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Legal Marketing Blog

A blog dedicated to lawyer marketing in any size law firm

Client Communications are Still Critical to Marketing

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips

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.

Take Time Over the Holidays to Prepare for 2014

Posted in Marketing Plans, Marketing Tips

This is the time of year to especially enjoy family and friends.  However, set aside some time over the holidays to plan some goals for your law practice in 2014. Don’t wait until January.

Sally Schmidt has an article on today’s Attorney at Work that outlines some 2014 goals and strategies that may just help you and your firm in the coming year. She talks about four areas to focus on, and I wholeheartedly endorse her marketing and business development suggestions:

  • Increase your personal interaction. This is vital to any practice. Visit clients (off the clock) particularly your key or “crown jewel” clients. I wouldn’t limit the number of visits, however.  Rather, I would visit as many as possible, since such visits often lead to immediate new work.  Nor would I limit my visits to clients only.  Include important referral sources as well.  Further, I would plan to have coffee or lunch with at least one client and/or referral source every week.  I very much like Schmidt’s suggestion to “send at least one personal note a week,” but make sure it is handwritten, including the envelope.  Finally, email interactions (other than for communicating about a client matter, especially if it is a client’s preference) should be a last choice.  Better to communicate by phone or in-person;
  • Provide better client service.  In today’s competitive environment, this is a no brainer. Not only does it lead to more work from happy clients, but valuable referrals to new clients. Unhappy clients do not come back or make referrals; in fact, they’re more likely to say bad things about your services and their experience with your firm.  Better service means keeping clients informed about their matter and returning calls almost immediately, if not sooner.  If you can’t do so, empower someone else to call the client back and inform them of when you will personally be in touch;
  • Look for opportunities to raise your profile. This might include more writing and speaking, and responding to blog posts and social media discussions, particularly on LinkedIn; and
  • Work on your credentials.  Polish your elevator speech(es) – short, succinct explanation(s) of what you do to “help” clients achieve their goals. It shouldn’t begin with “I’m a lawyer….” but rather that you “try to resolve (fill in the blank) problems on behalf of (types of clients/businesses/industries)”; and revise your bio to include up-to-date information about your experience on transactional matters or cases (without identifying clients names without their permission).

Be prepared for the new year. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as say: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Send Printed Holiday Cards, Not E-cards

Posted in Marketing Tips

The matter of whether to send printed holiday cards instead of e-cards is one that I feel very strongly about. It is not unlike my view about sending handwritten Thank You notes, instead of emails when expressing gratitude or congratulations to someone. I’ve written and spoken about the topic many, many times on this blog over the past eight years and for longer in my business development seminars.

It is much more personal, especially when notes, as well as the envelopes, are handwritten.  Not enough people take the time to show they really care.  Since the Internet entered our lives, way too many take the easy way out.  Yet, it appears that many, including lawyers still see the value in printed cards.

Bob Weiss surveyed 140 lawyers as to their views on the subject, and wrote about it on Attorney at Work.  Weiss admits it is not a scientifically sound survey.  Nonetheless, I believe the results are telling. Over 60% of lawyers from one to over 20 years in practice, and in all age groups “prefer holiday cards over e-cards.”  So, it isn’t just us old folks that feel that way.  Moreover, approximately 80% said it made a better impression if the card is “personally signed and includes a brief personal note.”  Weiss also has 6 tips on how to go about handling the process.

Thus, my message is to NOT send E-cards instead of printed holiday cards.  Otherwise, your message may come across as: “I don’t have the time to send a meaningful card, because you (fill in the blank – ‘friend’, referral source or client) are just not important enough for the effort to do so.”

Not good marketing.

Marketing Includes Handling an Angry Client

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips

As the saying goes you can’t win ‘em all. Some cases or transactions are not going to end well. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be concerned over a disappointed, or worse, angry client over the outcome of a matter.

A post by Ryan Sullivan on Attorney at Law addresses those situations “When Clients Get Upset Over The Result.”  She provides five tips on how to avoid and/or deal with “a client’s anger over a not-so-happy ending.” They include:

  1. Don’t over promise or under deliver.  Lawyers know that it is unethical to create unrealistic expectations or guarantee results. Most lawyers also understand that while trying to land a client you do not want to overemphasize “doom or gloom” either. So, it is very important to minimize promises and to explain realistic options;
  2. Keep the client involved during the process.  Sullivan suggest that you want to let the client know how hard you are working for them, and how things are proceeding.  But, don’t only communicate the good things that are happening.  A client needs to know about the good, the bad and the ugly as things proceed.  Surprises is what angers clients the most;
  3. Prepare in advance an explanation, regardless of the outcome.  Planning is always a good thing.  So, plan to explain, which ever way things turn out, as part of your normal routine, especially in the case where it doesn’t turn out so well.  During that session, listen to the client, execute your prepared plan, and schedule a follow up meeting after the adrenaline has subsided, and “there’s been a time for cooler heads to prevail;”
  4. Keep your cool. As a professional, it is important to maintain the emotional high road.  Since you know that you can’t control what a judge or jury will do, or an opposing counsel’s tactics, it is your responsibility to remain calm, be sympathetic and show concern.  But, you need to focus on your professionalism, no matter how unhappy you are on a personal level; and
  5. Keep the big picture in mind.  Remember that you can never win them all (even though they told us in law school otherwise).  Don’t forget that the most important person to you is you, and to your family.  You need to move on no matter how angry the client or the outcome.  Don’t let the situation, as Sullivan puts it, “define who you are or how you practice law” going forward (except to correct your screw up of course, if applicable).

How you conduct yourself in these situation will impact your reputation, and how and what the client says about you.  It is a marketing issue.

Networking: Be Like the Red Sox

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

Lawyers know about networking, but most, except the real Rainmakers, don’t like it. It isn’t exactly like having a root canal to them, but they would rather be practicing law.  Nonetheless, the majority do recognize the need for it.

Roy Ginsburg has a post on Attorney at Work that talks about how networking is a numbers game and compares the undertaking to baseball.  His analogy to baseball is of course timely, as my beloved Red Sox just won the World Series (yes, I’m a real fan, who suffered all those many years growing up in the area).

Although Ginsburg is primarily focusing on networking for prospects, I prefer to concentrate on clients and referral sources, since they are the reason for 80-90% of legal work for lawyers (although the purpose is prospecting as well).  I like his four points:

  • Keep swinging.  Even with clients and referral sources, getting them to agree to a lunch or coffee sometimes is not easy, as they are busy people too.  I tell lawyers I coach to not give up easily.  Don’t take it personally, when they don’t immediately return your call or email about taking time out of their day.  Marketing is also a game of percentages;
  • Don’t get bogged down or in a slump. Eventually, you need to refocus your efforts, but not without giving it a major league effort (sorry, couldn’t resist).  I encourage the development of a quarterly contact list, and then reaching out in some manner (quick email, telephone call, and yes, even lunch) to each person on the list at least quarterly;
  • Network trade groups. Get actively involved in trade groups where your ideal clients hang out. That can be a certain bar association committee, if those lawyers are an important source of your referrals.  Like in baseball, it’s a game of contact….contact and more contact; and
  • Hang in there and be persistent.  No one said it would be easy.  From high school ball to the major leagues is not a walk in the park (I know, I need to stop this, but the analogy is valid).  It is hard work and takes time to become a legal major league player (rainmaker).

Hell, it took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to win another World Series.  And their hard work has paid off again!  Yours will too.

Public Speaking: Don’t Wing It!

Posted in Marketing Tips

No matter how many times you have given the same basic talk, always practice before giving it the next time.  I have given a similar marketing speech many, many times.  Occasionally, I have not practiced beforehand and I fell flat.  I was uncomfortable, and at times, tongue-tied.

So, I never give a talk without adding something new, and practicing my speech out loud for a couple of reasons.  One, to see how long it will really take; and secondly, to hear how I sound.

Marsha Hunter had a recent  post on Attorney at Work on “Perfecting Your Presentation Skills” that addressed the topic of practicing before speaking.  She suggests three simple steps:

  1. Shut your door and set a timer for 10 minutes. (I prefer to give my entire talk with slides as if I was actually presenting, even if it takes me an hour or more.);
  2. Stand up and speak for the 10 minutes;
  3. Ask yourself how you did. (The exercise helps me identify areas that are weak, as well as the strong points in my presentation.) Repeat the process for “as long as you can.”

Some may prefer Hunter’s approach over mine, and that is fine.  At least you’re not winging it.  I agree with Hunter’s statement “Being prepared, super-prepared and even over-prepared is a good thing.” Professional speakers practice and are prepared, others wing it.

Client Service: Why It Is More Critical Today!

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips

In the good olde days, “legal services” was consider one word.  And it meant the legal product(s) produced by lawyers; that is, the complaint, contract, employment agreement, closing documents, etc. etc.  In other words it was all about the “legal” and had less to do with HOW the legal “services” were delivered or how the client was treated.

It comes as no surprise that that is no longer the case.  Moreover, we are part of a mature industry, and in a new normal in how lawyers ply their trade.  One reasons is that there are too many lawyers.  According to a ranking of the Top 50 law schools by AboveTheLaw.com blog, only 54% of 2012 graduates have full time, bar required jobs, and that only 10,000 of the 60,000 jobs lost in 2008 have returned.

In addition, in today’s mature market there is greater competition among law firms and between firms and non-legal providers (tax accountants, financial planners, and software), not to mention off-shore law firms.  Other factors such as lower realization rates, and alternative fee arrangements are all impacting the legal marketplace.

Thus, it is vital to hang on to the important clients you already have.   Your key or “crowned jewel” clients, if you will.  Believe me, what and how “services” are delivered has everything to do with keeping them.  Bottom line:  the services aspect of legal services is even more critical today.

Clients expect greater service and value. What are a few of these expectations? Meeting (or exceeding) deadlines, being responsive, excellent communications, no surprises, and, yes, some freebies – e.g., CLE, no charge for short phone calls, photocopying (major litigation/transactions excluded), and even some free advice.

So, what’s a firm to do to get on top of and ensure they are providing good client service?  Here are three suggestions:

  • Seek feedback – before (to meet expectations), during (to see how things are going), and after (to see how things went and what could be improved) an engagement;
  • Improve communications – ask clients how and how often they want to be communicated with and about what (e.g., status reports, consultations, developing issues, etc., and whether by memo, email or telephone); and
  • Visit clients (off the clock) – to learn more about their business/industry, what concerns are keeping them up at night, etc.  This shows you are truly interested in the client’s business and, it just so happens, often leads to immediate new work.

If your firm provides quality client services, you will not only continue to get their work, but obtain new clients when they tell others about the quality of your legal (product) and services.

Business Development for Solos (and Everyone Else)

Posted in Marketing Tips, Prospecting for Clients

Been meaning to comment on some marketing advice I saw on Law Practice Today back in August.  The article entitled “A Business Development Checklist for Young Lawyers” by Kelly O’Malley at Fox Rothschild struck me for two reasons:  her checklist should get the attention of more than young lawyers, and, at least in part, should be read and followed by the increased number of solos out there.

My focus in this post then is on the items O’Malley mentions that could help solos and very small firms (that do have the benefit of a marketing department or multiple practice areas to call upon for help).  Here are a some:

  1. Keep your bio current.  You should constantly update your web site (you better have one) information, including matters handled (don’t mention client names without their permission, even if it is matter of public record), speeches made, etc.;
  2. Develop an elevator speech.  Saying “I’m a lawyer” or “employment lawyer” is NOT an elevator speech.  Rather, something along the line of “I help employees/employers avoid workplace problems” is better. See these posts for additional references to elevator speeches;
  3. Use social media.  But, be careful what you put out there.  For professional purposes LinkedIn is better than Facebook IMHO.  Also, don’t spend too much valuable time being social online or hiding “behind the computer.”   Turn social media contacts into face-to-face contacts, whenever possible;
  4.  Get out and about.  Network events in your community and trade group conferences where your ideal clients hang out.  Take clients, referral sources, prospects (keep ethical rules in mind), reporters, classmates, etc. to lunch (at least one per week, as monthly is too infrequent).  Read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  Join and be active in organizations, whether business, community or bar related. Be a player and raise your profile to attract those clients you want;
  5. Reach out quarterly to your contact list.  Contact by telephone, email or in-person those contacts that could help you grow your business.  Try to help them as it is better in the long run to “Give to Get;” and
  6. Keep in touch.  In addition to your quarterly contact list, send holiday, birthday, congratulatory cards and notes.  They should be handwritten and hand-addressed.  BTW I like Happy Thanksgiving cards to avoid the December rush.

O’Mally’s advice is not just for young lawyers only.  I know plenty of experienced (in legal matters) lawyers, many in larger firms, that could use help in developing business as well.

Pull the “Weeds” from Your Law Firm Garden

Posted in Uncategorized

How is a law firm like a vegetable garden? Otto Sorts, the anonymous contributor to Attorney at Work, makes a clever comparison between the two.  He provides sound advice on pulling the “weeds” from your firm.

What kind of weeds are we talking about?  He identifies four of them thusly:

  • Those possessing credentials with the knowledge and skills required for their position (lawyers and staff), but fall short when it comes to performing well when the “rubber meets the road;”
  • Those that do not fit into the culture and vision of the organization.  Often these folks poison the atmosphere around them, and may have been hired for the wrong reasons.  (The son of a named partner in one law firm I know quickly comes to mind on both counts.);
  • Those not willing to give a “little something extra.”  For example, not willing to adapt, learn, be creative, or lack ambition and drive.  Don’t waste your time trying to bring them around.  As Sorts advises, “if you don’t value (them)…, pull them;” and,
  • Those who were valuable for some time (and where compensated accordingly), but “who no longer produce.”  Of course, they should be “handled with care and consideration” (as should all of the above).  However, as Sorts states, if last year’s tomato plants are interfering with this year’s beet crop, then they should be pulled.

His advice on how: do it early before the weeds’ roots become well entrenched, and problems just get worse; and as mentioned above, with sensitivity and compensation, as appropriate.  Delaying will only create further disruption to the organization.

A summary comment seems to be most apt. “You’ve got a garden to tend.  You don’t want to spend all your time and effort on dealing with weeds,…”

What’s Important to Your Client – Today?

Posted in Client Communications, Marketing Tips

If you don’t know you’re not paying attention. Further, you probably are not communicating with them often enough.

Since communications is the biggest problem in all phases of life, it can result in disaster in business. Corporate America is constantly talking to consumers in one form or another, and always assessing their markets.  It should be no different for lawyers.

As I have discussed on this blog before, 80% of grievances filed against lawyers, with two state bars I am personally aware of, are due to the lack of communication with clients, and/or inattention to the clients’ matters.  The headaches those complaints themselves present for a lawyer should be reason enough to improve your communications with clients.  Unfortunately, that is not the case all too often.

Today’s meditation from 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Communications is succinct and to the point:

“What’s happened in the last two weeks that’s most important to your client?”

And, the point is very clear.  You need to be so close to your key clients, that you know what is keeping them up at night – whether it is business or legally related, or personal.  Again, if you do not know, you are not working hard enough at relationship building.

Working on a client’s matter is critically important, of course, but so is communicating with clients in a way that they welcome and prefer.  Not just about the case or transaction, but what’s going on in their life.  What is the most important thing to them over the past two weeks — or more recently.