Archives for August 2010

Back to Basics 2.0: Online Networking Brings Law Firm Marketing Back to Its Roots

Lawyers were the original kings (and queens) of networking and referrals — what we today call word-of-mouth marketing. It’s in your professional DNA — cultivating connections through clubs, civic organizations, alumni groups, local/state/national bar associations. Those membership organizations knew that their fortunes relied on their talent for enabling professionals to connect and network. That’s why so much of the innovation in law firm social media is being driven by entrepreneurs who are re-creating that model online.

Lawyers are still not entirely sold on the cost/benefits of blogging, Facebook is problematic on several fronts, and Twitter — well, that’s still a bridge too far for most. But LinkedIn? That’s a no-brainer. It’s a one-stop search shop, identifying potential connections based on schools, jobs and organizations listed in you online profile. Once connected, you can cultivate those connections through automated updates and group conversations.

Avvo and Justia help individuals connect with lawyers and legal information — the love child of classified ads and self-help books, on steroids.

Membership directories are traditional, familiar and intuitive — and even easier to use and more valuable now because of advanced search functionality. That’s why we can expect to see law schools, alumni associations and bar associations coming on strong with networking, educational and referral tools.

Columbus Explores Online Social Marketing for Lawyers

Update: The State Bar of Texas recently rolled out its new site design and user experience. The site’s architecture cleanly and evenhandedly reflects the duality that all bar associations face: providing optimal value and utility to both members and the public.

(Originally posted 4/23/2010) In yesterday’s post about online social networking and word-of-mouth marketing for lawyers, I commented that bar associations were likely to leverage their credibility and experience to create innovative services for members and the general public.

John Sirman at the State Bar of Texas kindly directed me to the Columbus (Ohio) Bar Association’s ColumbusLawyerFinder.com site, which was created to provide a reliable online source of local lawyers and Ohio legal information.

I spent some time on the site last night and this morning, and found it to be a very good user experience. If cultivated and publicized properly, it could develop into a formidable marketing platform. It has a lot going for it.

Easy to use: There are just two large tabs across the top of the home page: “Find an Attorney,” which sorts and searches by various criteria, and “Legal Tool Kit,” which offers printer-friendly lists, questions, links, and information about legal issues. Each tab has the same 15 practice categories in the dropdown menu (e.g. “D.U.I./Criminal and Traffic Defense,” “Small Business Law and Litigation,” “Family Law, Divorce, Support and Custody”), so one click gets you to directly to the page you need.

The attorney profiles are standard “tombstone” fare, but they include a nice personalizing touch through the Q&A format “Get to know me” tab. Lawyers can add color and context to their profiles by including answers to questions like:

  • Why did you decide to become an attorney?
  • What experiences (work and personal) help you to be a better attorney?
  • What makes your law firm unique?
  • Describe your ideal client.
  • What made you choose your primary area of law?
  • Describe your personal interests and hobbies.

“Business casual” look/feel: It’s clearly a professional site, but the Twitteresque appearance — the bird image, the “mod” rounded sans-serif type in loose blocks against a white background — helps makes the serious content feel accessible and not intimidating.

Local: No one wants to have to drill down through a national — or even state — search menu to find a local attorney.

Trustworthy: Come on, it’s the bar association. Even the most brazen hucksters and charlatans likely would not try to screw around with the bar. A link on the home page takes you directly to the criteria used to screen participating attorneys

To be listed on Columbus Lawyer Finder, attorneys must meet high standards:

  • They must be in good standing with the Ohio Supreme Court and be free of any pending disciplinary investigations or proceedings.
  • They must alert the Columbus Bar Association if they are notified that they become the subject of a professional investigation at any time in the future.
  • They must be approved by the Columbus Bar Board of Governors.
  • They must be a Columbus Bar Member.
  • They must carry at least $100,000 in professional liability insurance for all areas but Injury and Accidents which must carry at least $500,000.
  • They must agree to use and provide a written fee agreement to every client.
  • They must agree to participate in fee arbitration with a client if necessary.
  • They must show a personal commitment to professionalism and sign the nine “Commitments to Clients.”

Those commitments are:

  1. To treat clients with respect and courtesy.
  2. To handle their legal matters competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession.
  3. To charge a reasonable fee and to explain in advance how that fee will be computed and billed.
  4. To return phone calls promptly.
  5. To keep clients informed and provide them with copies of important papers.
  6. To respect my clients’ decisions on the objectives to be pursued in their case, as permitted by law and the rules of professional conduct, including whether or not to settle their case.
  7. To work with other participants in the legal system to make our legal system more accessible and responsive.
  8. To preserve the clients’ confidences learned during our lawyer-client relationship.
  9. To exhibit the highest degree of ethical conduct in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The biggest drawback, of course, is the lack of user-generated content like ratings and reviews. Some moderated conversations for the general topic would be interesting, too.

I wish them good luck, and I look forward to seeing how the platform evolves in Columbus — and is emulated elsewhere.

Everybody’s Talking at Me: Intro to the ROI of Listening

It was only a matter of time before the gasoline of prolix, marketing-minded attorneys encountered the lighted match of social media…

BOOM…the blawg explosion. From partners to associates, marketing managers to wordslinging paladins, law firms are investing intellectual and financial resources into virtual megaphones — official firm blogs, personal blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Authoritative voices competing to be heard, and once heard, followed.

But now that we’re a couple of years into law blog mania, the microphone-hogging alpha dogs can’t seem to figure out why they don’t have more followers. Within the blawgosphere, while everyone’s talking, it’s not clear that many people are listening.

“Listening” is one of the central tenets of the social media movement. Search engines and “thought leaders/influencers” of the medium award both technical and style points to bloggers who demonstrate interest in ideas and insights beyond their own through well-integrated external references and links.

As Chris Brogan noted in his series on the social media toolkit:

“Social media tools are a great way to get the word out about your passions, your interests, the company’s latest products, but we tend to rush right into the “speaking” side of the toolbox without giving much thought to the “listening” part. Knowing what people are saying about you, your competitors, and your industry as a whole are just as important as blogging and making good video.

It’s interesting to note that companies will spend anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000 on a good website design, but will fail to implement even the most rudimentary listening tools to move their capabilities to understand the impact of such a site beyond the realm of hits and clicks.”

In addition to the benefits Brogan cites, blawggers who actively listen to online conversations and communities can:

  • Identify and engage with potential partners;
  • Target firms and organizations you want to engage with for referrals;
  • Conduct background research for business development; and
  • Discover potential causes of action.

I’ll discuss each of those marketing applications in upcoming posts. Thoughts? Best practices to share?

First Movers, Fast Followers, and How Lawyers Can Be Both

Update: The folks over at Great Jakes have been posting some interesting thoughts on a content delivery model they’re calling attorney microsites, which allow individual lawyers to build their personal brand within their firm’s online footprint.

In technology and consumer goods, there is a long and storied debate over the relative advantages of being a company that creates new products and categories — a first mover — over a company that innovates once a new product type or category has been validated by consumer acceptance — a fast follower.

As the Innovation Zen blog frames it:

“There is a lot of theoretical evidence supporting the model, but does this evidence emerge empirically as well? Not quite. Consider the markets for safety razors, disposable diapers, photographic film, laser printers, game consoles, VCRs, energy drinks, personal computers, internet browsers, operating systems, search engines, online bookstores, online auctions, VoIP services, and the list goes on. In each and every one of these markets the leader position is held by a company that entered after someone was already commercializing their products.

“More important then entering the market first is to enter the market before a dominant design emerges and then understand better the customer needs, innovate and evolve your product or service to become the dominant design.”

And you can see the same struggle shaping up in the emerging battle between the first mover Apple iPad and competing devices from HP and Dell.

The great news for lawyers considering a social marketing strategy — you can be both.

A blog post this week on AttorneySync reminded me of this paradox.

“If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you already recognize a change in marketing platforms for law firms is occurring. The days of taking out a full page, yellowbook ad and watching the clients pour in are long gone. In fact, with the staggering amount of new lawyers entering into the work force each year, reliance on referrals and local recommendations is a tough way to drive significant revenue for a firm.

“The reality is that the internet is the new marketing platform. The law firms that understand this and invest accordingly will reap the benefits. They will be the new generation of law firms leading the way. The ones that fail to get on board will be playing catch up at best and won’t be around at worst.”

Technology and consumer companies were the first movers in the emergence of social commerce, and have driven its rapid maturity as THE marketing platform. So savvy law marketers have the advantage of learning from those industries AND still becoming first movers in their own category.

While other lawyers are working the country club lunch crowd or running TV ads during Judge Judy, the real action is happening on Google and YouTube, where firms and sole practitioners are learning from the first movers in other industries to become first movers in their own — the best of both worlds.

Don’t Panic

Over the weekend I came across an excellent BusinessWeek article by Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, on the maddening complexity of the current marketing mix — particularly the disruptive role of social media. I use disruptive in both a positive and a negative sense. Positive in that the social media juggernaut has fundamentally changed the theory, practice and infrastructure (human and technological) of marketing for the better, and negative insofar as it has also spawned distraction, panic and confusion, causing marketers to lose their strategic bearings.

“Most marketers don’t know that an epic struggle is going on just beneath the surface of the marketing communications industry. Digital agencies are starting to offer more traditional services. Traditional agencies are adding digital capabilities. Ad agencies are offering PR. PR firms are selling graphic design. Design firms are calling themselves ad agencies. And every one is staking a claim to the new ground of social media. It’s a mess out there, with each company kicking the others under the table like too many siblings vying for too few pieces of pie. Somebody has to manage the chaos, and unfortunately, that’s you.”

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog picked up on a similar theme recently, warning “Brace yourself for the backlash against social media marketing.” However, I wouldn’t describe it as a backlash as much as a necessary correction. It’s not as if marketers are wholesale abandoning and disparaging social media and networking. Rather, the tulip frenzy and accompanying fear of missing an opportunity have subsided and marketers are being more strategic and rational about how social media fits into a an integrated marketing mix.

McKee’s simple prescription is also the best:

“There has never been a better time for small marketers to act big. The tools, tactics, and best-of-breed vendors are increasingly available to help you take on larger competitors. But if your approach isn’t integrated, you risk having your plan jerked here and there by the latest tricks and tactics, with no formal analysis of whether (or when) they make the most sense for your brand.

“It’s good to change your tires every so often, but if you neglect to align them, the ride may be rough—and you’ll waste a lot of gas, even if you’re headed in the right direction. Invest the time and effort to develop a properly integrated plan, and you’ll be on your way to where you want to go with a lot fewer bumps.”

Lindsay Lohan Has a Long Tail

I originally was going to call this post “Six Degrees of Lindsay Lohan: Blawg Edition,” but I could not resist a once-in-a-lifetime headline that combines pop culture, jarring wordplay and a substantive lesson about social marketing for law firms.

So here’s the story…

Back in May, Austin criminal defense firm Sumpter & Gonzalez’ website was deluged by Lohan-iacs, all because of an FAQ that had previously languished in obscurity.

Here’s how blogmaster Dan described it in a June 17 post:

“…[W]e had an entire FAQ devoted strictly to explaining the SCRAM device…[In the process of exporting content from their old website to a new one], we noticed that the SCRAM page had been visited about 4 times in 18 months, and decided it was not worth migrating over.

Then, late last month, Lindsay Lohan gets ordered to wear one. Suddenly, the world is trying to figure out what on earth a SCRAM device is, and typing the words into Google. Since apparently the Internet is not full of great information on SCRAM devices, we end up getting massive traffic spikes – thousands and thousands of Lindsay Lohan fans, eager to better understand the tribulation their hero will now be facing, landing on our site.”

A textbook “Long Tail” phenomenon.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Long Tail describes the statistical property behind search engine optimization, the upshot of which is that combining common search terms with obscure or “niche” keywords can rocket your website or blog to the top of search listings.

Clearly Sumpter & Gonzalez’ felicitous result was serendipity, but it underscores how a well-crafted keyword SEO/SEM strategy based on specialization and unique content can pay off for legal marketers.

Party Ideas for Social Media Geeks

Forget game night. Forget LAN parties. And certainly forget paintball and laser tag.

As the content marketing tsunami builds in size and force, there’s not enough time in the work day to stay on top of what you need to — never mind the silly c**p that keeps you sane.

If you want to put a new spin on training, team building — or even event marketing — try organizing a “Webinar Night” for friends, colleagues and Tweeps. Of course, you’ll want to name it something more fun and inviting than that — maybe something with “Lounge” in it — but the premise is simple. Curate a playlist of webinars and videos you’ve seen/liked or have been “meaning to” watch (e.g. TechShow Ignite and  TED Conference presentations on YouTube) then have them play while you socialize, converse or create your own version of internet meme karaoke.

Note to lawyers: If you play your cards right, you might even be able to work a CLE angle into the evening.

On Second Thought…

Earlier this week I read and retweeted a blog post by someone I thought was a young lawyer (insofar as the name of the blog implies the blogger is an “associate”). It was a post laying out data and analysis on the blog’s first month, as well as some anecdotal commentary that hinted at an independent approach to legal social marketing. I thought it was bold in its transparency and honesty, and tweeted so.

Well…

When I went back today to look for additional posts of interest, I was disappointed to find a garden variety poseur. That he would claim the mantle of associate when he hasn’t finished law school/passed the bar/been hired by a firm as a lawyer (and not his present role of clerk) is troubling, and kind of killed any credibility for me.

It went downhill from there. His other posts were basically great swaths of commentary on martial arts and “The Great Conversation'” (aka dead philosophers and poets) lifted from Wikipedia and strung together with the kind of flowery prose that you find in high school term papers.

The reason why I bring this up is that he saw fit to include condescending remarks on legal marketing and legal marketers, deigning to allow that there are a few good ones, but that the bulk are charlatans with a sales agenda.

Really? That’s pretty rich coming from a part-time marketing guy who has been a legal blogger for a month. And he doesn’t have a self-serving angle?

I could have just tweeted out, “Look, liar, U had 1 lucky post. But in the main, U don’t know squat.” [Next tweet] P.S. The blogger trolls U emulate will never love you back, no matter how many @ messages you send them.”

But I needed a post for today, and this format is more satisfying.

Thanks for your kind attention.

Don’t Write Off Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Remember when Barbie dolls infamously started complaining “Math class is tough?”*

Well, that’s probably most law firms’ unspoken default for why they’ve abandoned, or not even tried, pay-per-click advertising. While keyword marketing can be maddeningly complex, unpredictable and time-consuming, it can also generate better marketing ROI than other online tactics.

A story in yesterday’s New York Times detailed how the Rosen Law Firm in Raleigh, N.C., used crowdsourcing techniques to make its $6,000/month pay-per-click program involving 80-100 keywords more productive:

“…[Firm president Lee] Rosen heard a podcast by Niel Robertson, chief executive of Trada, a crowdsourcing firm based in Boulder that specializes in pay-per-click advertising. Trada’s more than 500 pay-per-click experts compete for their advertising clients’ business and take home the difference between what the advertisers are willing to pay for a click and what the experts actually spend to generate it.

In consultation with Trada executives, Mr. Rosen broke his $6,000 monthly budget into a daily amount and determined a maximum rate he would spend on each click and where he wanted to advertise. Trada then posted the campaign to its crowd of experts, who set about creating ads and a list of keywords. If the campaigns come in under budget, the experts pocket the difference.”

Unlike polls and surveys that collect opinions, true crowdsourcing is structured to solve specific business challenges, and frequently incorporates a financial incentives for participants. In Rosen’s case, the firm’s pay-per-click spend is the same, but with better results and lower demands on staff.

So if you’re daunted by paid SEO campaigns, don’t be quick to write it off as too difficult. There’s wisdom in crowds, and letting them do the work for you could more than pay for itself.

* Although the resulting cultural meme is “Math is hard,” the voice recording actually said “Math class is tough.”

You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Lean

I am proud of my GE pedigree, particularly the invaluable training in operational rigor, continuous improvement, measurement and repeatable processes that I’ve incorporated into my marketing practice and use to help clients. While developed to improve manufacturing processes, the key principles of Six Sigma and “Lean” have broad and valuable applications — even for law firm management and legal marketing. As the Lean Enterprise Institute puts it:

“The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

To accomplish this, lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.

Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate….

A popular misconception is that lean is suited only for manufacturing. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. [emphasis added]”

Without directly referencing either Six Sigma or Lean, Debra Baker captured their central tenets in a post today on the Law Firm Transitions blog:

“Law firms who understand their business processes — how they lawyer — and use that knowledge to streamline the way they work have a powerful advantage over those who don’t.

When I refer to business process, I’m talking about looking at the discreet [sic] services lawyers provide and understanding what steps go in to providing that service and for what cost. While there may be no “one size fits all” process, there are certain steps that happen every time and there are variables — most of which are known but not always predictable.

With an understanding of how lawyers in the firm work, it becomes easier to assess costs and evaluate ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness across the firm. And, it sets the foundation for sometimes difficult conversations about timelines, communication expectations and fees.”

Streamlining is essentially eliminating waste, or muda in Lean parlance. That waste can take many forms, including:

  • Unnecessary complexity or redundancy
  • Delay in the work product production process
  • Unclear requirements
  • Bureaucracy
  • Slow or poorly managed internal communication

Less waste means more profit per matter, and a reputation for pricing predictability means more business.

Simple to understand, but very hard to execute (I know). Still, definitely worth the effort, and a significant competitive advantage if done well, continually and consistently.

If you’re interested in getting ideas from people who live the lean life every day, check out the iSixSigma Blogosphere. It’s understandable for laypeople, discusses a variety business management and process topics in interesting ways — and even has cartoons.