For almost 9 years now I have been writing this blog, and I concede that there may have been a “few” times when I encountered writer’s block. Okay, lots of times. Thus, when I ran across a blog post by Gary Kinder on the topic, it caught my interest. Kinder conducts writing programs for law firms. He has run ABA webinars and online CLE programs on the subject as well. His recent post on Attorney at Work outlined his recommended 21-minute method to overcome writer’s block.
Initially, I was a little turned off by his RIGHT brain and LEFT brain stuff, but actually it makes a lot of sense as to how the malady comes about. His point here is that the left brain insists on perfection, while the right brain is more creative. Basically, his method is designed to trick the left brain, so the right/creativity side (where failure is permissible) can get your writing effort underway without the guilt. Maybe that is not exactly what he says, but it reminded me that in the early days of my lawyer marketing, I emphasized how in law school we were taught that failure is not an option. I tried to instill in lawyers, in those early days and since that failure in marketing and business development is absolutely permissible, since landing every prospect is impossible anyway.
In a nutshell, his approach includes:
- First rule: Hide the research. After doing your research on the topic, it’s “all there in your right brain.” Having the research in front of you is merely a distraction. So, put it out of sight. You can always go back to check yourself later;
- Step one: Converse. Talk it up with someone – friend, colleague, etc. In my case I talk to myself a lot. Go over the “case/deal/issue/problem” and then write it up. It’s not “supposed to be good. It’s the first failure along the road to creating that document,” according to Kinder;
- Second Rule: You can’t stop writing. Don’t let the left brain “jump in and criticize.” Keep going, even if it seems awkward or disjointed. Remember this is the early stage, and failure is an option, since it is more important “to write than it is what you write.” And it can be in the form of a rough outline. You will have plenty of time later to go over what it is you have written;
- Step Two: Organize. This is where you let the left brain back into the process, to help get the outline into the logical order;
- Step Three: Write. Then, using your outline and your memory, start writing. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.;
- Third Rule: You must go all the way to the end. Don’t stop to perfect paragraphs as you go. You will have plenty of time to edit and reedit after you get all the main information down on paper or on the screen;
Whether you are writing a legal brief or memo, or a marketing article for publication in a trade journal, Kinder’s process will help you get over writer’s block. Heck, it helped me today.
It always amazed me when I was in-house in the 90′s and 2000’s that most firms did not involve marketing when engaged in discussions relating to mergers and/or hiring laterals. It seemed to most marketers I knew that it was only logical to at least be involved in the interview process of key players. The purpose being to help the firm assess the marketing capabilities/likelihood involving those who would be joining the firm. As many of my longtime colleagues know, the firm often did not take full advantage of the marketing capabilities that existed within their own staff. But that’s a story for another day.
I expect that many firms do so today, but I’m not aware of any statistical data that would confirm that. This general topic came to me as I was reading tomorrow’s meditation from my old standby 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals (free download) bymy old friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick with Levick Strategic Communications.
The meditation for August 3 states:
“Bring new partners and groups into your marketing plans. Not only will marketing support their business development plans, it will be one more way to fully integrate them.”
That presumes of course that the firm has marketing plans, and the new attorneys buy into those plans. I can assure you there is no guarantee of that. All the more reason to involve your marketers in the process of acquiring other firms, lawyers or groups of lawyers.
During coaching sessions I’m often asked about cold calling, and my common response is to not make them. They don’t work as a rule. Since in my experience 80% to 90% of new business comes from clients (in the form of new work or referrals to others), and referrals from other contacts, such as bankers, real estate or insurance agents, friends, neighbors, etc.
So, my friend Mike O’Horo’s recent piece entitled “Cold calls? Well… sort of” on his RainmakerVT website caught my attention. It’s not that O’Horo is endorsing cold calls, and he does raise the question of ethical issues relating to them. But, he does suggest ways to contact what I would call “strangers” or at least non-clients. His idea involves calling the types of clients you would like to represent and seek their opinion on topics of interest (presumably to them) and/or by conducting a survey. If you can get them to talk with you and contribute, you could develop relationships with prospects that might lead to business.
He goes on to suggest 10 ways to prepare for and undertake such “warm calls” as he refers to them. It is an interesting approach and one that could work over time. Clearly, it involves a good deal of effort and commitment.
In any event, I believe that O’Horo would agree that this strategy is not really cold calling, but it isn’t a bad idea, if you have the time and are willing to commit to it. If you don’t, then you might want to stick with spending time building relationships with your clients and other contacts that could send you referrals. IMHO that works much better most of the time.
In response to the question “What do you do?”, saying that you are a tax lawyer, or employment lawyer or whatever is not a good reply. More on that in a moment.
In the online ABA Journal: Law News Now this month, an article entitled “50 Simple Ways You Can Market Your Practice” by Stephanie Francis Ward provides some good tips that will help lawyers develop business. I really like many of them. However, I take issue with one in particular. I’m not being critical of the author, who is a journalist after all and not a legal marketer. My guess is that she just got some bad advice somewhere.
My issue is with Tip “23.The best elevator speech? ‘Hi, I’m a lawyer. What do you do?’” Although it appears to be a question, the tip comes across as a statement. Or it is incomplete because it ends there. IMHO that is the worst possible self-introduction a lawyer can make. If the other person is not a lawyer, the conversation could very well come to a screeching halt. Reasons vary, but might include: putting people off, some people simply don’t like lawyers (or maybe they’re jealous), feel less educated, or the statement simply comes across as arrogant, know-it-all or I’m smarter than the average bear, or whatever. Sorry, but such an opening is just dumb.
Better to say something like, if for instance you are an employment lawyer representing companies, “I help employers avoid and resolve employee issues.” Which may lead to the obvious “How do you do that?”….and the discussion is underway, rather than shut down.
It is advisable to have more than one elevator speech, of course, depending on the circumstances and the audience. But, it does take work and practice to develop an effective and meaningful one. Try them out on colleagues and friends. It is best to delay disclosing your occupation until you’ve laid the groundwork as to how you help people with their problems.
How often do you forget to say “Thank You?” Personally, I stand guilty of this omission occasionally myself. Okay, okay, I know it’s hard to believe, but it does happen.
Roy Ginsburg had a post on Attorney at Work awhile back where he talks about mistakes made by job seekers’ in failing to thank the relevant people who help them. It got me thinking about the failure of some lawyers to thank clients and others for business referrals.
Ginsburg’s two mistakes include:
- Failure to thank your network. As to referrals, my first thought was the story I heard about a New York law firm that admitted that it had received at least 10 referrals from the same contact and had never directly thanked the person involved. Their reasoning went something like this: “he knows we appreciate the referrals.” Does he now!!? Not only should you thank the person who refers clients to your firm, and send them some token of appreciation (as appropriate or allowed), but you should make just as much of an effort to thank them when the referral doesn’t work out; and
- Failure to thank your interviewer. Always thank your prospect or client when given the opportunity to make a pitch for new work. Again, you should thank them for the opportunity to make a proposal whether you win the work or not. Don’t think in terms of only thanking people when things turn how as YOU hope. It’s just as important to let them know you appreciate their thinking about you in the first place.
Ginsburg has a good suggestion on how you should thank people. He says you should do so both by email and snail mail. As he says, “it is neither overkill nor duplicative to send both,” and I totally agree. Although he doesn’t specifically say so, I’m sure he would agree that the “snailer” version should be a handwritten note versus a letter. The envelope should be hand addressed as well.
Carrying the thought one step further, I strongly recommend thanking others whenever they do anything for you – even after having lunch at your invitation. There really is no better way to success than to show you appreciate the things people do for you.
Although there are some differences in how to market litigators, there are things that work for transactional lawyers that also work for those who try cases for living. The question as to how to promote a litigation practice was put to three members of LMA whose response in “Marketing a Litigation Practice?” appeared on Attorney at Work recently. The consensus of the three was that writing, speaking, and networking were clearly the favorites for success. I would agree; but, there are additional tactics that can help as well.
One involves a short story: when I was an in-house marketer, one of the top lawyers in the litigation department – other lawyers would agree he is a trial lawyer’s trial lawyer. He loved to try cases, and didn’t use scorch earth tactics. Just a really nice guy who was good at what he did. He came to me in January one year and said two of the cases he had set for trial that month were settled at the insistence of the client. He then asked me what he should do. I said to him “you know what you have to do…” and he finished the sentence “… make a trip to California, I know.” He represented a number of Japanese companies handling products liability cases. So, out he went for a few days of schmoozing a number of clients, and returned with four new cases. Lesson learned: visit your clients off the clock and, more often than not, you will gain immediate new work.
Okay, okay, I know that all litigators do not have the luxury of clients confronted with a steady stream of lawsuits, and may only handle one case for a client. But there is still value in visiting that client to see how things are going, and with “staying top of mind” a worthwhile goal. The client, because of their own lawsuit, may be particular attuned to hearing about others they could refer.
Other business development actions that can help include:
- Being active in organizations where your types of clients hang out. This would include speaking, writing and networking opportunities of course; but may also, by being really active as a volunteer or holding a position of influence within the organization, offer opportunities for a greater profile than your competitors; and
- Being an available legal source for reporters on the local and national stage. Take a reporter to lunch is a good way to start a relationship that can produce results in time.
There are many opportunities you could take advantage of to market yourself as a litigator. Sitting around and bemoaning that marketing a litigation practice is different isn’t one of them.
Okay all you rocket scientists out there, you know that “good” is better than “bad.” So, why do some law firms still surprise their clients in bad ways. By that I mean, fail to meet deadlines, fail to attend to and keep clients informed about their matters (the basis of 80% of grievances filed against lawyers BTW), as well as not communicating generally by not returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, charging way more than the client expects without forewarning them, etc. etc.
Recognizing that the aforementioned all annoy the heck out of clients, why do some attorneys still do these things? Don’t “they” realize it is dumb marketing? Apparently not.
Rather doesn’t it make sense to do the kinds of things that surprise clients in favorable ways? Of course it does, say all you rocket scientists!
My friend Merrilyn Astin Tarlton on Attorney at Work highlights a number of surprises that will please clients. I too have been arguing the benefits of several of them over the years, such as:
- Visit your clients off the clock. This is No. 1 on my “Kane’s Top Ten Marketing Tips” list. Thus, I am happy to see Tarlton place “go calling” first on her list of how to favorably surprise clients. It simply involves dropping by or scheduling a non-billable visit to your client’s office to learn more about their business and “understand what their enterprise looks, feels and sounds like.” BTW it often leads to immediate new work;
- Befriend your client (criminal defense lawyers can ignore this one). Genuinely compliment your client on anything that they are likely to be proud of. Relationship building goes beyond doing a good job for a client. Believe it or not clients are human too;
- Help your client avoid future problems. This is like seeing “the big picture,” according to Tarlton. Provide training and advice as to how to avoid legal problems that you’ve handled for the client. Yeah, they’ll be shocked by that one, but in fact, it will lead to more business and referrals from a very surprised client;
- Under promise and over deliver. This one I’ve mentioned on several occasions over the years, and you can find reference to several posts on the topic here. Tarlton’s idea of promising it by Friday but deliver it on Thursday is exactly the point. Clients will truly be surprised, since they are more use to barely getting the legal product when promised, much less early;
- Thank your clients for the business. As Tarlton points out remember “who is doing who a favor.” And I particularly like handwritten notes, sent in hand-addressed envelopes. Oh, an email doesn’t come close as a surprise factor;
- Seek feedback. Yes, at various stages of your client encounters, ask how you are doing, how you did and what you could better in the future. Too few law firms bother (or are afraid to ask), so it does surprise clients when lawyers ask about their level of satisfaction with the legal services provided.
Actually, some clients are not surprised when firms do some or all of these things, because there are firms out there that are very smart when it comes to developing business.
When I am going to give a talk to a trade group, such as a Bar Association, I ask for the opportunity in advance to speak to the conference leadership or members who will be in the audience. The reason is simple, I want to find out what they want to learn, and take away from the session.
In other words, I’m trying to figure out the answer to the often unspoken question from prospective audiences everywhere: what’s in it for me?
Whether you call it by its new jargon “thought leadership” as Sally Schmidt does in a post this week on Attorney at Work, or the more commonly recognized terms – writing and speaking, both are excellent ways to educate your target audiences and raise one’s profile regarding one’s expertise. That is why both are on my top 10 list of marketing tips – Nos. 6 and 5 respectively. It is always a good idea to give ‘em what they want.
But first, you need to ask your prospective audience. In Schmidt’s post, she gives the example about an author writing about the sale of a dental practice. She suggests that a good way to go about that is to ask other dentists who have sold their practices for advice. You could ask them about their experience, and what they would do differently.
So, when you are writing or speaking, it is a good idea to meet the expectations of your audience (ask the editor in the case of publications). The result is that your expertise will more likely be remembered by those you hope to attract as clients or influential referral sources.
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.