My earlier thinking was that they were the same, or at least a distinction without a difference. But, I don’t anymore, and from a law firm marketing perspective, you shouldn’t either. According to Miriam Lawrence at Automatic Referrals, relying on word-of-mouth business is passive, while a referral marketing system requires a business to actively work those who do or could refer business to you. Waiting for clients to walk in the door, based on the hope that others speak well of you, is not a good strategy.

Whether you believe this is playing with semantics or not, Miriam has several excellent points worth taking to heart.

First, even if 20% of your clients are “raving fans” (who think of you often and are proactively referring others to your firm), 80% are spending their time thinking about THEIR business, THEIR problems, THEIR mortgage; they are not thinking about you or your business.

Secondly, you need to be proactive toward your referral sources by sending them e-newsletters (with their permission of course) that they can forward on to others, and asking them to not “keep you a secret.” Of course, you can do a lot more with your referral sources than that, including:

  • Networking,
  • Entertaining,
  • Sending articles, or other items of interest,
  • Referring others to them, and otherwise
  • Keeping in constant contact with them.

The point is, that if you are relying only on word-of-mouth to get clients, Miriam reminds us that you’ll have a long wait.

There are numerous consultants that coach lawyers on the skills and techniques of legal marketing.  That is not new.  Also, experienced rainmakers in law firms could serve as coaches for younger lawyers.  Yet, it doesn’t seem that firms provide ongoing coaching for their lawyers after investing time and money on training them how to market their services in the first place.

It is common knowledge that the retention rate following training is very low.  (See the Cone of Learning by educator Edgar Dale). So, why wouldn’t law firms want to protect their training investment by providing ongoing coaching?

According to Ed Poll in a post this week, “Coaching is cornerstone of professional development.”  He quotes from an article in the March 2006 edition of “The Lawyers Competitive Edge” (sorry ABA subscription required) by Phyllis Weiss Haserot, a friend and long time marketing consultant to lawyers, who wrote:

“Studies show that coaching after training increases the value (return on investment) by four times(!), integrating and sustaining newly learned skills. Good ongoing coaching is missing in most firms and needs to be ‘the next big thing.’”

I’m not at all sure it is the “next big thing,” but I won’t say it shouldn’t be. I believe a good coach can:

  • Help provide focus and direction (and redirection)
  • Help to plan an approach or strategy
  • Reinforce and bolster your marketing ideas
  • Be a source of new ideas or approaches
  • Keep you on track and motivated
  • Help sell your ideas to management

 Most importantly, 

  • Can be a friendly nag (or PITA)

So, where is your coach?

Continue Reading Do You Have A Coach?

As I have said before, I am NOT a fan of law firm marketing committees. Marketing partner or marketing mentor of some sort…yes, but not a committee.
However…. after reading Bruce Allen’s recent post on the value of marketing committees, I have to agree there are exceptions to every opinion. Bruce makes an excellent case of how a marketing committee can work and make meaningful contributions. He explains that his committee:
*Assists in-house marketer understand the firm’s culture, while at the same time help promote the marketing initiatives within the firm,
*Head of committee is a well-respected and politically savvy partner,
*Members of committee are aggressive about and for marketing, and
*Respectfully challenges the marketing staff (or an outside consultant) to make the case for recommended actions, rather than being offensively negative (“that won’t work” or “what a dumb idea”, etc.) in its approach.
I haven’t changed my mind about marketing committees in general, but it is refreshing to hear that it can work for someone like Bruce, who has to have a ton more patience, good looks, and smarts than I do.
My only caution or warning is that that unless your committee contains the elements highlighted above, my suggestion is that you not create a marketing committee within your firm. And if you already have one, and it doesn’t contain these ingredients, get rid of it.
Oh yeah, as I said before, I feel strongly about this.

Your rolodex (or equivalent) contains many potential sources of new legal work. If you’re like most people your contacts include clients, former clients, referral sources, potential clients, family, friends, classmates, etc. All can help you obtain new matters.
An article suggesting you “Roll Your Rolodex for New Clients” by Olivia Fox Cabane of Spitfire Communications appeared in Legal Times and Small Firm Business. A few of her ideas include: (and a comment from me, of course)
*Sort your contacts into categories (most contact management software will help here, if you haven’t done so already),
*Get rid of names of people you don’t recognize (careful with this one, as you may be having a “senior” moment; and you don’t want to wake up at 3:00 a.m. remembering who the contact was, but now don’t know how to reach them),
*Remember the “80/20” Rule in developing your Hot List of contacts (I have discussed the Pareto Rule before if you want to refresh), and
*After reviewing your contact list(s), plan your approach and purpose/goal in contacting them (contact two or three per week to schedule a meeting, lunch, or just send several some information they may be interested in).
Remember, I have talked about involving your staff in your legal marketing efforts in the past (here and here). This is a good way for your secretary/assistant to help – particularly as it relates to reviewing your “rolodex” and helping to categorize for you those she/he knows – but, there is no substitute for your personally going through your list, and planning how and why you will be contacting them.

At two law firms where I was an in-house marketer, I had the dubious honor of having a marketing committee to work with. One was okay, since it really only served an advisory role, while the other was a total disaster. Could hardly agree on anything, and certainly provided little useful input. Some meetings were ego battles, and little was ever accomplished. During the interview for my last in-house position, I asked whether the firm had a marketing committee. I was informed they did not, but had considered forming one. I said I would not take the job if they did.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly about this!
Today I ran across Chris Houchens’ Shotgun Marketing Blog where he has a post about why marketing by committee is a bad idea. As he questions why you wouldn’t have a office supply committee (to decide on what color pens to order), accounting committee (to decide how to post debits and credits), or a human resources committee (to decide who gets hired or fired), his point is clear.
Neither he nor I suggest that your marketers operate in a vacuum, quite the opposite. Hire good people who are knowledgeable, and who will seek out their clients’ (lawyers’) input. Then, let them do their job.

In too many firms, not everyone has bought into being part of the marketing team. You don’t necessarily want every lawyer writing articles or making speeches. Some may not be very good at it, but they can still be part of the team and contribute in other ways. And I have posted before about making the staff part of the team, so I won’t belabor that point. What is important though is that everyone understands that marketing is the responsibility of everyone at the firm.
John Jantsch has a post emphasizing how marketing is everyone’s job. As he so aptly puts it:

“The funny thing is, anyone in your organization who comes into contact with a customer or potential customer in the name of your business is performing a marketing function – so why not teach them to perform it well?”

Why not indeed? Such training shouldn’t end with how clients should be treated, or how everyone should dress and behave. Your firm should ensure that everyone down to the file clerk understands the type of work the firm does, and the type of clients it prefers. Better yet if they understand the firm’s marketing plan (you do have one don’t you?), or at least the firm’s goals and objectives in a general sense. Semi-annual or annual meetings to include all lawyers and staff is a good idea. On these occasions, the managing partner or chairperson can set out the vision for the firm while conducting a pep rally for the troops. I’ve seen this work very effectively. Not only does it make everyone feel part of the law firm, but can actually translate into everyone accepting responsibility for being part of the marketing team.

Not only should you make your staff part of the marketing team, you should empower them in ways that can increase their effectiveness in assisting clients and improving the image (brand) of your law firm.
Joseph’s Marketing Blog talks about the power of empowerment in a recent post and a couple of points are worthy of consideration in the legal marketing environment.
Clients are no different than Joseph’s “customers”. Clients want immediate answers or at least helpful information when they want it. Depending on the size of your office, allow the staff (receptionist, secretary, paralegal) to act and speak on your behalf within certain parameters. At least your secretary should be so empowered. Yes, I know, that means giving up a certain degree of control. But that is what empowerment is all about.
The best way to empower staff is to make sure they feel appreciated and know that they play a vital role in the ongoing health of the law firm. Then, train your staff to be helpful rather than mere functionaries when clients call. There is nothing worse than passing a caller off to someone else or to voicemail without so much as a word, and it doesn’t improve the firm’s image much when your staff doesn’t inquire as to whether they could help in some way.
An example of empowerment might include allowing a staff person to tell a caller that you will call them back before the end of the day, or otherwise respond to certain requests from clients. This assumes communication between the lawyer and staff as to what those parameters are. So, give some thought to other ways you can empower your staff to help your clients. Remember, the ultimate goal is to make clients happy.

About a dozen years ago, I spoke to 3L’s at a prestigious Midwest law school who were planning to go solo when they graduated. I offered some advice, based on my experience as a solo, on setting up their practice. Additionally, I gave them advice on how to start marketing their practice, since unlike their classmates who were going to larger firms, the work was not going to magically appear on their desks.
That experience got me thinking about how inadequate law school training is in preparing solos and small firm attorneys for the business side of law. Over the years I have argued that law schools have done a horrible job for the approximately 40%-44% of solos (the figure for the class I spoke to) in preparing them for the real world of running and marketing a law practice. In fact, I would proffer they have an obligation to do so. Moreover, it’s as if law schools are saying, “thanks for your $100k, good luck, go get ’em.”
I know a few schools have made small attempts to help by holding clinical skills-type classes or seminars occasionally. That has hardly made a dent in the problem.
This all came back to me when I saw the article by Susan Cartier-Liebel entitled “Law School Learning Leaves Solos in Cold” which appeared in Small Firm Business yesterday. Susan, who teaches such a course at Quinnipiac University School of Law, asks the question “if more than half of all lawyers in private practice are solos (Susan cites 51%, and 72% in firms of 4 or fewer people), why don’t law schools teach how to hang a shingle?”
Why not? indeed! And professors, why not throw in a little effective, tasteful, ethical marketing training while you are at it, so those lawyers can keep the doors open long enough to pay back their loans.

Dave Swanner’s recent post on South Carolina Trial Law Blog about the three most important values he places on hiring employees could equally apply to how lawyers are valued by staff. His three values are loyalty, communication and hard work; and he puts them ahead of intelligence when it comes to hiring an employee. He has a very good point.
I am sure there are other values one could think of, but his three got me to thinking, don’t staff look for the same things in their law firms. The way staff is treated in some law firms is a disgrace and the reason for high turnover in those firms. Why should a staff person not expect to be treated with respect? And when some lawyers fail in that regard, is the law firm showing loyalty to the staff by not admonishing the perpetrator. Communication or the lack of it is often another cause for unhappy staff members. Finally, some lawyers don’t work as hard as they may claim, and others work hard but are inefficient in managing their work flow. Both lead to last minute demands on staff that may require staying late and the staff person’s family suffering in the process.
Oh, I knew you were going to ask what that has to do with marketing. As a very savvy rainmaker (in one of my in-house positions) often said “marketing has everything to do with everything a lawyer and a law firm does.” Simply put, an unhappy staff can have a killing effect out there in the marketplace. Reputations have a habit of becoming public knowledge. And, I would argue that there are clients that do not want to deal with a law firm that mistreats their staff.

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing has an interesting post relating to contract blogging as a revenue source.
That reminded me of my belief that we will see small law firms contracting with bloggers to keep the firm’s or practice group’s blog current, especially when they are too busy to maintain it themselves. I have one small firm client that is considering using yours truly for that very purpose.

Continue Reading Contract Blogging for Profit