Your success in landing new clients, or retaining existing clients for that matter, can relate directly to how they are treated when they contact your firm. I have commented in the past on this blog about the role of the receptionist and how important he or she is in terms of the impact it makes on visitors or those who call. For a couple of my posts on the topic, see links below. 

In a recent post by Noble McIntyre on Attorney at Work, he addresses telephone etiquette. Why should you care you may ask?  Because the telephone is probably your main source of contact with the outside world.

First, McIntyre talks about automated phone answering systems and other impersonal ways people are sometimes treated when calling law firms.  I actually know of law firms (albeit small ones) that had no human answer the phone.  Rather, they had automated systems requiring several prompts to get to an individual lawyer or a human.  I totally agree with his comment that such systems “can raise time barriers, frustrate callers and make your practice seem impersonal.”  Crazy, in a personal service business!

Here are a few of McIntyre’s common sense telephone tips:

  • Answer promptly before the third ring.  We live in an impatient world, and although three or more rings are not the end of it, punctuality when it comes to answering the phone is a VERY good idea;
  • Whoever answers needs to do so in a most professional manner, and in a most “pleasant tone of voice”;
  • Don’t have someone else (like the phone company’s computer) record your outgoing message;
  • Don’t give the person the runaround or make them go through a bunch of hoops to just learn that your are not available and they can leave a voicemail; and,
  • Train your receptionist as to who is who, especially when it comes to important clients.  The second time I called my son’s law firm, the receptionist recognized my voice immediately.  Granted some might say I have the voice of a rhinoceros, and maybe that wasn’t so tough for her.  But, I was blown away.  Think how your clients and contacts will feel.

I’ve often made the comment that the receptionist should be the highest-paid marketing person in a law firm, just as a cashier should be in a bank. Ridiculous I know, but think about how important they are.  They are first and foremost the front line of contact with prospects and most clients. And you need to have one that has the proper etiquette and demeanor to handle those calls.

Don’t Fire Your Receptionist…

Receptionist Tells Client to Get Lost

 

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.

When I was in-house as the first marketing person in the mid-80’s, I had no staff to speak of – as in none, except for a great secretary I shared with a lawyer. You can imagine how much of her time I got. I quickly learned to utilize any staff person – librarian, copy room people, paralegals, etc. I could con…………err sweet talk into helping me on various projects.

The important lesson I learned is that the staff of law firms are bright and talented. And they can be extremely helpful, if they are given the respect they deserve. In this month’s issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Today there is an article about managing relationships with your staff by Sheila Blackford, who is the practice management advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund.

Her “staff relationship checklist” includes:

  • Is your firm’s mission shared with and instilled in your staff?
  • Does your staff look at their position as a job or a career?
  • Do you support the staff’s professional growth?
  • Is your staff’s security also built into your long-term plans?
  • Do you know the staff’s strengths and weaknesses, and utilize them most effectively?

Respecting, committing to and building on staff relationships can turn an untapped resource into a real law firm asset. Those who look at working at the firm as a career vs. a job, can become roving marketing ambassadors for the firm.

In commenting on my last post about involving staff in marketing, Dan Hull over on What About Clients? blog goes one step further. He reminds us that all employees and shareholders must take both marketing and client service seriously. Actually, they are inseparable. Both are critical to a firm’s long term health.

He again emphasized how every person in his a law firm must realize that clients are the main event, which is Rule 3 of his famous 12 Rules of Client Service. The rules are contained in his firm’s Practice Guide, which is now required reading for everyone at the firm.
 

Here again are Dan’s twelve rules:

  1. Represent only clients you like.
  2. The client is the main event.
  3. Make sure everyone in your firm knows the client is the main event.
  4. Deliver legal work that changes the way clients think about lawyers.
  5. Over-communicate: bombard, copy and confirm.
  6. When you work, you are marketing.
  7. Know the client.
  8. Think like the client–help control costs.
  9. Be there for clients–24/7.
  10. Be accurate, thorough and timely–but not perfect.
  11. Treat each co-worker like he or she is your best client.
  12. Have fun.

Marketing and client service are not just for the lawyers. They are for everyone. As Dan puts it at his firm “buy into it or leave.”
 

As I mentioned in my last post about making the non-marketing staff a part of the firm’s business development efforts, Stacy West Clark’s article on that point gives some suggestions on how to accomplish that with at least two groups of staffers.

But first, the lawyer’s role. Educate those who work for you as to:

  • How you want clients treated and informed (getting to know them, phone procedures, what to say when you are unavailable, and reaching out to key clients),
  • Tracking Google alerts for info about specific clients,
  • Remembering important client facts and dates (wedding date, birthdays, etc.),
  • Scheduling marketing activities,
  • Keeping mailing lists up to date, and
  • Encouraging questions about cases, referrals sources and the like.

Legal assistant’s role:
Carrying out all of the above per your lawyers’ instructions. Additionally, be proactive in asking your lawyers about marketing goals, important cases; and staying abreast of the firm’s web site, your attorneys’ bios, and important information about existing clients and referral sources, and most importantly, developing (professional) friendships with clients.

Receptionist’s role:
I facetiously said in one of my earlier posts, and have suggested in my speeches for years, that tellers should be the highest paid people in banks, since they have the most direct contact with the money people (customers). Likewise, a law firm receptionist should be the highest paid staff person, because he/she has the most contact with clients (by phone) and with visitors of all kinds. As such, the receptionist can have a profound influence on how the firm is perceived. Put another way, a receptionist person can have an extremely positive or negative impact on the firm’s brand. I can (and do) tell horror stories in this area.

Just some of the important attributes of a good receptionist include:

  • Professional attire and grooming,
  • Enthusiastic and warm in answering the phone and greeting visitors,
  • Remembering and addressing clients by name, and
  • Caring about the firm’s clients and showing it.

All staff members can play an important role in a firm’s business development efforts. Just think of the many ways they come in contact with clients and the world outside the firm. Each is an opportunity to advance the firm’s brand or to damage it.

For some of my other posts on staff involvement in marketing…. 

Continue Reading Staff as Part of Marketing – Continued

It continues to amaze me how few law firms engage their non-marketing staff in the firm’s business development efforts. The funny part is that these staff members are involved in marketing your firm in one way or another, if they deal with clients, potential clients or the public at-large. These contacts, whether intended or not, can end up being for the good or bad of the law firm.

So, why not train and focus these staff encounters for the best possible results? It’s not that difficult.

My friend Stacy West Clark has a terrific article on empowering your staff to help increase client business  in The Legal Intelligencer and on Law.com’s Small Firm Business online. In fact, there is so much good stuff there that, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to cover the article in two posts.

Today, I’ll cover her initial advice, and next time how the lawyers, their assistants and even the receptionist can contribute to the firm’s marketing.

Her opening paragraph is one of the more succinct recipes for great client relationship building I have heard:

“The components of great service include understanding the client’s business, being incredibly responsive, communicative and accessible and looking for opportunities to make the client’s life and business world better.”

Stacy then points out that the lawyers do not have to do this alone. The team includes your “secretary, messenger, file clerk, receptionist, human resources manager, office manager, librarian,” et al.

And she states:

“The sooner you empower your staff to deliver outstanding client service, the sooner your revenues will grow. Staff who are involved in and educated about the marketing effort have higher morale and lower turnover and treat clients better.”

Amen!

Next time: Stacy’s ideas for starters on how to get staff members involved.
 

Here is the final installment of my responses to questions by freelance writer John Egan for an article to be published in CPAmerica International’s newsletter relating to “marketing for law firms.” The first  three questions related to suggestions and mistakes, and budgeting. The final two questions address the hiring of a marketing person and a viable trend in legal marketing:

4.      “When should a law firm hire a dedicated marketing person?”

The day they open their law office. And the size of the firm doesn’t matter. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a full time, in-house person in every case. It could be an outsourced position or consultant. The important thing is that the firm be serious about getting professional marketing help.

As to when a law firm should hire an in-house staff person should be based on the firm’s needs and economics. Historically, there was a time when it seemed to be based on the size of the firm, and firms with less than 100 lawyers rarely had an in-house person. Now, there are firms with fewer than 30 lawyers that have a dedicated marketing person on staff. That decision should be based on when a staff position or positions make more economic sense than using outside help.

5.      “What are some of the latest (viable) trends you’re seeing in legal marketing?”

I’ve never been one to believe in the “marketing idea of the week/month/year” mentality. And “trends” often are just that, the latest fad. Having said that, I see blogging as a viable trend in obtaining legal work.  In essence, though, it is just a new vehicle for some of the more traditional means of developing business; that is, writing articles, making speeches, etc., all of which are ways of demonstrating one’s expertise and establishing credibility so clients will hire you.

Making every person who works at your law firm feel important and an integral part of the team is about as smart of a marketing approach as exists out there. One small way to do that is to include not only the attorneys, but staff as well (at least their names) on the firm’s web site. (Granted the mega firms with offices worldwide may find that problematic, but they’re not likely to consider such a thing anyway.)

Some firms apparently don’t even put associate bios up on the site for fear that headhunters will scoop them up. Since recruiters have many sources to call upon to get their names, why would a firm want to send a communication like “you aren’t really important enough to be up on our (usually static and boring) web site in the first place.” What kind of a terrible message does that send to such valuable internal assets?

I have talked before about making your staff part of the marketing team, but what got me thinking about it today was a discussion that has been going on for the last couple of days over on the Legal Marketing Association’s listserv. Some of the comments included:

  • One 50-lawyer California puts everyone on web site – bios for all lawyers and senior staff, and pictures of everyone who works for the firm under their job category;
  • A marketer from a smaller firm stated: “I like the sites that feature ‘Our People’ – that’s your human capital…Clients do like to ‘see’ your people;”
  • And from my good friend Ross Fishman who works with a lot of law firm associates: “Although I did not ask them specifically about this biography issue, it is my clear inference from the conversations that this disparate treatment would be viewed VERY negatively;” and
  • Another recounted her earlier experience in (non-legal) sales where a boss told her that if she ever got a better offer than what the company “can do for you, and the situation is better as well” he wouldn’t blame her for taking it.

If your firm is doing all the right internal marketing things to make it the best possible place to work, you won’t have to worry about such things. In any event, they’ll talk care of themselves, but I can guarantee that your turnover will go way down.  And that is a cost savings that will go straight to the bottom line.

If you are like a lot of lawyers, you may not be completely comfortable in a networking environment. Some attorneys I know would rather go to the dentist than to an event full of strangers. Solution: Take a buddy along. Not for the purpose you might think – i.e. someone comfortable to talk with. Rather, you should spend very little time talking with your buddy.

The idea is that you “team up” to introduce each other (whether another lawyer, other professional, referral source, client, friend, whomever) to people you don’t know. My friend Miriam Lawrence at Automatic Referrals has a post about getting a “networking buddy.” It’s a good read, as she refers to advice she picked up from professional speaker and coach Patricia Fripp.

The scenario goes something like this:

  • Your teammate is talking with someone and you walk up (or vice versa);
  • He/she immediately turns and asks the person whether they know you, and proceeds to give you an introduction that highlights your many legal talents, as well as what a terrific person you are, etc. etc. (presumably there is a lot of truth in all this);
  • Keeping in mind that one of your goals is to meet as many potential clients or referral sources as you can, one or both of you should move on to other people after a respectable period of time, and after asking for a business card so you can follow up later;
  • Take turns repeating the process as many times as you can during the event.

If you look at it as a game rather than drudgery, networking can actually be fun. Remember, it is easier for someone else to sing your praises than for you to do so yourself.

I am delighted to announce that I will be teaming up with Jim Hassett at LegalBizDev in providing sales coaching for law firms. 

Although the “S” word is not bantered about by a lot of law firms, just as the “M” word was a no-no in the not too distant past, firms that do “get it” have certainly recognized the need to prepare their lawyers to be more effective at closing the deal. Lawyers, after all, have always been selling (I’m sorry – “persuading” prospects and clients to retain their firm), whether at the country club while golfing or dining, making presentations, writing or speaking, entertaining in general, and, of course, the old standby – while networking at tons of events. 

Okay, we’ve established that “sales” isn’t new in the legal world, but why am I teaming up with LegalBizDev? Under the mantle of “marketing” coaching I have been providing many of the tools commonly associated with sales, I just didn’t call it that. It turns out that my approach is similar to what Jim is doing. Only his is better, and he has done much more of it than me. I was so impressed with Jim’s credentials, experience, and most of all the success of his program that I was flattered when he asked me to team up with him. His approach has been so successful, for example, in the brief span of a couple of months the results were so impressive in one prominent Boston law firm, that the firm has nearly doubled the number of the attorneys participating in his second program.

Jim is a Harvard-educated Ph.D., who has spent the last 20 years providing sales training to corporations, including American Express, Bank of New York, Bank of America, TD Waterhouse, State Street, TIAA-CREF, and Telamon Insurance. He now provides this business development training to law firms. He is the author of seven books (including The Law Firm Business Development Workbook and Legal Business Development: A Step By Step Guide) and he is a fellow blogger at Legal Business Development. You can learn more about Jim on his web site.  

If you want to learn more about the specifics of LegalBizDev Network programs…

 

Continue Reading Partnering with LegalBizDev