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.

As you start (or continue) your journey into legal marketing, one of the most important tools you can have in your pocket is the "elevator speech." Named because it should take between 30-60 seconds (or the length of a short elevator ride), it’s built on the idea of being prepared should, by chance, your dream prospect step into an elevator with you. People have little time to figure out just what you do and, more importantly, why you’re good at it, so a great elevator speech is the best way to make a powerful first impression.

Question of the week: Do you have an elevator speech?
Can you sum up your practice in under 60 seconds?Market Research

Many law firm marketing consultants advise lawyers to develop an “elevator pitch” that conveys quickly what it is that he or she does as an attorney. I’ve never been comfortable with the term because it reminds me of the con artist pitch delivered (most enjoyably) by Robert Preston in The Music Man. Nonetheless, I believe in the concept.

But, how long should it be? How many floors does this here hypothetical elevator stop at – three or 33? Some say your spiel should only be ten seconds long, others say 20 or 30. Of course, if you are at the fourth floor, and the subject of your pitch is getting off on the fifth, you might want to be pretty darn quick about it.

Actually, you shouldn’t be thinking in terms of an elevator when you develop a concise statement about what you do to help clients. The chances of your actually delivering it in an elevator are remote. But I digress.

The important point is that when you tell people what you do as a lawyer, it should be short, succinct, and actually say something meaningful that will invite follow-up questions. Everyone’s style will be different, as will their message. Here are a couple that you might consider building upon for yourself when asked “what do you do?”:

Option 1: (Business Lawyer)

“I’m a (corporate/employment/intellectual property/etc.) lawyer who assists clients with their (business/work force/trademark/etc.) issues/problems while avoiding litigation, if at all possible.”

Thus begging the question, “What if you can’t avoid a court case?” See second sentence in Option 2.

Option 2: (Litigator)

“I’m a trial lawyer who tries to resolve client controversies involving (business/employment/etc.) issues without litigation, if at all possible. If a lawsuit is necessary, then I try to resolve the controversy to my client’s benefit at the earliest opportunity and at the lowest possible cost to the client.”

Do any of you have an elevator speech that you like, and that works for you? I’d love to hear from you, either as a comment to this post or by email, so I can share them with other readers. Thanks.

There are some folks who are critical of elevator speeches (I am not a fan of that term myself – how about BioIntro instead? Nah). But, it is more than the term itself that riles them. One of those critics has good points and not so good in my view. He is author and consultant Doug Stern, who has an article that appears on in which he is critical of elevator speeches and sets up a straw man by saying:

“Lawyers, for example, might offer, an elevator speech along the lines of ‘I add value to leading privately held companies by addressing the sophisticated legal issues relating to complex ownership succession.’” (emphasis mine)

It isn’t difficult for anyone to be critical of that one, considering how self-serving, arrogant, and presumptuous it is. So, no wonder Stern easily points out what can be wrong with elevator speeches after using an example like that.

But, he didn’t need to use such a weak case to make his points, a few of which I would agree with and consider worth sharing. For example, your response to the question “what do you do?” should:

  • Create interest, without sounding like a sales pitch,
  • Not assume they want you to recount your work history,
  • Avoid turning your response into a lecture, and
  • Turn the opportunity into a conversation.

One point he makes that I would disagree with involves his statement “chances are they really don’t want to know what you do.” HUH? Does he mean that "chances are" people are obviously phony, and don’t mean what they say? A bit too general of a statement, I would think. My point: if you don’t want to know what I do, then don’t ask! Rather, make some inane comment about the weather or how well the air conditioning system is working.

This is the second of two posts on associate marketing early in their career.  As I mentioned last time, I’ve addressed the topic in 2014; and friend and colleague Ross Fishman of Fishman Marketing has recently completed his treatise entitled The Ultimate Law Firm Associate’s Marketing Checklist.

In this post, I’ll speak to some of Fishman’s marketing ideas for years two through five and beyond. [Again, a caveat:  in many BigLaw firms not only are young lawyers not encouraged to learn about marketing; but discouraged from doing so, because it would interfere with meeting billable hour requirements.]  So, my posts are for the rest of you attorneys.  Many of the activities covered you should continue throughout your career.  They are not just year-specific.

Second Year

  • Continue working on becoming a “great lawyer” (never stop this);
  • Add names to your mailing lists and increase connections on LinkedIn and Facebook (classmates, new contacts, clients and bar association lawyers you meet);
  • Focus on LinkedIn professional groups in your practice area; and
  • Read bar and trade publications/blogs to increase technical skills.

Third Year

  • Increase activity in bar and trade associations that could be the source of new work;
  • Become more proactive within your network;
  • Master one or more “elevator speeches” for different audiences;
  • Find a marketing mentor within or outside the firm;
  • Attend training opportunities by firm’s marketing and business development staff; and
  • Consistently update your bio and LinkedIn profile.

Fourth/Fifth Year and Beyond

  • Be more active and seek leadership positions in bar, civic and trade organizations (where permissible);
  • Latch on early to a young rainmaker within the firm;
  • Learn more about the business and industry of clients you do work for;
  • Keep an up-to-date list of your cases/transactions;
  • Look to write and speak on topics relating to your growing expertise (and look for other opportunities to re-use an article as a speech, and vice a versa);
  • Build up your network with other professionals who can refer clients;
  • Reduce bar activities (as a marketing tool), if other lawyers are not a source of referrals;
  • Seek assistance regularly for the firm’s marketing professionals; and
  • Visit your client contacts often (off-the-clock).

“Remember that providing highest-quality technical skills and extremely responsive client service (emphasis mine) are essential elements of your firm’s marketing to its existing clients,” according to Fishman.  I couldn’t agree more, and with many other things he says in his book.  You should get a copy, if your marketing department hasn’t purchased copies it yet.


P.S. No I do not receive a penny from the sale of the book, but maybe I ………… never mind.

Seventy to 90% of lawyers’ business comes because of referrals from clients and other contacts in your network.  You are more likely to get more, if you concentrate on enhancing your network.

Mary Taylor Lokensgard has a post on Attorney at Work that provides good ideas on getting referrals.  She suggests 3 steps:

1.    Ask for them.

  • From people who know, like and trust you, and vica versa. They will come, if you develop meaningful relationships with people who are likely to be in a position to refer the clients you want;
  • Make sure your contacts know what you do, not just that you are a lawyer;
  • Work up an elevator speech (or two or three) that lets them know that kinds of law you practice and HOW you can help people;
  • Let clients know that you can always handle work from other great clients like them.

2.  Build up your network of contacts who could be referral sources, including:

  • Lawyers who don’t do what you do; or
  • Ones who do not want to represent the clients you do; and
  • Other professionals, such as financial advisors, bankers, real estate agents/brokers, insurance agents, estate planners, etc.

Keep in touch with potential referral sources at least quarterly by telephone, email, lunch and so forth.

3.  How to ask.

  • Build relationships first.  One way to enhance relationships quickly is “giving to get.” Actively think of, and work at, making referrals to contacts in your network;
  • Don’t be bashful, but avoid appearing desperate.  Remember you know your contacts and you’re not asking strangers; and
  • Remember the line about your welcoming the opportunity to service other good clients like them.

Remember to show appreciation for all referrals with a handwritten note – yes, even in these days of easy emails – even if they do not work out.  If they do, then consider sending a small token of your appreciation, such as a bottle of wine, or whatever.  Remember the ethical rules against sharing fees with non-lawyers.

Developing a referral network isn’t easy or a short term project.  It is a never-ending and critical to the success of your law firm.

P.S. Here’s a link to numerous additional posts of mine about referrals over the past 10 years.


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.”

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.

I don’t know a lawyer that isn’t trying to squeeze more out of every single day… maximum productivity. We would all like to find a silver bullet… the answer to the demanding obligations we have in our lives. Jeff Haden contributor to Inc. Magazine wrote… 14 Simple Ways to Get Considerably More Done. It’s an eye-opening list and I think there are 8 tips that will be particularly helpful for lawyers.

1. Craft your “just say no” elevator speech. Entrepreneurs work hard on their elevator speech. They revise, they hone, and they rehearse because their elevator speech is important.

It’s also important to know, with grace and tact, how to say no. Most of us default to “yes” because we don’t want to seem rude or unfriendly or unhelpful. Unfortunately, that also means we default to taking on more than we want or can handle. Maybe your response will be as simple as what I plan to use, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time.”

Whatever yours is, rehearse so it comes naturally. That way you won’t say yes simply because you think you should; you’ll say yes because you think it’s right for you.

2. Set limits. Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. We instinctively adjust our effort so our activities take whatever time we let them take. Tasks should only take as long as they need to take–or as long as you decide they should take.

Pick a task, set a time limit, and stick to that time limit. Necessity, even artificial necessity, is the mother of creativity. I promise you’ll figure out how to make it work.

3. Rework your nighttime routine. Every day the first thing you do is the most important thing you will do: It sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Prepare for it the night before. Make a list. Make a few notes. Review information. Prime yourself to hit the ground at an all-out sprint the next day; a body in super-fast motion tends to stay in super-fast motion.

4. Rework your morning routine. Then make sure you can get to that task as smoothly as possible. Pretend you’re an Olympic sprinter and your morning routine is like the warm-up for a race. Don’t dawdle, don’t ease your way into your morning, and don’t make sure you get some “me” time (hey, sleep time is me time). Get up, get cleaned up, get fueled up–and start rolling.

5. Rework one repetitive task. Think of a task you do on a regular basis. Now deconstruct it. Make it faster. Or improve the quality. Pick something you do that has become automatic and actively work to make it better.

Even if you only save five minutes, that’s five minutes every time.

6. Outsource one task. I was raised to think that any job I could do myself was a job I should do myself. Starting next week the kid down the street will cut my grass. He can use the money. I can use the time.

7. Fix that one thing you often screw up. I’m terrible about putting meetings and phone calls on my calendar. I figure I’ll get to it later and then I never do. I spend way too much time, often in a panic, trying to figure out when and where and who…

You probably have at least one thing you tend to mess up. Maybe you don’t file stuff properly. Maybe you put off dealing with certain emails and then forget them. Maybe you regularly find you’re unprepared for a call or meeting. Whatever your “thing” is, fix it. You’ll save time and aggravation.

8. Pick one task during which you won’t multi-task. Plenty of research says multi-tasking doesn’t work. Some research says multi-tasking actually makes you stupid. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. Either way, I feel sure there is at least one thing you do that is so important you should never allow a distraction or a loss of focus.

Choose an important task and when you perform it turn everything else off. Focus solely on that task.

I think there is good sound advice here for lawyers and if you would put each and everyone into practice imagine how productive you could be… it’s likely to be life changing. Why not give it a try? I know I will!

In a couple of posts back in 2009, I talked about the importance of a personal brand, as well as its relation to the firm’s brand. Both are important, but the personal brand is more critical since clients hire lawyers in most cases, not the law firm.

In this month’s issue of Law Practice Today, personal branding was the theme, and one article by Jonathan Fitzgarrald caught my attention because it also addressed the interrelationship between the two. Specifically, how a bad personal brand can impact the firm’s. And, if taken a step further, could have an affect on one’s employment longevity. As someone wrote recently in a somewhat different context, but apropos, “you might want to buy a new pair of shoes, because there’s pavement in your future.”

Fitzgarrald suggested some “brand builders” that might help with yours:

  • Take your appearance seriously. You may think you can dazzle potential clients with your brain power alone, but not so if the prospect is hung up on how you look;
  • Keep your message “simple and concise,” (starting with a fine-tuned elevator speech) that conveys how you will “add value to the prospect’s business;”
  • Relate to your listener in a personal way by bringing your personality to the table (not just a dry “lifeless” recitation of your background) and listen more;
  • Focus on providing great client service. Remember that maintaining existing client relationships (or defensive marketing) is just as important as developing new business (with some practice area exceptions, of course). So, spend non-billable time adding value to your client service; and
  • Monitor your brand by seeking feedback from clients and referral sources (e.g., how would they describe you to a stranger), and yes, even from your support staff and peers.

Obviously, your personal brand is very important to your success. It can also impact your relationship with your firm, particularly if they are out of sync.