Friday, October 16, 2009

Are you exploring Social Media?

What are you doing to market your practice with social media? How are you telling your story? What are your objectives? Are you meeting them?

There's no doubt that social media is revolutionizing PR, marketing, and internal communications across industries, and that the legal profession finds itself directly in the mix. Are you keeping up with the changes or getting left behind? Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and many more social networking tools are out there. Social media can no longer be considered a fad: it is the method that millions of people use to communicate via multiple channels with specific audiences.

But if the tools for communicating have changed, the rules of communication are the same as they have always been. You need a message. You need a plan. You need disciplined execution if you are going to generate value from your social media activities.

I recently participated with Mike Driehorst of Diamond Communications in a panel discussion for a group of lawyers and legal professionals at a joint Legal Marketing Association-Ohio and Association of Legal Administrators luncheon in Toledo, Ohio. Our goal was to place the basic social media and social networking concepts into the context of the legal profession, and to provide our audience with an overview of what they need to do to get started in social media. How do you think we did? Did we leave anything out? We would love your feedback on how we can make this presentation even more relevant to lawyers seeking to embrace social media. Leave us a comment. Send us an email. Track us down on Twitter. We're all ears.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What are your extraordinary measures?

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. No one would dispute that these are extraordinary times for the legal profession. Or that the landscape in 12 months will look radically different than it does today. So what are your extraordinary measures? Are you thinking about your business model? How it meets your clients’ needs (and not just your own)? How it could give you a competitive advantage? Could you change the way you do business now? Would you want to? Can you envision a different model for your firm, your practice, the entire legal profession? What could you do today that will help your practice evolve, survive, and dominate?

Could you do away with the billable hour? Of course you could, like some firms have already done and many more will do. Could you outsource your low-end commodity work? Of course you could, reducing the costs for your clients at the same time as you focus your work on analyzing the business implications of their legal issues, giving them more valuable advice that will make their businesses better. Could you offer work at an annual fee, not just a flat fee but a flat fee that covers a full year's worth of work, as Jay Shepherd recently suggested in a post on Twitter? Of course you could, gaining both a happier client and an invaluable perspective on her business, motivation, personal and professional goals, successes and failures because she never has to look at the clock when she picks up the phone. Could you stop charging your clients for research and due diligence? Of course you could. Could you develop a long-term training program for your clients to teach them how to do work for which they have to pay you today? Of course you could.

You could do all of these things, and many others, to change your business model, survive the current economic crisis, and grow your practice as others fall by the wayside. To make your clients happier, reduce their legal costs, and provide them with advice that will help them run their businesses. Or you could do nothing, and let your competition eat your lunch. The choice is yours.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What do you say to new clients?

What do you tell every new client before you start working for them? Here's how your peers are answering that question in their 22 Tweets interviews

Jeena R. Belil (@jeenabelil): That no outcome is guaranteed and that settling a matter is not the same as losing the case.

Kelly Phillips Erb (@taxgirl): Not to be scared of tax. While it’s important to try to get it right the 1st time, there’s practically nothing that can’t be fixed.

Adrianos Facchetti (@adrianos): “I will always you tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it.”

Scott F. Gibson (@TradeSecretLaw): I will always shoot straight with you, even when you would rather hear something else. We want to be your attorneys for life.

Andrea Goldman (@andreagoldman): My job is to take a disaster in your life and turn it into something you can move on from. A lawsuit is not a good way to make $$.

Thomas L. McLain (@tommclain): Besides that I actually expect to get paid for my work?? I’m”all-in.” I often dream up ideas for your business. The more successful you are, the more you can afford to pay me ;)

Michael J. McSunas (@AdLawGuy): Look at me as someone who will help you lower your risks and costs, Always get things in writing too!

D. Jill Pugh (@djillpugh): Civil litigation is a slow process; be proud of yourself for sticking up for your rights, you are setting a good example

Christopher J Sherliker (@London_Law_Firm): “What are you trying to achieve?” - Until you know the answer to that one you cannot hope to give an effective service.

Tyson Snow (@tysonsnow): I’m a litigator; I tell the truth: litigation is hard, real hard, but often necessary. We’ll get there but it will tough.

Christian Stegmaier (@cstegmaier): My mission/promise is this: I am going to be diligent, deliberate, decisive, responsive, & reliable.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Are you helping others prepare for the future?

My last question on every 22 Tweets interview is always the same: "What advice do you have for people going to law school today?" Here's some of the valuable advice the lawyers I've interviewed are giving:

Venkat Balasubramani (@vbalasubramani): tech-internet lawyer

put in 110% percent, but realize there’s much more to life than law..also, don’t listen to the crowd/echo chamber

Nicole Black (@nikiblack): lawyer and legal technology consultant

Your law degree is just one weapon in your arsenal. A law degree does not limit your options-it expands them.

Kelly Erb (@taxgirl): tax lawyer

Life changes constantly. Don’t get sucked into the idea that any single moment, course or grade will define you.

I say that having gotten my lowest grade in law school… in tax law.

Dan Harris (@danharris) international lawyer

I would say don’t go to law school unless you know what you want to do with the degree once U have it.

Erik Heels (@erikjheels): trademark, domain name and patent lawyer

Be yourself. That’s what my mentor (Tom Bohan of http://mtcforensics.com) told me. Be yourself, and you’ll be fine.

Marshall Isaacs (@marshallrisaacs): tenacious, unrepentant litigator, negotiator and draftsman

Don’t let ‘em convince you that only grades matter. Compassion, persistence and a pressed shirt are just as important.

Bill Marler (@bmarler): food safety advocate

Do not be lazy. Work hard to make yourself invaluable to your clients and your community.

Ben Qualley (@lawyerben): estate and business planning attorney

Take skills-based classes! Mediation, trial advocacy, drafting etc have helped me immensely. Substantive law changes anyway.

Jay Shepherd (@jayshep): employment lawyer

Two words: informational interviews. Meet many people. Don’t send blind résumés. Sell your differentness. And don’t panic!

Lowell Steiger (@steigerlaw): personal injury lawyer

Find the passion in what you do. If you love what you do, good will follow. Law is a wonderful profession.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

"What is the most significant issue currently facing the legal profession?" Here's what your peers are saying when 22 Tweets put the question to them.

David Barrett (@barrettdavid): "The LinkedIn Lawyer"
I think the most significant issue facing the legal profession is transparency …
As consumers get more sophisticated, we need new ways across the understanding gap between lawyers and non-lawyers …
Of course there have been great lawyers forever … and we could videotape them all day and clients would get value ….
But now we are in a new era of transparency … and there are a lot of areas in the profession where light has yet to shine

Kelly Erb (@taxgirl): tax lawyer
Besides layoffs? Image. There are terrible lawyers who have ruined what folks think of us. Most lawyers are good people!

Scott Gibson (@tradesecretlaw): business lawyer
Lawyers need to think differently about how we serve clients. Focus on client needs, solve their problems, and provide value.

Dan Harris (@danharris): international lawyer
BigLaw costs too much. Firms must move from hourly billing. Abt 75% of my firm’s work is flat fee. Better for clients & for us

Erik Heels (@erikjheels): trademark, domain name and patent lawyer
Learning to speak Plain English. The@creativecommons copyright licenses are a good example of anti-legalese legal writing.

Lack of legal representation for those who cannot afford it.

Tom McLain (@tommclain): international corporate and M&A lawyer
Communicating why lawyers are valuable at whatever billing basis is used. How do you value the lawsuit not filed?

Bill Marler (@bmarler): food safety advocate
Maintaining high legal standards for ethics while experiencing more and more competition.

Jay Shepherd (@jayshep): employment lawyer
Hourly billing, overpaid associates, legalese are killing it. BigLaw is like GM, newspapers, record co’s. Change is coming.

Christian Stegmaier (@cstegmaier): retail / hospitality and appellate lawyer
For younger attys, managing their debt. I feel for those folks…
… For mid-levels and partners, maintaining the pace & staying fresh. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why are we still debating?

Are we really still debating whether Twitter is an effective business development tool for lawyers? I can think of at least five reasons why we should move on:
  1. Twitter is not a volume equation. It’s about engaging in a few conversations that lead to meaningful relationships.

  2. Twitter is not just for fun. It’s about exchanging information that helps us get better at what we do.

  3. Twitter is not formulaic. It’s about making the tool valuable for you, not lamenting its inability to do what other tools do.

  4. Twitter is not going away. Whether it’s Twitter or the next great thing, it has changed the nature of business relationships for good.

  5. Twitter is not difficult. It’s easy to do, requires little time and technology, and benefits are quickly realized with minimal effort.
Isn't it time to focus our energy on creating value? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Are you listening to your peers?

To better understand how lawyers can use Twitter and other social networking tools to grow their practices, I began talking to practicing lawyers who were active on Twitter. Not really "talking” to them, in the traditional sense at least. More like interviewing them. Live. On Twitter. And it's been great: the interviewees have been interesting and engaging, the interviews fun and insightful, and the reaction from the legal twitterverse overwhelmingly positive. 

These "twitterviews" provide a great snapshot of what these lawyers do, how they market themselves, where they think the profession is going, and more. The lawyers I've interviewed are witty, smart, determined, adventurous, willing to take risks and step into the unknown. Lawyers I would want representing me. Lawyers, I sincerely hope, that potential clients will think of when they need representation.  

The interviews have also given me a lot of valuable ideas that I will incorporate into posts from time to time. For now, though, I will let them speak for themselves. Visit 22Tweets.com and read what these lawyers have to say. You’ll be glad you did (and will most likely learn something).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Are you telling the right story?

What do you say to potential clients? Do you tell them what you do? The type of law you practice, the clients you've represented, the deals you've done or the cases you've won? Or do you tell them what you can do for them? 

It's easy, after all, to focus on what you've done. You know it well, it's impressive information, it summarizes your strengths and experience in a concise package. But is it valuable? Does it communicate your ability to help them manage the situation, make their decision, comply with the regulation, to respond to that which brought them to you? Isn't that what they're going to buy? 

Of course they want someone who knows their industry. Of course they need an expert who has solved problems just like theirs. Of course they're going to hire the lawyer whose background and skills correspond exactly to the demands of the matter at hand. That's why they're talking to you in the first place: if they were not already confident that your practice was credible and your record impressive, that you could help them, you wouldn't be sitting at the table. So don't use the precious little one-on-one time you've got to tell them what they already know. Tell them what you can do in their unique situation. How you can help them save their company, sell their ideas, license their product, buy their competitor. Because that's what they need, and it's precisely what you're good at doing. 

Don't tell your potential clients what you do. Tell them what you can do for them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Have you written your recovery plan yet?

The economic crisis isn't improving, and the legal profession seems to be getting hit particularly hard. Firms of all sizes are cutting associates, staff, and even some partners as they hunker down for what promises to be a "cruel, cruel summer." What's your plan for the recovery? Are you lying low and waiting it out, cutting out unnecessary expenses, finally reading up on tax law and taking those Spanish lessons? Or are you putting yourself in charge of your own future? 

In my earlier post "Why aren't you excited about 2009?" I made the case for developing your own antidote for an unhealthy future: a plan of action. Not overly complicated, not filled with platitudes, not so detailed that you can never start. Just a plan that requires you to think about where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there. A plan that sets some realistic, aggressive, and measureable goals. A plan that you can revise often to account for the new opportunities that each of your successes creates.  

Some ideas to consider as you work through your plan:

  • Focus on opportunities, not problems (I learned this reading Peter Drucker). It's easy to say "this won't work" or "we don't have the resources for that" or "there's no way we can get a meeting with the GC." But that won't get you anywhere. Think instead about what you can achieve, what will work, what you know makes sense. Identify the opportunities—the true opportunities, the ones you measure in terms of probability not possibility—and the steps needed to realize them. You'll solve the real problems when you get to them.

  • Remember the client. It's all about the client. If your opportunity doesn't make sense for the client, doesn't save them time or money or stress or reputation, how could it add value? Would you buy a second car from your dealer just because he sells cars, because you already bought one from him and you're relatively happy with the transaction, because he's a nice guy you play golf with, because he tells you it would be a good idea? Or would you base your decision on an entirely different set of criteria than those motivating your dealer to sell you a second car? Always remember that success comes from selling what the client is buying, not the other way around.

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve. Yes, it would be great to get all of the transactional work of your firm's biggest disputes client, but is it realistic? Do you have a story to tell that would compel that client to fire the firm it's been using for that work, for the past three decades, and hire you? It’s only an opportunity if you could realistically get the work and do the job better than your competition.

  • Don’t sell your own passion short. Most of the lawyers I know chose to become lawyers because they wanted to, chose to work at their firm because they believe it offers them and their clients distinct advantages, chose to become experts in their practice because they love that type of work. Wouldn’t you rather hire the gardener who stops by on her way home from another job to make sure you’ve been watering the new plants at the right hour of the day? Who gets excited while explaining the importance of a 20/30/50 mixture of bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass for your yard? Passion for what you do, for helping clients, for adding value, is a competitive advantage, but only if you’re selling it. Build it into your opportunities.

  • Don't let prejudice or tradition or fear of change get in your way. The way things have been done is not necessarily the way they will be done in the future (particularly today's future). Don't talk yourself out of pursuing an opportunity because it will require a lot of work and you've never done it before and it might even fail. Of course it's hard work. Of course it's risky. Of course it's very different from what you've done in the past. That’s the price of getting into the game. 

Wouldn’t you feel better about the future if you knew where it was going?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Aren't you on Twitter yet?

Carolyn Elefant, on Nolo’s Legal Marketing Blog, just posted another piece on why lawyers should be on Twitter: “To Twitter or Not To Twitter? That is the Question for Lawyers” (you know where I stand on this from this post and this one). Elefant gives a very useful overview of what Twitter is and how you can use it to market yourself and your practice. Get on Twitter, position yourself as an expert amongst your peers, develop relationships with people who can help you grow your business, have fun engaging others in conversations about things for which you have true passion that have nothing to do with your professional activity. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? It truly is. But do we Tweevangelists really believe that there is value in that? Real value, the kind you can endorse on the back and deposit into your account?

In a recent post, I asked whether lawyers shouldn’t be using Twitter to engage clients rather than other lawyers. I don’t ask the question because I think engaging other lawyers does not have value. It does. I don’t ask it because I think using Twitter to validate your expertise does not have value. It does. I don’t ask it because I don’t think establishing relationships based on non-work interests does not have value. It does. All of the ways that lawyers are currently using Twitter have real value that can lead to real work.

But I cannot believe that there isn’t more. That we cannot move Twitter from being an effective networking tool to being a practical communication tool. That you can’t use Twitter to communicate directly with your clients in real time, taking advantage of the immediacy and directness and responsiveness and crowd-sourcing and all of the other benefits of Twitter to help you do your business better, make your clients happier, provide better service and add greater value. Others are doing it, such as @scottymonty and @zappos. Of course selling shoes or selling cars is not like selling legal services. But can't we learn from them? Can't we apply what they are doing and how they are doing it to what we do and how we do it?

I don’t know the answer to this question, and I’m not even sure I could come up with it on my own. But I am sure that someone will, and while the rest of us are still trying to figure out why a client would want to communicate with her lawyer in a public forum, that person will move the game to the next level. 

Three related points

First point: in my last post on Twitter I asked for ideas on how lawyers can use twitter to communicate with clients. I got some good comments that are worth reposting here:

Bruce Carton said

“Lance, I have gone with the Trojan Horse method. I re-branded my @SecuritiesD Twitter feed as a "news wire," and have it identified and piped-in via RSS to my website (securitiesdocket.com) as such. Lawyers understand what a newswire is and like it. They didn't pay much attention to it as a Twitter feed.”

  Doug Cornelius said

Lance -

I think there many be some over-enthusiasm for Twitter as a client development tool for lawyers. I think there is a big variation depending on your practice. Chris Brogan gets lots of clients through Twitter because that is the nature of his business. He is a social media consultant. Kevin O'Keefe gets lots of business through Twitter because he is in the social media business.

As a commercial real estate lawyer, none of my clients use social media. They do not read blogs. They do not use Twitter. Only a handful were even in LinkedIn. Even in my new area of compliance, there are very few people in the industry using blogs or twitter. If I were an IP lawyer or dealing with tech start companies. The opposite would probably be true.

The other concern is the future Twitter business model. Right now, the company has zero revenue. That cannot go on indefinitely. Something will change. It may just put Twitter in the junk-pile (anyone remember Friendster?)

I am a big fan of Twitter. But I am less sold on evangelizing it to clients. I would not spend the time in a pitch talking about Twitter. The focus should be on the client and solving the client's need not on your twitter habits.

I like the idea of putting your twitter username on your business card. (That leaves out bigfirm lawyers. Their marketing department would never allow it.) I assume you would also want your blog URL on your business card. If the client notices, then spend some time talking about it.

Melanie Green said (via Twitter)

Get your marketing folks to put Twitter "follow me" links on your web site in areas where people are providing content.

Second point: Does anyone recall how email was received when it first started to become a widespread communication tool? Did lawyers resist it because clients weren't already using it? Did lawyers try to convince clients not using email that it was a great tool for which they should sign up? 

Third point: Please tell me what you think. Can lawyers move Twitter to the next level of client communication? Should they? What are you doing to make your Twittering valuable to you and your practice? Do you think Twitter can be more than what lawyers are it for today?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What do your clients need?

Do you know what your clients need? Which services? The problems -- business critical problems, not legal ones -- they are trying to solve? That which keeps them awake at night? How can you find out? What do you need to know? How does knowing what they need translate into more work for you?
It isn't as easy as it might seem to obtain actionable intelligence about your client from that client herself. You need to do your homework before the conversation, run the discussion like an interview, and identify and execute follow-up. My thoughts on doing it right:
  • Make a list of your favorite clients, the ones you can't wait to work for, the ones that always pay your bills. These are your target clients, the only ones you should be chasing. Prioritize them based on your assessment of the opportunity for additional work (criteria include the strength of your relationship with the client, the size and scope of the client's legal needs, your ability to respond to those needs, the percentage of the client's legal work you're already doing, etc.).

  • Spend a few hours reading as much as you can about the first client on your list. It doesn't have to be done in a day or a week, but you need to know their business, their industry, their competition, their challenges, and most of all how they define success and how well they are achieving it. 

  • Make a list of what you believe to be the five critical business issues facing that first client. Do those issues have a legal element? Is it work you can credibly do? Are there upcoming developments in the law that will impact your client's ability to do business and succeed? 

  • Have a conversation with your client, on the phone or better yet in person, at a place and time where you can have a meaningful conversation. Ask her questions about her business, her industry, her competitors, her challenges, how she defines success. Use the knowledge you learned to in your research to sound like you know her business better than she does. Ask a lot of questions without answering them yourself. Talk about the legal elements of her business issues as if you've already solved her problems. Listen to what she tells you. 

  • After that discussion, armed with everything you learned, identify three things you can do for your client that will help her be smart or happy or successful or all three. They don't have to be complicated. In fact, the more complicated they are the less likely you are to do them. Things like "send two-paragraph summary of pending labelling legislation" or "identify cross-border tax specialist with shipping expertise" or even "invite to concert in late June." 

  • Do the things on your list. Without fail. Don't put them off, don't talk yourself out of them, don't forget. Do them as soon as you can, then come up with three more and do them too. And three more after you've done those. Keep doing things for your client, things that will help her be smart or happy or successful or all of the above, and she'll soon think you're the best lawyer she's ever met, the lawyer who provides real value, the lawyer who will be getting more and more of her work. 

  • When you're at a point where you are regularly demonstrating your value to that client, move to the next one on your list. You should be working on two or three client relationships at a time, enough to keep your opportunity pipeline flowing, but not requiring so much time that you end up doing nothing or, worse yet, not meeting the obligations of your practice. The goal is to keep looking ahead, to maximize the value of your business development time, to minimize the burdens, all the while producing results.
I'm sure all of you have your own ideas that work. Please share them as comments to this post so that other readers can benefit. 
One last thought: if your clients are not having meaningful discussions with you, they'll have them with your competition. Which do you think is the better scenario? 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why aren't you excited about 2009?

Do you think that 2009 is going to be a banner year, that you'll end it doing the work you want to do for the clients you dream about having? Why not? Do those dream clients no longer need legal advice? Has the work you love disappeared as a legal discipline? 

Isn't it possible that this year could be good for you in some respects? That the slowdown might give you an opportunity to analyze your client base and focus your business development efforts on the handful of clients you like, who pay your bills on time without question? A chance to rediscover what it is you love about the law, what you're truly good at, and how you can do more of that work? Is there no chance at all that you can finish this year right where you want to be, in your sweet spot, ideally positioned to make your post-economic-crisis career better than that which you had before the world came crashing down around us? 

It won't be easy, of course. It will require commitment, planning, discipline and lots of hard work. You'll need to focus your time, effort and money, chase only those opportunities that fall into your zone, keep your eye on the prize at all times. You will have to make hard choices, step outside of your comfort zone, maybe even pass up a chance to bid on work you don't want to do for a client that won't pay your bills (not as easy as it sounds). But it's not impossible. 

You'll need a plan of action, one that identifies your objectives and the steps you'll take to meet them. Not a "Strategic Plan" filled with self-evident truths that takes too much of your time to draft and ends up saying little because it tries to say everything. Just a plan, an idea of where you want to go, how you're going to get there, how you'll know when you've arrived, and how long you think it will take. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be long. It doesn't have to be complex. You don't need to account for every potential development, you're allowed to make mistakes, you can always change the plan later when you discover this idea doesn't work or that one does or this client doesn't have as much work as you thought it would. It's your plan after all.

Would you be more excited about 2009 if you owned your future? Write your plan and you will. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

How are your clients handling the economic crisis?

February 12, 2009. Black Thursday. The day 800 legal jobs were cut. It's easy to wince and wonder what is happening to the profession, what it will look like when the crisis is over, how firms will be structured, who will be left standing. It's easy to point fingers at that which led us to this point: hourly biling, rates, salaries, profits, arrogance, greed. But the easiest of all is to forget that clients have been living this nightmare longer than law firms, that the stakes for corporate clients have never been this high, and that corporate layoffs are truly massive. February 10? Nearly 24,500 job cuts announced. January 26? More than 40,000. 

This doesn't make the legal layoffs any less significant for the profession. Nor does it mean that we're wrong to be scared about the future. But it does mean that your clients are probably just as scared as you are, just as worried about keeping their companies intact, just as sensitive to the drastic measures their competitors are taking to survive. How are they handling the crisis? Do you know? Don't you think they would appreciate a call from their lawyer? Not to ask if they have work to give, but to ask how they are surviving, what they are doing to cut costs and raise revenues, what difficult decisions they are struggling to make? How would they react to you calling to ask "What can I do to help you get through this?" To say "I am ready to do whatever it takes to make sure that you survive, because if you go out of business, I go out of business too."  To reassure them that "right now, I don't care about recording hours, I care about getting you through this crisis." 

Do you think they would like that? Do you think they would reward you? Maybe not today, because today all they can do is keep their head above water, but tomorrow when the storm has passed? There's one way to find out. Make your list and start making calls. Because the cost of not making that call, of not giving your advice for free, of not rolling up your sleeves to get your clients through this mess, of not providing real value when your clients need it the most, that cost could be a lot higher than the 20 or 50 or even 200 hours you won't collect. But you already know that, don't you?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's on your menu?

Change the menu.” That’s part of the recommendation Jay Ehret (The Marketing Spot) gave his client, Eddie’s Trackside Bar & Grill. What would you do with that advice? What’s on your menu, and how does it appeal to your clients and potential clients? How could you change it? 

It’s not hard to see the lists of services / practices / experience / skills at many law firms as menus, naming anything and everything you can find in the kitchen (a high-end kitchen that doesn’t list prices on the menu, mind you): 

“How’s the cross-border acquisition today? Good? Excellent, I’ll go with that then, an acquisition in the chemicals industry in Brazil. Can I swap out the acquisition finance for a side of your labor, FCPA, and tax medley? Yes, it does look very good....”

What if your menu wasn’t a list of every type of deal you’ve structured, every type of client you’ve represented, every type of dispute you’ve worked on? What if you didn’t list facts and figures, but told stories about how your work helped your client meet its business objectives? What would your menu look like if it were written for the client, not for your lawyers?

It’s clear that the legal profession is going through profound changes in the current economy. More than ever, clients must evaluate the legal services they get through filters of “value” and “service,” and reward only those firms that provide long-term business solutions, not short-term legal fixes. It will be hard for lawyers and firms to change the way they do business, to change the way they value and charge for their services, to change the way they determine success or failure as a function of their client’s business results.

Why not let your menu be the first thing you change? It won’t be an easy change to make. It won't be the hardest, though, and it just might make some of the other changes less difficult. How do you think your client will react when she doesn't hear, “Hire us because we have significant experience in a broad range of public and private M&A transactions of all sizes in jurisdictions around the world”? When you ask instead, “What's the problem, and how can I make it go away?”

Why don’t you find out?  I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the result. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Shouldn't lawyers be tweevangelizing to clients?

I can't stop thinking about Chris Brogan's comment that 40-60% of his opportunities come from Twitter (mentioned here yesterday). That's a great commercial for Twitter. When will lawyers be able to say that? Five years? Ten? What will it take? 
There's been a lot of talk lately about lawyers on Twitter, how many are joining, what they are saying, how they are trying to make Twitter work. What about the clients?  If you want 50% -- or even 5% -- of your opportunities to come from Twitter, don't you need to increase the number of clients and potential clients that use Twitter and follow you? The type of clients that have legal issues and hire lawyers? Shouldn't you stop convincing other lawyers to get on Twitter, and start convincing your potential client base to take the first step? How are you going to do that? Some thoughts:
  • Put your Twitter username on your business card, above your email address
  • Let contacts know that you share a lot of information on Twitter that might be of value to them
  • Devote five minutes of every pitch to show your potential client how Twitter works and what you use it for
  • Ask new contacts to join Twitter and follow you
  • Organize structured tweetversations with colleagues on hot legal topics (à la Super Bowl ads discussion organized by Tom Peters)
What suggestions do you have?  Tweet them to me @lancegodard.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who are we fooling?

That darn billable hour. Evan Chesler, Cravath’s presiding partner, reiterated his opinion of it this week in the NY Times: “This is the time to get rid of the billable hour.” Cries for its eradication are burning up the blawgosphere. There is even a law blog, The Client Revolution, entirely devoted to "casting aside the legacy systems." 

In case you don’t remember, I defended the billable hour a couple of weeks ago. The hourly billing method certainly is not without drawbacks, but it remains a fairly efficient way to compensate lawyers for their work. Of course there are lawyers who pad their hours, who focus on the doing rather than on the result, who work day and night in the relentless pursuit of 2400 hours/year of client work. 

But do you think those lawyers are going to go away or stop overcharging clients or stop wasting their clients’ money when the profession moves away from the billable hour? That the new billing methods will be completely transparent, that cost will reflect value, that no client will ever again wonder if she got her money’s worth? Who are we trying to fool? Someone will always find a way to exploit the weaknesses of the new system, just as lawyers who provide real value, day in and day out, to their clients -- the clients that aren't complaining -- will always provide value. The way the compensation is calculated changes nothing. If we believe that clients will get better legal advice, make better business decisions and be happier once the billable hour has been eradicated, we’re fooling ourselves. 

The billable hour isn’t the problem. It’s just a smokescreen. The problem is that clients no longer believe they are getting value from their lawyers. How are we going to fix that

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How hard could this be?

It happens a lot. I talk to lawyers and firms about their business and strategic objectives and what they're doing to achieve those goals, particularly their business development and marketing programs. We look at what they've done, what they want to do, what they don't want to do, what they should do. We put together a list of specific things they can start doing tomorrow.  Everyone feels good about the meeting, all jacked up from a good discussion, and we've each got a list of assignments that seem simple enough: research the legal needs of a few clients, make a list of client targets, identify a couple of legal trends impacting their clients' business, etc.  How hard could this be? 

I know it sounds easy. It really isn’t. If it were, you – and all of your peers – would be doing it already. Ideas, plans, strategies, action lists, those are the easy part. The hard part, the part that drives success, is execution: disciplined, focused, relentless execution. It takes time, commitment and hard work to develop new business and market your firm. Sometimes it takes money, to invest in software or training or events. Sometimes it takes new people, or refocusing the efforts of your current team, to manage the execution. Sometimes it takes organizational change, to improve communication and transparency. Every time, though, it takes a lot of effort to initiate and sustain the activity needed to ensure success.

By the way, the best business development and marketing ideas for your practice and your firm are probably not new or different. They’re most likely ideas that you had a long time ago, stuff you’ll find discussed in countless blogs and books and boardrooms. You already know what to do. But knowing what to do is nothing. Doing it is everything. So get to it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Now what are you going to do?

You did everything the experts recommended. You became active on Twitter, developing a healthy set of followers. You started using LinkedIn, put all the right keywords in your profile, got stellar recommendations from clients and colleagues, asked and answered questions brilliantly. You regularly post to your blog, and the analytics tell you that more and more people read your work every day. So why aren’t you getting more business?

Maybe the “getting work” part never really changed because your workflow doesn’t depend on the tools you use. Don’t get me wrong: Twitter, LinkedIn, law blogs, and many other great resources are here to stay, and participation has become a must-do, like having a website or a firm brochure or business cards. But you don’t get business by just being smart, by hanging out at the cool parties, or even by being #1 on Google searches for lawyers in Phoenix. You get business by being responsive, by solving problems, and by helping clients sleep better at night. You get business by providing good service. You get business by listening. You get business by adding value. You get business by doing the same things that people getting business have done for generations, and that’s not going to change. So get on it. Talk to people. Find out what they need. Deliver it. And most importantly, add value. That’s what I’m going to do.
 
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