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!!

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.