Archives for October 2010

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/29/10

As any of my profiles (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) will tell you, at my personal and professional core I am a storyteller. As such, I look for ideas and inspiration in a lot of places. This week I found it in Judith Newman’s New York Times account of her experience with a juice-based “cleanse” diet. Informative and hilarious, it struck me as a metaphor for legal social media marketing:

  1. A simple premise for achieving important, difficult objectives.
  2. Low barriers to entry.
  3. Celebrity adherents and preternaturally cheery partisans (who also happen to sell the simple stuff required).
  4. Options to spend as much or as little as you choose, uncorrelated with probability of success.
  5. More effort, discomfort and discomfiture than anticipated.
  6. Combines sound, verifiable claims with outlandish, wishful ones.

Music business and technology blog Hypebot discussed the findings of a new report that found a brand’s Twitter followers were twice as likely as Facebookers who “liked” them to say they might make a purchase. In other words, you might have fewer Twitter followers than Facebook friends, but your tweeps could be more valuable.

Finally, today while researching a future post on the anatomy of successful niche practices — in this case, biking law — I came across an item about a 4-year-old-girl being sued for negligence in the death of an 87-year-old woman the child ran into with a bike. Several questions came to mind:

  1. Is there any way to sue a child without appearing despicable?
  2. How does one find a firm that will take such a suit?
  3. What do such cases do for the  personal/professional brand of the plaintiff attorney/firm?

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/22/10

It’s hard to pinpoint the tipping point between awareness and trust. My sense, though, is that 1:1 connections accelerate the process. As I’ve blogged in the past,  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. So moving those practices and skills into online communities and networking sites is not much of a stretch.

A short meditation by Chris Fritsch on the power of referrals (“the gift that keeps on giving”) reminded me of a recent tweet by Texas appellate lawyer D. Todd Smith, who noted that he had just referred a case to a Twitter connection in another state who referred one to him earlier this year.

As I’ve discussed before, Facebook is problematic for professional firms on several fronts, and a Wall Street Journal article this week noted that small business-to-business marketers are finding the path to Facebook fandom slower and more challenging than it is for their consumer-oriented counterparts.

However, that same WSJ article noted that many professionals prefer LinkedIn to Facebook, because the former was purpose-built for professional networking. To me it’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.

If you’re having troubled figuring out how to make LinkedIn networking pay dividends for you, Neal Schaffer of Windmills Marketing takes on “5 Common LinkedIn Fallacies and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them” on Social Media Today.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/15/10

How would you — or the partners — react if your firm were featured in a blog post entitled “Four Law Firms That Don’t Suck With Social Media”? A post about financial services firms on the Bazzarvoice blog this week — an organization that usually evangelizes about understanding customers and speaking their language in social media — was notable for its tone deafness. After the snarky headline, the post is somewhat complimentary (in a backhanded sort of way), but I couldn’t get past the cringe factor. The author actually exacerbated the situation in the comments section by sharing that the headline choice was made because 1) it mirrors the title of the CEO’s upcoming book and a previous blog post by its outgoing CMO and 2) he was more interested in easy linkbaiting than in crafting a catchy headline that “doesn’t suck.”

If he’s genuinely interested in learning about how professional services organizations react to variance from expected and normative behaviors, he’d do well to read Heather Morse’s post “The Banana Story and Lawyers” on The Legal Watercooler.

For most small and solo lawyers — especially those just starting out — LinkedIn is a much more cost- and time-effective social media marketing strategy than blogging (I’ll go into that in greater detail in an upcoming post). This week Samantha Collier provides an interesting and useful tutorial on LinkedIn’s new “add sections” profile option.

Pro Se Nation: Schadenfreude Don’t Pay the Bills

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the continuing rise in pro se representation should not be a surprise to anyone. Driven partly by economic hardship and partly by social and political zeitgeist, pro se representation and self-service solutions like LegalZoom address real — and frequently profound — financial and psychological needs. Notwithstanding low probability of prevailing and high probability of costly oversights and mistakes, DIY legal work is an enduring force to be reckoned with, especially in areas like family and small business law.

The typical lawyerly response to the issue is an “at your own peril,” “pay me now or pay me later” admonition. I wonder how much business fear-mongering and shaming brings in?

But what if enterprising lawyers started treating individuals considering pro se matters with respect, empathy and a spirit of collaboration, rather than bemused condescension? They might end up developing a successful niche for themselves in a crowded and challenging market, just as we saw with the development and acceptance of collaborative law, the non-adversarial alternative to scorched-earth divorce and child custody litigation.

For a while I have been intrigued by the marketing potential of constructive engagement with pro se representation and have posted on the topic before, so I am always interested to come across content like Arizona family law attorney Scott David Stewart’s Divorce FAQ. What’s interesting and worthy of emulation is that instead of  dismissing pro se divorce out of hand, Stewart treats the subject factually and candidly, with balance and respect. Instead of baleful warnings, his Q&A simply reminds people of why they genuinely need a lawyer.

Since the perceived high cost of divorce proceedings figures so prominently in decisions to proceed pro se, Stewart straightforwardly kicks the legs out from under that myth without talking discounts: 

“The cost of a divorce in Arizona depends upon how well two people are willing to work together to resolve any outstanding issues. Ultimately, if two people cannot get along and resolve their divorce, then their attorneys must resolve every aspect of their case for them, therefore driving up the cost of their case. If two people are capable of working together and resolving outstanding issues in their divorce case, then their case can be resolved with minimal attorney involvement and minimal attorney fees.”

In other words, clients make divorces expensive, not lawyers. Only ugly divorces are expensive; well-intentioned, reasonable people with their family’s best interests front and center can certainly afford proper representation.

I think that’s a powerful and persuasive statement because it is commonsense and simple, and it could certainly form the basis for a firm’s unique value proposition. Unfortunately, that great passage is buried in a video clip. Notwithstanding, it’s an excellent example of how attorneys can begin treating the pro se “menace” as an opportunity.

If you have some success — or cautionary — stories to share about lawyers taking on “pro se nation,” I’d love to hear them.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/08/10

I am a big fan of Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert blog, and this week’s “Six Timely Tips for Twitter Success” is a must-read, especially if your Twitter strategy lacks vitality. I particularly like the tip of scheduling posts to appear just after the top and bottom of the hour to catch tweeps as they check Twitter between meetings.

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog is on a roll about ways to improve the impact of attorney bios, and this week posted a pictorial spread of attorney headshots, annotated with what works/doesn’t work in each example.

Adrian Dayton combines Algeri’s insights with other interesting data points and SME comments in a broader argument for reconceiving the style, substance and role of attorney bios in “What’s Wrong With Your Law Firm Bio” on Above the Law.

Attorney Bios as Street Fashion

Legal marketers would be wise to heed fashion writer Teri Agins’ advice in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Pay close attention to the daily fashion parade.”

The legal marketing street buzz that currently intrigues me is personalized attorney bios, because 1) it’s a blessed respite from blogging-as-cutting-edge-marketing paeans, 2) it hints at the humanization of the profession and innovation in legal marketing, and 3) it has valences to SEO, WOMCRM and content marketing.

The transformative power of personalized content and engaging visual style is coming to legal marketing.

One of the catalysts has been a string of recent posts on attorney bios by Dion Algeri on The Great Jakes Blog, particularly the post “The future of attorney bios. How personal is too personal?” In it, Algeri critiques the website attorney bios of Axiom and Edelson McGuire, in both cases netting out that they might be too long on style and short on substance. A post today by Algeri explores the visual — and brand — impact of attorney headshots.

Lawyer-turned-therapist Will Meyerhofer, whose blog The People’s Therapist is carried on Above the Law, makes a case for innovation in attorney bios with his own attention-grabbing, John Waters-themed post “A sick and boring life”:

“There’s no sense of an actual person in those pages – only a scary apparition from the world of the serious and very grown-up.

I still recoil, looking at those bland, comically formal law firm directory pages – just as I wince looking at my old photo in the Sullivan & Cromwell facebook.”

I’ll conclude this post the way I started it, with a fashion axiom from Teri Agins that also is finding resonance in legal marketing: “The most original dressers have one thing in common: They tend to experiment with bold, unexpected colors.”

Now don’t go crazy — this is still legal marketing — but experimenting with bold design and personalized narratives could get you attention and help tell your story in a more compelling, impactful, memorable and influential way.

UPDATE: Speaking of going crazy, check out this off-the-hook website for French attorney Justin Conseil.

What an ’80s Pop Song Can Teach Lawyers About Social Networking

You know all about “earworms,” right? Those distracting song fragments that you can’t get out of your head? Well, whenever I start contemplating a “tips for better blogging”-type post, I start hearing “Talk Talk” by the eponymous ’80s British band. Specifically, the refrain: “All you do to me is talk talk.” Allow me to explain…

One of the chief reasons why many legal marketers have a hard time attracting readers, tweeps and other assorted varieties of followers is that they focus on monologues rather than conversations; posting on their own blogs and eschewing the comment section of others’. The “cocktail party” is a common metaphor in social networking parables — I’ve used it at least once myself — and Jay Fleischman offered an excellent version on Lawyerist yesterday.

And today Gyi Tsakalakis posted a short meditation on “The Value of Saying Hello”:

“By saying hello, you are increasing the number of potential client contacts that you encounter throughout your day. From there, it’s simple probability. The more chances you are presented with for new clients, the more new client relationships you are likely to develop.”

Whether it’s a link in one of your posts, a guest comment on another blog, a tweet or a Facebook “like,” make time to “say hello” and let people know that you’re listening.

Now, does anyone have a good suggestion for getting rid of earworms? Counterpunching with the chorus of “Wheel in the Sky” usually knocks it out for me, but “Talk Talk” is a stubborn one for some reason.

The Interesting Parts of the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey Are What It DOESN’T Say

Annual surveys make good (read: popular) copy, but unless they have insightful scope and keen survey instruments, those reports frequently turn out to be incomplete social science of limited practical value. Survey formJudging from the ABA’s press materials and Adrian Dayton’s summary, the 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report: Web and Communication Technology” unfortunately follows that pattern. It appears to tally surface-level indicators of social media participation, but does not drill down far enough into that data to reveal meaningful, useful information.

Isn’t it time that legal marketing got past the “gee whiz” bandwagon stage of social media participation and started seriously studying its application and effectiveness?

The ABA’s “Book Briefs” blurb cites the following top-line findings:

“When asked whether they personally maintain a presence in an online community/social network such as Facebook, LinkedIn, LawLink, or Legal OnRamp, 56% of respondents answered affirmatively, compared with 43% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey.”

What does “maintain a presence” mean? Does it still count if they signed up for an account but have not updated it for weeks or months? How frequently do they post to or update each profile? Also, what does “personally” mean?’ That they write and post the content themselves, or that the account pertains to them personally (as opposed to their firm) and their marketing staff helps?

“The highest percentage of respondents report maintaining a presence in LinkedIn (83%), followed by Facebook (68%) and Plaxo (18%).”

Again, how frequently do they visit these sites, what do they do while there and what specific results is that participation generating? Much has been made of data indicating lawyers spend more time on Facebook than on LinkedIn, but that in itself is a poor predictor of its efficacy as a marketing platform unless you have data on their primary activities and expected benefits from that participation. There’s a lot of non-business stuff to do on Facebook; not so much on LinkedIn. In marketing parlance, you have a more “intentional” (there for a specific purpose) and “qualified” (likelier to be receptive to what you’re selling) audience on LinkedIn than Facebook. Participate in Facebook if it works for you, not just because it has buzz momentum and all the cool kids are hanging out there.

“Respondents in the 30- to 39-year-old age group are the most likely to report that they maintain a presence in an online community/social network (77%, compared with 72% in the 2009 survey), followed by 68% of 40- to 49-year-olds (compared with 58% in the 2009 survey), and 50% of 50- to 59-year-olds (compared with 35% in the 2009 survey).”

What useful conclusions can be drawn from that? It appears to be a fairly typical adoption curve by age group. Either confirm that or identify unexpected findings and tease out their meaning.

“Large-firm respondents are the most likely to report personally maintaining a presence in an online community/social network (63%, compared with 57% in the 2009 survey and 13% in the 2008 survey); 52% of solo respondents (compared with 37% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey) maintain such a presence.”

Now that’s interesting! Did they bother to mine the data for reasons why that might be? Maybe because large firms have marketing staffs to help “maintain a presence,” while solos lack the time/resources OR don’t anticipate sufficient near-term ROI to justify that investment.

“The most common reason respondents report for maintaining a presence in online communities/social networks is for professional networking (76%), followed by socializing (62%), client development (42%), career development (17%), and case investigation (6%). Three percent chose the “other” category.”

Aren’t socializing, client development and career development just broad and overlapping aspects of professional networking? More concrete options like “speaking opportunities,” “reputation and awareness,” “client leads” and “new job opportunities” would have yielded cleaner data, and “professional networking” could have taken the place of “other.”

“Far from being a time waster, nascent efforts at social networking are yielding fruit. Ten percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of online communities/social networking.”
Actually, that conclusion irks me the most because the data to support such a conclusion clearly isn’t there. To make such a determination you’d have to know how much time respondents put into social networking, how many direct leads those activities have yielded, how much of total new business is attributable to leads from social networking and how much the resulting client engagements were worth. Even the credible and creditable Adrian Dayton fumbled this data point, saying “While 10% may seem small, it represents a dramatic shift in law firm attitudes towards social media.” No, it reflects client behavior, not law firm psychology.

What if a lawyer who responded affirmatively to that question spent 10 hours a week on social media last year and got only one matter, but it represented nearly half of his billings? Then yes, that’s certainly not a waste of time. Conversely, what if another respondent, this one working at a Big Law firm, spent the same amount of time on social media participation, also got one retainer out of it, but it only amounted to less than five percent of his total billings? He might have gotten more — and more lucrative — leads after doing a free CLE session at a bar event.

Here’s another way to look at it: How “dramatic” would it be to learn that 10 percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of Yellow Pages advertising?

Legal marketing has thrown its lot in with social media for many good reasons, but also for some bad ones — uncritical acceptance of and enthusiasm for generalized, anecdotal data chief among them.

I’m willing to allow that the additional data and analysis I’m looking for might be found in the full report, but at $350 per copy ($300 for members), I’m not going to take that gamble based on what’s been reported so far.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/01/10

Mitch Joel at Six Pixels of Separation provided a fresh take on the generative powers of blogging in 7 Things That Blogging Does. Thank goodness he didn’t say “thought leadership”….

Carolyn Elefant at myShingle ripped the American Bar Association a new one for putting their website ethics guidelines behind a paywall in Lawyers Want to Be Good, So Why Does the ABA Make It So Darn Hard?

Jayne Navarre started teasing her new book, “social.lawyers: Transforming Business Development,” this week on her Virtual Marketing Officer blog. I’ll be particularly interested to read the case study section.

Even in Legal Marketing, Price ALWAYS Matters

Recently I read a post by a legal blogger that warned readers to “never compete on price,” which struck me as quaintly out of touch

Price Matters in Professional Services

with the market for professional services, and egregiously self-serving.  You see, this blogger’s business is building blogs — something you can easily do yourself with professional-looking results in an afternoon — for free — using Google’s Blogger service or WordPress . 

The post was prompted by a sales discussion wherein a prospective customer questioned why this blog development firm’s initial fee was double that of a competitor’s. In a clunky bit of sophistry, the author asserts that charging lawyers well above market for a commoditized service like blog development and hosting actually helps them because “Focusing on price, as opposed to quality and service, leaves the American lawyer ill-served. It’s not what companies serving lawyers should be all about.” 

It’s not what they should be “all about,” but price definitely matters — a lot. Law firms are businesses, and what successful business does not factor price into the equation on EVERY vendor decision? Has anyone successfully gone into a competitive pitch saying, “We’re not going to talk about price because it’s beneath us, and it should be beneath you.” 

Price is concrete; “quality” and “service” are the subjective filters through which we view price and form our perception of value. You can’t compete on quality and service without putting a price tag on it.