that matter, can relate directly to how they are treated when they contact your firm. I have commented in the past on this blog about the role of the receptionist and how important he or she is in terms of the impact it makes on visitors or those who call. For a couple of my posts on the topic, see links below.
In a recent post by Noble McIntyre on Attorney at Work, he addresses telephone etiquette. Why should you care you may ask? Because the telephone is probably your main source of contact with the outside world.
First, McIntyre talks about automated phone answering systems and other impersonal ways people are sometimes treated when calling law firms. I actually know of law firms (albeit small ones) that had no human answer the phone. Rather, they had automated systems requiring several prompts to get to an individual lawyer or a human. I totally agree with his comment that such systems “can raise time barriers, frustrate callers and make your practice seem impersonal.” Crazy, in a personal service business!
Here are a few of McIntyre’s common sense telephone tips:
- Answer promptly before the third ring. We live in an impatient world, and although three or more rings are not the end of it, punctuality when it comes to answering the phone is a VERY good idea;
- Whoever answers needs to do so in a most professional manner, and in a most “pleasant tone of voice”;
- Don’t have someone else (like the phone company’s computer) record your outgoing message;
- Don’t give the person the runaround or make them go through a bunch of hoops to just learn that your are not available and they can leave a voicemail; and,
- Train your receptionist as to who is who, especially when it comes to important clients. The second time I called my son’s law firm, the receptionist recognized my voice immediately. Granted some might say I have the voice of a rhinoceros, and maybe that wasn’t so tough for her. But, I was blown away. Think how your clients and contacts will feel.
I’ve often made the comment that the receptionist should be the highest-paid marketing person in a law firm, just as a cashier should be in a bank. Ridiculous I know, but think about how important they are. They are first and foremost the front line of contact with prospects and most clients. And you need to have one that has the proper etiquette and demeanor to handle those calls.
Don’t Fire Your Receptionist…
Receptionist Tells Client to Get Lost
In today’s competitive legal world, it is more important than ever to be a GREAT lawyer. That has less to do with your law school credentials than you may think. Of course clients want great results when it comes to their legal matter. Yes, your capabilities matter in that regard. And in the good old days that may have been enough. Not anymore.
In the new normal (and actually in the old normal for that matter) a great lawyer possesses certain characteristics that set her or him apart. And they actually play a bigger role in how “great” you are perceived by clients.
In a truly little (4” x 6″, 53 pages), but dynamite book published in 2006, those characteristics were spelled out by Jim Durham in what he titled “The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering.” Coming across this book again, I thought it worth a revisit and recommend it to your reading. The following is a brief summary of some of those GREAT characteristics:
- Always be available to clients;
- Know and understand each (at least key) client’s business;
- Give practical advice (in a business context), don’t just do good legal work;
- Add greater value to client’s business/situation;
- Personalize relationships;
- Deliver on promises (every time); and
- Be loyal and seek meaningful feedback.
Good lawyers may have some of these traits. Great lawyers exude them all. Oh yeah, they also do great legal work.
It’s been awhile since I wrote about flat fees as an alternative fee arrangement. I’ve covered the topic many times on this blog. I don’t see it as a current hot topic in the legal marketing press, but IMHO it is one that clients (at least non-BigLaw clients) are most interested in.
Think about it. Who likes surprises? No one, unless it’s the lottery winning kind. I don’t like bombshells when it comes to auto mechanics, plumber, electricians, or even lawyers I’ve retained in the past. I want to know what things cost, or least a damn good estimate. Fixed fees are one way to avoid unpleasant surprises for your clients.
So, I was taken with Patrick Lamb’s contribution to a free download on Attorney at Work entitled “New Math, New Money: A Lawyer’s Guide to the Changing Business of Law.” Lamb is a pioneer when it comes to opposing the billable hour. In the aforementioned download, he points out five client benefits with the use of fixed fees:
- Saves client/in-house lawyer’s time in reviewing bills;
- Increases predictability in the cost of legal services;
- Simplifies the client budgeting effort, particularly where the business and law firm have different fiscal years;
- Increases client trust that they are not being taken advantage of; and
- Clients don’t worry about the number of lawyers or that too senior attorneys are working their matter.
In today’s incredibly, competitive legal marketplace, it would be wise to improve your clients’ experiences by offering fixed fees. They’ll be a lot happier, at least most of them!
It is not a bad idea to remind ourselves once and awhile about the differences between advertising and publicity. I’ve written on the topic several times and reference a couple of them with links below. It’s important to keep in mind that (good) publicity is more effective than advertising, because someone else is quoting you and/or writing about you.
Advertising, on the other hand, is controlled by you, and thus less credible because you are “writing” or otherwise providing information about yourself and your firm. Not objective nor without self-aggrandizement, I think most would agree.
Accordingly, almost everyone would agree that publicity is the better of the two. Advertising is not a bad thing. It’s just that, as I have preached previously, it is not the most effective way to develop business for your firm. It has a role but not in my mind until other more effective marketing and business development tactics have been put into action.
What brought this to mind is today’s meditation in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing and Communications Professionals, by Larry Smith and Richard Levick with Levick Strategic Communications. It states:
“Publicity is far less controllable and takes more time to work than advertising, but has far greater credibility. If I read it, it must be true.”
Well, we all know it doesn’t mean it’s true, but media coverage that has a quote or other positive things to say about you/your firm certainly is more believable.
Bottom line: make friends with the media so they will get to know you, and hopefully, talk about you and your practice. It will be far more effective than any self-serving ad in producing more legal work for your firm.
Don’t Let Your Advertising Raise False Expectations
Marketing vs. PR vs. Advertising
Don’t Waste Your Money On The Yellow Pages
I’m not much of a fisherman but I do understand some of the basics around those who take this sport seriously. They know that you must have the right equipment, learn as much as possible as to where the fish are hanging out, and be patient.
There is a very entertaining article by Sue Bramall that appears in the UK’s The Law Society Gazette. Bramall relates good fly fishing techniques to effective business development.
Her tips include:
- Not the right time. Basically, this refers to clients that do not have a need for your services. Timing just isn’t right, and thus is similar to a fisherman trying to catch fish when they’re not feeding;
- Nor the right place. Obviously if the fish are not where you are fishing, you will not be very successful. Nor would you be effective in marketing, if your clients don’t hang out where you spend your business development dollars and efforts;
- The right lure. Fisherman use different lures for different fish. Clients too respond to different marketing activities. A shotgun approach is more likely to work for plaintiffs’ attorneys, where a more focused rifle shot would not. Know your marketplace;
- Planning ahead. By paying attention to activities by location, season, etc., you can better estimate where the fish will be and possibly in a feeding frenzy. So too when it comes to specific legislative activity, or high profile cases, or changes in public policy. Anticipating and preparing in advance can put you in a better position to provide the needed advice when things start happening;
- Fly on the water. Like having the right fly on the water to snare fish, it is important for lawyers to have the right marketing tools ready and to USE them. Doesn’t help to know what needs to be done, but continue to sit behind your desk when you should be out and about;
- Respond to opportunities quickly. Fishermen know that when there is a tug on the line, they need to react quickly. No different when your firm receives an inquiry about its services;
- Be patient. Patience is synonymous with fishing, which was not one of my assets in my youth. A pal and I after a night of “partying” would often go fishing at the Cape Cod Canal after midnight. We would give it 15 minutes and if we didn’t get a bite, we’d pack it in. If you make a presentation at a conference, and then you don’t get immediate work out of it, do you no longer seek speaking opportunities? Patience is truly a virtue we can learn from fisherman;
- Don’t give up. Developing business is part of the profession. More today than ever. If something doesn’t work (and you’ve given it the old college try), then try something else. Try to enjoy the moment.
Like good fisherman and rainmakers, both of whom love the sport of it, keep at it.
P.S. Thanks to my LegalBizDev colleague, Gary Richards, for putting me on to Bramall’s article.
There are many ways lawyers communicate with clients. Whether subtly or otherwise, they do so through their actions, as well as inactions. And either way, these “communications” (or lack thereof), all have a direct impact on the firm’s marketing success.
Brian Callan, a practice management advisor with AbacusLaw, sent an email article, with a play on the letters t-r-e-a-t, in which he suggests five ways to treat clients well, so they know you care for them and are working your tuckus off on their behalf.
Callan’s “secrets” to success include:
- Timeliness and Responsiveness. Get back to clients promptly (in today’s rapid communication world, that means ASAP or sooner) and be responsive to their call/email. Whichever way clients contact your office, I strongly suggest that you return it within an hour, no more than two. If you are not personally able to do so, then empower someone within your firm to return the call/email and inform the client as to when you will personally contact them);
- Empathy. Clients want to be listened to and understood. Included in that, I would add, is the need to be treated with dignity and respect, rather than treated as a lesser human being because they didn’t go to law school);
- Assurance. Obviously, lawyers cannot ethically guarantee results or the outcome of a matter. (That is not to say the you shouldn’t assure clients that you will work very hard to get the best possible result for them); and
- Tangibles. Send clients copies of letters and other documents, and keep them advised as to the status of their matter. (Two state bars I am familiar with report that 80% of grievances filed against lawyers are the result of a lack of communication and/or inattention to client matters). So, demonstrate in tangible ways that you are working hard for them.
Accordingly, if you are not doing all these things as a minimum, you are making critical marketing mistakes.