There is a lot of advice out there on how to succeed at legal marketing. Success does not depend on your efforts being complicated or difficult.  It just needs to be realistic and sensible. Consultant Bob Denney does that by offering his 20 legal marketing maxims on Attorney at Work that brings us back to basics.

The following is my list of 10 favorites from his list (with some thoughts in parentheses), although I commend to your reading his complete post of all twenty:

  1. Be the best lawyer you can be. Otherwise you really ought to find something else to do. If you’re not trying your best, clients will realize it and your practice will suffer in time);
  2. Don’t sell. Educate. Listen to clients’ problems and concerns. Then educate them on their legal options and how you might help them;
  3. Focus. Specialize. (You really can’t be all things to all people, but how narrow your focus should be will depend on your location. You can be more of a general practitioner in a smaller, rural area than you can be in a large metropolitan area. In the latter, you will need to be more highly specialized to be found among the competition);
  4. Have a marketing plan and follow it. (In my experience lawyers can be pretty darn good at planning, but I have seen too many fall down when it comes to implementing the plan. When they get busy it is easy to overlook the need to feed the pipeline for more work.)
  5. Market like you were a sole practitioner. If you don’t you may soon be one. (It continues to amaze me to see mid-level and even more senior partners who are just not contributing to the business development efforts of their firms. I have seen such lawyers cut loose in more than one of my in-house marketing positions);
  6. Current clients are your best sales agents. (Well, that assumes that they are happy campers and that you done a good job at No. 1 above);
  7. Relationship building and word-of-mouth still best at gaining clients. (Social media can contribute to both, but in the end I completely agree with Denney);
  8. Know your client’s business. (In surveying clients for law firms, I am no longer surprised to hear their frustration about lawyers not knowing and understanding their business. That includes law firms they have used more than once);
  9. Treat every client as if he or she were your only client. (Excellent advice and furtherance of No.1 above); and
  10. Under-promise. Over-deliver. (The reverse is a death knell. Don’t just meet your deadline, but exceed it by a day or more).

Enough said!

 

Okay, we’re two months into the new year. Do you think it’s too late to do a marketing plan for 2015?  Wrong answer.  It is never too late to plan. To paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re going (i.e. no plan), any road will take you there. Unfortunately, it may “take you” to a failed law practice.

Your plan doesn’t have to be lengthy (a page or two is a good start), complicated or difficult to implement. It can be a simple plan. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be specific, challenging, have deadlines, and provide for accountability, as Paula Black suggests in an article on her website. Her straight forward suggestions are:

  • Set specific goals. They must be measurable.  Wanting ‘’more clients” is too vague. Specify X number of new clients to gain or revenue dollars you want to obtain;
  • Leave your comfort zone (at least a little). There should be enough of a challenge to improve your business development activities.  Same ole, same ole won’t do it;
  • Set deadlines. Otherwise it will only lead to procrastination.  For instance, plan to have lunch with two clients and three referral sources (by name) by March 31; and
  • Be accountable to someone. Empower a colleague to ask you about your activities and whether you are following your plan.  It could be a close friend, another lawyer, or a coach (internal or external).

The important point is to prepare a plan.  It is NOT too late for 2015. It doesn’t have to be a big undertaking.  A simple one will be a good start.

P.S.  CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Legal Marketing Blog, I have decided to ask my readers for suggestions on marketing and business development tips that they would like me to cover. So, SUGGEST AWAY!

 

I was intrigued by post I ran across on Attorney at Work in which several marketing consultants offered their views on what was advertised as the “the best way to get paying client work right NOW.” Although there were many good business development tips provided, I was disappointed somewhat because only one consultant, Gerry Riskin, really offered what I consider practical advice on the “NOW” issue.  Not that the other ideas wouldn’t lead to more legal work, it’s just that most will take longer, a lot longer sometimes.

Riskin’s advice? Go see your clients.  It is something I have preached in my 28-plus years in the legal marketing business.  Visit your clients, past and current, off the clock. It worked for me when I practiced law, and I have had hundreds of lawyers tell me over the years it has worked for them.  Clients can be procrastinators just like the rest of us.

A visit often, if not 80% of the time, leads to immediate work. Matters that have been sitting in the clients outbox for a while.  Riskin suggests taking along a checklist or article that would be meaningful and helpful to them. He states there is a “zero” chance of visiting 10 clients and not coming back with work. I would agree, and go further by saying that the ROI will be a lot better than that.  Maybe not 80% return, but IMHO you will experience a better than 10% return.

Of my Top 10 Marketing Tips, “Visit Your Clients” has always been my No. 1 for obtaining work.  It is the best, quickest way to get work “NOW”.

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.