Tag Archives: law firms

What Do General Counsel Want?

“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.      


Website Designer’s Oath: “First Do No Harm”

 “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.    

For example: 

  • Does your site depict you as current with the times? 
    • Is it visually appealing by creating a mood that is consistent with your message?  There is a big move away from the very traditional heavy tone and style of legal marketing materials in years past.  Websites are like housing developments.  Many times you can tell when they were created just by observing the style and colors.  Top sites today have a more upbeat, uplifting feel to them.  If you’re unsure what to do, take a look at the sites of your most successful competitors.  You may not be able to afford the kind of money the top competitors spent, but it will give you an idea of what their likely high priced marketing experts recommended for the markets they are targeting.    
    • Does it include interactive tools or references?  Options to schedule appointments directly through the site, emailing directly from the site, subscriptions to the site and more are becoming the standard.  Most of these tools are included in many free website templates offered on the Internet and are becoming a minimum standard.      
    • Does it include news and articles of interest?  Posting references on current issues through relevant articles not only provides your clients with valuable information, it is necessary to make you appear relevant.  Articles of interest are also becoming so common that if you don’t have them, you appear out of touch.
    • Does it include regular updates?  It’s difficult to appear cutting edge when your site is no more active than the glossy brochure printed for your firm three or four years ago.  Make sure all the information is current and that you are adding new content regularly.  As with the articles of interest, frequently updated and interactive sites are becoming so common, not having one can make you appear very outdated.  The more new content on the site, the more you demonstrate active participation in your field.  Besides, updates help with search engine optimization (another very important subject, but too extensive to address in this posting).
  •    Does your site demonstrate your expertise?
    • Most sites will include a resume or summary bio of each lawyer to demonstrate expertise, but is it enough to help you stand out? Consider writing your bio in a more results oriented fashion.  Areas of practice, awards and associations are great, but how does that translate to the services you will be providing for your clients?  Certainly those things should be advertised, but the compelling bio is one that answers the question most important to the prospect, i.e. “What will you do for me?”
    • Nothing demonstrates expertise on a website better than thought provoking, leading edge articles written by you.  Consider including a formal articles section, a blog or both on your site to provide your prospective customers with valuable information they can use to solve their problems and simultaneously to confirm your expertise.  As discussed above, an article section is almost a minimum standard.  Including a blog that is updated regularly may be the added edge needed to set you apart. 
  • Does your site demonstrate your ability to achieve desirable results? 
    • What prospective clients really want to know is whether you can deliver the results they want, at a price they want and with the service they want.  In addition to a results oriented bio, consider including a news section that includes descriptions of your recent successes.  The success stories don’t have to be earth shattering.  They simply need to demonstrate that you can deliver the results the prospective client wants for the type of case or legal work they are seeking.
    • Most firms focus their attention on selling expertise and experience in their marketing materials, but there is usually much less attention paid to customer service.  In reality most legal work does not require an exceptionally high level of skill beyond that of the average competent lawyer.  Clients expect lawyers to have the expertise and experience, but what usually ends up turning them off is poor customer service.  Consider including references from former clients focusing on your excellent service (which naturally requires you to actually provide it – not a bad marketing idea as well) and to include a section on your website describing your philosophy of customer service.  

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.   


If You’re Pavarotti, Just Sing: Effective Business Development in a Solo Practice

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.”      Marilyn vos Savant

In some of my earlier postings I discuss breaking client development into separate tasks and having participating attorneys only do those tasks they are most suited for.  The idea is to capitalize on the individual’s natural talents and strengths in combination with others to contribute to a well rounded marketing program.  While it makes sense, it’s not much help for the solo practitioner.  So what can a soloist do to develop business on his own, with no one to share in the heavy lifting?

The ideal law firm marketing plan has several components.  There will usually be some networking and expert positioning involved.  A well designed, active website with good search engine optimization is also helpful, among other things.  But what if you’re not a natural at all the various business development activities?  Does that mean that you are doomed to fail?  All evidence to the contrary.  There are more solo firms than any other firm size in the country and it is doubtful that all of their principals are good at all things marketing.  So what do successful solos do?

While I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up, in my estimation the successful soloist still focuses his development efforts on his strengths.  If you happen to be a great writer, but a not so great networker, you can still be successful in developing business.  The idea is to not only customize the marketing plan and strategies to fit the targeted clients you have defined, but to customize your plan to also fit what you do best.  For example, let’s say you have determined where your targeted clients gather and what publications they read.  Instead of spending most of your time trying to overcome your awkward resistance to breaking the ice at some sort of community association meeting, why not focus most of your efforts on writing?  Write some compelling articles that can be published for the group and you may not have to break the ice.  Someone will break it for you by asking for your opinion or to speak at a function.  You can do what you do best, and inadvertently get some help (i.e. breaking the ice) with what you are not so great at.

Another anecdotal observation is that most people who take the plunge and go solo tend to be more willing to go outside their comfort zones and try more things.  It’s a great attitude, but that does not mean that all activities should be equally conducted.  That would be like insisting Pavarotti (God rest his soul) dance while he was singing, since the combination of singing and dancing can be very entertaining.  While I cannot attest to Pavarotti’s dancing abilities, my guess is that he would not have been as successful entertaining if he split up his performance equally with a marginal dance routine.  As in entertainment, the marketing strategies should focus on the abilities that the solo excels in and then perhaps supplemented with what he does not.  Showcase your genius while supplementing with your mundane and you can still be very successful.  Too much focus on a mundane performance will only dim your brilliance.  So unless you’re Fred Astaire, just sing!


How to Get Noticed in a Crowd and Look Good at the Same Time

“He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.”       Confucius    

You know the drill.  If you want a bigger and more stable client base, you need to network.  That means getting out there, talking to people, building relationships.  But what if you need clients NOW?  What if you don’t have the time to spend socializing without guaranteed results?   What if you go around visiting and visiting and visiting and never getting any business out of it?  Can you really afford to spend time at functions you have no desire to be at if there is no guarantee that you will meet someone that will bring business in the door?  Thoughts like these are exactly the sort of thing that discourages many attorneys from embracing the networking road to business development.  I understand.  I’ve been there.  So is there a way to short circuit the process to get to the good stuff?  “Yes” and “no.” 

Networking takes time.  There is no way around it.  In fact, it is more likely that scientists will finally develop an anti-fat pill that safely burns away pounds of unwanted fat overnight without regard to food consumption than anyone developing an alternative to the time investment necessary to network your way into a stable flow of business.  BUT, there are things you can do to improve your chances of success and likely speed up the process. 

To achieve success, take instructions from the best.  Years ago I was listening to a self help tape that suggested that to be successful, one should identify someone who is wildly successful at a given activity, figure out what they are doing, and then copy what they do.  While natural talent and circumstances may influence the results, chances are if you do what they do, you will achieve at least some success.  So what do great networkers do to bring in business?  

For starters, they act like they mean it.  They don’t just show up to some association meeting where the number of attorneys trying to sell their services outnumbers the prospective clients.  They join the association and they get involved.  They join committees.  They work on problems.  They come up with ideas and answers.  In short, they contribute.  They give back.  Because of their contribution, and here’s the good part, THEY GET NOTICED.  The prospects notice them, even better, the prospects want to talk to them.  They want to know their opinions.  They want their help with their problems.  Demonstrate your commitment to solving your prospect’s problems by your service and activity for the group and the prospects will come to you!  No need to give a sales pitch on what you do and what makes you good at it, because you will have already demonstrated that.  You become known for your expertise and ability, and you are trusted because of your voluntary contribution of your time and know-how.  

But this takes tiiiiime (extra i’s intended to emphasis sing-song whine).  Yes, but if you are smart about it, you can target your efforts to get the most bang for your buck.  Before you join the association, research it thoroughly.  Make sure it not only includes a large number of the prospects you are targeting, but also, and equally important, that it is something you are interested in and can be passionate about.  If you don’t believe in the cause, your lack of enthusiasm will likely show through and as a result, keep you from being someone the prospective clients sees as a solution to their problems.  Likewise, if you don’t believe in the cause, you will be much less likely to stick with it long enough to reap the rewards, and therefore lose all the time you invested thus far.  Besides, if you don’t believe in the cause, maybe that is a signal that you should be looking elsewhere.  Why try to represent clients and interests you are not interested in?  Where’s the fun in that?  And speaking of fun, if you are passionate about the subject and you do get involved, it will not feel like networking.  You will feel good about what you are doing and what you are contributing, you will enjoy it and feel like your time was well spent, and the rest will come naturally.  

In short, research the association, make sure it is one you are interested in and passionate about.  Make sure the members include a good supply of prospective clients, join it and GET INVOLVED.  The heavier your involvement, the faster you will see results.  And because your activities will be publicized to the group at large, you will have demonstrated your worth to a large number of prospects all at the same time.  There will still be an investment of time up front, but you will feel good about it, and it will be worth the stream of clients your association activities and contributions generate. 


Law Firms Go Fishing

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”       Lao TZU 

BTI Consulting Group, a leader in legal industry research, recently released the results of a study that showed that despite deep budget cuts at large law firms, “business development is one of the few marketing areas where law firm executives are more willing to increase spending.”  Of the firms interviewed, including firms of all sizes, “[n]early 70 percent said they planned to provide more marketing coaching to lawyers.”  BTI’s Benchmarking Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Strategies, 2009.  It seems that even in a tough economy these firms are taking the old adage, “teach a man to fish…” very seriously. 

But teaching your attorneys to fish for new business is not just about making them more capable of taking care of themselves; it’s about maximizing the ability of the firm to generate business.   No matter how great the few rainmakers at a firm are at generating business for the rest to feed on, the “two rainmaker business plan” will forever limit the growth of a firm by the talents, time, energy and health of those few rainmakers.  This is not anything new.  Most firms in this situation know it is a problem, but what are they doing about it?   

To the rainmakers that built the firm business development is second nature.  Yes it takes time, but it’s something so obvious and inherent to them that many just assume others should  inherently know how to do it.  They assume that the lack of business development is from a lack of motivation rather than know how.  The associates are told they need to “network,” to go to some association meetings, etc. but they are given very little direction on how to be effective in doing so.  (i.e. how to determine the associations they should be joining; what they should do once they join; how they should go about getting noticed, etc.)  Perhaps it is less a lack a motivation and more a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to be effective.  It’s like Mozart expecting others to just sit down and play the piano because that’s what he did.  He looked at the piano and just knew how to play.  But just because others can’t do what Mozart did, does not mean that they can’t be taught to play.   

While coaching will not make someone the Mozart of rainmaking, it can make them pretty good at it, which can be enough to make a significant contribution to the firm as a whole.  Apparently a good percentage of law firms realize this given the increased dollars they are devoting to business development coaching.  Is it a lack of motivation or do they need to be taught how to fish?  Either way, the right kind of coaching can provide the solution.