There’s Always a Silver Lining

Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
 
“Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strengths.”        Unknown

With the economy at its lowest point in decades, the legal industry is taking its share of the brunt.  More and more firms are downsizing, some in drastic measures and still law schools are turning out new graduates in record numbers.  So what’s a lawyer to do?  Start an emergency fund and hunker down until things get better?  That’s certainly an option.  It’s all in how you look at it.

Economic turmoil is not pleasant, but with turmoil there is always opportunity, and the opportunity for small to mid-size firms to build their commercial business is better than ever.  Companies are tightening their belts, looking for better, more affordable legal services.  A recent study by BTI Consulting, a leader in legal industry research, suggests that now is the time for small to mid-size firms to ramp up their marketing efforts to go after big company legal business.  According to BTI research, companies are moving away from big firm services in favor of the more affordable and flexible services offered by small to mid-size firms.  In fact, the nation’s top 100 revenue generating law firms went from servicing 64% of the 550 large companies surveyed in 2007, to only 36% in 2008.  The next 100 firms picked up some of the top 100 losses moving from 13% of the business in 2007 to 26% in 2008.  But big gains in market share also went to those firms under the top 200, who went from 26% in 2007 to 38% in 2008.  Why the shift?  More and more companies are looking at innovative ways to stretch their legal dollars.  Smaller firms not saddled by big associate salaries, heavy personnel infrastructures, and considerable overhead have the flexibility to offer more innovative billing practices, staffing and communication.

So what does this mean?  There has never been a better chance for small to mid-size firms to break the glass ceiling and pick up some of that premium legal work.  Not only does the recent economic crisis encourage large companies to look for cheaper alternatives now, it will also go a long way to breaking the pattern of many executives who feel compelled to go with the big name firms, if only to cover themselves should their hiring decision be questioned.  Companies are no longer expected to stick with the big boys, and in fact, there is a shift in the mood toward greater appreciation of executives who are innovative and willing to make smarter legal service choices.

What should you do to capitalize on this opportunity?  BTI research suggests that expensive marketing campaigns are not necessary.  Turns out that the combination of traditional and cyber networking, expert positioning through association activity, speaking engagements and white paper publication can get you there… i.e. good old fashioned elbow grease.  How’s that for a silver lining??

How to Inspire Bubba to Do Client Development; Start with “Cut and Paste”

Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
 
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”      Harry S. Truman

Years ago, when law firms still had typewriters on every secretary’s desk, and “real lawyers” didn’t type, I came off a pregnancy leave to find that my secretary had been moved to another group and I was left with psycho secretary (I swear she was that way when I got there).  Shortly after my return, psycho went on mental health leave.  I was working for a large company that was required to keep her position open during her period of “illness.”  That left me with a revolving door of temps.  This was particularly difficult as I was practicing litigation at the time with its many intensive deadlines, and was helpless to get a document out the door.  After a few months of this Twilight Zone like push and pull to keep from committing malpractice, the company bought word processors for all its lawyers.  My desperation managed to get me over my terrifying fear of this “new” windows technology (okay, yes, I’m no spring chicken), and I taught myself to word process.  I got so into it, before long I was creating all sorts of shortcuts and macros to speed up my production.

Several months later, when I was still the only lawyer using the computer for more than just checking internal email (there was still no Internet), the Vice President of the Law Department dropped in my office for a visit.  He took one look at my computer screen and was fascinated with my set up.  Before I knew it, I was teaching the company lawyers to use the computer. 

Understanding that most lawyers did not have psycho secretaries keeping them from meeting their deadlines, I had to devise a way to get lawyers to buy into the idea that the computer was their friend, and that eventually it would make their lives easier.  However, expecting them to dramatically change the way they did their work was not a realistic solution.  So I broke it into baby steps deciding to teach them very little at a time.  Eventually, I speculated, they would see the benefit and begin to teach themselves.  My first lesson was a desk-to-desk session on opening a document and learning to “cut and paste.”  The lawyer would do that for a few weeks before receiving their next instruction.   The next lesson was to type some simple revisions, followed a few weeks later by a “save as” lesson.  It was actually quite remarkable how little I had to do after that.  Once the lawyers got over the hump of dealing with a tiny change, they started to appreciate the results, quickly bought into the process and started teaching themselves.

Getting lawyers to engage in client development can be very similar.  At first it seems like a daunting task.  There is that vague insecurity of not being sure what to do, followed by a gut feeling that lots of time will be wasted and that the efforts may never lead to new business.  There is that pressure of knowing that there is still billable legal work to knock out, and that whatever time is squeezed in for client development will be spent just trying to figure out what to do.  When lawyers work on cases, they can immediately see the benefits and get instant gratification for their efforts.  But with client development, patience is a prerequisite.  It could take months before efforts actually result in a new client.  Like learning how to use a computer, client development can be a very long and painful process before it feels productive.

So what is a firm to do?  Create your own instant gratification.  Consider ways to break down the tasks of client development and find ways to dish out immediate gratification for the completion of the smaller task.  Starting out with activities that the lawyer is more comfortable with will also make it easier to get them going.  For example, if a lawyer is uncomfortable with networking, instead of pushing him to join an association, have him contribute by writing an article on a topic of interest to a targeted client.  Publish the article on your website or better yet, in an industry publication (it’s easier than you think) and email your clients and prospects an excerpt of the article with a link.  This gives the lawyer the instant gratification that comes with recognition for a task well done, while furthering the firm’s business development plans.  Do this sort of thing several times, and your newly published lawyer will be inspired to do it again and before you know it, will be looking for other ways to do more.

By breaking up client development tasks into smaller segments, and rewarding those segments, Bubba will not have to wait months for the satisfaction.  Keep feeding the small accomplishments and the participation will grow on its own.

Lose Thirty Pounds; Develop New Clients

Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
 
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”       Napoleon Hill

Let’s say you just got your beach trip photos back and after perusing them you reluctantly accept the fact that you really need to lose those thirty pounds you had fooled yourself into thinking you could hide under your loose work clothes.  You paste that terribly unflattering side view photo on the refrigerator (you know, the one that shows your expanding mid-section and an extra flap underneath your chin).  You get rid of all the junk in your kitchen, buy the “good” foods that fit the latest diet plan you have selected, and you dust off your exercise equipment.  You have a plan and you are determined to implement it.  First day is great.  You think you are not in as bad of shape as you thought because you don’t feel sore (just wait a few days).  It’s a little tough passing up your usual fair, but you stick to your diet plan.   The first week is a struggle, but somehow you manage to keep up your diet and exercise regiment, and you are rewarded for your efforts with some weight loss.  The next week is a little tougher.  You had some lunch meetings and it was a little embarrassing pulling off the bread from the sub sandwiches that were brought in, but you managed and again were rewarded with a few more pounds lost.  But at your cousin’s wedding that weekend, after a few glasses of red wine (since it is “good” for your heart, so you rationalize), you decide you deserve to celebrate a little for the weight you managed to lose in the first two weeks and you indulge a bit.  By week three you are making more concessions on your food choices and you are too busy to keep up the exercise regiment, but you vow to do better the next week.  Two months later, you have long abandoned your plan, you have gained all the weight back, and that brief few weeks when you were able to put on those smaller sized jeans have passed.

So what does this have to do with getting new clients?  Plenty!  A successful weight loss program generally requires “patience, persistence and perspiration.”  So does a successful marketing plan.  You may dabble in marketing here and there and manage to pick up some legal work, but sustained business development requires, you guessed it, patience, persistence and hard work (you don’t actually need to perspire although it has been known to happen, especially in Texas).  The best of intentions will not lead to reliable long term growth.  Only focused, persistent and sustained efforts will create a stable and reliable business portfolio, no matter how creative the marketing plan.  In the end, great marketing programs are not generally based on highly complex and unique concepts.  In fact, there is usually nothing extraordinary about the actual marketing activities, except to the extent that they are passionately and persistently pursued.  If you can master the persistence it takes to lose and maintain your weight loss, you can master an effective marketing plan.  Otherwise, you may as well take the photo off the refrigerator.  Why depress yourself?

 

Why Bother with a Mission Statement?

Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
 
“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power.  Most people dabble their way through life never deciding to master anything in particular.”        Anthony Robbins

You’re a law firm and you basically just want to get clients and practice law.  You have an idea of what type of law you want to practice and what kind of clients you want, so why bother with a mission statement?  What purpose does it really serve?

As in the medical profession, the practice of law is becoming more and more specialized.  You may start off as a generalist, but at some point focusing on an area or areas of specialty may make sense.  Targeting in on either an area of law or a type of client can be critical to long term, sustained business development.  A mission statement may seem like a needless formality, but its development assists in bringing all decision makers in agreement as to the direction of the firm, and can surprisingly be a simple but effective tool in assuring that all activities undertaken are designed to meet the goals of the firm.  Many times, short term opportunities will appear on the horizon that will tempt members to loose focus.  While acting on a short term opportunity may provide short term benefits, resources are diverted away from what was already determined after careful analysis by the firm to be the most beneficial long term direction, and thus will delay or stall the ability of the firm to meet the goals and objectives that are in the best interest of the firm.   All opportunities should therefore be compared to the mission statement to determine whether they are in line with its stated intent.

More than just a nice statement gracing a brochure or business plan, the mission statement can be an effective management tool.  When utilized, it can make the difference between achieving your goals through focused and sustained efforts, and short term gratification through uncoordinated activities that achieve little long term benefit.

“Anyone Can Cook.” What Law Firms Can Learn From Ratatouille About Business Development.

Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
 
“If you can find collaborators whose strengths compliment your own, the result can be more than the sum of its authors.”       Walter John Williams

In the popular animated Disney film, Ratatouille an unusually talent rat finds himself cooking in a famous restaurant in Paris, guided by the encouragement of his mentor, a famous, well-published chef who is known for his assertion that “anyone can cook.”  The antagonist, an equally famous food critic, scuffs at such a notion, but eventually appreciates its meaning when he realizes that strengths and talents can be found in the most unexpected places.  We learn that it is the combination of the individuals working together that made that make believe Paris restaurant successful.  By utilizing the strengths of its individuals in the various roles they excelled in, together they were able to create a great meal.  Law firms today can utilize this concept in developing a great marketing program.

A common complaint I hear from many managing partners is that when it comes to business development, some people are just not trainable.  In some ways, this is true.  Being a great lawyer does not necessarily equate to being a great rainmaker.  While most lawyers tend to be good advocates, there is more to rainmaking than winning debates and being persuasive.  Business development skills can be taught to a certain degree, but excellence in such skills is limited to those whose natural strengths compliment the work that needs to be done to develop business.  However, if the activities necessary for business development can be broken into difference categories, such as networking, speaking, researching, writing, etc., the number of lawyers that can contribute utilizing their natural strengths and talents can be increased, and thereby reduce the burden on the few lawyers that have strengths that naturally match the bulk of the business development activities.  Rather than trying to train all the lawyers to do all things, lawyers should focus on contributing to the business development of the firm in the ways that are more suited toward their natural strengths.  Networkers should network.  Speakers should speak.  Researchers should research.  Writers should write.  With the collective effort of each lawyer contributing based on their strengths, they can all “cook” and produce something greater than the sum of its parts.