Straight Talk from General Counsels on How to Win Their Business

Far too much of corporate law practice marketing is predicated on what the firm wants potential clients to know, rather than what general counsels are actually looking for and how they conduct their searches. I came across a gem of a video on the Corporate Counsel section of that provides a glimpse of what general counsels actually care about when identifying and vetting outside firms.

  • Strong word-of-mouth is a great equalizer; gets you on the short list.

“Be good at what you do. We tend to interview the people we’ve heard about a lot, and we’ve heard about them a lot because they’ve had success in the past. And it doesn’t mean that we’re the kind of company that defers to the absolutely “blue chip” [or] “name brand” in a certain area because that’s an attorney the board will be comfortable with…If you are good at what you’re doing, whether you’re small, new emerging, well-known, we tend to be able to find you.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors


  • It doesn’t matter how good you are if you’re also an ass.

“Can I get along with this person, will they get along with my [internal] clients? Getting along with me is important, but it’s much more important to get along with the clients, because the clients are going to see you in the long term, every day basis. If the people who have to work with you on a daily basis in that transaction can’t stand you, that’s not going to reflect well on me nor is it going to get you repeat business.”

Robert Shives, Senior Director & Associate General Counsel, Fujitsu


  • Forget quirky videos and personal narratives; make website attorney bios more search-friendly.

“I absolutely check out bios, because we are frequently vetting new counsel. I look at representative clients, I look at representative matters. One of the things that makes me crazy is when the sites aren’t easy to maneuver. So how you’ve coded your website to be able to sort. Try and do it yourself, as if you’re an outside counsel trying to get to a person with this expertise in this location.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga


  • Think rifle, not shotgun.

“One of the things that’s sort of interesting is that a lot of firms describe [themselves] as the everything to everyone. I’m usually looking for something very specific, so if you are an IP/anti-trust/transactional/product liability/labor and employment/estates and trust lawyer – which I have seen – you’re probably not the attorney I’m going to hire. So think about how you’re portraying yourself to the outside world.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga


“It’s a credibility issue as well. When one sees that long list of “you’re an expert in every field,” you just pass. You take a pass on that person.”

Megan Pierson, Senior University Counsel, Stanford University


  • You’re competing against in-sourcing.

“I hire a lawyer and expect that they’re going to give me 2,000 hours a year for a $200,000 salary — I’m paying them $100 an hour. In reality, if you’re working with me at a high growth company you’re working 3,000 hours a year, so it’s even less [per hour]. My blended rate from law firms for the most part — big law firms — is still $400-$500 an hour.

“It’s simply a situation where, for the most part, law firms have priced themselves out of a whole bunch of work I used to have them do. It’s that simple. When I started in ’99 I would send contracts to law firms, I’d send license agreements to law firms, I’d send some employment issues to law firms. I just don’t do it anymore.”

“If work is going to repeat at all, I’ll bring the expertise  in-house. My in-house teams have simply gotten much bigger, and my outside counsel use has gone down, and it’s a direct result of the economics of it.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors

  • Billing reviews can be moments of truth.

“I don’t bring everything up with my outside counsel, but I do bring certain things up because we are early in a relationship and I want to set expectations. If I ask you to look at something on a bill, I expect you to look at it, and I expect you to get back to me promptly. And frankly if it even has the slightest appearance of being inflated, wrong, I expect you to say, “I’ve taken care of it,” and I expect you to do it right away.

“If I have to battle for a write-off with you, after I’ve given you the courtesy to bring it to your attention and reviewed your bills that you should have reviewed, you’re not on my list anymore.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga


3 Myths About Business Cards — And 3 Online Tools You Should Consider Instead

There was a time not long ago when business cards had almost talismanic qualities for lawyers and other professionals.  They were professionally designed and produced. Expensive. Markers of legitimacy, status, taste, authority, seriousness of purpose. An essential one-to-one marketing tool. Business cards were distributed liberally, and retained by recipients in Rolodexes, Filofaxes and drawers.

Enter Outlook, Google and LinkedIn. We no longer need micro-billboards to help contacts log, organize and retrieve our contact information.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Although they no longer command attention and respect, we still need business cards for utilitarian purposes like:

    1. Demonstrating you are prepared.
    2. Quickly and easily passing along basic contact information.
    3. Helping participants in large meetings keep track of who’s who.
    4. Conducting business in Asia.
    5. Placing in fish bowls at restaurant host stations for a chance at a free meal.

And yet, certain myths about business cards endure and cause lawyers to over-think and over-spend on what is now a low-value commodity.
  1. They make you look professional – Having a business card isn’t rare or special anymore. With online services like Moo and Vistaprint, anyone can get a veritable lifetime’s supply of high-quality, customized, color-image, double-sided business cards for less than the cost of a business lunch.
  2. They are necessary for a good first impression – If someone asks for your business card, you’ve already made a good impression. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s now rare for anyone to do more than glance at a business card before putting it in a pocket or handbag. Just being prepared and having a business card readily available makes a strong first impression. The craftsmanship and composition of the card is mostly irrelevant.
  3. Adding a QR code to a business card makes you look techno-savvy, and it will drive traffic to the linked landing page, webpage, microsite, etc. – Ugly, cryptic, space-eating, pixelated squares are just as likely to look gimmicky on a professional card. Indeed, other than novelty, there’s no compelling reason for recipients to access the code’s content on a mobile device when they have the information they need in their hand already.
Better Options for Optimizing Your Contact Information
  1. Add useful personal and company links to your e-mail signature.
  2. Create personalized landing pages through services like and
  3. Invest in Google search curation tools like Vizibility.
I know that lawyer coaches, graphic designers, printers, and the irrationally image-obsessed, among others, still venerate businesses cards, so I hope to hear some lively counterpoints.

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 11.23.11

Visual Storytelling: What Other Professional Services Firms Can Teach Lawyers About Video

As much as lawyers fret about the rules of professional conduct as they relate to social media, those limitations don’t hold a candle to the strictures financial services marketers have to navigate.

And yet, they manage splendidly.

Ivy Funds and Henderson Global Investors worked with visual storytellers at About Face Media to build a library of mini-documentaries that tell their stories authentically and in context. Not scripted; not sugar-coated. People telling stories about how they think and work. Authentic.


What professional services categories do you watch for inspiration? What firms have you “borrowed” ideas from?

Visual Storytelling: 3 Powerful Attorney Bios

Most  attorney bio videos have a long way to go before they start resonating with potential clients on an intellectual and emotional level only possible through visual storytelling.

While the current vogue in legal marketing is the “good enough quality in high volume” approach, some professional firms are investing in powerful visual narratives that make memorable, durable connections with viewers.

About Face Media, creators and producers of short-form documentaries for online and social media marketing, developed a series of biographical vignettes for San Francisco law firm Howard Rice. Without expounding a bulleted list of talking points, each video conveys the firm’s values, as well as the individual subject’s capabilities and character.

Do you think a documentary-style attorney bios would elevate your brand and generate inquiries, or is a consistent output of basic, topical videos more important for your business development model? Do you use both?

Rethinking the Attorney Bio, Part 1: Song of Myself

The pivotal role of attorney bios on law firm websites is well-established and much-discussed. It seems, though, that bios are still mired in a “bolt on” strategy — keeping the basic narrative framework and visual presentation the same, just adding features like videos.

To fully unlock the persuasive power of attorney bios, it’s necessary to craft them like a modern storyteller or bard would. That’s why I was captivated by Kate Battle’s recent post “Creating a One-Sheet for Your Law Firm.” Battle writes:

“In the music industry (as well as other industries), there is something called a one-sheet that bands use for marketing. Back in my college days, I spent a lot of time creating these for record labels and bands. As the name implies, a one-sheet is a one-page document that quickly gives people an introduction to the band, what it sounds like and how to contact the right people for shows, interviews or albums.”

“A few weeks ago, a musician friend of mine asked me if I could send him my one-sheet so he can share it with other musicians who might be interested in my legal services. That made me think: Just because I can’t carry a tune doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a quick and simple way to share information about my business.”


Rather than asking people to effectively read your resume, the “one-sheet” approach gives busy people with a lot of options enough information to develop an active interest and contact you directly.

Battle provides a format to create a simple and effective one-sheet for a law firm, but the same principles and techniques will work for attorney bios:

  • Start with a simple header, listing the name of your law firm, attorneys, practice areas, pricing system and contact info.
  • In paragraph one, give basic information about your firm history and list a few things that make it unique. In other words, what makes your law firm different from others?
  • In paragraph two, expand on your firm’s bio by including more information about your attorneys, recent accomplishments and past successes.
  • As with a band’s one-page, use the next paragraph to share a bit of buzz about your firm. Was your firm recently covered in a news story? Are clients saying great things about your firm? Use this part of your one-page to share a few news bites and testimonials.
  • Close out with information on where consumers can find out more about your firm, such as links to articles, a list of your recent publications, and information on upcoming speaking engagements or law firm events.
  • Finally, hit save and print a few copies. Anytime you discover a new referral source, be sure to send a copy so they can easily tell others why your firm is the right firm for their referrals.
How do you tell your own story in your website bio?



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?

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?

PR for Law Firms: Promote the “Why” Not the “Who” in New Hire Announcements

Let’s be honest. Even in the best of times, press releases announcing new associates were a “feel good” exercise.  If they made it into print at all, they were chopped up into blurbs and consigned to “People on the Move” listings in newspapers and trade publications.  The full version of the release, which included high-sounding manufactured quotes by the managing partner, only appeared in the “Press” section of the firm’s website.


New hire announcements were not news then, and they’re not news now. But they could have new life and relevance in content marketing if you fundamentally reconceive their purpose and structure.

  • Make the headline and opening paragraphs a statement about how the hires enhance the firm’s capabilities — why clients/potential clients should care. When Todd Smith announced the addition of a new associate on his Texas Appellate Law Blog, the key takeaway was that “The firm will continue to focus on appellate matters and providing litigation support to trial lawyers.  Having Brandy [Wingate] on board and adding a presence in the Valley will enable us to better serve clients statewide.”
  • Tie the content and message of each new attorney’s mini-bio back to the top-line benefit statement in the headline/first paragraph.
  • Judiciously optimize SEO when drafting and structuring the release.
  • Include deep links into your website (bio pages, practice profiles, etc.), not just the home page.

Will these changes result in more mentions in news outlets and blogs? Probably not — As I said at the top, new hire announcements are not news. However, this approach adds value to your overall communications mix by converting a formerly inert non sequitur into a meaningful, integrated part of your master narrative.

What’s Wrong With This Blog Post?

Over on the Avvo blog Monday, personal injury lawyer Steven Gursten wrote an unfortunate post about niche marketing for lawyers. I say unfortunate because the good information was far outweighed by the bad and the ugly.

  • A name is not a niche – The main point of Gursten’s post was that changing his firm’s name from Gursten, Koltonow, Gursten, Christensen and Raitt to Michigan Auto Law had a transformational impact on its branding and marketing effectiveness, and I have no reason to doubt that it has. However, that’s a keyword and SEO case study, not niche marketing. Niche practices are distinguished by scarcity, which among other things entails obscure  or arcane knowledge and high levels of complexity. There’s a superabundance of personal injury lawyers that focus on car and truck injury accidents, so the firm’s accomplishment — and it certainly is an accomplishment — has been to stand out in a crowd, not to define a singular, ownable and defensible niche.
  • Trade names for law firms are not allowed in every state – In Texas, for example, paragraph (a) of Rule 7.01 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits lawyers in private practice from practicing under a trade name, and paragraph (e) states that “A lawyer shall not advertise in the public media or seek professional employment by written communication under a trade or fictitious name.”
  • Be careful when claiming to “specialize” in a practice area – Again, according to Texas bar rules:

“The advertising lawyer or law firm must be competent in the  advertised  field of law and cannot say they are specialized or certified unless they or  their entire firm have been certified by the  Texas Board of Legal  Specialization.” [To complicate matters even more, client ratings and reviews for Texas lawyers cannot use a form of the word “specialize,” and the reviewed lawyer is expected to contact the reviewer to have that language changed or otherwise redacted.]

Other than that, interesting post.