Category Archives: Articles of Interest

No Good Deed Goes Unrewarded

“For it is in giving, that we receive.”  Saint Francis of Assisi

The “no good deed goes unpunished” adage got its roots from those experiences in life where the good deed done appears to unfairly backfire on the do gooder.  No doubt there are times when the person doing the good experiences a negative reaction.  But does that mean good deeds are to be avoided lest they go unrewarded?  In the least, there is the reward and self satisfaction that comes from knowing you did the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

But what does that have to do with marketing?  This is after all, a legal marketing and business development blog. 

It is common knowledge that joining organizations and meeting people can be an effective networking strategy to help you promote your services and generate business.  But if you have tried it, you also know that many times when you attend a function at some sort of industry, charitable or social organization, you will find that a large percentage of the participants are people just like you, hoping to make a contact or generate a lead for business.  Something that does not go unnoticed by the group.  So how do you distinguish yourself, get noticed, and not come off like some parasitic leech?

The answer?  Good deeds!  Real life charitable service for the organization.  Performing voluntary services for the organization demonstrates not only your organizational skills, talent and expertise; it also demonstrates a genuine interest in the group and its mission.  Nothing is more attractive to group members than other group members taking an active interest in the causes of the group and doing things to further their plans and purpose.  That is how you get noticed and how you build relationships.  Trust is a critical component to hiring decisions in the legal profession.  Proving your interest goes a long way toward building that trust, and in the end, getting their business.

So if you choose to join an organization as part of your marketing plan and want it to really pay off, be prepared to participate.  Understand that if you give first, you are more likely to get back.  If you don’t have the time, then this may not be the strategy for you.  You could get lucky just by showing up, but most likely you’ll just be waiting in line. 

 

How About a Joint Venture? A Twist on Referrals for Small and Solo Law Firms

 “Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.”    ~Author Unknown

A very old and common technique for building business is to ask for and give referrals.  Every year I get at least a handful of letters and brochures from law firms seeking referrals on their areas of expertise.  I also know many lawyers, solo practitioners in particular, that refer business that comes their way, when it involves areas of expertise or resource commitment they are not comfortable with.

If you are a small or solo firm and would like to get more out of case referrals, there is an alternative to sending them out the door.  Consider joint venturing cases you might otherwise refer.  There are more solo firms in Texas than any other size firm.  The areas of practice for these firms vary widely.  Why not ask someone to work with you on a case instead of just farming it out?  Here are six reasons why this option can be beneficial:

  1. It allows you to earn fees on a case you might not otherwise be able to handle.  When I get a case in the door that I may be reluctant to take on because I either lack the resources (i.e. money and staff) or experience to handle it properly, but I would otherwise be very interested in taking, I will usually look for a lawyer with the expertise or resources I am lacking to join me in the representation on the case rather than just refer it.  Most solos, even very successful ones, will be very open to taking a case on a joint venture if the case has the financial potential to justify it.
  2. If you refer a case, you still need to stay sufficiently involved to protect your referral fee and satisfy the requirements of the code of professional responsibility.  If you joint venture the case, although you will likely be committing more time and effort to the case than with a referral, you will also earn a higher portion of the fee.  If you are trying to grow your business, keeping more of the fee can be crucial.
  3. If you refer a case because you do not feel you have enough experience to handle it on your own, you reduce your opportunity to ever acquire that line of experience.  If it is an area that you receive frequent inquiries, or would like to handle more of, a joint venture can be a great alternative.  You work closely with someone who knows the area of law while you earn a higher-than-referral fee, and eventually you will be qualified to handle that type of case on your own.
  4. If you have experience in an area that because of the customary fee structure, requires substantial financial investment (i.e. the firm covering expenses), consider asking a firm with adequate resources to invest and joint venture the case with you.  If the case is a good investment, most firms with the financial resources will still be interested in taking the case on a joint venture.  You provide a bulk of the man hours, while they share their knowledge, expertise and finances with you for, let’s say, half the fee.  When I’ve had the opportunity to take in such a case, I have never had trouble finding a joint venture partner to split the fee based on their financial backing and second chair legal support.  A good investment is a good investment.
  5. If you joint venture a case instead of refer it, you are more likely to be in a position to receive additional business or referrals from your client.  When you send a case to another firm, assuming that firm does a reasonable job, that client may be more inclined to go to refer that firm in the future rather than your firm.  A good lawyer will develop a bond with their client throughout their representation.  Unless, you already have an otherwise very strong relationship with that client, the relationship that client develops with the referred lawyer will likely be more vivid in their mind than the previous relationship with you, so when the client has additional needs or an opportunity to refer, chances are the lawyer you referred will get the new business or referral.  Many experts on the subject of marketing agree that the best way to develop business is first through your existing clients.  The more clients you can keep in the fold, the greater potential for repeat business or referrals from them.
  6. By pulling another lawyer into a case, you also increase the likelihood that the lawyer you joint venture with will reciprocate by asking you to joint venture with them on one of their cases, or possibly even out right refer cases to you.  It is a win/win for both lawyers because it expands the work for both firms by providing the benefits of shared skills and experience while maintaining separate practices.

Of course there is the down side to joint ventures.  As with any joint venture, you then become responsible for the actions of the lawyer you are venturing with as you would be in any partnership, but that responsibility is limited to that one case.  If you choose your joint venture partner wisely and stay active on the case as you would your own, that risk of additional liability should be minimal.

Also, be sure that if you think you might want to joint venture with another lawyer on a case, you include that possibility in your contract with your client.

While a joint venture will not be the answer for every case, it is a valuable alternative to referrals that can produce greater revenue for your growing firm.

 

Should I Blog? A Two Prong Test.

“A great resume can only deliver confidence in your ability to deliver solutions, but it never provides the solution.”

You’ve heard the advice. Keep your website active. Add new material. Blog about topics of interest to your clients. Be the “go to” resource for cutting edge information. Sounds good, but it also sounds like a lot of work. So is it worth your time? Ultimately, will it bring in business?

Whether you should blog depends on two primary areas of consideration: First, do you like writing and are you good at it? Second, what impact would it likely have, if any, on the buying decisions of your targeted clients?

While most lawyers have at least a reasonable level of writing skill, being able to draft pleadings, motions or briefs does not necessarily equate to being an effective blogger. Effective blogging isn’t just about putting a decent sentence together. It requires identifying topics of current interest to the targeted client, and providing useful or interesting information presented in an easy-to-read and at least semi-entertaining style. If you find yourself spending hours on end writing a marginal, half page blog post, chances are it is not your thing. And of course if you do a poor job, it could actually do damage (although damage is unlikely for most lawyers making a reasonable effort). In short, you have to want to do it, enjoy it and be pretty good at it.

Once you determine that you can be successful writing blog posts, you next must consider whether blogging has a reasonable chance of generating business with the clients you want. To meet this prong, there has to be some measurable benefit or return on your investment of time. So how do lawyers benefit from blogging?

First, and most obvious, blogging can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge on subjects of interest to your targeted client and may actually provide value added services on the spot. Nothing demonstrates expertise better than, well, demonstrating it. Prospective clients expect that your firm bio will be written in a way to make you look qualified. Having a list of references or successes can help too. But to actually see the expertise in action can be the most powerful proof of your knowledge and experience. Also, a well written blog provides instant useful information and possibly even solutions for your targeted clients. Ultimately that is what they want, solutions. A great resume can only deliver confidence in your ability to deliver solutions, but it never provides the solution.

Second, regular blogging can improve your visibility on the Internet, possibly driving valuable traffic to your website. If your site has quality content on the subjects and important terms relevant to your business, it will improve your placement with the search engines on those topics. Likewise, if your website enjoys a significant traffic flow, it will also improve your site’s placement in response to search engine queries. One feeds off the other. Content leads to traffic, which leads to more traffic.

But will the benefits turn into business? It all goes back to basic marketing principles. Who is your target, where do they get their information, and how do they make their purchasing decisions? Clients seeking attorneys for personal injury plaintiff’s claims, criminal law or family law matters commonly use the Internet for locating potential lawyers. Therefore, high placement in response to search engine queries will help lead prospective clients to your site. They may not read your blog, but your blog may still be responsible for the business if the blog delivered the high placement that brought them to your site.

On the other hand, commercial clients are much less likely to use a search engine to find a lawyer, but instead are more inclined to rely on personal referrals. However, even if they don’t begin their search on the Internet, they will likely use the Internet to research a referred lawyer. Once under consideration, they will go to your website to answer one question: What is the likelihood this lawyer can successfully provide the solution I need? If your blog answers that question, it will benefit you. Your blog might not bring them to your site, but it might sell them on your qualifications.

So, should you blog? If you are good at it, and your analysis of your client’s decision making process suggests it will positively impact their decision, then it is a viable option. Once you meet these first two prongs, then it is a matter of how this particular marketing strategy weighs against the other marketing strategies available to you. Most lawyers have a very limited amount of time to market. Choosing the strategy that best fits your skills and your client’s needs is the key to effective marketing. But if you don’t meet the first two prongs for blogging, then don’t blog for business.

 

“Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Think Orchard”

The following comment was posted on LinkedIn, in response to my early post “Social Networking; Bah! Humbug!” I could not fit my entire reply on the LinkedIn site, so I am posting it here.  Hopefully you will find it insightful:

Fellow LinkedIn Member:  “Samira, I fear that lawyers are becoming slaves to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, just as they are slaves to the time sheet. What’s happened to good old face to face contact?”

My reply:

I agree.  Nothing replaces face-to-face time for networking and more importantly, relationship building.  And the suggestion by some that cyber social networking is a must, totally ignores the limitation of time.  Every attorney needs to decide on the best use of their time.  At some point, we have to spend time practicing law.  Cyber networking can consume countless hours, with little or no return on the time invested.  Again, it all comes down to the type of clients you are seeking, where they get their information, and where you should invest your time.  If you are looking for commercial clients, Twitter and Facebook are probably not a good place to spend it, although if you enjoy them socially, you can go ahead and merge the two activities simply because you never know where you will get your next client.  (If you are on Facebook for strictly social reasons for example, it can’t hurt to make sure your “friends” know what kind of law you practice and that you are open for referrals.)  However, it is still unlikely, because of the choice of venue, to be where businesses go to find their attorneys and therefore is probably not the best place to spend hours of business development efforts and time.

LinkedIn is a little different, particularly if you are seeking business/commercial clients.  But not necessarily for the reasons most people think.  I don’t think businesses go there specifically to find their attorneys, but it can be a decent place to renew old contacts that can lead to renewed business or referrals.  My legal practice focuses primarily on commercial clients, so I look for venues where I can make good business contacts.  I still rely heavily on traditional networking, but I have used LinkedIn to connect with a number of people that I have known over the years that I had lost contact with but are good contacts to keep.  I don’t suggest you consume hours on end there, but if you seek commercial clients, LinkedIn is likely worth investing at least a few hours a month to keep current with the times, explore former business relationships and, as you have apparently experienced yourself, as a decent source of information.  It is also important from the standpoint of appearances.  Many commercial clients use LinkedIn and if you are not on there, you may appear behind the times, so it is good to at least keep a current profile.

There is no replacement for the same tried and true marketing strategies.  The key is to locate where your clients get their information for hiring decisions, and spend the bulk of your business development time there.  As one of my clients once said, its all about finding the orchard, or as I call it, a prospect rich environment where there is a high density of your type of client. If it is in the cyber world (whether search engines, networking sites, cyber publications, etc.) then you should spend your time there.  But in many cases, it is still heavily referral and traditional networking opportunities that win the day.  Your website and LinkedIn or other social networking profiles may only be as important as a good brochure or wearing the right business attire.  You always want to appear current with the times and once you make the contact, clients in most areas of practice will turn to the Internet to find out more about you.

One other tidbit of information, I was recently quoted a study by a guy that was trying to sell me some pay-per-click advertising on a search engine.  I wasn’t buying but the study confirmed what I had deduced on my own.  The number one attorney search on the major search engines is for personal injury attorneys.  Number two was for criminal attorneys, and number three was for family/divorce attorneys.  After that, the numbers dropped off dramatically.  That speaks volumes on both where the orchard is for those areas of practice, and where it is NOT for others.

All that being said, as the youtube video I linked to on my previous post suggested, the Internet is overtaking everything on where people go for information.  Attorneys, regardless of their specialty, should at least stick a toe in the water, because over time, it will only grow in its dominance, and we need to be ready to stay at least with the trends, lest we be left behind.  I still predict that it will never overtake the “personal touch” but it is destined to grow in its importance in all areas of practice.

Social Networking; Bah! Humbug!

 “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you are not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”        Stewart Brand

Social Networking, bah, humbug!!  Or is it?

As a marketing consultant, one would not expect me to be slow to the punch on social networking as a marketing tool for lawyers, but admittedly, I have been somewhat skeptical of its strengths, particularly on the heavily social leaning sites like Facebook and My Space.  It’s not that I doubt the power of any opportunity for networking, whether traditional or in the cyber world, it is really more a matter of time as a limited resource.  Networking is a critical component to any legal practice.  But with a limited amount of time to allocate towards marketing, lawyers need to choose their venues for networking well, so as to get the most bang for their buck.  What venue is right for you depends on who the clients are that you seek, and where they spend their time. 

If you are looking for business litigation clients, Facebook or MySpace are not likely to be prospect rich environments for you (not yet at least).  That’s not to say that you couldn’t get a business litigation client through Facebook, but the question is, if you have a limited amount of time to network, where should you spend that time?  If you want an alternative to the traditional networking venues, there are cyber options on networking sites with more of a business culture like LinkedIn.  So if you want to build your business prospects and want to give the cyber world a try, LinkedIn may be a better use of your time. 

On the other hand, if you are hoping to increase your family law business, ensuring that all your Facebook friends keep your family law practice on the tip of their tongue is probably a pretty good use of your time, since much of that business is built on people seeking attorneys through referrals from family and friends.  Again it is all about who your prospective clients are, where they hang out, and where they get their information.

But if you are wondering if networking sites are worth the trouble, in the long run, the answer is a resounding yes. Check out this video on youtube if you’re having doubts.  And if you are one of those who shudder at new technology, don’t despair.  You will not have to spend your days and nights “tweeting” or posting on Facebook.  Traditional marketing still wins the day.  It’s still about picking the right prospect rich venues and spending your time, resources and money there, to get the most out of your time and efforts.  The networking sites are simply another venue option, and the good news is they can make good ole fashioned elbow grease go a long way!