Tag Archives: marketing

Why Entrepreneurs Need Lawyers & Why Lawyers Need Blogs (Or Other Innovative Business Practices)

Can lawyers be entrepreneurs, too?

Well, as we’ve already discussed, lawyers are successful entrepreneurs when:

  1. Their law firm practice stands the test of time;
  2. Their law firm practice earns more than it spends;
  3. Their law firm practice creates an impact on the industry;
  4. Their law firm practice earns public recognition; or
  5. Their law firm practice achieves its mission or goal.

How well a law firm manager improves the firm’s training scheme, ameliorates his personal leadership style, and advances legal technology used by associates will ultimately impact the number of clients he attracts and new business he sustains.

Luckily, this job just got easier.

The Virginia Supreme Court in Horace Hunter v. Virginia State Bar ruled on the extent to which law firms can promote their practice and previous legal wins via a blog or website.

“The Virginia majority held that Hunter did not have to seek clients’ permission to discuss past closed cases, even if there was a possibility that the clients would suffer embarrassment or some other harm by the public airing of their affairs. The court also ruled that Hunter’s blogging about past courtroom successes on his firm’s website constituted an advertisement, even though he also included commentary on the criminal justice system. As a result, the majority said he should have included a standard disclaimer cautioning against too much reliance on past results.” (via Above The Law)

When it comes to non-legal entities, like (ironically) the blog reporting on this blog ruling, not all legal blogs represent commercial speech.

Above The Law reports, “The opinion was kind enough to put our personal legal questions to rest by citing Above the Law as the sort of legal blog that transcended the strictures that apply to Hunter’s blog. According to the Virginia Supreme Court, ATL is not legal advertising because we have commenters. Thanks y’all.”

But, that’s not all.

Not only are courts smiling fondly on legal blogs these days, but the blogosphere itself is promoting legal work. Consider, for example, a recent post on the Harvard Business Review Blog. It reads, “Ready to Innovate? Get a Lawyer.”

As it turns out, lawyers can be entrepreneurs. And, entrepreneurs—in turn—desperately need lawyers.

Just as quickly as breakthrough innovations take place, laws are put in place to take them down. Scottish scientists closed a sheep named Dolly and then President Bill Clinton issued an executive order banning federal funds to do the same.

Fledgling start-up website Napster was shut down the same year incumbent music conglomerate Apple launched iTunes, reports HBR. Patent trolls roam the Internet putting a stop to innovators who license their intellectual property too late.

Just as new technology crops up, so does corresponding litigation.

“Now, more startups are even opening their own policy offices in Washington, Brussels, and other lawmaking capitals. Only four years into its existence, for example, Twitter opened a D.C. office headed up by a former senior Congressional and FCC staffer. Facebook’s D.C. office has almost 30 employees,” writes Larry Downes for HBR.

“Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other Silicon Valley brand names all have their own, often extensive, government operations. For the new breed of disruptive innovators, it’s a necessary evil.”

Although calling law practice a “necessary evil” is certainly not what clients want to hear, lawyers—for their part—should be relieved to know that the business world is looking out for them. Entrepreneurs and lawyers need one another.

So, if your paid TV advertisement hasn’t reached the ears of potential clients yet, rest assured that bloggers are marketing your legal services free of charge.

In the end, Downes is addressing start-up companies and entrepreneurs in his HBR post. But, lawyers should also pay attention to his message. “When a single case can make or break your business, there’s no such thing as too much innovation—or too much lawyering,” Downes concludes.

In reverse, for those lawyers who resist change, fondly preserve “the good ole boys club”, reject new technology, or refuse to improve their firm management style, remember: when a single case can make or break your business, there’s no such think as too much innovation (period).

Don’t be stuck in a rut. Write a blog. Or, read more about innovation within law firms here.

-WB

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Boost Your Legal Business By Not Acting Like A Lawyer (Oh yeah, And Go Vote)

Obviously the big topic of conversation today is the U.S. Presidential elections.

American associates across the nation are returning to their offices proudly wearing their “I Voted” stickers.

And why shouldn’t they be proud?

After all, voting is part of our nation’s democratic history. It represents the freedom our ancestors fought for. And voting is, consequently, our civic duty.

Lawyers should be especially sensitive to this latter point.

Attorneys serve as guardians of American civil liberties and rights. After voting for national independence from Great Britain, America’s Second Continental Congress wrote its Declaration of Independence, on which twenty-five, almost half, lawyers signed.

But while the Presidential elections are today’s hot-ticket item, some considerably smaller but equally contentious and highly significant judicial elections are also taking place.

Judges in Iowa, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama are each expecting controversial ascents to the bench today, according to the WSJ Law Blog. In fact, 33 states will watch the hands of justice, well, change hands.

Iowa’s biggest scandal is the fact that it ousted “three supreme court justices via retention election as payback for the justices in 2009 voting to strike down as unconstitutional an Iowa law banning same-sex marriage,” explains the WSJ Law Blog.

Then, in Florida, conservatives are following Iowa’s example and rallying to oust their own liberal judicial representatives.

Basically, now is the ideal time to pay attention to elections and brace your firm for the litigation fallout. State lawyers have already gotten involved in Florida. Who is next?

Which of your clients will benefit from this conservative trend in law and voting?

Putting political party preferences aside (although, not totally aside), for at least one attorney, this year’s voting cycle has been an excellent lesson in law firm business marketing.

Brian Tannebaum, Esquire, recently recounted his polling experience this November, 2012. He starts his story:

“I went to vote Saturday at 7:20 a.m. I left with my ‘I voted’ sticker at 12:39 p.m. When you stand in line for five hours, even a person like me has to pass the time by speaking to someone. After skimming through the morning paper and making a futile attempt to find something interesting on Twitter or Facebook, Jeff asked me a simple question: ‘What do you do?’”

For lawyers, this is often an unluckily question from the random stranger. The number of lawyer jokes testifies to the fact that law is one the least beloved industries. Luckily for Tannebaum, it turns out that Jeff upped the ante—as a mobile auto dealer.

But, more to the point, the two began talking in the polling line, as strangers do.

There was no pitch, there was no exchange of business promises, rather, jovial conversation emerged organically from this shared experience.

The moral of the story is simple. Tannebaum rants:

“We are constantly in everyone’s face trying to get business. Someone told us that appearing on every page someone accesses on the internet will get us more wonderful high-paying clients. While it’s important to be able to be found on the internet, this notion that we have to be in everyone’s face 24/7 is one of the (many) reasons people hate lawyers.”

It makes good business sense to be aggressive about catching clients. But, not when you forget common courtesy and polite civic behavior. Today reminds us all that we’re just equal citizens, looking for opportunity.

Tannebaum believes no amount of gadgets will give you that. His slogan for the office of law may as well be: honest conversation always wins.

He drives his point home, saying, “Oh, I almost forgot… We started talking about people we both know. He also told me his company has had a contract with a big local auto dealership for the last 20 years…. He’ll be at my house next week.”

So today, when you’re out in the cold waiting for your turn to contribute to history, shake a hand or start a conversation. Not as a lawyer, but as a layperson. You’ll be surprised what that’s worth.

-WB

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Wiki-lawyering: New Industry Trend?

The word “wiki”—not coincidentally—means “quick” in Hawaiian. Wiki sites, or web pages that can be collaboratively and quickly edited by multiple browsers, were first created by Ward Cunningham in 1994.

Cunningham created WikiWikiWeb to facilitate communication between software developers for his company’s website, c2.com. The name was borne from a passing, positive memory of the Wiki Wiki Shuttle at Honolulu International Airport.[1]

Since Cunningham’s site, wiki applications and websites spread rapidly. At first, wikis were known almost exclusively among programmers and web-industry professionals as a way to add, modify, or delete content via a web browser using simplified markup language or rich-text editor.

However, in 2001, wikis became popular among the general public. A new, free content encyclopedia, Wikipedia, placed the common man in charge of the breadth and expertise of encyclopedic information.

Since then, Wikipedia has inspired a variety of other wiki-based sites.

The collaborative nature of wikis, in addition to the sheer size of publicly accessed content systems on the Internet, contributed to the idea’s instant success.

And this same success, initially obtained by wikis from collaborative editing, can also be harnessed by law firms.

Take, for example, the community forum reddit. The website reddit allows users to contribute information and online articles of interest to a roundtable, organized by subject. Then, readers are allowed to respond via comments and “up and down votes,” which determine the contributing individual’s standing within the forum.

Today, in the “law” reddit, a user posed the question: “What is the correct way in contacting a lawyer and requesting he/she create a contract for my online business? I’ve e-mailed about 5 and I’ve got 0 replies. All my e-mails were written professionally but I feel like I’m doing it wrong.”

The 21 subsequent comments—presumably by lawyers—answer the question seamlessly.

1. Call, don’t e-mail for help.

Blackmun responds, “Law firms gets hundreds of scam attempts by e-mail, it’s a really bad way to contact us.”

Further down the forum chain, another user—tgidenver—offers up examples of what spam e-mail lawyers receive:

“Dear Counsel,
I’m in the process of attaining an attorney that will assist me in collecting funds that i loaned a friend that currently resides in your jurisdiction. Please do advise if this is a case you can assist me with, to enable me furnish you with more details.
Truly yours Victoria I. Gottschalk”

It’s true, these days, e-mail is full of spam. As a result, e-mails from real people often get lumped into trash folders with fake, online ones.

The advice on reddit is sound.

Go for the old-school approach and pick up the phone. Calling an attorney will also help clarify the issue at hand. What kind of contract do you need? What is the time-frame? What is your budget?

Furthermore, it’s possible the law firm you’ve contacted doesn’t specialize in the type of contract you are looking for, at which point, a prospective client should ask for a referral.

Over the phone, this process can take as little as five minutes. A series of e-mail chains, however, can take a few days before either party is finally on the same page. In most cases, the digital conclusion will be: please give us a call at your convenience.

2. Get a referral.

The second bit of advice on reddit is also quite valuable: Seek a referral.   In any people-oriented profession—from the doctor’s office to local restaurants—a good recommendation of service is vital.

“Someone you know has used an attorney they like, so get his/her name and call for a referral. It can be any kind of attorney—someone who does divorces will know a good contract attorney and set you up.

It’s no bother, either. Referrals are a big professional networking tool. Giving one is a compliment, some income and will get you referrals. The referring attorney will probably get a lunch from it, too.”

Isn’t that easy?  

3. Seek legal counsel by searching on your State Bar Association’s website.

Finally, if you don’t know who to ask for a referral, a person can always peruse their home State Bar Association website.   But, not all lawyers agree on this issue. Take user 17usc’s advice, for instance:

“In my state, Bar Association referrals come in two flavors: 1) unscreened list of every lawyer in the state; or 2) barely screened (years in practice) list of every lawyer who’s paid to get referrals from the Bar Association.  

I’d suggest finding a business that seems to have its act together and asking who they use; or finding a lawyer you like and trust in any field, and asking who they recommend for this work.”

So, need a contract for your small business franchise? Go to your local Starbucks—that one that always seems to be busy—and see if they’re happy with their legal counsel. Get names and numbers.

Or, does your neighborhood have a family-run restaurant, owned and successfully run for decades? Chat your way into some contact information during breakfast one day.

Reddit—a community forum with real-time, real-people comments and contributions—is a great source of information for both lawyers and clients.

There, individuals receive free advice for their legal questions. And lawyers, for their turn, keep in touch with the issues plaguing potential clients in their area.

So, for tomorrow’s querying user, use reddit (or similar sites) as a marketing and market research tool for your firm. It’s a great way to keep up with the happenings of current and future clients.

Plus, you may just find bountiful resources to your own legal-reference questions. Wiki-lawyering, the next wave of the future?    

-WB

Sources:
1. The history of wikis was aptly taken from Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_wikis

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Five New Year’s Resolutions For Law Firm Success In 2012

New Year’s Resolutions, according to historians, date as far back as Ancient Rome with Janus, a mythical king. Janus’ two faces allowed him to look forward and back in time (and, incidentally enough, through doors).

Before the beginning of each year, Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts. In 153 B.C., the Romans declared January 1st the start of the New Year, the calendar month to which Janus donated his name.[1]

“Making a resolution on New Year’s Day is a time-honored tradition. Earlier celebrants of the holiday went through elaborate rituals to chase away the ghosts of the past. While the Chinese used cymbals and fireworks, others used rites such as exorcisms and purifications. Ceremonies, involving bonfires, processions or parades, often had masks that symbolized the dead,” writes Tree.com.

By denouncing past sins, bad habits, or weaknesses through resolutions, it was thought that a person could exorcize his demons. Announcing intentions for a clean slate at the New Year would provide the release needed to escape ill health or oppression.[2]

For lawyers, making New Year’s resolutions may not release you from ill health, oppression, or war, but resolutions could release law firms from its financial ills or other woes.

So, consider making resolutions for your firm this New Year. Here is a start on five:

1. Create a business strategy for 2012

Around the New Year, when work is at a peak, it’s often difficult to find the time to meet. But, law firm partners and administrators should get together to discuss the short and long-term future of the firm.

Each party should arrive with contributions and ideas. If one area of the firm is weakest—like marketing or technology—hire an expert to push the strategy and decision-making process forward.

Whether your goals are lofty, modest, large or small, a firm’s business strategy should be formalized and written down. No more hallway conversations about the problems and solutions you face.

This year, hire a stenographer to transcribe—not your next court case—but your next partners meeting to ensure no creative idea, innovation, or thought is lost.

2. Revamp your website

Like the Trojans, never look a gift horse in the mouth. This year, that means, don’t question the World Wide Web and the gift of its practically free access and marketing for your firm. Creating a firm blog or starting a social media site, for example, require some time and almost no money.

This year, revamp your firm’s website to connect to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Advertise your firm’s expertise and exceptional employees to attract new clients and associates in 2012.

If your site and its content has already been perfected, consider going mobile.

3. Start using social media

Just like a firm website, social media is a great way to establish free marketing for your firm.

Assign a younger associate to the task. Not only is their billable rate low, but their eye for Millennial detail and savvy for attracting new followers will, undoubtedly, be greatest—an thus most effective—at the firm.

4. Personalize legal products to your clients

This year, clients want specialized services and products. This means alternative billing arrangements or tailor-made service.

Make a New Year’s resolution to be flexible. The economic recession is creating change in a variety of traditional industry—law, healthcare, financial services. Stay competitive by becoming adaptive to your clients’ needs and requests.

Set up January meetings with your clients to discuss ideas for improvement. Ask them if there are any services or products they’d like to see from you this year. Arrive with a few ideas, yourself.

Opening up communication and the willingness to change will certainly lead to success and survival during these difficult economic times.

5. Ask for help

Whatever demons your law firm is hoping to expel this year, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Budget some funds to hire new experts in the field or contractors.

Law is an industry where human capital is of the upmost importance. Like Janus in Ancient Rome, two faces is always better than one.

-WB

Sources:

1. Blair, Gary Ryan. “The History of New Years Resolutions,” Ezine articles. [LINK: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-History-of-New-Years-Resolutions&id=245213]
2. “History Of New Year’s Resolutions,” Lifestyle & Leisure Article in Tree.com. [LINK: http://www.tree.com/lifestyle/history-of-new-year-s-resolutions.aspx]

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Occupy Wall Street Reminds Lawyers To Find A Cause, Make A Difference With Pro Bono Work

­­­­When was the last time you offered free legal advice or voluntary legal aid without pressure or obligation from your law firm?

Surely, lawyers are among the best at offering service gratis. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to gage the true number of helping hands in America. Statistics vary when it comes to calculating the percentage of lawyers who perform pro bono work each year.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) conducted a study that showed 73 percent of lawyers did pro bono work in 2008. Yet, states like Pennsylvania and Nevada report that only about 10 to 40 percent of their lawyers, respectively, perform periodic pro bono work.

“There is great unmet need in the community for pro bono service,” Allen Snyder, retired litigator, said to The National Law Journal.

Snyder uses his retirement to offer his pro bono legal services in Washington, D.C. And, he’s not alone.

James Springer also uses his retirement for good after leaving Dickstein Shapiro in 2004. One of the firm’s top antitrust lawyers, Springer now works part time as an attorney with the D.C. Legal Aid Society.

“Social Security law is as complicated as any subject matter I’ve dealt with,” Springer said to The National Law Journal.

“What I didn’t expect is how frustrating it is and how long it takes to get things done. We are dealing with bureaucrats who have impossible workloads.”

These days, federal regulations are only becoming more and more complicated. In a recession, some people find it hard to catch up or hang on. Springer helps clients keep their heads above bureaucratically-suffocating water.

“I deal with real people,” Springer said to The National Law Journal.

“I’ve never been hugged by a client until I came to work for Legal Aid. I do this for myself as much as I do this for other people.”

Even lawyers need a hug once in awhile. So where are they?

Nothing is worse than a destitute and desperate civilian going into a court case on a pro se basis. There is a lot to lose considering today’s economy.

Some causes attract more attention than others. The National Lawyers Guild has a table in Zuccotti Park to help demonstrators in the Occupy Wall Street Movement with legal advice. Wearing bright green ball caps, the legal aids are visible amid the crowd.

The aim is to decrease police violence and demonstrator transgressions.

On Friday, volunteers offered a “Know Your Rights” training session. Advice that’s easy to assemble for an expert but difficult to know as a pedestrian.

So what can your law firm do to benefit the community? How can you—the individual—serve before retirement?

The benefit to law firms that conduct pro bono services is increased visibility in dark economic times, in addition to well-deserved praise and attention from a myriad of potential new clients.

Pro bono work is frequently tout as win-win. It’s true.

Back in Zuccotti Park, N.L.G. volunteer Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a law student at the City University of New York School of Law, tells the Downtown Express. “Whatever happens [in the protest], there’s a neutral witness.”

Day and night, green hats are taking names and numbers of people in trouble.

“We document it, but we don’t get involved.”

Although, in the case of pro bono work, involvement is just what the nation is looking for.

Find your cause, make a difference.

-WB

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Marketing Your Law Firm – Back to Basics.

You don’t need to spend a gazillion dollars of your firm’s hard-earned revenue on marketing.  All you need to do is to be responsible and hardworking.

Remember the book a few years back that insisted that everything you ever needed to know you learned in kindergarten?  Be the best you can be. Treat others fairly.  The same applies to law firms. Indeed, when you operate along those lines, you can’t help but trigger the best advertising campaign known to man – word-of- mouth.

Either your clients will love you, and naturally want to rave about you to their friends and associates, or they will not, in which case, on a scale of 1 to 10, your popularity rating drops to well below 0. Your goal, with the basics of kindergarten-style marketing, is to get it up to a healthy 9 or 10.  All you need are a few building blocks of good client relation skills.

But wait.  Is it really that simple?

The Thoughtful Law blogger, David J. Bilinsky, recently hosted Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates, Inc, a management consultant who specializes on the state of the legal market.

Denney (pictured here) believes it really is that simple. In fact, he says, lawyers make marketing more complicated than it has to be.   “Developing new business – and keeping clients delighted – isn’t rocket science. …[I]t’s as simple as ABC.” Denney’s post actually gives you an alphabet-length tip sheet.  It runs the gamut from A through Z and covers everything your firm needs to know to develop and maintain excellent client relation skills.

And, yes, the skills really are as simple as everything you ever learned in kindergarten.   For starters, says Denney, you will need to:

“Ask good questions.”

Denney points out a few examples:

“When you first meet a potential client, begin by asking open-ended questions such as: ‘Tell me about yourself and your business (or practice)’ ‘What do you want to accomplish with this project (or matter or case)?’ ‘What are your expectations?’”

You’ll also need to:

“Be a problem solver, not a problem maker.”

Jumping ahead a few letters, we read that lawyers should also:

“Delegate.”

This is not, he explains, only so that you may be more able to focus on your primary tasks, but also so that your client will be less burdened with the higher cost that’s attached to work that you—and not office staff, associates or paralegals–do.

Also: “Sweat the details.”

Do you sometimes find yourself concentrating solely on the forest, to the exclusion of the trees?  Not a good idea, says Denney, who notes that:  “It’s often the little things, even typos in a letter or memo, that shake clients’ trust and cause them to question your ability.” And finally:

“Word-of-mouth is still the best form of marketing. Do everything you possibly can to ensure that your clients are spreading the good word about you and your work.”

It’s really that simple. To read more, go:   http://thoughtfullaw.com/2011/08/22/abcs-of-marketing-and-business-development/#more-1641

Photo courtesy of: http://www.robertdenney.com/

-ERM

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Law Firm Website Overhaul: Marketing Mistakes To Avoid

Personal injury television commercials have become iconic. The litigation industry has never been known for its high-quality advertising, including clichés like, “If you or someone you know have been injured in a car accident, call this toll free number…”

Today, that can change.   Marketing for law firms has shifted from Technicolor images on a television to digital interfaces over the worldwide web. Now law firms rely on their websites to attract new clients, communicate to existing ones, and generally exhibit the superiority of their services.

But, poor online webpage strategies can be just as costly as cutting corners on a television commercial.

The [non] billable hour blog points administrators in the direction of Brad Shorr’s Smashing Magazine article, which identifies five fatal copywriting errors that can ruin your firm’s website.

Websites, like commercials, have limited time to get a single message across. And clients, for their part, are really only interested in one thing: “what’s in it for me?”   So instead of touting the firm’s awards, longevity, or pedigree, Shorr suggests company websites use a “word budget” with a 50-100-150 rule.

To summarize, if your firm’s home page consists of 200 words, 50 words should be on law firm features, 100 words on benefits to the client, and 150 words describing the experience clients will get by working with your firm.

For example, if your firm offers in-house transcription services, the feature you’re advertising might be staff capable of typing100 words per minute. The benefit of which is a faster transcription time at lower costs. Leading to an experience where clients pay lawyers to prepare for dispositions and trial (instead of menial audio discovery transcription) and can rest assure that the confidentiality of the case is secure.

Why does this matter?

  1. Setting a “word budget” forces discipline. Not only that, it relieves the anxiety over having to determine how to approach each individual product page, thus eliminating one of the biggest causes of delay in Web development projects. 
  2.  Focusing on the experience forces you to think about the target audience of the page in question. The experience I described speaks to an operations person. If my audience is made up of C-level executives or purchasing agents, then I would need to describe a completely different experience. If I’m writing for all three audiences, I may have to rethink my word budget. In any event, having an audience in mind prevents a Web page from devolving into that cursed, watered-down, “everything for everyone” messaging that says absolutely nothing.
  3.  The purpose of a high-level page is to get people interested in the product. Once they’re interested, they may crave more information about features and benefits. Perfect. Tell the long version of your story on a detail-heavy product sub-page. Companies need not neglect features and benefits; they just need to suppress the urge to hit visitors over the head with them the minute they walk through the door.

Among some of the other errors identified are “no calls to action” and “saying too much.”

In terms of the former—no calls to action—if a prospective client likes what they see on your website, the home page should provide clear instructions on how to get in contact with an attorney at your firm.

“In the real world of Web marketing, visitors want to be led. If they have to stop and think about how to take the next step, you’ve already lost them.”

In terms of the latter—saying too much—well, we rest our case.

-WB

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