Archives for March 2011

Legal Blogging Reality Check: Suspicious Minds

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It is truly meet, right and salutary to regularly examine the marketing effectiveness of blogging by lawyers. Blogging is a not inconsiderable investment of time and mental energy, and it usually takes a long time to produce meaningful results, so it should not be initiated or continued unquestioningly.

Despite anecdotal evidence from some established legal bloggers and purveyors of lawyer blog services, there is not enough hard data on the effectiveness of blogging to support a general rule that all lawyers should have their own blog.

To its credit, the American Bar Association recently conducted a survey on the way individuals search for lawyers for personal legal matters. The survey found that only 15 percent of respondents indicated that they would consult lawyer blogs in making their decision. Most of the resulting commentary by legal blogging heavyweights focused on tearing down the survey methodology, and theorizing a case for blogging as an engine for positive word of mouth and its validation. But that discussion missed the much larger point.

As Adrian Dayton pointed out:

“The important piece of data here is that a significant percentage of of your average…clients are using Facebook, Twitter and blogs to find their lawyer.  Not to mention that fact that referrals are often requested and passed via these very same social networks.”

Words of Comfort and Support for Legal Blogging Pragmatists and Skeptics

  • Trust your gut. If you lack confidence, you will lack commitment; if you lack commitment, you will not succeed in blogging.
  • Focus on content first, then distribution channels. A well-designed, regularly updated website can be as, or more, effective than a blog. If you’re more proficient and comfortable with writing analytical long-form pieces — which are deadly in blogs — white papers and e-books available through your website or sites like JD Supra can be effective alternatives.
  • Twitter is turbo-blogging. Because it is a short-form, conversational medium, you can cultivate a meaningful following and form productive, reciprocal relationships faster and with less effort than blogging.
  • Make your mark in video. There are lots of blogs out there, but not so many video channels. If you are inclined to buy search terms, hot keywords are still plentifully available and affordable on YouTube.

Social Media’s Reality Distortion Field

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With special thanks to Arment Dietrich. A version of this post appeared on the Spin Sucks blog Feb. 21, 2011.

The discussion thread on last month’s “Why Brogan’s Bigger Ear Marketing Is Wrong” Spin Sucks post got me wondering whether the social media industry operates within a self-generated reality distortion field.

As Gini wrote in that post, Brogan “extols wisdom about using Twitter and Foursquare searches to find people who are in bookstores. When found, he suggests tweeting those people to see if they can find your book in the store. And hence, a conversation is born.”

Brogan framed his experiment as an orthodox social media “listening” exercise, but how was it materially different from unsolicited, cold-call telemarketing – or the virtual version of a department store perfume spritzer? To me it seemed like garden variety marketing without the social. Yet many of the comments were deferential and affirming.

As I thought about it further, I began looking back at some of the foundational manifestos of the social media movement. The dust jacket copy for Joseph Jaffe’s 2007 Join the Conversation declared, “Today, every person sees thousands of advertisements a day – and totally ignores the vast majority of them. Yet, companies still spend billions of dollars each year yelling at customers who don’t want to hear it.”

Replace the word “advertisements” with “social media messages” and you’d have the preface for an updated 2011 edition. Except now Jaffe advises companies to “flip” the traditional sales funnel, effectively converting social media into a megaphone for a small group of influential current customers to yell at potential customers.

Citing startling findings in the new “Social Break-Up” research from ExactTarget and CoTweet, Jay Baer recently observed that “Regardless of platform, receiving too many messages from too many marketers is a very likely cause of subsequent break-ups, throwing dead weight over the side of the social and email ship until it floats again.”

User-generated or big brand-driven, yelling is yelling. Has marketing simply evolved from an impersonal, relentless, ubiquitous loudmouth into a well-intentioned, relentless, ubiquitous loudmouth with better people skills?Consider how fundamental social media doctrines like “conversation,” “community,” “listening” and “engagement” — once so fresh and empowering – are currently practiced:

  • Conversation = Automated feedback requests, and corporate blogs and Facebook pages that read like press releases
  • Community = Affinity groups of deal seekers and sweepstakes enthusiasts
  • Listening = Market research
  • Engagement = Recruiting and rewarding key influencers as brand claques

Reality Check

Thought leaders and practitioners genuinely believe they’re upholding the original underpinnings of social media marketing – human, trust-based, relational. Yet current practice is also forthrightly commercial – operationalized, ROI-driven, transactional. That inherent tension is not the problem, though. Complacency is the real threat: the belief that gimlet-eyed self-interest will not take root with consumers, and they will continue to contribute their insights, recommendations, credibility and loyalty to companies for free.I can imagine a tipping point where customers stop participating in surveys and ratings, and start asking marketers, “If my opinion is truly valuable to you, what’s it worth? And it better be more than a sweepstakes entry.”

That might never happen. But will we be prepared if it does? 

Is Law Firm Branding Possible?

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Although they tend to be used interchangeably in legal marketing, the terms “brand” and “reputation” are not the same thing. Firms live and die by their reputation, but it’s debatable whether law firm branding is even possible.

Rees Morrison gets to the heart of the matter in a post recapping a recent conference organized by Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession:

“I don’t recall any general counsel I have consulted to who think of law firms they use as ‘brands.’ They don’t say, ‘X firm is a global leader,’ or that ‘Y firm puts clients first,’ let alone that ‘Z knows Canada.’ My sense is that inside counsel amalgamate impressions of the style and ability of individual partners they have dealt with from the firm mixed in with fragments of articles read or conferences spoken at by the lawyers of the firm all combined with some ads they have fleetingly glanced at as well as remarks made by peers and colleagues. The pastiche doesn’t rise to any level of ‘brand’ clarity [emphasis added]. Other than size or ‘AmLaw 100 I think’ they don’t store impressions as overall brands.

 “When pushed, a general counsel can always dredge up broad impressions of a firm: ‘A has uneven quality,’ ‘B litigates aggressively,’ or ‘C mostly does patents,’ but those are scattered attributes, not an overall, let alone distinctive, brand, and they are secondary.”

Morrison quotes conference panelist Ken Grady, general counsel of Wolverine Worldwide, observing, “Law firms talk about a single brand with hundreds of channels (the partners); I see hundreds of brands funneled through a single channel” [emphasis added].

 In other words, the currency of legal marketing is personal reputation, not firm brand.

 The problem with the general practice of legal “branding” is that it tends to fetishize standardized visual identity and slogans — taglines, logos, websites, collateral, Powerpoint templates, business cards — as the embodiment of the firm. Writing last year about the “‘rigorous branding analysis’ that led to an office-by-office and practice-by-practice review” at Baker & McKenzie Jayne Navarre identifies a tail-wagging-the-dog aspect of the process:

 “…It wasn’t the visual results that made the re-branding most valuable to the firm and its clients, it was the process—the rigorous branding analysis—and the outcome of that exercise that enabled them to re-connect with clients and ultimately drive their revenues.”

Legal Blogging 2.0: Lessons from Law Student Bloggers

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The first time I wrote about law student bloggers I approached it from the perspective of social media expertise as a competitive advantage in job hunting. In the intervening time I’ve come to appreciate something more transformative in blogs by current law students and recent grads.

In 2001 Marc Prensky famously postulated a bifurcation in the relationship with and adoption of digital technologies between digital immigrants — individuals born before the advent of digital technology who incorporated it to their lives to a greater or lesser extent later on — and digital natives — individuals immersed in digital technology since birth and therefore more naturally comfortable with and adaptable to it.

The same analogy can be applied to legal social media. While Baby Boom and Gen X lawyers have an uneasy, uneven relationship with blogging and online networking, Gen Y and Millennial lawyers and law students have been immersed in it for their entire undergraduate and graduate careers. While Legal Blogging 1.0 is mired in evangelism for social media marketing and online networking, Legal Blogging 2.0 comes to it organically, with different sensibilities and objectives.

Some distinguishing characteristics I see in Legal Blogging 2.0:

  • Technology and online social connectivity are essential — not adjunct — in both personal and professional life. For those who choose it, blogging is not a chore, nor a necessary evil — and it’s not a “strategy.”
  • Be an interesting person first, then a law student/lawyer
  • Peer mentoring and crowdsourcing are the most relevant and useful forms of coaching. Insights and advice from Version 1.0 legal bloggers are welcome, but not deferred to.

Following are some interesting blogs worth checking out that I believe embody the best characteristics of Legal Blogging 2.0:

World Wide Whit (Jack Whittington) – I like the manifesto-like quality to this post and applaud the mission of Law School Chat:

“As I reach the end of my law school career it has become apparent to me that life would have been incredibly easier over the course of the last three years if I would have had someone to give me a heads up about what to expect throughout law school or just someone to talk to when it all felt like it was too much to handle.

“Jason Tenenbaum, Brian Hoffman, and myself are launching a joint social media venture through Twitter to bring law school students, potential law school students, and attorneys together in conversation about what to expect in law school and how to deal with the many challenges it presents us. It is our vision to create a place where students can go with any questions they may have regarding law school or life in general and give them a broad range of opinions and insights in how to approach things. Most of all we want to create a friendly atmosphere that fosters collegiality among the up and coming generation of law school students with those who came before us and the ones who will follow in our footsteps someday soon.”

The next live Twitter chat with take place March 27, but in the meantime you can join the conversation through the #lawschoolchat hashtag or by email.

Fresh Thought Soup (Mariel) – From “About the blog & Disclaimer”:

“I’ll write about a lot of things: law school and the ensuing hilarity, life lessons, and general happenings.  I hope this is becomes a way to spread the encouragement and entertainment, dispel the mystery surrounding the hallowed halls of law school, and as a way for my friends to keep in touch [or at least feel less like I’ve disappeared].”

My Mind Rebels at Stagnation (Anonymous) – A recent collection of anecdotes and impressions of the new semester was followed by a very powerful, personal account of “What Planned Parenthood Means to Me.”

Daisy, JD (Just Daisy) (Daisy) – From “About Daisy”:

“I am an attorney married to an attorney, which means my house is full of boring books & equally boring discussions. To make up for the general lack of creativity I blog, I cook & I make fun of the legal profession at every available opportunity. Unless of course I’m feeling sassy and then I’ll offer unsolicited advice on being a law student or a lawyer or the spouse of a lawyer.”

Blogs Illustrated: Adding Interest, Impact and SEO to Your Blog Posts

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As one of the last of a dying breed — a journalist who actually went through J-school — incorporating images (still and moving) with copy in blog posts is bred in the bone. The best images are editorial — eye-catching, interesting, entertaining. On a legal blog, adding a basic stock image of a courtroom scene contributes nothing to the post. However, a metaphorical representation of the argument(s) being made in the text elevates both.

Photos, illustrations and videos:

  1. Telegraph and animate the narrative’s main ideas
  2. Have been empirically shown to aid in memory and recall
  3. Break up copy blocks in order to engage the eye and make the text more readable
  4. Enhance SEO (especially video)

But if you’re not an avid photographer, videographer or illustrator and don’t have the resources or inclination to pay for images, how do you find the “art” for the story? You can find them through a simple search on Google, Flickr, YouTube, etc., but you’re basically on your own concerning pesky legal issues like provenance, copyright and “fair use.”

While not foolproof, there are several curation sites that can help you finesse those search engines to  find free images with no or few strings attached, as well as sites that offer free images as part of their paid services:

(With acknowledgment and thanks to participants in Rachel Carlson’s recent Legal Blogging LinkedIn group discussion thread)

Grammar Rules (That’s a Complete Sentence)

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The following post first appeared in 2010:

Yesterday was National Grammar Day — “March Forth” is the punny slogan/mnemonic — and while the well-ordered, fastidious nationwide observations should have tipped me off, I missed it. Notwithstanding, here’s my short meditation on the enduring utility and necessity of speaking and writing well.

Many logophiles and armchair grammarians of a certain age have a special affection for the old Reader’s Digest feature “Toward More Picturesque Speech.” As a child, for me it was not just a vocabulary building exercise to spice up my school essays, but also the start of a lifelong adventure, in the way that all serious collectors and connoisseurs relish the search for, discovery and display of rare and exquisitely crafted items.

Yes, there was some adolescent know-it-all-ism in there too, but over time I came to realize that grammar — like manners — is ultimately about making people feel comfortable. So even now, in the age of 140-character, thumb-typed communication, attention to spelling, usage and grammar are valuable because they make for clear, easy and enjoyable reading, and they inform the way others perceive your personal and professional brand.

  1. Sloppy writing conveys inattention to detail. What does that say about the quality of the product or service you’re selling?
  2. Glaring mistakes trip the reader or listener, and distract them from your message. A few days ago I was reading a post by a relatively well-known law marketing blogger and encountered the phrase “for all intensive purposes” — and that’s all I remember about it.
  3. Tolerances vary widely. Even if some — or even most — friends and business associates don’t care about spelling, punctuation and the occasional mangled sentence, some will. Is irritating or alienating even a small fraction of your clients due to lazy communication an acceptable loss?

For the record, I don’t profess to be a grammar expert or master prose stylist, and I am certain that martinets in the gotcha brigade could pick this post to pieces. Rather, for very concrete business reasons I am advocating vigilance and continual improvement in written and oral communication. Presentations and writing are products. Regardless of the power of your ideas, the color, fit and finish also matter, because they differentiate and distinguish your brand.