While Groupon may be a marketing marvel for the broader business community, whether or not lawyers can get in on some of new business action is yet to be decided. The question buzzing around the legal community: Is using Groupon to garner new business ethical?
For those who have never heard of the website, Groupon features daily deals on activities, restaurants, products, and services in more than 300 markets and 35 countries. Visitors who sign up receive a daily email listing local deals to take advantage of. To date, the total amount of Groupon offers purchased totals almost 30 million, which is significant for a site that only launched in November 2008.
According to a recent article in the ABA Journal, a St. Louis law firm marketed its services for a will and durable power of attorney for $99 via a Groupon offer. The ethical issue stems from the fact that Groupon takes a percentage of the profits for each offering to its subscribers (negotiated on a case-by-case basis). An ethics subcommittee of the North Carolina state bar is currently investigating whether a Groupon deal amounts to â€œimpermissible fee-sharing with a nonlawyer.â€ The St. Louis law firm that marketed its services on the site argues that offering a Groupon deal is similar to a coupon offering a discount. Interestingly, the firm reportedly lost money when individuals purchased the Groupon offer, but the firm did benefit from the new business calls that resulted from the original ad.
This case raises a timely issue for law firms looking to market their services through new channels, particularly online and in social media. Services like Groupon could be useful for law firms looking to market their business locally â€“ but are they ethical and can they lead to new business for the firm? What are your thoughts?
My next post will focus on best practices for law firms looking to market their services in an era of new media.
*This post by Matt Probolus, assistant vice-president and senior underwriting specialist, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, is one of a series of guest posts on CounseltoCounsel. Special thanks to Matt for his contributions.
Learning how to deliver a focused marketing message is a challenge for the most of the lawyers I meet. Many litigators, for example, pride themselves on their ability to get up to speed quickly in new subject areas.
While there is nothing wrong with being a litigation generalist, telling the world that you are a generalist is a poor way to differentiate yourself from other attorneys. When asked “what do you do?”, it is equally ineffective to list 10 different kinds of cases that you have handled.
Starbucks understands this concept. The name Starbucks has become synonymous with coffee. If you want to meet someone for coffee, Starbucks is likely to be on your short list of options.
But Starbucks sells many things besides coffee. You can get baked goods and other snacks at Starbucks. You can even get non-coffee drinks at Starbucks.
Similarly, lawyers may have many services that they can sell to their clients. Some of these services may even be in practice areas that the attorney has no experience (e.g. other partners in their firm have expertise in real estate, taxation or corporate transactions).
To be successful in generating referrals, however, your branding needs to be focused like Starbucks. With a focused message, you will get the clients in the door in the first place. Once they are happy with your version of a “tall dark roast”, see if they are interested in a muffin. Ask them if they would like a taste of your “iced pumpkin spice latte”.
Thanks to Chris Litterio, Managing Partner of Ruberto, Israel & Weiner for contributing this tip.
It is important to recognize that all buyers of professional services are not alike. For a description of 8 different types of buyers and how to sell to them, see an excellent article published in Rain Today.
A new way to help you stay awake during long and boring conference calls. Via Legal Blog Watch.
Alternative billing remains a good marketing opportunity for law firms of all sizes. But how do you move away from hourly billing without cutting into your own profitability? Read my latest in the Massachusetts Lawyers Journal (see page 21.) And while you are there, see page 22 for an excellent article on why it is risky to spread out your work when you are slow.
Crafting a focused message, reinforcing your reputation and building relationships with referral sources are all important parts of marketing your practice. But don’t ignore the non-verbal ways that you are communicating. Does your dress speak of success? Is your body language projecting confidence? Does the tone of your voice suggest that you can solve the individual or company’s problem? Read more.
As a service provider who works with attorneys, I am being pitched all the time by other service providers. Some want me to help them promote their products and services through my blog. Others simply ask to meet with me because they want to do more business with the legal community– and they believe that I am a potential source of referrals. I don’t fault anyone for being proactive about selling. But there are certainly approaches that work a lot better with me than others.
For starters, polite persistence is very effective. While polite persistence can easily turn into fatal attraction, most of the lawyers I work with are hardly guilty of that flaw. Instead, they make one attempt to connect (by phone or by e-mail), and then fail to follow up. The same is true of most vendors who contact me.
I’m not trying to invite a barrage of phone calls and e-mail messages from other B to B service providers; but it is very noticeable when I hear from the same individual several times over a period of months, especially when I respond with limited interest.
Similarly, pleasant persistence that is combined with flattery (“I really enjoy reading your blog” or “The video on your website is great”) is even more effective (if it is sincere).
Finally, specific suggestions about when we might get together or how we might connect, are the most likely to actually occur.
I recently had this experience with a vendor of e-Discovery services. The individual, Sarah K. Brown, Corporate Communications Manager for Exterro, Inc. has contacted me a number of times in the past few months, each time suggesting potential subjects for CounseltoCounsel. This week, I received a message from Sarah which triggered this post:
I wanted to let you know that I’m launching a new blog, E-Discovery 360. It will serve as a resource for news and information about e-discovery. I plan to cover the legal process management zeitgeist, from case law and industry trends to analyst reports and emerging best practices.
I’m writing to invite you to write a guest post! Your your site is one of my favorites, and I’d love to feature a guest post from you. Please feel free to propose a topic and I’ll make sure to reserve a spot for you in my editorial calendar! I’m also working on building my blogroll and would like to add your site, with your permission of course.
Alternatively, if you’re attending LegalTech New York, I’ll be doing live video interviews at the show and I’d love to get your thoughts on happenings and evolutions in e-discovery and litigation management if your schedule allows.
I wrote back to Sarah and thanked her for the compliment. I also politely declined her generous offer because I don’t feel like e-discovery is within my core expertise. I would have made a point of saying hi to her at the LegalTech show but unfortunately, I am unable to attend this year. But after reading her post, I thought to myself, “That’s how it is done” (i.e. with polite persistence, flattery and specificity).
That’s the gist of a thoughtful comment submitted to the ABA’s Commission on Ethics 20/20. (The commission was established to “perform a thorough review of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the U.S. system of lawyer regulation in the context of advances in technology and global legal practice developments”.)
A number of leaders in the field of law firm marketing have voiced strong concerns that the Commission would adopt rules that would impede the use of social media as an important marketing tool for attorneys (See e.g.)
The comment, submitted by PR firm Hellerman Baretz, suggests that the ABA “Should Neither Prohibit Nor Discourage the Use of Internet-Based Tools for Client Development”.
I was at a holiday party in December and ran into a few parents from my neighborhood. One was a financial planner and I began speaking with him about a subject near and dear to my heart: business referrals. I asked him if lawyers were a big source of business for him (trusts and estates lawyers in particular) and he immediately responded by saying “lawyers are the worst”. In other words, for this financial planner, it is not worth spending a lot of time with attorneys because they are unlikely to reciprocate with referrals.
Being in the business of coaching lawyers on how to generate more work, I felt determined to disprove him. Certainly there are many attorneys out there who understand that giving a referral is the best way to get a referral. It’s human nature. When someone helps you, you want to reciprocate; and for most professionals, getting leads for more work is a big help and will certainly make you want to remember the person who made the referral.
Sure enough, I got my chance a few minutes later when a T&E lawyer I know walked by. I immediately pulled him over and made the introduction (Jim meet Dave. Dave meet Jim. The two of you should get to know each other because you provide different services to the same clients.)
Dave, the estate planner, then surprised me. He said that he doesn’t have much opportunity to refer work to financial planners. When I asked why (it seems like an obvious cross referral relationship to me), Dave simply said that his T&E clients never ask for a referral to a financial planner.
Jim, the financial planner, smiled immediately. Dave had just made his point. I, on the other hand, suddenly realized that I have some additional educating to do. Unless Dave has some aversion to financial planning, it seems to me that maybe Dave is not being proactive enough.
In speaking with your clients and business contacts, you can choose to focus only on the legal issues that they present to you. But if you want to make more referrals, spend time asking more open ended questions (about their interests, their families, their businesses, etc.) If you become a good listener, you will learn about opportunities to sell your own services or services that other lawyers in your firm may be able to provide. But if you become a great listener, you may even identify needs that other professionals may be able to satisfy. And the more you do this, the more referrals you will be able to make.
This is not only the right thing to do (and feels good as well), but it will certainly help your own practice to grow. So start asking questions.
Firms will maintain their profitability in the coming year by making fewer partners and by de-equitizing under-performing partners. These are some of the key findings in a report issued by consulting firm AltmanWeil.
Nearly 40% of firms made fewer partnership offers in 2009, and 50% indicated that they will or might do so in 2010. Over a quarter of all law firms reported de-equitizing partners in 2009 and 37% will or might do so this year. An additional 14% extended the partnership track in 2009 and 20% will or might do so in 2010. The majority of firms expect each of these trends to be permanent going forward.
In addition, the report goes on to say that use of contract lawyering is expected to rise while many firms remain resistant to overseas outsourcing.