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Open Up During the Holiday Season

Date November 29, 2011 Comment Comments Off

Open Up During the Holiday Season

office party

Originating business requires the ability to look a prospect in the eye and confidently tell them that you can solve their legal problem.  In sales parlance, you need to be able to “close” business if you want  your practice to grow.

In order to close, however, you first need to learn how to “open up” conversations.  You need to find out what problems your contacts are trying to solve (both in their businesses and in their personal lives) and you need to offer solutions.  This only only happens when you approach relationship building in a very open ended way.  For many lawyers I meet, this is very challenging.  But the holiday season is a good time to practice.

The holiday season may not be the best time of the year to “close” legal work; but the month of December is a great time for relationship building.  And since most legal work flows from good relationship building (whether it is with existing clients, prospective clients or referral sources), this is actually a great time of year for marketing.  It is a time of year to cultivate and “open up” relationships.

For attorneys who do not consider themselves that social (and who thrive on having a full plate of legal work), December may feel downright depressing.  If you fall into this category, you may be thinking a flurry of negative thoughts:  I hate holiday parties.  What am I supposed to talk about anyway?  It’s hard to stay energized about marketing when I’m really slow.  No one is going to retain me until after the New Year anyway.

With a different mindset, however, the holidays can give you an excuse to connect with people in your network.  The holidays give you more opportunities to find ways that you can be helpful to your contacts.  This in turn can help keep you “top of mind” with important prospects and referral sources.

So what are some good ways to “open up” conversations during the holidays.  Here are a few tips:

  • Send gift baskets or similar gifts to anyone you really want to thank.  For less than $100, you can make a lot of support staff happy and your gift will be noticed by the person you are trying to influence.
  • You do not have to attend holiday parties (unless the host would be truly hurt).  If you really hate going to parties, use the holiday season to get caught up over breakfast, lunch or coffee.  Offer to treat.  Everyone likes to be treated.
  • If you do decide to attend some parties, focus on parties where you will know a few people already.
  • Go with the mindset that you are simply there to listen and learn.
  • Come prepared with a few things to talk about (i.e. things that you think might be of interest to the people you expect to meet).  Good topics include: a recent matter you helped a client with, interesting cases you are working on, a trip you are planning to take, a non-profit cause you are working with, something interesting you read about their industry, an interesting movie you saw or book you can recommend.  Don’t plan to give a monologue.  But having a few topics queued up will make it easier to get the conversation flowing.  Avoid politics unless you are sure the individual agrees with your political views (then by all means, make fun of your least favorite Presidential candidate).
  • Spend 80% of your energy asking open ended questions and listening.  This is true whether you are at a holiday party or sitting down over lunch.
  • Ask about holiday plans, family, outside interests as well as questions about the person’s business.  Look for ways to be helpful.   Maybe their child is applying to college at your alma mater and you can offer to talk to the child.  Maybe they are thinking about a good movie to go see.  Give them your suggestions.  Find out who they want to meet for their own marketing.  Perhaps they need a referral for a contractor to fix their front porch or a new accountant to replace the disorganized accountant they have been using.   Perhaps they share your interest in basketball and would enjoy seeing the Celtics play (if the season ever starts–in which case you can invite them to a game.)

You will not know what someone likes or needs until you ask.  So this holiday season, do a lot of asking and  you will undoubtedly learn about ways you can be helpful to the people in your network.  This, in turn, will build your business relationships and over time, will give you more opportunities to be a solid “closer”.

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Occupy Wall Street and Building Your Law Practice

Occupy Wall StreetRegardless of how you feel about Occupy Wall Street, you have to give the movement credit for one thing:   the organizers have done a great job of garnering publicity for their cause.  Through a variety of PR devices (including very effective use of social media), Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has managed to capture broad attention over a considerable period of time (i.e. way beyond one  24-hour news cycle).  In a  media saturated world, this is a true accomplishment.

At the same time, you have to wonder what it is that OWS is hoping to accomplish.  While their message is “loud” and “pervasive”, their goals are murky.    Do they want presidents of bailed out banks to receive lower pay?  Full employment for all?  A redistribution of wealth to the 99%?

This dichotomy is very instructive for anyone trying to sell professional services.  Simply put, marketing alone is not enough if you want people to buy.  You need to engage in specific conversations about specific solutions if you want businesses and individuals to retain you.

The lesson for anyone trying to build a law practice is to keep “showing up”.  If you want prospective clients and referral sources to think of you when then have a need, then you need to create a niche and commit to marketing your reputation over a long period of time (through speaking, writing, involvement in trade associations, etc.)

But you also need to engage individual client prospects and referral sources in conversation.  You need to uncover their “needs” and look for way to be helpful and build the relationship.  Until you are able to get prospective clients to articulate a need and a solution that you can provide, you are not selling.  All you are doing is building your visibility.

It is unclear where the OWS movement is headed.  At least for now, it seems to be expanding to more and more cities and it seems unlikely that everyone will pack up and go home any time soon.  At the same time, until the leaders articulate specific objectives and advocate for specific solutions, the movement is destined to go nowhere.

And that is a lesson that many lawyers can put into play in marketing their own services (i.e. let the world know what you do, but don’t forget to make sales calls-you may become well known, but that is no guarantee that you will generate a lot of work).

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Focus on Your Strengths; Hire for Your Weaknesses

Date September 30, 2011 Comment Comments Off

Focus on Your Strengths; Hire for Your Weaknesses

My latest tip in the MBA’s Lawyer’s e-Journal.

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Practicing Law With Confidence

Date September 13, 2011 Comment Comments Off

Practicing Law With Confidence

It is hard to overstate the important role that confidence plays in building a professional services practice.  Clients generally have no direct way to evaluate the quality of your legal skills.  Instead, prospective clients will either get a referral from someone they already trust or they will look for indirect evidence that you are trustworthy and competent.

Body language and dress, for example, can do a lot to  convey your competence and trustworthiness.  Trust can also be built through a series of small acts over time (some having nothing to do with your professional competence).

But  the way we communicate with our clients after they have engaged us also plays an important role in client satisfaction (which in turn can lead to more work or referrals).  Simply put, when we exude confidence in presenting options to our clients, they are more apt to trust our judgment and therefore more likely to hire us in the future or tell others about our services.

For lawyers in private practice, it is not always easy to project this kind of confidence about our opinions.  There is a natural tension between helping your clients sleep at night by advising them what to do and avoiding malpractice claims by laying out all of the options and letting the client decide.  I suspect, however, that many lawyers who do this have clients who are frustrated with their lawyer.

You do want to send the CYA letter, however.  Make sure that the client was advised of the risks of pursuing various options.  But helping clients make decisions by being more direct is likely to result in happier clients who refer work to you.  So don’t be afraid to tell them what you think.  Your livelihood depends on it!

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How to Give a Great Print Media Interview

Date August 24, 2011 Comment Comments Off

How to Give a Great Print Media Interview

This post provided by guest blogger Marsha Friedman who is responsible for the content.  Although we generally shy away from publishing unsolicited content on CounseltoCounsel, this post seemed like a very useful summary for lawyers who are contacted by the press.

Sometimes I cringe when I hear people talk about “the media.” It sounds as if everyone in TV, radio, print and online press is a member of one fraternity that thinks and acts the same. There is a vast gulf between the daily life of a print journalist and the daily life of a radio show host. And there are many differences between radio hosts and TV producers.

They really shouldn’t be treated the same. That’s why I’ve written a booklet called 50 Tips to Make You A Great Radio Guest and a similar piece for TV. Now I am compiling interview tips for working with print and online journalists (which in many cases can be the same thing). This will be the first of three articles, so stay tuned for the others over the next two weeks.

Here are the first five tips:

  • Be Responsive – In TV and radio, interview times are pre-arranged. However, print and online journalists typically have daily and weekly deadlines. When they call you, they need you right then! In many cases, journalists will reach out to several experts on a news item and then choose the one who is the better interview or whoever responded quickest (or a combination of the two). The more reliably you respond, the more likely they will call on you again.
  • It’s Not About You – Most journalists are not interested in you, but rather the expert commentary you can provide. The more you use the words “I” and “my” the less likely they will use you as a source. When speaking to a reporter, keep in mind you are speaking to their audience, so keep your remarks centered on what their audience cares about and you’ll be quoted early and often.
  • Read Before You Talk – If you get a call from a publication, take five minutes to go online and read a few of their stories. Look for their tone and approach, so your tone and approach will match. Also look for articles they wrote on your topic, so you can avoid duplicating what someone else said. Finally, read articles written by the journalist you’ll be speaking with. There is no better way to prepare for a print or online interview than to read the writings of the reporter interviewing you. You can discover his or her focus, audience and philosophy. The reporter can tell if you’ve read his or her articles through your comments and will respect you for having made the effort to prepare for them.
  • Don’t Empty Your Notebook – Beat reporters – journalists who cover a particular topic or industry – tend to be experts in that field from their time covering it for their respective publications. They don’t need, nor do they want, your soup-to-nuts take on that topic. They need only a few quotes and opinions to round out their stories. Answer direct questions with direct answers, and get to the point quickly. There’s no need to tell the reporter everything you know, emptying your notebook of all your collected knowledge, in order to have a good interview. Allowing an interview to devolve into you talking about your total philosophy on a particular topic or business will result in your interview landing in the discard pile, and the reporter will likely seek a comment from your competitor instead.
  • Be Professional – Reporters don’t call you to talk about the weather, last night’s TV, your kids, etc. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve come across people who think a little friendly chit chat can “grease the wheels.” If they engage you, that’s one thing. It’s entirely another if you waste their time with unwanted “schmoozing.” Most have deadlines to meet and their time is valuable. Many outlets are working with significantly smaller writing staff than a year ago. Respect their time and they’ll respect you.

There’s more to a good print interview and in the next two weeks I will share more tips. If you follow this advice, you’ll discover your interviewers will respond better to you, use more of the interview in their actual articles and maybe even call you back for more quotes when they work on other stories. At the end of the day, these tips will help you be prepared so that when your name is mentioned in the media, readers will know they are getting advice from someone who truly knows what he or she is talking about.

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What Rainmakers Know About Persistence

Date August 18, 2011 Comment Comments Off

What Rainmakers Know About Persistence

Building professional relationships is critical in selling legal services; and one of the key ingredients in building professional relationships is persistence.

To illustrate this point, one recent study found that on average, corporate counsel need to be asked up to seven times before they will agree to meet with an attorney who wants their business.  Interestingly, the same study showed that 90% of attorneys give up after one try.

In other words, if you want to build a practice, you need to be willing to face a lot of rejection.

In baseball, succeeding 3 out of 10 times means you are a superstar.  In selling your legal services in a competitive marketplace, think of yourself as a batter in a league with amazing pitching.  Good rainmakers understand this.  They are building relationships all the time with clients, potential clients and referral sources.  They know that generating work means taking chances and that only 20% of their activity will yield direct results.  They also know that while it is helpful to be strategic about where to invest their time and energy, that it is impossible to know in advance which of the 80% of activity will be wasted.

In many ways, direct rejection is the easy case.  “We’ve decided to hire firm X because they have more experience handling patent infringement cases” does not leave a lot of room for ambiguity.  You are not going to get the work.  Perhaps you can leave the door open for other types of litigation (e.g. perhaps the client will use your services when they don’t want to pay large firm rates); but it’s clear when you get feedback like this that it is time to move on.

Unanswered e-mail and phone calls are another story.   In many ways, voice mail and e-mail present some of the biggest obstacles for anyone trying to build a law practice.  Simply put, many people don’t respond to all of their messages.  Your message, as the vendor who is pursing a potential client, goes to the bottom of the queue.

It’s a frustrating challenge for most of us (i.e. those of us who are risk averse lawyers.)  When someone doesn’t respond to a message that we have sent by e-mail or left on voice mail (or with a secretary), it feels like a rejection.  When two or three messages go unanswered, most of us will give up.  By doing so, however, we are all leaving opportunity on the table.   Because we don’t want our ego’s bruised any further, we stop trying.

But here is the bottom line:  RADIO SILENCE IS NOT REJECTION.  Until a prospect tells you that he or she is not interested, you have no idea why they are not responding; and if the individual is someone who you really want to do business with, then you need to keep trying.

There is always the risk of “Fatal Attraction” syndrome and it is definitely possible to overdo it in your pursuit.  In all likelihood, that is not going to be your biggest challenge.  As long as you spread out your requests (first by days, then by weeks and then by months), you’ll be fine.  Using a “multimedia” approach can also help (send an e-mail first, call and leave voice mail second, check with secretary third and possibly even send a letter–the point is to mix up your approach).  Finding a new angle to approach the individual can also give you new reasons to reach out.

In some ways, it is narcissistic to think that a lack of response has anything to do with you.  There are many reasons why someone may not be returning your call.  The following is a list of some of the reasons I have encountered in the past year (all had nothing to do with me):  one partner was going through a divorce, one consultant was trying to juggle a busy practice with remodeling his home, one partner was not ready to deal with marketing (my core area of consulting) and was focused instead on difficult staffing issues and running his own busy practice.

In each case, I eventually landed a meeting with these individuals and in each case, they apologized for being so unavailable. And in each case, their unresponsiveness clearly had nothing to do with me and I would have missed out if I had not persisted.

No one likes rejection.  But building your own law practice requires the ability to face up to a lot of rejection and move on.  Ultimately, you will develop the business you want and your professional satisfaction will grow.  In short, DON’T GIVE UP!  Your persistence will pay big dividends.

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“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Is a Poor Way to Generate Referrals

Building a solid referral network cuts down on the amount of effort needed to turn prospects into paying clients.  For starters, leads that come through referrals are already “qualified” (i.e. they have demonstrated an interest in purchasing your legal services).  Similarly, individuals who come to you through a referral are already inclined to trust you.  If you trust your accountant and you need a lawyer, you are likely to follow his or her recommendation.

Converting referrals into paying clients is the easy part.  The hard work, of course, is getting the “right” referrals in the first place.

Making an effort to build relationships with likely referral sources (i.e. other professionals who serve the same clients) is a good place to start.  There are a myriad of ways to do this and I’ve written about this before.  Making your own referrals is probably the most effective way to build your referral relationships.

But relationship building alone is not enough.  As lawyers, we don’t like to “sell” so our inclination is to do a good job and hope that the work or the referrals will come.

Failure to “ask” for referrals and failure to “tell” referral sources what kinds of referrals we want is probably the biggest sales mistake that we all make.

So what is a shy lawyer to do?  Start with relationship building; but after you have invested in your referral network, do not be afraid to ask for help.  Ask your contacts what you can do to get them to refer clients your way.  Tell other professionals in your network who you want to meet and what kinds of problems you can solve.  Be specific.  Be known for certain types of work.

By promoting your reputation in a narrowly defined way, you will greatly increase the chances that your referral sources will remember you when a good prospect comes along.  Tell your referral sources what to look for (whether it is individuals who are having marital problems, companies that are concerned that their trademarks are being stolen on the internet or family owned businesses that want to be acquired).

In short, building a strong referral network does take time and should not be forced or rushed.  But once you have solidified your relationships, don’t be afraid to ask for the referrals you want.  If you are not asking, you can be certain of one thing:  someone else is!

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Learning How to Communicate in the “Tower of Babble”

dog checking emailWhile social media is growing in importance as a tool for mass communication (and therefore as a tool for marketing a professional services practice), for the foreseeable future, e-mail still has an important role to play in marketing a law practice.    But we still have a “Tower of Babel” problem when it comes to e-mail.  Simply put, different users of e-mail speak “different languages”.

The dramatic growth in the use of smartphones in the past two years has only exacerbated the problem.  Smartphone users tend to prefer terse e-mail messages.   Meanwhile, people who mainly  use their desktop or laptop computers to read  or compose e-mail messages may have more tolerance for lengthy messages.

So how does one navigate this challenging communication problem?  For starters, know what your clients and other professional contacts prefer and then follow their lead.  Beyond that, here are some general rules:

  • don’t use e-mail to deliver bad news or complex messages [e.g. firing someone by e-mail is a poor use of the medium]
  • if you have a complicated message that needs to be sent in writing, send the first paragraph of the letter in the body of the message and then use an attachment for the complete letter.  In other words, you can use the message as teaser and let the reader know they can read the attachment if they want more information.
  • try to limit each e-mail message to one main idea and use descriptive subject lines.  (i.e. better to send multiple messages if you have several things to say that are unrelated).  Good subject lines help the recipient to quickly decide if they need to read the message right away and if the message requires a quick response.
  • if you receive an e-mail message that gets you angry, DO NO RESPOND IMMEDIATELY.  I continue to be amazed at how often I misread the content of e-mail messages.  There is something about the medium that lends itself to this.  Instead, reread the message once you have cooled down and make sure your first reading was accurate. Sometimes, this may mean waiting until the next day.

Finally, try not to read too much into a “non response” to an e-mail message.  While many of us have an expectation that an e-mail message will be answered in a relatively short period of time, not everyone operates under this set of rules.  Furthermore, spam filters and a mountain of other messages may bury your message.  In other words, with e-mail, there is no guarantee that the recipient saw the message.

E-mail does provide an inexpensive way to communicate with a lot of people and it is therefore an important tool in a lawyer’s marketing arsenal.  But recognize that it is only one tool and that not everyone uses e-mail in the same way.

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Best Practices for On-Line Marketing

Date May 9, 2011 Comment Comments Off

Best Practices for On-Line Marketing

In my last post*, I discussed the issue of whether using Groupon to garner new business in the legal community is ethical.   When a St. Louis law firm marketed its services for $99 via a Groupon offer, many felt selling law services through Groupon should be frowned upon and some local bar associations have begun to analyze the issue as well.

With the rise of new channels, particularly online and in social media, law firms have an array of new marketing forums available. Also for smaller firms, looking to market locally, services like Groupon could give them a competitive edge, but again is it ethical?

Below are some marketing tips (traditional and new) to consider when pursuing new business:

  • Understand the state-specific guidelines and rules of professional conduct for advertising in your state, and display the proper disclaimers.  Offering to practice in states where you’re not licensed can be considered the unauthorized practice of law – be sure to word online advertisements accordingly, since they can be viewed by residents in any state.
  • Be “content discriminating,” as sometimes less is more.  Be sure that the information listed on your website is an accurate reflection of your practice area, firm expertise and staffing.  The potential promise of increasing your Google ranking and web visibility with elaborate messaging isn’t worth the risk if you haven’t triple checked the website content.
  • Never list clients without their explicit permission, even if you “think” your clients won’t mind.  It’s imperative to ask before posting client names on your firm’s site.   You should also confirm that firm successes or case results are not subject to a confidentiality agreement before posting online. [Comment from Steve Seckler:  although you should always get the permission first, note that listing names of clients and describing matters you have handled is a very effective marketing practice.  In fact when general counsel visit your website, the three things that they most want to see  are 1. industry experience  2. representative clients and 3.  representative matters you have handled for these clients.]

What new business practices have been successful for your business/firm in the new media marketplace?  Have you encountered any challenges like the Groupon example? More to come on this topic as we continue to examine some of the new advertising options taking advantage of technology.

*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.

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The Ethics of Legal Process Outsourcing-Free Webinar

In order to make alternative fee agreements work, law firms need to find ways to control their costs.  But it is a win/win scenario for attorneys and their clients as the business of law shifts to this new paradigm.  Clients get more predictability with fixed fee billing and with outsourcing,  law firms of all sizes have the ability to handle document intensive cases.  In addition, large firms have a way of continuing to provide very high end strategic advising at premium prices without having to charge the client $300 per hour to have first year associates doing relatively low value document review work.

There are, of course, a number of ethical issues that should not be neglected and we will be covering some of these in my upcoming MBA panel on marketing your practice with conventional and alternative fee agreements.  But if you want more depth on the ethical issues, LPO giant Inegreon is hosting a webinar featuring LPO guru, Mark Ross.  I’ve heard Mark speak in the past and he does a great job (i.e. don’t let the price convince you otherwise).

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