Lawyers should update their bios regularly to keep it fresh, and because it is an important marketing tool.  It should be well written, brief and to the point on the benefits a prospect should gain by retaining your services.

Since there will likely be opportunities over the holidays to meet people you will want to send a bio to, it is a good time to update it. Heather Suttie referred on LinkedIn to a post that sets forth some excellent bio do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  1. Target your desired client base.  Include benefits that such an audience would be interested in by hiring you;
  2. Give your story some personality.  The best lawyer bio I ever saw is the one for Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which portrayed both his excellent credentials and sense of humor;
  3. Make it brief.  But not written like one.  Suttie suggests it be 150 words maximum. Sometimes that maybe too long depending on the occasion and audience;
  4. Include examples of cases or transactions you have handled.  However, do not name the client (even if it’s a matter of public record) without the client’s approval.  They may not want their matters publicized on the Internet, and very unhappy if you do; and
  5. Include a recent photo – emphasis on the word recent. You can send the wrong message when you meet a new client in-person, and you don’t look like your 20 year old picture.

Don’ts:

  1. A resume is not a bio. Suttie points out “clients don’t care about your career path, they care about what you can do for them”;
  2. Self-aggrandizement is a no-no. And of course using words like expert or specialist (unless so certified by an acceptable bar organization) creates ethical problems;
  3. Although it may be okay to mention your Pulitzer Prize, lesser kudos unless related to your legal practice are not.  Your law school Moot Court award 30 years ago won’t cut it;
  4. Education should be downplayed the further into your career you go.  I hate to say it, but you didn’t become a great lawyer in law school.  The only thing that really matters is what you have done since; and
  5. Avoid stating your bar admission year.  If you’re a recent grad, it highlights your youth and inexperience.  If it is well back in the last century, it may show you are not only long-in-the-tooth, but expensive.

Bios are important and since they are a form of self-marketing, put your best effort into making it sharp, short and a compelling story.

As we get closer to the holiday season (yeah, they’ll be here sooner than you think), it means there will be more and more networking opportunities.  A lot of lawyers, including yours truly, are not always comfortable in every setting.  However, these events can be very important to developing business for one’s practice, and should not be avoided due to some discomfort.

I had initially overlooked a post by Mary Ellen Sullivan on Attorney at Work last month I think is pretty good and worth sharing.  It provides 10 suggested icebreakers by Debra Fine., the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  They are:

  1. “What is your connection to this event?
  2. What keeps you busy outside of work?
  3. Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.
  4. How did you come up with this idea?
  5. What got you interested in … ?
  6. What do you attribute your success to?
  7. Describe some of the challenges of your profession.
  8. Describe your most important work experience.
  9. Bring me up to date.
  10. Tell me about your family.”

Fine and Sullivan also suggest a number questions which might be considered too personal or problematic, which should be avoided.  No. 10 above might fall into that category depending on the situation, but obviously it is a judgment call.

Notice that the questions are open-ended. This should keep the other person talking, and that can help overcome any shyness.

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

 

The matter of whether to send printed holiday cards instead of e-cards is one that I feel very strongly about. It is not unlike my view about sending handwritten Thank You notes, instead of emails when expressing gratitude or congratulations to someone. I’ve written and spoken about the topic many, many times on this blog over the past eight years and for longer in my business development seminars.

It is much more personal, especially when notes, as well as the envelopes, are handwritten.  Not enough people take the time to show they really care.  Since the Internet entered our lives, way too many take the easy way out.  Yet, it appears that many, including lawyers still see the value in printed cards.

Bob Weiss surveyed 140 lawyers as to their views on the subject, and wrote about it on Attorney at Work.  Weiss admits it is not a scientifically sound survey.  Nonetheless, I believe the results are telling. Over 60% of lawyers from one to over 20 years in practice, and in all age groups “prefer holiday cards over e-cards.”  So, it isn’t just us old folks that feel that way.  Moreover, approximately 80% said it made a better impression if the card is “personally signed and includes a brief personal note.”  Weiss also has 6 tips on how to go about handling the process.

Thus, my message is to NOT send E-cards instead of printed holiday cards.  Otherwise, your message may come across as: “I don’t have the time to send a meaningful card, because you (fill in the blank – ‘friend’, referral source or client) are just not important enough for the effort to do so.”

Not good marketing.

Lawyers know about networking, but most, except the real Rainmakers, don’t like it. It isn’t exactly like having a root canal to them, but they would rather be practicing law.  Nonetheless, the majority do recognize the need for it.

Roy Ginsburg has a post on Attorney at Work that talks about how networking is a numbers game and compares the undertaking to baseball.  His analogy to baseball is of course timely, as my beloved Red Sox just won the World Series (yes, I’m a real fan, who suffered all those many years growing up in the area).

Although Ginsburg is primarily focusing on networking for prospects, I prefer to concentrate on clients and referral sources, since they are the reason for 80-90% of legal work for lawyers (although the purpose is prospecting as well).  I like his four points:

  • Keep swinging.  Even with clients and referral sources, getting them to agree to a lunch or coffee sometimes is not easy, as they are busy people too.  I tell lawyers I coach to not give up easily.  Don’t take it personally, when they don’t immediately return your call or email about taking time out of their day.  Marketing is also a game of percentages;
  • Don’t get bogged down or in a slump. Eventually, you need to refocus your efforts, but not without giving it a major league effort (sorry, couldn’t resist).  I encourage the development of a quarterly contact list, and then reaching out in some manner (quick email, telephone call, and yes, even lunch) to each person on the list at least quarterly;
  • Network trade groups. Get actively involved in trade groups where your ideal clients hang out. That can be a certain bar association committee, if those lawyers are an important source of your referrals.  Like in baseball, it’s a game of contact….contact and more contact; and
  • Hang in there and be persistent.  No one said it would be easy.  From high school ball to the major leagues is not a walk in the park (I know, I need to stop this, but the analogy is valid).  It is hard work and takes time to become a legal major league player (rainmaker).

Hell, it took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to win another World Series.  And their hard work has paid off again!  Yours will too.

Been meaning to comment on some marketing advice I saw on Law Practice Today back in August.  The article entitled “A Business Development Checklist for Young Lawyers” by Kelly O’Malley at Fox Rothschild struck me for two reasons:  her checklist should get the attention of more than young lawyers, and, at least in part, should be read and followed by the increased number of solos out there.

My focus in this post then is on the items O’Malley mentions that could help solos and very small firms (that do have the benefit of a marketing department or multiple practice areas to call upon for help).  Here are a some:

  1. Keep your bio current.  You should constantly update your web site (you better have one) information, including matters handled (don’t mention client names without their permission, even if it is matter of public record), speeches made, etc.;
  2. Develop an elevator speech.  Saying “I’m a lawyer” or “employment lawyer” is NOT an elevator speech.  Rather, something along the line of “I help employees/employers avoid workplace problems” is better. See these posts for additional references to elevator speeches;
  3. Use social media.  But, be careful what you put out there.  For professional purposes LinkedIn is better than Facebook IMHO.  Also, don’t spend too much valuable time being social online or hiding “behind the computer.”   Turn social media contacts into face-to-face contacts, whenever possible;
  4.  Get out and about.  Network events in your community and trade group conferences where your ideal clients hang out.  Take clients, referral sources, prospects (keep ethical rules in mind), reporters, classmates, etc. to lunch (at least one per week, as monthly is too infrequent).  Read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  Join and be active in organizations, whether business, community or bar related. Be a player and raise your profile to attract those clients you want;
  5. Reach out quarterly to your contact list.  Contact by telephone, email or in-person those contacts that could help you grow your business.  Try to help them as it is better in the long run to “Give to Get;” and
  6. Keep in touch.  In addition to your quarterly contact list, send holiday, birthday, congratulatory cards and notes.  They should be handwritten and hand-addressed.  BTW I like Happy Thanksgiving cards to avoid the December rush.

O’Mally’s advice is not just for young lawyers only.  I know plenty of experienced (in legal matters) lawyers, many in larger firms, that could use help in developing business as well.

In response to that question in these economic times, some (if not many) lawyers might say that you would be nuts to turn down any work that comes across the transom. Well, wrong answer IMHO. I would argue that you’re nuts if you don’t turn down cases that are not suited for your practice, or the client is immediately recognized as a potential problem. Those points were raised by attorney Ruth Carter on Attorney at Work this week.

Those are two very good reasons for turning down work, but there is another.  And that is that your time could be better spent developing business with clients you would really like to represent doing the kind of work you have a passion for.

But first, the dangers associated with the first two reasons mentioned:

  • Working outside your scope.  Today’s legal world is more complex, and a lawyer simply cannot be competent in all areas.  Screw up and you got a grievance, or worse, a malpractice claim on your hands (and the time it will take to respond to either will be significant); and
  • Representing problem clients. They will take too much of your time, energy and generally make you miserable.  Trust your gut, Carter suggests and I agree.  Further, your heart may not be in their matter, and the chances of creating a problem mentioned in the bullet above could result.

Equally important, it takes time from seeking the clients and work you should be looking for. See below several earlier posts of mine emphasizing that your time would be better spent on business development than on incompatible work/clients.

Even if you don’t see the value in turning down (unsuitable work/clients) to free up time to develop the kind of clients and work you do want (to your own detriment in my view), at least give strong consider to Carter’s final thoughts:  “I didn’t change careers to become a lawyer to be miserable, or to set myself up for a bar complaint.”

Neither should you.  At times, it is just nuts to NOT turn down work.

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Don’t Dilute Your Niche In a Down Economy  http://bit.ly/RtKAMz

Be a Better Marketer by Saying “No” Sometimes http://bit.ly/TrF8zX

 

The key to success in any business is providing value.  And in today’s competitive legal market, any law firm that doesn’t know that is not talking to their clients.  Much less are they in tune with their marketplace.

If you think you are providing value to your clients, but haven’t asked them, how would you know?  John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing so accurately states in a post that value is “what the buyer says it is.”  He goes on to say that businesses need to “understand that one of their primary jobs is to increase value.”

How can lawyers do that?  Well, one way is to “stuff more features into your… services in an effort to make them seem better than what others have to offer.”  But even so Jantsch says businesses need to go further and “do the things that make your brand work more in the market…through tangible and intangible acts that allow you to build deeper relationships.”`

Jantsch suggests five ways to create more value:

  • Measure.  Determine what value you are providing clients already (yeah, the client can help here of course, but that means talking to them about value). You might find that either clients aren’t getting enough value, or that you are not charging enough;
  • Lead.  Be out front and offer ways to help clients more effectively with their business or personal issues.  Writing articles, making presentations, blogging, creating groups on social media sites are ways to show that leadership capability;
  • Teach.  The best kind of selling is education-based the selling.  Demonstrate how clients can do things well or avoid problem situations via CLE seminars or otherwise;
  • Inspire.  Here Jantsch is talking about how a great design (in marketing materials, websites, even invoices) can create value.  One might think that this suggestion is a bit fuzzy, and I would not disagree.  However, design could be a promise of value, and that is worth something; and
  • Listen.  Clearly listening to clients adds value.  That may seem pretty obvious, but “we rarely do it.” Yet, if you focus, avoid distractions (like your iPhone or Blackberry), look them in the eye and really listen, you will add tremendous value.

Be honest.  Other than producing a pretty darn good legal product, are you really adding greater value than your competitors?  In the long term, you’d better be!