Archives for October 2011

Legal Marketing: You Are What You Bill (Hourly)

The relationship between lawyers and hourly billing rates might best be characterized with that over-used quote from the movie “Brokeback Mountain”: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

For all the client-centric talk about alternative fee arrangements and value billing, hourly rates retain a firm grip on law firms and lawyers for both practical and psychological reasons. As a practical matter, it’s hard to beat elapsed time as the basic unit of measurement for professional services work, and hourly rates are the easiest — if not necessarily the best — ways to charge for service. But lawyers also cleave to the belief that hourly billing rate is the primary expression of  ability and status.

In the discussion thread of a recent post by Carolyn Elefant on high-end legal temp agency Axiom, one commenter noted: “Why would a good lawyer work for Axiom? Clients must understand that they’re getting junk for $150 per hour.” Really? What if a lawyer previously had been a successful solo charging $250 per hour? Is she less competent now that she’s billing at a lower rate?

As Elefant replied, “I’m not so sure they are getting junk. I mean, the lawyers have large firm and in house GC experience – but my impression is that they are not rainmakers and prefer the certainty of ongoing work and steady pay to a higher rate.”

Toby Brown opens his recent post 3 Geeks and a Law Blog on billing rate increases with a zero-sum rhetorical question:  “As a lawyer are you highly valuable (justifying a higher rate) or are you low value?”  Again,  hourly billing rates are erroneously linked directly to the quality of professional skills. Lawyers who bill at a higher rate are intrinsically better than those who bill at a lower rate.

Brown then goes on to inadvertently demonstrate how billing rates unnecessarily complicate fee discussions with clients. On one hand, Brown notes that “Rate increases are a relationship building opportunity,” yet he goes on to counsel that “Rates are merely the starting point for rate and fee conversations” and  “Have conversations with clients about pricing, versus rates. At the end of the year, or end of a case, what really matters to a client is the fee.”

Then why dwell on hourly rates at all? If the client ultimate cares most about the total fee and you make a compelling argument based on that, how you get to the final nut rate-wise becomes less relevant and less contentious. You could put rates into an appendix without reference to whether they’re going up or down, and only discuss them if the client asks.

One of the clearest examples of the pernicious hold hourly billing rates have on the lawyer psyche is a presentation by Victor Medina at the 2011 Ignite Law event. Though you’d be hard pressed to find a client to agree with his thesis, Medina posits that “Legal services are expensive, and they ought to be…Clients are really not in a position to judge your legal competence.” His solution: “Be better tea.”

“There’s $9 tea and there’s 40 cents [sic] tea, and the only way we know whether or not one’s better is by the packaging and the price.”

Gosh, if we only had a superfluity of ratings and reviews content on some sort of global interconnected web of computer networks…

Twitter for Lawyers: No More Excuses

This post originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog Oct. 10.

Amidst all the froth about the new Facebook features and the general release of Google+, it’s easy for social media professionals not to spend much time considering the importance of simple tools.

We can get so focused on mastering the “next big thing” that we overlook applications that might seem basic to some.

But to others have the potential to fundamentally affect whether and how they can productively engage in social media.

For solo and small business owners who have the desire to participate in social media but believe they do not have the time to do so effectively, something as modest as an easier way to compose and schedule tweets can be transformational.

It’s in that sense the Buffer app is a “small wonder.”

While it’s generally thought of as just a tweet scheduling tool, my experience has been that it unlocks the promise of social media for businesses that have been sitting on the sidelines.

Unlike dashboard applications such as HootSuite and TweetDeck, which only allow tweets to be scheduled from within the client, Buffer enables users to compose tweets through a Chrome browser extension, then immediately post or add them to a queue without leaving the web page you’re reading.

Tweets placed in the Buffer queue are sent individually and sequentially based on the recurring schedule you’ve set for that day (as opposed to the Twitter clients mentioned above, which require scheduling to be done as each post is composed).

Schedule as many per day as you like (within reason and follower tolerance, of course).

You can essentially ignore Buffer at that point, but if you choose to, you can edit, reorder, delete, or immediately post your pending tweets from the dashboard.

OK, Buffer might be a one-trick pony right now — but what a trick!

I’m a voracious web surfer and RSS feed reader, and share a lot of content that I find interesting and actionable. But because I tend to do my surfing in the morning and late at night, before Buffer I had to manually copy/paste links and individually schedule a lot of my tweets to space them out.

As a result, I shared less content than I would have liked because scheduling was too cumbersome and time-consuming. Now I can tweet without breaking stride, and without inundating my followers with great clumps of tweets — “set it and forget it,” to borrow a Ron Popeil phrase.

That alone is well worth $10 a month.

So How Is that Transformational?

Buffer has been a very productive tool for me, but for some of my clients it has been almost revelatory.

I work primarily with professional firms and small service businesses, many of whom are wary of – or outright intimidated by – the perceived demands of social media. They understand they’re missing out on marketing and networking opportunities by not participating, but it’s difficult for them to envision an engagement strategy and tactics that would work for them.

For some, Buffer has broken through that reluctance and doubt because it meets them where they are in the adoption curve. It makes sense, it’s easy, it’s immediately useful, and it builds their confidence in – and appetite for — social media engagement.

Welcome to the New Home of Shatterbox!

It was great, WordPress.com – and we’re grateful to still have your exceptional DNA – but it’s time for the Shatterbox blog to move on up to its own de-luxe domain in the cloud: Shatterbox.biz.

For you, gentle readers, not much has changed. The look, feel and layout are a little fresher and – one hopes – more engaging. The biggest changes will be going on behind the scenes, where we’ll be working to maximize the blog’s potential through cunning plug-ins and more customization.

Since it’s a launch of sorts, we’ll take this opportunity to rededicate Shatterbox to the motto:

“Endeavor to make it useful”

We hope you will continue to share your insights and opinions here as the spirit moves you.

Video for Lawyers: ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

While it might seem like incorporating background music into your firm’s marketing and informational videos will add a “professional” sheen, it’s a risky choice. Whatever is playing during the narration should unobtrusively complement and elevate what’s being said, not compete with it.

The video below on methods of purchasing a business is intended to instruct, which requires a higher level of concentration than a video meant to create a general impression. The folksy finger-picked acoustic guitar riff is too prominent and distracting, making it difficult to focus on the information being conveyed, let alone retain it.

What do you think? Does the music enhance or detract from the video’s overall effectiveness? What would you have done differently?

Social Media for Lawyers: Contemplating the Nuclear Option

You’ve tried training, guilting, pleading, appealing to professionalism, more training — and still, getting your associates to blog, tweet or even share one of their presentations is like pulling teeth.

Have you considered linking social media content creation to performance metrics and merit increases? OK, forget social media. What about carrots and/or sticks for traditional business development and networking activities?

For all the hand-wringing about the difficulty of getting lawyers to create content for social media and participate in networking activities, there seems to be a deep-rooted resistance to even considering the use of performance evaluations and compensation as a management tool for driving those behaviors.

Having tried a voluntary approach to participation in the firm’s marketing and business development activities, one of my clients  recently instituted some mandatory measures. In addition to weekly one-hour professional development meetings, firm management requires associates to log at least 72 hours of business development activities per year, which is tracked through a billing code in its ProLaw system. Research and writing time for blogs and articles count, as do networking coffees and lunches. However, passive activities like event attendance do not. Results will be discussed in annual reviews and factor into merit increases and bonuses.

Money Motivates

  • Spiffs – Practically everyone who’s held a sales job is familiar with “spiffs” — spot awards for selling particular items. If you’re having trouble getting people to submit blog posts or newsletter articles, try periodically offering $5 Starbucks or iTunes gift cards for the next submission. You’ll be surprised at how motivating a free spiced pumpkin latte or smartphone game download can be.
  • Pay per submission – I worked with one firm that gave away $50 spot bonuses for every accepted staff blog post submission. Even the partners were eligible, and the managing partner took pride in his second income. So for only $7,800 per year — 3 posts a week, 52 weeks a year — the firm had a strong pipeline and frequency of posts.
  • Executive face time – Lunch with the managing partner is a pearl of great price. See how many JD Supra submissions you can generate by offering associates that incentive (and they’ll have something to talk about during the meal).
  • Time off – Offering extra personal days as an incentive for extraordinary contributions to your content marketing could be the most motivating compensation of all.

Twitter for Lawyers: Not All Tweets Are Created Equal

There is no lack of tools that help you decide who to follow and unfollow on Twitter by examining the activity of accounts in your Twitter ecosystem.

One of the current “buzz” Twitter clients, Twit Cleaner, provides users a very interesting detailed breakdown of how it identifies potential “garbage” accounts among people, organizations and bots you follow on Twitter.

In general, tweets that demonstrate active engagement (e.g. “@” messages, retweets and links) are favored, while automated tweets (e.g. paper.li distributions, Foursquare check-ins, RSS bot feeds) count against you if used extensively.

After you request an analysis of your Twitter followers, Twit Cleaner sends you a Twitter direct message containing a link to your customized results. In addition to the statistical breakdown by “type,” the analysis includes thumbnail avatars of all the Tweeps in each category, which yield individual details as you mouse over each with your cursor.

To cull out the undesirables, just click on the corresponding avatars.

Here’s how the categories break down:

Potentially Dodgy Behavior

  • App spam – More than 50 percent of tweets are auto-generated messages, aka “app spam” (e.g. paper.li, Foursquare, blip.fm)
  • Uses advertising networks
  • Nothing but links – Few retweets, no “@” messages
  • Repeating the same URLs – Duplicates the same link more than 25 percent of the time
  • Posting identical tweets

Other Dodgy Behavior, Now Absent

No Activity in Over a Month

Not Much Interaction – Fewer than 10 tweets

  • Not active yet
  • Don’t interact with anyone – No “@” messages or retweets
  • Bots – M0re than 90 percent of tweets pumped out from an RSS feed
  • Hardly follow anyone – People who follow back fewer than 10 percent of those who follow them

All Talk, All the Time – Averages more than 24 tweets a day (excluding @ replies and direct messages)

Little Original Content – Retweets are 70 percent or more of total output

  • High percentage of retweets
  • High percentage of quotes

Not So Interesting – More than 50 percent of their tweets are about themselves

  • Self-obsessed
  • Relatively unpopular – Few followers

So if you’re having trouble attracting and/or keeping the  followers you seek on Twitter, a quick self-diagnostic might be in order.

Twitter for Lawyers: The Simplest Way to Schedule Tweets and Track Your Links

I started writing this post on Monday and, as often happens in social media, two big-name bloggers beat me to the punch with a level of thoroughness that left little to elaborate upon. So instead, I’ll crib, credit and cobble together some excerpts from those posts to make my point.

The condensed version is that lawyers who’ve been sitting on the Twitter sidelines, as well as Twitter veterans who want to boost their effectiveness, should immediately set up a Buffer account to schedule your tweets and a  bitly URL shortener account to monitor the activity of the links you’re tweeting.

What is Buffer? from Joel Gascoigne on Vimeo.

I’ve been tweeting and commenting a lot about tweet scheduling app Buffer lately, and Jay Baer came over the top with a full-throated endorsement this week:

“One of my favorite Twitter add-ons is Buffer, an easy-to-use service that allows you to quickly queue up many tweets at one time, with those missives and bon mots then automatically parceled out one at a time on a schedule you determine.(Buffer also works for Facebook)

For people like me that do a lot of curation via Twitter, this is a real workflow advantage. Instead of finding and tweeting interesting content several times daily, I can scan dozens of blogs and email newsletter and RSS feeds in one sitting in the morning, and then use the Buffer browser app to set up tweets throughout the day. Doing so allows me to focus my other Twitter interactions on engagement and response, rather than curation.”

“Buffer automatically sets up your tweets to be sent when more people tend to be using Twitter, naturally increasing potential audience for many Buffer users. You can override the Buffer default settings (as I do) to Tweet more often, on a more diffuse pattern, to include nights and weekends, and/or to Tweet closer to the top and bottom of the hour.”

I you’re unfamiliar with bit.ly, here’s Danny Brown’s elegant summary:

“Primarily a URL shortener to make it easier to share blog URL’s on space-restricted platforms like Twitter, bit.ly (like Hootsuite and BackType) offers a great mix of analytics about the amount of shares each post got, as well as the top referrers so you can see where the links were shared the most.

bit.ly metrics summary

Additionally, much like other analytic services, bit.ly also gives you a breakdown of the countries that have clicked through on your link. This is ideal for getting a better understanding of your readers, and whether you need to install a translation option or not.

You can also gauge when the most popular time of day (and day of the week) seems to be for your links, so you can then schedule tweets to go out at these times to maximize the chance for extra blog traffic at these times.

The bit.ly services offers free and premium versions, with the premium option offering branded links, a more in-depth dashboard and integration with other social media platforms.”

Have you tried either Buffer or bit.ly? Give them a shot. The free versions are plenty useful.

3 Ways to Get More Than a Tote Bag and an Online Listing Out of Your NPR Sponsorship

Today’s the last day for Austin NPR affiliate KUT’s on-air membership drive, and once again law firms have been heavily represented in the shoutouts provided to “Business Circle” contributors. If you’re doing it because it’s a cause you believe in — and it truly is an outstanding news and entertainment resource — thank you, and God bless. But recognize that on its own it’s a pretty poor use of scarce marketing dollars — a few mentions within a laundry list of names during the pledge drive, a random mention the following week, and an online directetory listing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are a few simple ways to leverage your support for NPR that can generate direct, measurable marketing lift out of your generous contribution:

  • LinkedIn mining – Use the online business directory to create a list of networking prospects in your area. Your shared interest in/sponsorship of public radio is a great opening line for an invitation to join your network.
  • CLE for NPR lovers – Devise a CLE session for your fellow NPR supporters, inviting the prospects on the aforementioned LinkedIn list and existing members of your network.
  • Take the station’s development director to lunch – As I’ve written before, fundraisers at non-profit organizations are creative, resourceful and formidable marketers. Odds are good that someone in the development department would make time to sit down with you over coffee and knock around some ideas for creating some mutually beneficial networking opportunities.

Do you support your local NPR station? Any networking stories you’d like to share?