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.

I’m a big fan of The BTI Consulting Group and their The Mad Clientist blog. Recently, they had a post that discussed turning first year associates into bionic associates; and accordingly make them more productive. They lost me on this one, because the thrust of their message was to teach these associates essential skills such as better (1) listening, (2) writing, (3) anticipation of client needs, and (4) knowledge of clients’ business. I’m not sure why those skills turn associates into artificial (bionic) ones. I’d rather like to think that it would create more effective lawyers and future rainmakers.

Learning these attributes early on could produce great benefits for young lawyers (and their law firm) over the long haul.  However, BigLaw isn’t, in the least bit, interested in young associates learning anything except how to crank out hours. Lots of hours. The more the merrier (ah, I mean requirement).

The sad thing is that first year, and second year, and third year, etc. etc. associates are not encouraged to develop the skills to become better business generators for when (or in the more unlikely case) they become an equity partner. In fact, most junior partners I have encountered have absolutely no knowledge on how to develop business. (That’s why I get so many phone calls). It is not a requirement in many firms in order to be elevated to partner.  Their elevation is more likely the gratis of a mentor looking after a prodigy; and unlikely to have anything to do with their marketing skills.

Let’s look at these four “bionic” skills and how they can be better benefit all the lawyers in a firm; and provide success for the both the firm and individual lawyers over the long term:

  1. Listening. Listening to clients will make any lawyer a better service provider by fostering understanding of a client’s problem, concerns and goals; and the ability then to do a better job in meeting those client needs;
  2. Writing. Forget about law review or brief writing taught in law school. More and more clients are looking for less legalese and a clearer explanation, plainly written so they can better understand what hell is going on with their matter;
  3. Anticipate client needs. (This may actually be one of the skills that needs to come after the one below) Understand and anticipate the needs of client, rather than just generate more hours, and thus avoid more costly client problems in the future; and
  4. Research and understand the client’s business. A common complaint (I have heard over my 31 years in legal marketing) is that lawyers do not understand the client’s business (and apparently don’t give a darn), and the client resents having to (re-) educate them when a new matter comes up.  The more that lawyers understand a client’s business, the more likely they continue to get work from them, as well as referrals.

The only thing a truly bionic associate will produce IMHO is more hours, burn out, and less chance of being a successful and long term productive lawyer for the benefit of his/her clients.  How much more fruitful would it be to train a rainmaker in these skills instead.

Why is it difficult? First, because many corporate clients do not want to put all their eggs on one basket.  For political, financial and/or relationship reasons they want to spread the work around.  Sure, a number of major corporations are reducing the number of outside law firms.  Often doing so to better manage administrative headaches. Rarely will they reduce the number of law firms to one.

Reasons within the law firm itself are just as likely to make cross-selling difficult to pull off. Since I have written on the topic numerous times in the past, I thought I would refer to just four of my posts.  Hopefully, they will shed light on why it is so difficult to cross-sell, and offer ideas on how to overcome the difficulties:

After 25-plus years in marketing lawyers, it continues to amaze me that some lawyers do not understand why cross-selling so often doesn’t work.  The thinking seems to go, “I’m good at… (fill in the blank), we’re partners, and they should just refer ‘their’ clients to me so I’ll have more work.” The question is “why…Continue Reading

Are you to blame for the failure of your partners to cross-sell you to their client contacts? Not necessarily, but you could be part of the problem. Clients select lawyers they know, like and trust. Referral sources, including your partners, send you clients for the same reason. Since they know, like and trust you, they…Continue Reading

Semantics sometimes get in the way of some good advice. When you try to convince clients (subtly or otherwise) to engage your law firm for additional services not previously rendered, I think it is silly to argue about whether you are cross-selling or cross-marketing clients. I’ve known and admired Bob Denney for many years. He’s…Continue Reading

There are obstacles to cross-selling that explains why law firms are so bad at it. But with the right kind of leadership and incentives, the obstacles can be overcome. It isn’t easy though. When I was an in-house legal marketer, I actually saw cross-selling work – maybe 1% of the time. An article on Law360.com…Continue Reading

Cross-selling can work in law firms, but it isn’t easy.  It takes knowing, liking and trusting one another among  partners, and… a client’s concurrence, of course.

In today’s competitive marketplace, and with the client scrutiny that impacts many firms, it is more critical than ever that all lawyers contribute to the growth of their law firms.

On the Managing Partner Forum this month, there is an article by Gail Crosley, CPA that was pretty darn good about pointing out the differences between drivers and passengers, and their respective contributions (or lack thereof) to the growth of their firms. Being an accountant, presumably she was talking about accounting firms; but the analogy is just as applicable to law firms.

She talks about how drivers:

  • exercise initiative;
  • assume a leadership role;
  • develop or expand a practice area; and
  • take the firm in a favorable direction;

In the legal world, I like to refer to drivers as rainmakers.  Those partners who contribute little in terms of marketing and business development are pretty much along for the ride; thus, simply passengers.  They rely on others to keep the work coming in, and expect it will always be that way.

In the New Normal, that approach is not viable or sustainable. Partners who rely on other partners to support their practice by giving them work will find it increasingly difficult for their partners to continue doing so.  Other more junior lawyers at lower rates will be given the work, if for no other reason that clients will/are refusing to pay the higher rates.

The result is not pretty.  The non-rainmakers will be de-equitized, paid less, or, as is often the case, asked to leave.  In the first month of this blog’s existence (January 2005), I wrote a post entitled “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired!” It is no less true today, but in Crosley’s parlance, I should say that drivers won’t be left behind, but there will be less and less room for passengers.

It seems pretty straight forward then, that you should become a driver in your firm, if you are not already.

I’ve always loved the expression KISS because it is just that simple and telling at the same time. In reviewing  the book this week on marketing meditations by Larry Smith and Richard Levick I often quote, I ran across one that I posted about 3 years ago this month.  It reminded me of how “keeping it simple, stupid”, really is a wonderful phrase.

That meditation: “Marketing is a lifestyle” really brings home this simple but compelling statement. My post on October 26, 2012 is set forth below:

Marketing Success in 4 Words

Make it your lifestyle.

That’s it.  Simple, huh?

It is according to Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications in their 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals.  Their meditation for Wednesday of this week consists of just four words:

“Marketing is a lifestyle”.

For many lawyers that would mean a change in their behavior.  At least their thinking.  Marketing is not to be hated, nor, at a lawyers peril, ignored.  It must become part of the lawyer’s very being.

When I was the head of marketing at one of my firms, I had the privilege of having one of the most brilliant lawyers I have ever known as my mentor and marketing partner.  I remember his advice to a new crop of associates as we were introducing them to the concept of marketing as part of their orientation:

“Marketing is everything you do as a lawyer.”

He meant EVERYTHING.  How a lawyer dresses, acts in public, treats other lawyers and clients, respects the “little” people they come in contact with everywhere, staff, etc. etc. Basically there isn’t any part of a lawyer’s life that doesn’t reflect on who they are as a person and professional.

In my 27 years of legal marketing, I don’t think I have heard anything simpler or more profound, and will never forget his words.  So, if marketing is all about the whole person and their experience interacting with others, it truly is about lifestyle.

Enough said.  And in just four words.

Having covered how crucial staff is to the practice of law numerous times several times over the last 10+ years on this blog, a refresher on some issues may be in order.

For example:

  • Receptionist. I have argued that the receptionist should be the highest paid marketing person, because of his or her being the initial face and voice of the firm often. He or she should be the best you can hire, which is why you need to pay them more;
  • Marketing staff. Beyond the official marketing staff, everyone employed by the law firm is marketing the law firm, one way or another – good or bad. How they treat not only clients, but people in general, how they act in public, how they dress, and so forth all project a brand; and
  • And everyone else, including accounting, HR, copy room, etc. for the same reasons. (click here for 21 posts on the importance of the receptionist, empowering your staff, their importance in the marketing effort, and other related topics.)

Beyond the obvious, the critical point to remember is that law firms wouldn’t exist without staff. They should be treated with upmost respect. If they are not appreciated, morale is low, turnover is high, and hiring and training new staff is expensive. Just ask your HR department or administrator, if you have any doubts.

When I was in-house marketer, I remember a lateral hire from a prominent New York law firm, who lasted two years.  His demise was in no small measure due to the way he treated staff, especially his shared secretary. His inflated ego and distain for the “peons” led to problems in getting things accomplished. His secretary was often “too busy” with her other lawyers to do his work. His work, apparently, became substandard due to missing deadlines. I expect the attitude toward his secretary and others wasn’t the main reason he was let go, but it hurt his cause. Another example involved a paralegal and “missing” pages from documents because of how the copy room staff was treated. Then, there was the legacy partner who couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a month or two. All either quit or obtained a new assignments.

It is shameful how ignorant some “educated” people really are. Such behavior is not unique to lawyers, of course, but that is beyond the scope here.

Jared Correia, assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, had a post on Attorney at Work last week that reminds us how important support staff is to any law practice. Because, as he states, they :

  1. do the majority of the office’s work;
  2. are better with technology;
  3. are better with the business/financial aspects;
  4. often are more involved with client service; and
  5. particularly with newer lawyers, often “know more … about substantive law, and probably the practice of it, too.”

Bottom line: not only does staff play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of a law firm, but due to their interaction with clients and what that can mean in retaining and attracting clients, they deserve a great deal more respect than some receive.

Last week I wrote about the fictitious client letter sent to the recently retained outside law firm, wherein the general counsel sets forth his expectations.  As noted in that post, the “letter” was brought to us by Bob Denney in one of his Legal Communiqués. ’s Legal Communique, wherein the law firm is admonished/warned about not meeting the client’s service expectations.

This week I will look at the general counsel’s fee and billing expectations, which include:

  • stick to the agreed-upon budget;
    • Ensure that the bills are “accurate, free of errors and inconsistencies and adhere to the agreed-upon formats and protocols”;
    • invoice regularly (thereby helping the client with its cash flow);
  • (If applicable) since our policy is to minimize hourly fees in favor of fixed fee or incentive fees, if you misjudge the time spent on our matter, that is your problem since we do not “pay for inefficiency by outside counsel”;
  • Besides these basic requirements/expectations, we expect your firm to build on our relationship by “delivering enhanced service.” Ways to do that include utilizing current technology, maintaining knowledge management systems (and presumably, if the letter were sent today, it would include legal project management), and keeping us up-to-date with law alerts, newsletters, CLE seminars, etc.; and
  • Periodically seek client feedback meetings regarding both the quality of the work product and the service provided.

Finally, our company has not retained your law firm simply because of its expertise. There are other firms and lawyers equally qualified to handle our legal needs. Your firm was retained because we believe that you will serve us well and meet and “perhaps you will even exceed our expectations.”

As noted previously this client letter was fictitious, but make no mistake, clients expect to be treated as outlined here, even if they do not expressly commit it to a letter. Without a doubt both Denney and I agree on that.

 

Ran across a fictitious letter written by a fictitious general counsel to a fictitious law firm he just retained. The letter sets forth his expectations for the new firm; and was crafted by Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates as one of his famous Legal Communiqués. Although it is nearly a year old, it is so right on in terms of what law firms must be tuned into for servicing clients I wanted, in the interests of brevity, to cover it in two posts.

The letter starts off by setting forth what this in-house attorney expects from the firm:

  • He doesn’t want the responsible attorney to be a “Lone Ranger”, but expects to be served by a competent team at the level and experience needed; and the attorney needs to ensure that he is providing “quality control” and has a qualified partner to be his backup when he is not available;
  • He wants the advice to be objective, and aimed at solving problems not creating additional ones, while anticipating and preparing to overcome any future problems;
  • He doesn’t want to be kept in the dark (like a bat or mushroom), and consulted on matters of strategy, timing and expense. Oh yeah, and NO surprises;
  • He expects everyone on the team to be responsive, courteous and show respect to everyone in the company they come in contact with. And “If we think something is important then” IT IS; and
  • He expects not only that all legal deadlines will be met, but “we also expect you to meet – or even beat – our business deadlines.”

Actually the letter could be turned around and used as an affirmative assertion by law firms to new clients as to how they will handle their matter. It would be impressive if firms did so.

Next post will address the fee and billing expectations and a final caveat, if his expectations are not met.

Getting off on the right foot with new clients is important.  Because happy clients will refer others to your firm from day one.  There are several things you can do from the get-go to ensure your clients will be pleased with having hired you.

John Remsen shares “Ten Golden Rules to Make Your New Client Happy” that will help (with my typical paraphrasing and additional thoughts):

  1. Send a Welcome Kit.  It should include all the initial information the client will need – names of the team members, direct telephone numbers, and emails, as well as a letter from the managing partner and firm brochure;
  2. Understand client’s business and/or personal situation.  That can be accomplished by asking questions and, most importantly, listening to your client over 50% of the time; and putting the legal matter into the proper context;
  3. Meet or exceed expectations.  As Remsen suggests, work with the client to ensure reasonable expectations on their side, and then beat them (not the client, the expectations).  If problems come up, communicate asap;
  4. Keep your commitments.  Set reasonable deadlines, and then beat them.  Knowing lawyers are always up against deadlines, set an earlier one for yourself.  That way if you promised the draft contract on a Friday, deliver it on Wednesday or Thursday instead;
  5. Return phone calls and emails asap.  In today’s world, returning calls or emails can’t wait a day or two.  If you can’t return them, empower someone on your team to do so on your behalf, within an hour or two,  to let them know when you will get back to them;
  6. Learn client’s preferred means of communication.  Some people prefer emails over phone calls.  Ask;
  7. Introduce your team.  Let the client know who is on your team, and introduce them in person, if possible.  Also, the client should be advised that they may contact any of them.  It also helps your team feel important;
  8. Don’t overlawyer a matter.  Clients will not tolerate it anymore anyway.  Clients will accept less than perfect, particularly when it has an adverse impact on their wallets.  Communicate often with the client to ensure you’re on the same page on the work to be done;
  9. Never surprise your client.  This is especially true for an invoice.  But, it also applies to anything within your control.  No one likes (unpleasant) surprises; and
  10. Show appreciation.  Thank clients, entertain them, and seek feedback so they know you are thankful for their business.

I totally agree with Remsen, if you want to have happy campers as clients, you need to do more than good legal work.  You also have to provide outstanding service.  These tips will help in doing that.

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.