Ran across an interesting article about getting things done and thus being more effective in practicing law by adopting five principles of GTD discussed by Daniel Gold in a piece he wrote for Attorney at Work.  It struck me that the same ideas are applicable to greater effectiveness when it comes to marketing.

His five phases of productivity include (as I see them applicable to marketing):

  1. Collection. First, it is important to gather all your marketing tasks from your various “in-boxes,” which may include both the physical and digital versions, as well as the poorly organized ideas on loose stickies or papers lying around;
  2. Processing. When you have gathered all your ideas or “stuff” into one place, then you should analyze them for worthiness and discard those that you shouldn’t waste your time on.  You need to ask whether your marketing idea is sensible, doable, likely to lead to profitable new business, or just a waste of time;
  3. Organizing. Of course, then you should decide on priorities, and list the activities, targets, and time frames to accomplish your marketing tasks;
  4. Reviewing. When it comes to legal project tasks, I agree with Gold that setting aside time on a Friday afternoon is a good idea to assess where things stand, including what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done.  And so it should be for marketing tasks.  This review can deal with things that need to be re-prioritized for the coming week or possibly dropped for whatever reason.   As Gold points out: “The weekly review allows you to empty those in-boxes  reflect on the past week and prepare to the week ahead.”  Oh yes, and free up your mind for an enjoyable weekend, since things will be more under control; and
  5. Doing.  Obviously, the most important phase in all of this is actually getting things done.  Most lawyers are very good at planning, but implementing not so much.  This in part is due to the time conflict between producing the legal product, and bringing in the next project.  Nonetheless, accomplishing both things is what today’s law practice is all about.

So, getting better productivity – whether it’s in doing your legal work or bringing in the next piece of business – in both areas is critically important in creating efficiencies, effectiveness, and of course profitability.

As 2011 winds down (this year seems to have particularly flown by), it is time to start setting goals for next year. Since approximately 80% of law firm work comes from existing clients (in the form of new work or referrals) or other referral sources, client satisfaction and retention (except for criminal defense, PI and certain other practice areas, of course) should be every firm’s No. 1 goal.

Allan Colman has an excellent article advising law firms on the kinds of things they should be looking at in getting ready for 2012. It apparently appeared on Law360 (subscription required), but you can read it on his web site here. It is definitely worth a read. I was particularly interested in his first area of focus – “increasing client retention.”

That does seem to be a no brainer in light of that 80% thing-gy I mentioned. Here are several pointers on how to go about doing that:

  • With the fast-paced nature of our world today and the ease of connecting with people remotely, it is important to “slow down and make real connections with people” (in my mind that means face-to-face contacts);
  • Expand client interaction to include asking how the firm “is doing and how (it) could improve.” And if you do, make sure you avoid the complaint of one Fortune 1000 in-house counsel; to wit: “I’ve rarely seen any follow-up from these interviews.” In which case it would be better to have not wasted the client’s time;
  • Focus “building a good rapport with current clients” (but you need to especially concentrate on your top clients that generate 75-80% of your revenue); and
  • Remember that long term clients still require relationship building, so that they don’t become dissatisfied and leave for another firm, especially to one that is being working like hell to build a relationship with them.

Simple reminders really. Never take clients you want to retain for granted. If they leave it takes a long time to get them back, and even longer to land prospects. 

Okay, you had the best of intentions after the summer to gear up for the fall and winter months ahead, right? But, you didn’t get around to it, right? Well, two “rights” don’t make a wrong… it just means that you procrastinated. Join the club.

However, it is time to give serious consideration to what you are going to do to develop business in 2011, RIGHT?!! I hope so.

My friend Stacy West Clark had an article in The Legal Intelligencer in September (published again on Law.com’s Small Firm Business) that provided 10 items you should consider in putting your law firm’s marketing plan together. Her suggestions are just as valid now as they were in September, and mentioned below are the ones I like best; and strongly urge any plan to focus on these first in developing a 2011 plan.

They include:

  • Make a list of key clients and referral sources, and assign contact responsibilities to specific attorneys;
  • Plan to uncover client satisfaction by seeking feedback (via short written survey, telephone or in-person interviews) at least from your important clients;
  • Visit clients at their place of business;
  • Find ways to spoil your top clients; and
  • Focus your marketing efforts and dollars on your “superstars” where the return will be the greatest.

There is more, and I commend the article to your reading.

What I especially like about Seth Godin is his pithy posts which plant plenty of powerful (p)ideas in my pons (part of brainstem). Okay, I didn’t do that well on that one, but heck it’s only Tuesday. The point is that his recent brief post about “The Buddy System” got me thinking about a modified coaching program.

He suggests that you get another person to write your business plan or resume for you. Not a close friend but a “friend of a friend” who will listen to your story, ask questions and then write up what they hear you saying you want (1) to accomplish and (2) convey about yourself in your marketplace. Preferably that person will have the similar need and you can reciprocate. He calls the friend a “document-buddy.” I might call them a “reciprocal coach.”

A good business coach helps prepare your plan, your bio, action ideas, etc. In addition, he or she will kick you in the butt (errr, nag you in a friendly way) to get you out there implementing the ideas you have agreed upon. However, Godin’s system may just help young lawyers who aren’t in a position to hire their own coach. The buddy system could be considered an affordable coaching arrangement whereby two lawyers could assist each other – at least in the document preparation stage – if not in the nagging role as well.

It’s an idea worth considering. 

Sorry about that title, but the mention on the same day in AmLaw Daily News Alert of October 1, 2010 about “preliminary” talks between Orrick and Akin Gump, and Reed Smith and Thompson & Knight (with a combined lawyer count of 1800 and 2000, respectively) struck me as odd. The oddity of that really didn’t change when six days later Orrick called it off. 

I really didn’t think these mega-mergers were continuing as a trend simply because of the huge conflicts that result from such BigLaw firms, but I suppose I am somewhat uninformed in this area. However, in coaching lawyers in what used to be consider large firms, (500+ lawyers), I consistently hear complaints about the ability to bring in new clients because of legal conflicts, as well as business conflicts.

Thus, the reason for the title. So, if you are a medium or smaller firm, relatively speaking, there are some potential business opportunities lurking. Not to mention that with these BigLaw firms getting even bigger, it is more likely that smaller clients will not get the attention they might prefer. They may fancy being a bigger fish in a smaller pond, as it were.

Accordingly, it might be a good time to have some strategic marketing planning in the hopper in the event that a significant merger goes through that may impact your marketplace. Stay tuned.

A lot of mistakes made by lawyers when it comes to marketing and business development are pretty simple, and simple to overcome. They just must be recognized and dealt with. A reader sent along an email, which led me to an article by Kenneth Hardison of the Personal Injury Lawyers Marketing and Managing Association (PILMMA) that was short, to the point and worth sharing.

His 7 mistakes include:

  1. Failure to differentiate (your ads from all the rest),
  2. Failure to differentiate (your firm from others);
  3. Lack of consistency (in the look, feel and message in your marketing materials);
  4. No marketing plan (tied to specific, identified strategies and a budget);
  5. Not tracking marketing results (i.e., determining where your clients are coming from and why, and doing more of that);
  6. Procrastination (due to a fear of failure or whatever. I agree with Hardison’s suggestion that getting a partner, business colleague, or a coach will help overcome this); and
  7. Lack of buy-in by everyone (lawyers and staff) to the marketing strategy.

These mistakes are pretty basic, but can be killers that can undermine any firm’s marketing and business development efforts.

According to a feature article in this month’s InsideCounsel one consultant who helps clients structure alternative fee arrangements "estimates that only about 2% of total legal billings currently are being done on alternative basis – but he contends it’s an increasing trend." That certainly isn’t a surprise.

He goes on to say "I’d expect that almost 20% of all billings would be on alternative billing in eight to 10 years…" According to the article, 35% of respondents to Fulbright & Jaworski’s Litigation Trends survey said that the down economy has pushed them "to increase their use of alternative fees.”

Based on that, I guess I’m just surprised to hear that it’s going to take close to a decade for alternative fees to get up to 20% of billings. I’m just not sure I buy that. I believe that there will be quite a bit more than that by then.

InsideCounsel reports we’ll hear from law firms in Part II of the article next month. If you don’t want to wait that long, and want a more in-depth viewpoint from law firms, get a copy of my colleague Jim Hassett’s survey report of his interviews with more than 1/3 of the AmLaw 100 law firm leaders. It was released recently, and only costs $395 (no, I don’t get a penny of that). Find out more about it on Jim’s Legal Business Development blog .

So, if it does take awhile for alternative fees to hit main street, it still gives small and medium-sized firms plenty of time to make inroads into the world of larger companies by offering alternative fees now, especially in the current economy.

Niche practices can be marketed more effectively and cheaper than a general practice in my opinion. Law firms that promote their niche practices will easily standout from the crowd; and can charge more for the practice, if they do.

Two of my posts on niche marketing that come to mind from a few years back include "Narrow Your Niche for More Effective Marketing" and "Do You Have a Niche and What Are You Doing about It?" Take a look, because there is a hot new niche that just came on the market. And there ain’t going to be a recall any time soon.

Thanks to the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC (No. 08-205), January 21, 2010. I’m sure many firms will be adding a niche practice representing plaintiffs or defending corporations/unions over their respective political contributions.Some shareholders and/or union members may be vehemently oppose to the particular political choices made by the corporation or union.  Could get to be messy out there, and those with a early lead in marketing such a niche might just win big.It could be a sub-niche to existing Shareholders’ Rights Practices, or stand-alones called something like “Shareholders’ Political Rights Practice” and “Union Workers’ Political Rights Practice.”

The point is that you should jump right in if you think there is anything to this, and you too believe in the value of niche practices. Get out there ahead of the competition, and don’t forget to grab that domain name for your area while you’re at it.

In a down economy, more law firms are likely to fail for a number of reasons that might not cause their downfall in boom years. And the reasons can run from how the firm is managed to how it isn’t marketed.

Judd Kessler has an article in the October issue of the Texas Bar Journal in which he shares his “Six Simple Reasons Practices Fail.” Although the article is aimed at solo and small firm practices, the failures he addresses can easily be applicable to any size firm, just not as quickly. So, what are these “simple” reasons:

  1. Poor planning and management of the firm’s finances,
  2. Inadequate technology,
  3. Ineffective leadership,
  4. Poor management of staff and lawyers,
  5. Lack of marketing planning and implementation, and
  6. Inattention to client satisfaction.

Effective data systems can help resolve many of these issues according to Kessler, who is CEO of Abacus Data Systems, Inc.;  but, that doesn’t diminish one iota the value of his short article, and I commend it to your reading.

Of course, marketing and client service issues always seem to come last. Why is that I wonder? (but I digress). The value in effective marketing planning, according to Kessler lies in (a) “establishing a brand that builds awareness, loyalty, and trust;” and (b) differentiating your firm from the competition.

As to client service, I particularly like this comment:

“Clients don’t generally express their discontent. They often feel intimidated and avoid complaining directly. Yet dissatisfied clients are often the undoing of a healthy practice as repeat business declines, receivables go down, negative word of mouth swells, referrals fall, and most dangerously, ethics complaints are issued.”

The solution is so simple really. Successful firms communicate frequently, often, constantly, all the time…..you get the idea. And they do so by returning calls promptly and also keeping their clients abreast of what’s happening with their matter(s).

Avoiding these simple mistakes can go a long way in protecting a firm in these economic times.

Isn’t the need self-evident? By that I mean, if you don’t plan what road your marketing should take, any frivolous (activity) path will get you there – to paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I’ve mentioned before.

If you are going to the grocery store or on vacation, don’t you at least “think” about how you will get there? Of course. So, why would you give your career, your livelihood, or how you will pay for your kids’ college education less thought? Unfortunately, that is the case for too many lawyers, who just believe the legal work will always be there, which is amazing in this day and age.

I ran across an article on planning on NewIncite.com that points out four good reasons for planning:

  1. Marketing activities will be more strategic and tied to business plans;
  2. Documenting a plan allows it to be shared with everyone in firm, who can all help sell the message (See  "Marketing Should Involve Everyone in a Law Firm");
  3. Helps manage the budget and negotiate with vendors; and
  4. Keeps everyone on tract when day-to-day “firefighting” (i.e., client demands) get in the way.

Although the article wasn’t talking about lawyers or law firms, the points are applicable to our industry nonetheless.

If you are still not convinced, let’s revisit the idea that the work will always be there. That’s just wrong for so many reasons, it too should be self-evident. Planning leads to a more focused and effective approach, which leads to more business generation, and that is job security. Believe it when I say that “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired.” 

That alone is reason enough to plan your marketing and business development activities, rather than chasing your career down a rabbit hole.