It may not seem fair that lawyers must be both salespeople and producers of the legal product, but that is the nature of professional services.  More lawyers today buy into the need to contribute to their own survival.  Of course, they are the ones motivated to develop business.  Those who aren’t need only to have a conversation with partners who have been let go.

Over the years I have helped prepare hundreds of marketing plans.  Too many have ended up on the proverbial shelf not to see the light of day.  There are several reasons for this, mainly a lack of commitment by the lawyers.  Some of the main reasons for that include:

  • Individual lawyers didn’t buy in to the overall firm or practice group plans;
  • Plans may been dictated from on high, with little input from the lawyers affected;
  • Lawyers just aren’t interested in developing business (that was the case in the earlier days of law firm marketing, and unfortunately too many still feel that way);
  • Since the firm will do the marketing, they don’t believe they have to, so why plan;
  • May even give lipservice to the plan, and then ignore it; and
  • Attitude – “I didn’t go to law school to be a salesperson;”and so on.

I’m referring to marketing plans that are more institutional in nature.   They include goals and objectives, vision and mission statements, and focus such things as websites, publicity, advertising, newsletters, etc. Things that individual lawyers hope to avoid or hide from, or leave to other lawyers. Yes, some include lawyer assignments, but we lawyers area clever bunch at finding ways to avoid duties we do not want to do.

If you are still with me, let me emphatically say I am very big on individual lawyer business development (sales) plans.  These are specific, actionable, agreed upon plans focused on what each individual lawyer will undertake personally.  There is no hiding here.

Okay, okay, you can’t really forget about marketing plans.  But, you best give a high priority to individual business development plans that will get the lawyers to commit to bringing in business; rather than assume that the firm or other lawyers will keep their plate full.

The goals and objectives of the firm and practice groups should already be in place.  And yes, the individual plans must fit into the overall plan of where the firm and practice group wants to go.  But, if you don’t focus on requiring individual, actionable business development plans, I wish you luck in getting the lawyers to contribute to the success of the firm.

 

P.S.  Ran across an interesting twist relating to marketing plans in a post by John Hayes on B2C blog.  He starts out by saying he too is opposed to marketing plans, but he doesn’t mean it either.  He encourages more of a real world approach to planning.

Read a post on the Cordell Parvin Blog about the reasons your client development efforts may not be working. I’ve heard lawyers complain over the years how they are doing “stuff,”, but nothing seems to happen.

I’ll put a different twist on Parvin’s post by suggesting ten tips (using his thoughts) you can use to improve your business development efforts:

  1. Do more than good work. Clients may not fully appreciate what the value of your work product is (most didn’t go to law school afterall).  So, you need to let clients and potential clients know about you and your firm, and what you could do for them;
  2. Prepare a plan. You need to prepare your very own personal, focused business development plan;
  3. Implement the plan.  Maybe it isn’t fair you have to both sell and produce the work product. Well, that’s life in the personal services business. Keep the pipeline fed, using the tools at your disposal or the work eventually will not be there (ask many partners let go by law firms).  Look at Kane’s Top Ten Markting Tips for some ideas in getting started;
  4. Educate clients vs. selling them. Nobody likes to be sold anyway.  Personally, I sell myself, after being educated about the product or service, and why I should be interested in it. So, educate clients and prospects about the reasons and benefits of hiring you;
  5. You need to be very focused.  That is the reason for having a thoughtout plan you will implement.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take work that comes over the transom, or change it.  But, don’t lose sight of the plan.  You can change it as long as part of a thoughtful refocusing process;
  6. Be client-centric vs. self centered. That begins with understanding the client’s business, industry, and goals of the organization/client contacts. Clients have told me how frustrating it is to have to educate lawyers all the time about their business, and the context within which the legal issues come into play;
  7. You need to raise your profile.  Work on being more visible to your target audience through writing, speaking, and networking with trade groups, associations, or community organizations where your desired clients hang out;
  8. Leave your comfort zone.  It’s easier to eat lunch at your desk rather than to implement your plan, particularly when you have billing pressures.  But avoid taking the comfortable out.  You need to stretch yourself and not forget the importance of the other half of your job;
  9. Be a team player. Within your firm and with client contacts with whom you deal, look at your job as a joint team effort; and
  10. Provide extraordinary service.  Go above and beyond just good work.  That is the minimum in today’s competitive marketplace. which is vital today in the highly competitive market. Clients want more value so consider ways to give it to them.

Be positive, and look for ways that your business development efforts will work for you.  Remember, rainmakers don’t get fired.

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.

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.”

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.

Although there is a tendency to jump right into it new matter as soon as the client gives the go-ahead, that is the wrong thing to do. Not only from the standpoint of adequately serving the client and meeting client expectations, but it could end up being a financial disaster for the law firm (Read: client imposed discount/lower realization rate).

Patrick Lamb had a post on Legal Rebels this month that talks about a two-day program at which in-house and outside counsel addressed what each interprets their job to be in a legal relationship.  He then provides a number of bullets on what “some of the notes on the ideal future state from the inside counsel group” viewpoint included.

It struck me that the highlights of the two-day program covered by Lamb in his post were really all about project management. My colleague Jim Hassett, founder and president of LegalBizDev, has written the definitive book (3rd edition will be out next month) on the eight key issues that comprise legal project management.

So, what does the future look like?  Some of the points mentioned by Lamb are in quotes (with Hassett’s relevant key issues in parentheses):

  • “Detailed, succinct quality communications” (7. Manage client communication and expectations);
  • “Never having to review a bill/agreed fee and terms” (1. Set objectives and define scope, 4. Plan and manage the budget);
  • “Managing to a number” (3. Assign tasks and manage the team, 4. Plan and manage the budget));
  • “Both sides have skin in the game” (5. Assess risks [to client and firm] to budget and schedule);
  • “Outside lawyers understand what risks client is willing to except” (5. Assess risks to budget and schedule);
  • “Syncing legal approach with business perspective” (1. Set objectives and define scope).

The inside and outside counsel discussion mentioned by Lamb emphasized the importance of better planning, budgeting, execution and communications in their relationship. Legal project management clearly can do just that to improve the attorney-client relationship.

Food for thought.

Sometimes I run across an article or blog post that just strikes me for its simplicity and clarity. Such was the case when I ran across an article by Orlando attorney Tony Sos that appeared in the most recent online issue of Law Practice Today. His “boots on the ground” marketing tips were primarily designed for the young lawyer, but I find that too limiting. Many experienced lawyers can benefit from the advice, even if only as a refresher.

So let’s get right to them:

  1. Work at being top of mind with clients and referral sources. (Sos only mentioned referral sources here, but I include clients since, to state the obvious, they are an incredible source of referrals.) I liked his idea of planning each month to takeg “X” referral sources to lunch (or coffee if your budget is limited). I also favor building a quarterly contact list of contacts to at least touch in some manner (by email, telephone, visit, lunch, or sending its information of interest) each quarter. Say your list is only 50 people, that amounts to 200 touches/top of mind opportunities in a year. It works;
  2. Speak to overcome inexperience and raise profile. That is why this tip is No. 6 on Kane’s Top Ten Marketing Tips. And when you have an upcoming speech, let people know about it on social media, as well as those on your contact list (you can also turn your speech into an article for publication (No. 7 on my list) in both print and online media);
  3. Actively seek out opportunities to make referrals. One way to do that according to Sos is to make a list of noncompeting attorneys and their areas of practice. When you have the opportunity or are asked, you can quickly refer to your list and make a referral(s) quickly when the opportunity presents itself. Make sure to let the referral source or sources know that you have made the referral;
  4. Become involved in organizations where your ideal clients hang out. This is No. 10 on my list of top marketing tips, and can include local chambers of commerce or trade groups that current clients and/or your ideal clients belong to. Keeping abreast of issues affecting such groups, you can offer to make a speech (or write an article) for their members. This also helps with accomplishing tip number 2. above; and
  5. Do excellent legal work. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about this one. Not really!  Us old guys can relate to the bygone days when all it took to get more business was to do good legal work. We know better today, and that is why it is number five on this list. It is critical for success, but you need to do much more in today’s competitive marketplace.

As I say, these are pretty basic and straightforward tactics to increase your business development for both the younger and more experienced attorneys. Stop procrastinating and start implementing these tips today.

Recently, I receive an RFP to provide marketing services to a large regional firm with a deadline of today.  I declined.  The request included strategic planning, advertising plan, pitch training, part-time consulting, and more.  Nothing sought in the RFP I had not done in some fashion in my 27-plus years as a legal marketer.  It was a large project that was going to be very expensive.  A consultant’s dream.  Nevertheless, I decided not to bid as I thought in the end the client law firm would not be happy.

I extended the courtesy of telling the managing partner of the firm why I declined.  A combination of too general an approach, and the amount of time it would consume to the detriment of other clients.  Mainly, I saw a lot of planning effort but not a lot of focus on individual lawyer efforts.  The one thing I have learned in my quarter century in legal marketing is that lawyers are pretty good at planning, but when it comes to implementation, not so much.  There is a lot of money in planning.  I once saw a national consulting firm rip off hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning efforts that wouldn’t likely (and didn’t) go very far.  All C-level staff was opposed to the effort, but attorney management was in favor.

So, how can marketing and business development work? By ensuring that the individual lawyers plan and implement individual action plans – whether part of a larger group or firm plan.  It could happen with the firm in question, but the RFP didn’t point in that direction.  But, it isn’t just individual plans that are needed but a structure that actually ensures the plans are implemented.  Honestly, the only way I see that happening is for the lawyers to have an internal or external coach (aka nag and motivator) to assist with and ensure the each lawyer implements his/her plan. And further, there needs to be assurances that regular coaching progress reports are submitted to management so it can see and evaluate the success of the firm’s overall business development efforts.

It seems like a really nice firm.  I merely think they are trying to do too much all at once, which can result in wasting time and money.

If you or your firm lawyers have a formal marketing plan, it was likely prepared with the help of a consultant.  Often these plans are lengthy and full of jargon or boilerplate to justify the fee.  As a result they are frequently put on the proverbial shelf and not implemented.

Worse still is the failure to have a plan at all and/or have one that is too broad and vague bordering on the worthless.  A discussion on LinkedIn initiated by lawyer and consultant, David M. Ward asks the question whether your marketing plan is “void for vagueness?” The reasons for having a plan are straight forward, according to Ward: you need one, it should be simple, and it must be specific.  I concur:

  • To paraphrase the comment by the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “if you don’t know where you are going (with your marketing efforts), any path will take you there.”  And “there” is nowhere;
  • It has to be simple, or it won’t get implemented; and
  • It must be specific (and measurable) as to the who, what, when, where and how your efforts will be accomplished.

The plan cannot be made up of generalities; for example, saying you will take part in a networking event, take a referral source to lunch, or write an article or make a speech in the next quarter.  Rather, it needs to be more detailed as to what events you will network at (best if ones that your clients or referral sources attend); the person(s) you will take to lunch and when; what publication/blog you will write an article/post for and on what topic; and what focused organization you would like to speak before and on what topic in the next quarter.   These are just a few examples of the specificity a plan needs.

Short of that your plan is void for vagueness.

In my 27-plus years in legal marketing, I can assure you I have never – let me repeat, never —   encountered lawyers who spent too much time on developing business. On the contrary, I’ve met too many who didn’t and don’t spend enough time on it. And I have run across a lot who wasted time doing the wrong things and thus were ineffective in bringing in more work for the firm. But, spending too much time on really effective business development?  Never.

Additionally, I’ve heard many a lawyer say that they are too busy to do marketing.  When delving further, it usually means “don’t want to, ain’t gonna.”  If a lawyer is really busy doing client work that she enjoys for enjoyable clients, then I’ll extend a pass… for this week.  Because no matter what, the pipeline needs to be fed and kept flowing. Furthermore, the “busyness” often complained about involves non-productive time doing things that other lawyers or administrative staff could do more effectively and efficiently.

That is why I got a kick out of a recent discussion on LinkedIn’s Law Practice Management Professionals Group. The question was asked as to whether 20% (or one day per week) of a lawyer’s time spent on business development was too much.  One person responded that “is way too much time;” and proceeded to equate the time (assuming an 8-hour day) to lost revenue of 8 times (let’s say) $250 per hour = $2000 lost.  Of course, it is “silly” (I’m trying to be nice here) to assume that if you aren’t spending “too much” time developing business you would otherwise be billing clients for those same hours.

In the end it is foolish to put a number on what is too little or too much time spent on marketing, client work, admin, recreation and, hopefully, family time.  What is important is to spend all of the time doing all of those things necessary for you to be a successful lawyer in a well-rounded sense, and serve clients well.  If you have client work that needs to be done, do it. But don’t overlook the need to be generating more.  If you don’t have enough work to sustain your life style long term, best to think about how to spend more time – a lot more time – effectively developing business now.

Do I think you might ever spend too much time on marketing? Not a chance!!