Archives for April 2011

Brave New Business Cards

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American Psycho Business Card Scene (Lip-Sync) from Joel Mellström on Vimeo.

When Heather Morse recently asked, “Is the business card dead?” my initial thought was, “Yes, for many years now — but a tough zombie, likely to endure for a long time.” Her point — and I think she’s spot on — is that physical addresses printed on physical media are increasingly irrelevant at business gatherings now dominated by mobile devices and online social networking.

It got me thinking, though: We now have the technology to cure that form of zombie-ism. But not only that, the new incarnation would be even better than before, able to do much more than transmit contact information.

The flavor of the moment is QR codes — those pixellated postage stamp-looking violators (i.e. graphical elements that “break” the overall design) increasingly showing up in printed and online advertising. Originally developed as an alternative to bar codes for supply chain and other commercial tracking applications, QR codes have metastasized into social media.

When photographed by smartphones loaded with reader software, QR codes automatically link to Web-based information. While massively useful, in most advertising for professional services QR codes look like weird, unsightly gimmicks. But in simple layouts — like business cards — they make perfect sense.

While the first impulse for may would be to embed vCard info on the business card QR code and call it good, I think that leaves too much opportunity on the table — like using a PC as a typewriter. Why not use the business card QR code to access a purpose-built microsite that includes links to the cardholder’s bio, white papers, presentations and videos?

Here’s what patent attorney Steve O’Donnell has done:

“My business card has a QR code on it. If someone wants the card, they’re more than welcome to keep it, but I’ve also had people scan the code (which takes them to a small mobile site created just for this purpose where they can send me an email, get a vCard, visit my full site or see my AVVO and LinkedIn profiles) and hand it back to me.”

And think about the money you could save — production costs, shipping, storage — if you eliminated printed collateral by creating an online .pdf library that could be accessed through a business card QR code. Your business card becomes a virtual trade show display that you carry in your pocket. No more worrying about expensive brochures getting thrown away before they leave the exhibit hall.

Put another way, the printed business card was the world’s first mobile branding application. Why not bring it into the digital age?

Facebook for Law Firms Part 2: Building a Niche

At the end of yesterday’s post on Facebook for law firms, I invited my gentle readers to share their own favorite law firm Facebook pages. Intrepid Austin attorney David Wells answered the call and recommended that I check out his own Facebook page because it’s distinguished by its “wit, professionalism and zeal for justice.”

And so it is.

I’ve had the great good fortune to spend time with David at a couple of recent social media events in Austin. He is an energetic, thoughtful and witty conversationalist, and that comes through in his posts’ subject matter, tone and style.

In those respects alone David’s worthy of followship and emulation, but what I’m most impressed with is the unique personal brand he creates by combining several niches into an intriguing hybrid:

  • Collaborative law
  • Small business
  • Animal welfare
  • Entertainment
  • A clear “Austin” POV

As David frames it in the “About” section of his blog, “I believe in standing up for the most helpless in our society: our children, our pets, and our entertainers.”

I really admire what he has achieved because the approach is bespoke for both him and his current/prospective clients.

Thanks for the suggestion, David!

Facebook for Law Firms

To use a lazy legal metaphor, the jury is still out on whether Facebook is a broadly applicable, consistently effective platform for legal marketing. But the Facebook page for English Lucas Priest & Owsley, LLP in Bowling Green, Ky., makes an interesting case.

I first encountered ELPO Law’s Facebook page through a link on Twitter. A series of tweets in February promoted their Facebook fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in which the firm would donate $1 for every new “like” for their page (up to a total of $1,000). Facebook promotions intended to grow followers are not new and can come off as gimmicky, but ELPO displayed genuine support for and engagement with the cause, and courage in trying something most law firms are too conservative to seriously contemplate, let alone attempt.

While the community-minded chutzpah to try new things initially got my attention, the consistency and quality of the firm’s Facebook persona keeps me interested:

  • Clear editorial POV: Posts are straightforward and low-key, comprised largely of short attorney bios (with photos), news items, and community and charitable event notices. To it’s credit, the page is not a blog substitute or an automated distribution channel for content from other platforms.
  • Clear personality: The content and style project an image of professionalism, pride and civic engagement. No hard sells.
  • Well-curated: The frequency of is strong, with extended streaks of daily posts, and unrepetitive posts.

ELPO Law’s Facebook page is a model well worth studying if you’re considering a Facebook strategy.

What are your favorite law firm Facebook pages? And don’t be too modest to plug your own firm’s.

My New Motto: “Endeavor to Make it Useful”

I’m nearly finished reading “Empires of Light,” a history of the competition among Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla to commercialize electricity. The book’s first chapter traces the lineage since ancient times of investigation into electricity, and the tension between basic research and applied science — “Endeavor to make it useful,” in the words of Benjamin Franklin.

Today I officially adopt that phrase as my new motto (the former was “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” — Ralph Waldo Emerson).

To celebrate, I’d like to recommend and thank a few bloggers who inspire me and, in my estimation, embody my new guiding principle.

I’ll start with Gini Dietrich and Lisa Gerber at Spin Sucks, who put the social in social media. Their preternatural joy and enthusiasm for their work is infectious. Mixing their own posts with guest content — and notable for the quantity and quality of its comment threads — Spin Sucks is a fun, raucous (but still professional and practical) ongoing conversation about the full gamut of topics in PR and social media marketing. It elevates the profession and makes us all smarter and better practitioners.

Danny Brown is a social media evangelist in the best sense because he advocates for a cause —  “The Human Side of Media and the Social Side of Marketing” — not for himself (at least that’s what I choose to believe). In addition to his eponymous blog, Danny is the demiurge behind For Bloggers, By Bloggers, a massively useful resource for actionable advice on technical, strategic and creative issues. Danny’s ubiquitous; a prolific commenter on Twitter and other blogs, making incisive points that challenge and inform.

I’ve been following John Saddington on TentBlogger for only a short time, but as soon as I encountered one of his DIY WordPress posts, I was hooked. His straightforward, clear, well-organized, helpfully interlinked, and blessedly hype-free content is a model of DIY advice. Thanks to John, I have a long and ponderous “to do” list for this pokey little property.

It the spirit of America’s Quaker forebears, I invite you to add your testimony here (if you are so moved).

If Divorce is Becoming a Luxury, How Should Legal Marketers Respond?

UPDATE: This post originally ran Aug. 2, 2010. Last week I had the good fortune to meet David Wells, who practices collaborative law in Austin and recently posted a two-part discussion of the divorce process.

Yesterday I read a New York Times article on married couples who separate but choose not divorce, and it got me thinking about the potential impact of a protracted recession on the practice and business of family law.

“Separations are usually de facto, rarely pounded out in a contract, and family law is different state to state. But even long-estranged couples are irrefutably bound by contractual links on issues like taxes, pensions, Social Security and health care….

Divorce lawyers and marriage therapists say that for most couples, the motivation to remain married is financial. According to federal law, an ex qualifies for a share of a spouse’s Social Security payment if the marriage lasts a decade. In the case of more amicable divorces, financial advisers and lawyers may urge a couple who have been married eight years to wait until the dependent spouse qualifies.

For others, a separation agreement may be negotiated so that a spouse keeps the other’s insurance until he or she is old enough for Medicare. If one person has an existing condition, obtaining affordable health care coverage is often difficulty or impossible. The recession, with its real estate lows and health care expense highs, adds incentives to separate indefinitely.”

One anecdote jumped out:

“One woman, a 39-year-old mother of two from Brooklyn…has stayed separated for nearly two years at the suggestion of five lawyers. [emphasis added]

‘There’s no advantage to getting divorced,’ she said. Both she and her husband are in new relationships. Most people assume they’ve officially split. But given the health insurance issue and the prospect of legal fees, she said, ‘I feel like we could just drift on like this for years.'”

That case got me thinking about two areas where innovative family law practices might differentiate or carve out niches for themselves:

  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around long-term separations as a divorce alternative
  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around cost containment in divorce proceedings and lower-cost alternatives to traditional family law firms.

I’m still looking for examples of the former, but I found two instances of the latter today.

A recent post on the Pennsylvania Family Law blog entitled “Practical Tips for Dividing Personal Property” forthrightly begins:

“Given the current economic climate, divorcing parties are more vigilant than ever about the value and disposition of their marital assets.”

An excellent primer, it outlines issues like depreciation, appraisals, valuation methodology and awareness of one’s motivations — also invaluable advice for couples open to long-term separation.

The second example popped up on Twitter today when family, wills and estates, and general business attorney Jordan E. Watson (@differentlaw) started following me. I was intrigued by her profile:

“A different kind of lawyer, who has created a practice solely using flat-rate billing practices. Despite people telling her she’s crazy.”

I clicked through to her website (www.notyourparentslawyer.com) and found this clarion call of a business pitch:

“I am not your parents’ lawyer. You know, the one who watches the clock tick by, who charges for every phone call, every minute spent in thought about your case, even when you didn’t ask them to. That’s not how I do things. My law office exists for one purpose: To bring quality, affordable legal counsel and care to clients who might otherwise never get the help they need.

With an emphasis on value pricing, I want to bring change to the legal profession. No legal issue is the same, so I likewise bring a unique approach to the practice of law. Competent and approachable, yet determined to get the best possible outcome for you, I will diligently work on your behalf. I welcome your questions and inquiries and the first consultation is always free, whether or not I take your case.

The billable hour is finished. The clock has stopped. This is a law office dedicated to you and to the upstanding practice of law.”

Practitioners attuned to the zeitgeist, plugged in to social networks and willing to take bold chances with their business models and marketing could end up winners in a down market — and fundamentally change legal marketing in the process.

The Firm Is Dead! Long Live the Firm!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1VoopyFVTg&w=480&h=390]

I read an interesting business section “obit” today: Clark, Thomas & Winters, Austin’s oldest continuously operating law firm, has closed. No official cause of death was given, but it couldn’t have helped that former partner Walter Demond was indicted in 2009 and in May will be tried on charges of felony theft, misapplication of fiduciary property and money laundering involving client Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

What’s interesting to me as a branding and marketing case study is that the “new” firm that occupies Clark Thomas’ old offices, Duggins Wren Mann & Romero, is comprised of 29 former Clark Thomas attorneys. Notwithstanding, in an Austin American-Statesman article reporting the firm’s formation last month, spokesmen insisted it’s entirely new — but did not explain how:

“Senior partners David C. Duggins, Casey Wren, James Mann and Celina Romero  all worked for Clark Thomas, along with managing partner David Gilliland and 24 other attorneys, officials said.

“Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Clark Thomas [and now for Duggins Wren], said the new entity ‘represents the significant core’ of the older firm. Its offices will remain for the time being on the 15th floor at the 300 West Sixth Street building, where Clark Thomas is located.

“Gilliland emphasized Monday that the new firm of Duggins Wren Mann & Romero is exactly that — a new firm, not Clark Thomas under a different name.

“‘This is a completely new venture,’ Gilliland said. ‘We have good practices and stable clients. It’s just the best for everyone involved.'”

And that means….?

Well, according to Duggins Wren Mann & Romero’s generic, barebones current website, “The attorneys of Duggins Wren Mann & Romero, LLP pride themselves on supplying successful solutions for the legal and business needs of clients throughout Texas and the nation.” Compelling stuff.

Further,

“Until recently, the attorneys of Duggins Wren Mann & Romero, LLP practiced with one of Austin’s oldest, largest and most prestigious law firms.  These attorneys have continued their commitment to each other, their clients, and to the level of service and values they bring with them.”

Apparently the Clark Thomas legacy is valuable enough to use as leverage in establishing the new firm’s pedigree, but notorious enough not to be mentioned by name.

Doubtless, it’s a very difficult maneuver they’re trying to execute here, but they’ll have little hope of quickly moving off the “Used to be Clark Thomas” default brand if they approach branding/rebranding obliquely and timidly.

My advice to Duggins Wren Mann & Romero (not that they asked for it):  Awkwardly and unconvincingly dancing around the Clark Thomas legacy only brings more attention to it. Take ownership of the best parts of the Clark Thomas heritage, incorporate it forthrightly into your own foundation story, then move on to define and articulate the new firm’s unique vision, values and capabilities. Get some customer testimonials to build third-party credibility. And the sooner the better.

If you were tasked with such a daunting branding/rebranding challenge, how would you approach it?

The Least One Can Do: LinkedIn for Lawyers

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHrsYZlLqTE&w=640&h=390]

A few weeks ago I was brainstorming with some law firm clients about an upcoming presentation to energize associates about participating in social media, and someone jokingly remarked, “Right now they’re more interested in what’s the LEAST they can do.”

I said, “That’s it!’

There is, in fact, a very easy, basic, minimal activity that absolutely puts you on the social media map: a LinkedIn profile.

Google yourself and your colleagues, and after you quit giggling about “googling,” you’ll notice that LinkedIn and profiles are at or near the top of the page. Since LinkedIn is the current platform of choice for professional networking, no fancy SEO tricks or “thought leadership” blogging is required.

The Minimum

  • Set up your account
  • Complete your profile (your resume or your firm’s website bio will do just fine)
  • Import your current contacts
  • Search for and join obvious affinity groups (undergraduate school, law school,
    bar organizations, volunteer groups, kids’ schools)

Why LinkedIn?

  • So you can be found with a simple Google search
  • Serves as your default professional home page
  • Offers the ability to harness the best features of social media with the least amount of hassle

Easy Activities

  • Search – Find people, companies — even job leads
  • Groups and sub-groups – discussion threads on topics of interest to you (or the people you’re hoping to connect with)
  • Questions and answers – Self-help and thought leadership opportunities
  • Announcements – New jobs/titles/clients
  • Events – Promote your upcoming CLE brown bag
  • Messages – Contact people in your network even if you don’t have their e-mail address
  • Autofeeds from other platforms – Plug-ins import your Twitter and blog feeds right into your profile home page

CYA

  • Check your state bar association’s rules on advertising as it pertains to social media
  • Include a disclaimer on your profile regarding the attorney/client relationship and the provision of legal advice
  • Include a notice that “this LinkedIn profile might be considered attorney advertising,” and make sure all information is true and complete

Bottom Line

  • Once you’ve created an account and entered the basic information, you’re in business. LinkedIn’s own SEO magic ensures that you’ll be found there if someone’s using a search engine to find you.

What’s your experience with LinkedIn been like? What are your favorite tips for beginners?

3 Mandatories for a Successful, Sustainable Niche

The counsel to “develop a niche” is liberally dispensed in legal marketing discourse. On its face, its promise is very seductive: A lucrative pipeline of business from clients who seek very specific expertise. In practice, however, niche prominence is difficult to achieve — particularly for small and solo firms — and is more a function of inspiration and serendipity than of deliberate advance planning.

The most successful niche products and services emerge organically from identifying and leveraging a unique set of characteristics in work you’ve already performed. Mining your own experience ramps faster and is more sustainable over time than premeditated strategies.

An ABA Law Practice Today post summarizes it this way:

“Experience relevant to a particular niche market can be developed in many ways. Some practitioners may have generally relevant legal experience that they can couple with prior work experience in a particular market. Others may be able to apply generally relevant legal experience to a market with which they are familiar due to a personal interest such as a hobby. It is quite possible that you may have sufficient expertise to support a niche marketing effort without realizing it. Rethink the types of matters you have handled as an attorney. Viewed from a new perspective, they could well represent meaningful expertise in a particular niche.”

Characteristics of a sustainable niche include:

  1. Expertise in an industry or issue where potential clients are highly networked – Niche practices gain traction best when they tap into existing word-of-mouth infrastructure.
  2. Significant barriers to entry – Ownable, defensible niches leverage scarcity, which typically means a) deep technical, product or issue expertise, b) obscure  or arcane knowledge, c) high levels of complexity, or d) a singular service delivery model (i.e shared-risk/incentive-based compensation).
  3. Referral business unaided by niche marketing activities – Organic business development through word of mouth is the best predictor of sustainable success in niche markets. Without it, reaching prospective clients in a niche is cost-prohibitive.

Or you could try the “Gypsy” method:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-FlkNKE3QM&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Content Marketing for Lawyers: The Copernican Revolution in Legal Social Media

Cheryl Bame’s recap of a Gary Goldhammer presentation on corporate social media reminded me of the Copernican Revolution — the paradigm shift from a geocentric (Ptolemaic) planetary model to a heliocentric (Copernican) one. Legal social media marketing seems stuck in the Ptolemaic model, where, despite clear evidence to the contrary, everything is believed to revolve around blogging — particularly one’s own blog. In contrast, mainstream business understands that social media is actually about seeking and engaging with your target audiences wherever they are.


While it’s presented in various ways, the orthodox version of legal social media marketing is the same — it all starts and ends with blogging.

However, as summarized by Goldhammer, the current understanding of social media doesn’t assign primacy to blogging — or any other specific social media platform for that matter. Customers occupy the central position around which social media platforms and content orbit.

  • Create a digital roadmap aligned with customer behavior and experience.
  • Create valuable content often.
  • Perform regular keyword analysis and incorporate results.
  • Engage in social environments where people already are and want to stay.
  • Online visibility is driven by people, not machines.
  • Focus on the business goals,  not marketing and PR or social media.
  • Move towards expressions, not impressions.
  • It takes three to five media channels before someone will trust your message.
  • Trust = authenticity and relevancy.
  • Digital strategy can’t live in the marketing silo, it must incorporate sales, PR, customer services,  internal communications and product/service development.

The biggest problem with a Ptolemaic, blog-centric model of legal social media marketing is not so much that it’s wrong — which it is — but rather that it’s limited and limiting.

I’d love to hear from people who have learned through their own experience that blogging isn’t the center of the universe.