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 ( 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.
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