“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.
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“The secret of man’s success resides in his insight into the moods of people, and his tact in dealing with them.”
J. G. Holland
I recently attended a conference on business development that included a panel of general counsel offering suggestions to attorneys seeking their business. The moderator asked whether they preferred “hard sale” or “soft sale” techniques. Not surprisingly, they all preferred a “soft sale.” Who likes being subjected to a “hard sale?” Certainly no attorneys I know.
But understanding the difference is a little more complicated and in reality more subjective than objective. It reminds me of that famous quote by former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when attempting to define what constitutes obscenity: “I shall not today further attempt to define [what constitutes obscene material]… But I’ll know it when I see it.” Defining boorish behavior can be just as difficult, but there may be a more objective way of ensuring your techniques don’t turn off your prospects. Here are some ideas for creating boorish-free communications:
- Always offer new information in each and every call or correspondence. Your prospects are not likely to be annoyed by your call if you have something new and valuable to tell them. Likewise consistently offering new and valuable information will increase your prospect’s interest in communicating with you.
- Be prepared. Know what you are going to say and anticipate the questions so that you have a better chance of providing all the information the prospect may be interested in. Not being prepared with easily anticipated information not only calls into question your competence and qualification; it can signal a lack of respect for your prospect’s time.
- Get to the point. Say only what is necessary to communicate what you want to say. As you prepare, think about what you want to say and find the shortest way possible to effectively communicate it. When writing correspondence, read your draft and make sure that each sentence has an important purpose. If it does not add value, get rid of it. Getting to the point in a succinct manner demonstrates that you respect your prospect’s time and schedule.
- Say it with style. Your communication should include an appropriate tone and personal touch to build on the relationship. In fact, tone and personal touch can be as important as the point you are trying to make. However, it doesn’t need to dominate the communication. Again, find the most efficient way possible to effectively color the communication with a warm personal touch without wasting your prospects time.
- Don’t assume that your prospect is enjoying your social chatter. I once had a boss who famously engaged in lengthy personal conversations with clients and prospects. They would politely answer his probing social questions and would even appear to enjoy the conversation. I later learned that most of these clients and prospects were not really interested or motivated by the conversation, but were simply being polite. Relationship building is critical to a long term association, but it requires understanding when you are wasting someone’s time. Lesson to be learned? Just because they are laughing at your jokes doesn’t mean that deep down they don’t just want to get off the phone.
- Maintain a list of sales techniques and tactics that you have found to be offensive. When you prepare for a phone call or draft correspondence, check it against your list to make sure some of the undesirables have not snuck into your communication. Even though we all say we don’t like boorish sales behavior, we can all be guilty of it. It takes more effort to deliver sales information with just the right finesse than it does to just throw it out there. My list of undesirables includes things like repeated phone calls with no new information; obviously false deadlines as closing techniques; questions that come off more like cross-examination designed to lead you to a purchasing posture, among others.
Offensive sales behavior can be avoided through diligent preparation and practice, but there is always an on-going risk of it slipping in. Only persistent efforts to minimize the instances will ensure an overall sales program that is both affable and effective.
“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.
It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” Peter Drucker
At the recent annual meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel, general counsel from companies of all sizes discussed how they are selecting, evaluating and managing outside counsel. A recent article discussing the highlights was posted last week in The National Law Journal. The article focused on a few key areas, with the first being “flex time.” Once major retailer is looking for law firms that offer firm employees flex time. Now why would a retailer care if the law firms they retain offer flex time? What do they get out of that? I doubt it’s really because they want to make the world a better place for working moms. More likely they are looking to retain firms that make them look good for promoting women’s causes.
So what is my take-away from the article given that the lead in piece has nothing to do with legal services? It’s not just about the money. Once you get beyond the qualification check list, the distinguishing factor comes down to customer service and a desire to make in-house counsel’s job easier (hence, the possibly politically motivated flex time requirement to take some heat off women discrimination issues). So basically, the standard firm brochures setting out the firm’s qualifications and successful legal results is really missing the point. I’m not saying that qualifications and results don’t matter. I’m saying that is just what gets you to the door. To win and keep the business it is about your firm’s willingness go crazy over customer service. Better communication on service activities so they remain well informed. Better reporting to make their reporting easier. Better administrative processes to make case management and evaluation easier. More predictable case results as a result of better communication. More predictable costs so in-house counsel isn’t caught by surprise and left having to explain budget overruns. And to address that pesky cost cutting issue, a willingness on the part of the law firm to find creative ways to deliver services that cut legal costs while enabling the law firm to operate comfortably.
Despite the cost crunch, there is still a lot of legal business out there to be serviced. Those law firms willing to break the mold and move into fanatical customer service mode are the firms that will get and keep the business. Law firms that hold on to the old traditional law firm structure will be left in the dust. Hammer or broom… Choose your weapon.
“It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us.” Arthur Schopenhauer
Not long ago just having a website was enough for a lawyer to demonstrate being current with the times. At least it seems not long ago to me. Then again, nearly half of my career was before there was wide spread Internet use. Exactly when the “Internet” was created depends on how you define it. Some historians trace it back to the Soviet Union and the United States military in the 1950’s. But the Internet as we know it today was not a common household term until the mid-to-late 1990’s. Remember the “information highway” commercials? I remember watching them and wondering what the heck they were talking about. How things change.
Today most lawyers have some web presence. But is “presence” enough? Expectations have changed in the past ten years. Unless you are representing clients that are not Internet users (a group that is shrinking dramatically by the day), you need to take a serious look at what your website (or lack thereof) says about you. Like it or not, your website is an extension of your firm and sets the tone for your “brand” of service. If it looks like you created it ten years ago and is little more than a firm resume, you may need to consider a facelift, or more likely an overhaul.
For many clients, the Internet is the ultimate reference tool. Whether they find you on the Internet, or check out your website after meeting you or receiving a referral, by and large prospective clients will look at your site for decision making information. What do they want to see? To some degree it is a matter of taste, but for the most part, people want to see a site that demonstrates whether a lawyer is current with the times, expert in their area of practice and successful in achieving good results in cases and conditions similar to theirs. Does your website do that? If not, your website could be doing more harm than good.
In this day and age, not only is a website imperative for a successful law practice, if it doesn’t meet the minimum expectations of its prospective clients, like an old shabby suit that doesn’t fit properly, it could do more harm than good. Take a minute to give yours a fresh look. It may take some time but the good news is it may cost you less than your original site. There are so many free tools out there, the cost of a much more impressive website may be almost nothing but the time you put into it. It may take learning a little technology, but the payoff can be a very competitive site that creates a brand and reputation that closes deals and keeps your clients coming back for more. Put it off for another day and you could be leaving business at the door.