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Practicing Law With Confidence

Date September 13, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Practicing Law With Confidence

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!

How to Give a Great Print Media Interview

Date August 24, 2011 Comment Comments Off on How to Give a Great Print Media Interview

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.

What Rainmakers Know About Persistence

Date August 18, 2011 Comment Comments Off on What Rainmakers Know About Persistence

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.

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

Date June 28, 2011 Comment Comments Off on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Is a Poor Way to Generate Referrals

“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!

Learning How to Communicate in the “Tower of Babble”

Date June 13, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Learning How to Communicate in the “Tower of Babble”

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.

Best Practices for On-Line Marketing

Date May 9, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Best Practices for On-Line Marketing

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.

The Ethics of Legal Process Outsourcing-Free Webinar

Date April 20, 2011 Comment Comments Off on The Ethics of Legal Process Outsourcing-Free Webinar

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).

Getting Paid: How to Market Your Practice With Conventional and Alternative Fee Agreements

Date April 8, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Getting Paid: How to Market Your Practice With Conventional and Alternative Fee Agreements

Getting Paid: How to Market Your Practice With Conventional and Alternative Fee Agreements

Fee agreements are the cornerstone of any legal practice. Drafted properly, they increase the likelihood that you will get paid for your services in a timely fashion.   Good fee agreements decrease the chances that you will get into a dispute with your clients or with the Board of Bar overseers, and they can even be an effective marketing tool as well.  On May 4th, Stephen Seckler will chair a panel on the subject at the Massachusetts Bar Association.  For more, click here.

Do I Have Your Undivided Attention?

Date March 29, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Do I Have Your Undivided Attention?

Do I Have Your Undivided Attention?
multitasking woman

Yes, you have my undivided attention

The other day, I called a former colleague to get some advice.  I really value his opinion and he is someone I know I can count on to be frank.  Unfortunately, he is also someone who likes to multitask (and someone who is easily distracted.)  In fact almost every telephone conversation that I have with him ends the same way:  “Oh, I’m sorry Steve.   I really need to take this call.”

This time, I decided to nip the problem in the bud.  I needed an uninterrupted block of time to get his feedback on something so I asked him when I could have his undivided attention for 20 minutes.  He quickly wrote back and said “sure”.  He also said that he would be driving to New York and that I could reach him the next night after 7 p.m.

I wrote back to him and pointed out that talking in the car means that he would be dividing his attention between me and all of the other cars on the road; nonetheless, I decided to take what I could get.

The following night, I called him at the appointed hour and he answered right away.  As we began our conversation, I was able to put aside my own bias (i.e. that talking on the phone while driving means that you are not fully engaged in either driving or talking).  But a few minutes into our phone call, it became apparent that we were not alone.  He was driving to New York, yes; but he had his whole family in the car.  When his daughter needed to throw up, that was the end of the call.

Giving someone your undivided attention is not easy in our wired world.  We are surrounded by many sources of distraction throughout the course of our work day and e-mail has changed our expectations about how quickly we must respond.   Before the internet, the phone was a potential interruption for meetings that took place in the office.  Now  cell phones, blackberries, laptops and other digital media constantly vie for our attention wherever we are.

The up side is that we don’t have to finish our conversation before we set off for our next destination.  But we are fooling ourselves if we think that the person on the other end of the line is getting our full attention when we check our e-mail, look at our blackberry or get in a car to drive somewhere.

This may not always matter.  Sometimes, a conversation is simply a chance to quickly pass along some information.  And as a self employed individual, I greatly value the flexibility that comes with being able to leave my office without having to risk missing an important phone call or e-mail message.

But this has to be done with balance.  We harm our relationships when we refuse to give them our full attention.  In contrast, we really strengthen our relationships when we listen with no interruption.  And it is by being a great listener that we build our referral networks.

So what is a busy professional to do?  For starters, try turning your blackberry to silent when you meet with your clients and referral sources face-to-face.  Setting the phone to vibrate will be less of an intrusion if you happen to receive a message during the meeting; but in all likelihood, a little buzz in your pocket is still likely to distract you.

If you are speaking on the phone and don’t need your computer, then don’t face your computer.  Turn off any audible alerts that tell you e-mail is waiting in your in box.

There is great power in giving other professionals your undivided attention.  Good relationships are not based on efficiency; they are based on trust, something which can only be built when you make the necessary investment of time.

Try giving one of your professional contacts your undivided attention and see what happens.  Ask open ended questions and listen.  Let the other person do 80% of the talking.  You’ll be amazed at what you uncover and how it helps your practice to grow.

Three Things Business Clients Must See on Your Law Firm’s Website

Date March 21, 2011 Comment Comments Off on Three Things Business Clients Must See on Your Law Firm’s Website

1. Industry Experience 2. Representative Clients  3. Case Histories .  Larry Bodine explains on Youtube.