Anatomy of a Law Firm Positioning Statement

Five years ago I wrote a post on this blog about the emptiness of law firm positioning statements, taglines and value propositions. Clearly my critique has not had the desired corrective effect over the intervening years.

How many buzz words are crammed into your firm's positioning statement?

How many buzz words are crammed into your firm’s positioning statement?

Law firm websites are now a bit less visually clunky — just a bit — but the dull, empty prose meant to animate them remains standard.

For example, law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. — Taft, to its friends —  anchors its homepage with the grand-sounding but hollow “Innovation and Leadership Since 1885.” I say hollow because no evidence is provided to back up the brag. Wait, that’s not entirely true. While it feels empty, it’s actually filled with zero-calorie buzz words strung together in insubstantial assertions:

We work as one team, driven and committed to helping you succeed. Our attorneys understand that innovative, value-creating solutions help our clients reach their goals. Our collaborative approach, advanced technological resources and depth of services can transform what you expect from your legal team.

The mind reels.

A Law Firm Positioning Statement That Works

By contrast, my friends over at Klein Moynihan Turco LLP have crafted a positioning statement that connects its business practices and priorities with those of its clients.

Internet Lawyers Working on Internet Time

Our clients work in the Internet, mobile and new media worlds, where time is always of the essence. Whether our clients are working on mobile, telemarketing or e-mail marketing campaigns, hosting fantasy sports websites or conducting promotional sweepstakes, we ensure that they are compliant with all applicable laws, rules and regulations and are first to market.

Nailed it.

Three Rules of Thumb

If you’re considering updating your law firm’s positioning statement or crafting a new one, these simple guidelines will help you add depth and context.

Identify and articulate:

  • How your firm differs from/is better than your competitors.
  • Why current and potential clients should care about those differences.
  • What unique expertise your firm possesses.

Give it a shot. Let me know what you come up with.

3 Law Firm Marketing Lessons from a Guy Who Makes Fiberglass Shower Pan Liners

I’m having a walk-in shower installed in my home, and getting a workshop in branding and word-of-mouth marketing in the process.

When I began the project, I thought all I needed was a plumber and a tile guy. The plumber was a no-brainer — I’ve relied on Wilson Plumbing for years. But I quickly learned that even a small construction project like mine is comprised of a general contractor cobbling together a cadre of independent niche craftspeople — the demo crew, framers, drywallers, concrete pourers, fiberglass shower pan builders and tilers.

The morning after the fiberglass shower pan was installed (and the overpowering acetone fumes had cleared), I went into the bathroom to inspect the progress and noticed a  simple branding gesture that conveyed a bold message. Embedded on the new shower curb under the fiberglass was a plain card that bore just the name and phone number of the contractor in large, readable type.  What it actually said, though, was, “I made this and I stand behind it. If you like it, call me.”

Clearly, that message wasn’t intended for me — it was tiled over soon thereafter. It was directed to other, unknown contractors that would encounter his handiwork and might want to work with him on a future project.

And it worked!

Later that same day the plumber came by, glanced at the shower floor and remarked, “That’s a great pan liner. Who did the work for you?”  I didn’t know; I just pointed to the card. The plumber took out his mobile phone and snapped a picture of it.

Three Key Marketing Lessons

  1. “Marketing” can get in the way. Whenever possible, let your work product speak for itself. Share and promote well-crafted/well-reasoned pleadings and motions, not just outcomes.
  2. Engage with potential clients/referral sources at the times and places their needs are most immediate.
  3. Keep your message simple, memorable and actionable.
What law firm marketing ideas or inspirations have you gotten from unexpected sources?

 

 

 

 

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 Law.com 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

 

Law Firm Websites Need to Master Inbound Marketing Basics

If the primary objective of your next website is to “inspire and present the right firm image,” then don’t be surprised if it doesn’t perform much better than your former site.

While law firm websites are getting more visually interesting, they will not generate more inquiries that lead to new business until the primary focus is on helping clients easily find the information they are looking for.

Think Like a Potential Client

Before you get carried away with the aesthetic sweep of your website, heed the guidance of “Chicago School” of architecture progenitor Louis Sullivan — “Form ever follows function.” As Jessica Meher notes, that dictum starts with your site’s homepage. “A homepage needs to wear many hats and serve many audiences who come from many different places….In order for a homepage to work, it needs to meet its purpose and contain key elements that attract traffic, educate your visitors, and convert browsers into buyers.”

The following HubSpot annotation illustrates how to build a functional framework for a law firm website homepage. Once you build this, you can overlay it with “strong, compelling, and emotional images” that animate your brand.

 

 

 

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 01.20.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

The Law of Flash Mobs and Pranks: An Interview with Ruth Carter

“Niche development” in legal marketing typically entails becoming known for a deep focus on particular aspects of a practice area or business segment, expertise in arcane and/or complex issues, or both. What interests me about Ruth Carter’s work in the law of flash mobs and pranks is that she drew from her own experiences and tapped into the cultural zeitgeist to pioneer an entirely new category of law.

Q:  From reading through your blog archives, it seems like your interest in the law of flash mobs and pranks originally derived from your passion for improv and guerilla theater and took root while you were in law school. Is that a fair description? Was there an “ah ha” moment for you, where you decided that it was a niche you wanted to explore in depth?

A: That’s a fair description. My first flash mob was the 2009 No Pants Light Rail Ride when I was a 1L. During that flash mob, I met the people with who I founded Improv AZ.

My real “ah ha” moment came during my 1L summer during my internship with the U.S. Army JAG. I got to spend a few days sitting in on criminal law classes for military police trainees. During my criminal law class, the only crimes we focused on were homicide and manslaughter. We skipped the crimes that are more common and easy to commit. At the military police class, I learned about crimes like solicitation and conspiracy – two crimes that flash mob organizers can commit just in the planning stages of a flash mob. That’s the experience that showed me that flash mob organizers need to be mindful of the legalities of their events at all stages of planning and executing flash mobs.

 

Q: How do you describe your engagement with the topic today? Is it an avocation, or are you developing and marketing your expertise as a unique practice area?

A: I live and breathe flash mob law. I absolutely love it.

I don’t know how much of a demand there is for flash mob law practitioners. I am opening a law firm in January 2012 and I will be listing “flash mob law” as one of my areas of practice.

 

Q: To a layman like me, it appears that the challenge of this niche is understanding the interaction of criminal law, property rights, torts and even constitutional law as they apply to public performance — a classic example of balancing rights and responsibilities. How do you describe it?

A: That’s about right. I describe flash mob law as a combination of criminal, property, tort, First Amendment, intellectual property, and entertainment law.

 

Q: The transgressive nature of flash mobs and pranks is central to their appeal. As an attorney, how do you reconcile those tensions?

A: There is a huge difference between violating cultural norms and breaking the law. One the keys to organizing successful flash mobs is knowing how to push the envelope without crossing the line.

Flash mobs are about doing the unexpected but it should never go so far that it interferes with others’ rights or gets you arrested. It’s about entertaining, amusing, and surprising an unsuspecting audience.

 

Q: Wikipedia takes pains to distinguish between “flash mobs” (brief, seemingly pointless) and “smart mobs” (promotional stunts). Is that a distinction without difference, or are there substantive issues that attach to one or the other type of activity? What about “pranks”?

A: The difference between flash mobs and smart mobs is the intent. Flash mobs have no underlying motivations except to do something entertaining and unexpected. Smart mobs are a form of advertising. They exist to promote causes, services, and products.

My troupe, Improv AZ, only does entertaining flash mobs and pranks. We would entertain the possibility of being hired to do a smart mob, but it is not something we actively seek to do.

The difference between pranks and flash mobs is mainly the size. Pranks are small scale activities that we do not invite the public to join. The only people who are involved in pranks are the organizers, our videographers, and our photographers. No one knows that a prank was planned until the blog and video appear on the internet. The prank that Improv AZ is best known for is the Coroner Prank. The first time we did it, the only people involved were the 4 “coroners” and 2 people who videotaped us.

Flash mobs are large scale events where we invite the hundreds of people on our email list or the general public to participate. Some of the flash mobs that Improv AZ has organized are the annual No Pants Light Rail Ride, the Fake Protest, Welcome Back, and the Epic Super Hero Battle.

 

Q: In your view, what are the biggest public misperceptions about what we can and can’t legally do with guerilla events, stunts, pranks, etc.?

A: From the organizer perspective, the biggest misperception is the idea that you can do whatever you want as long as you have good intentions. That’s not true – your actions matter more and you can be arrested for breaking the law even if you meant no harm. Additionally, some people assume they can do whatever they want in a public place, like shopping malls.

There were a few incidents at the end of 2010 where flash mobs ended badly. There was a dance flash mob at Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona that resulted in some people getting banned from the mall for a year. The security there has made it clear that they don’t want any flash mobs on their premises. There was another incident at a mall in northern California where people were invited to come and sing the Hallelujah chorus. So many people showed up to participate that the fire marshal had to come to evacuate people and there were reports that the floor felt like it was giving way.

 

Q: YouTube and shows like “Punk’d” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” have elevated pranks to an entertainment genre. As average folks chase fame and/or fortune with their Flip cams and mobile phones, what legal issues do they need to be aware of?

A: The main thing that people need to be aware of is when they do a prank or flash mob that involves illegal activity, and they put the video on the internet, they may have just published all the evidence that law enforcement needs to charge them with a crime.

 

Q: Flash mobs are increasingly associated with civil disobedience and intentional criminality. Have you found that this conflation is creating more problems for group actions intended for artistic expression, entertainment and commercial purposes?

A: Yes. I cringe every time I read an article that refers to a criminal incident as a “flash mob crime.” These group assaults and robberies hurt the reputation of the real flash mob community when the media refers to them as flash mobs. As organizers, we put significant time, thought, and energy into making sure that our events are legal. We don’t want to be associated with any illegal activities. Some of us argue that the term “flash mob crime” is an oxymoron, because flash mobs cannot include criminal acts.

 

Q: Can you share some lessons you learned the hard way about the legal consequences of flash mobs and pranks?

A: Oh yes. I learned the hard way that just because we planned a prank to be legal, someone still might freak out and call the cops. During Improv AZ’s Coroner Prank #2, we took our body bag for a walk through a mall. The mall cops detained us and called the real cops claiming that we had committed “dozens of felonies.” The police didn’t cite us for anything and the worst thing that happened was some of us were banned from the mall for three months. That was the prank that convinced me to take a criminal procedure class so I would know what authority mall cops and real cops have. Looking back, we probably could have left the mall when the mall cops confronted us despite their instructions to remain there.

 

Q: What are your top five tips for flash mob and prank planners?

  1. Never assume that your flash mob or prank is legal – always look up the applicable state and local laws. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
  2. Be prepared for encounters with the police. Know what they can and can’t do and be ready to respectfully explain why what you’re doing is legal.
  3. Make sure your participants know their do’s and don’ts going into a flash mob. For example, before the No Pants Light Rail Ride, we remind our participants that they must have their genitals and anuses covered per Arizona law. We encourage people not to wear thongs and to wear briefs under their boxers to prevent any unexpected exposure when they sit down.
  4. Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper. Once the photos and video are on the internet, you have no control over who is going to see it – your family, your friends, your employer, etc. It’s not uncommon for the press to be tipped off about upcoming flash mobs and for the footage to end up on the evening news.
  5. If you are arrested, immediately tell law enforcement that you’d like to exercise your right to remain silent and ask to speak to an attorney, and then don’t say anything to anyone until you speak with an attorney.

Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, Ruth Carter is a co-founder of Improv AZ and the owner of Carter Law Firm, PLLC, a virtual law office specializing in intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.


Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.10.11

A digest of social media advice and tips for legal marketing.

Yes, Virginia, There Is an Elevator Pitch

It’s a standard but fiendishly difficult component of every marketing and communications plan: The Elevator Pitch. That rarest of gems, it’s a short, persuasive description of a person, organization or group, or an idea for a product, service, or project. In fact, the pursuit of the perfect elevator pitch can seem a quixotic exercise — more aspirational and directional than attainable.

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a marketing and communications executive who is leading a rebranding initiative for her B2B company. Although I was not pitching new business, I found myself slipping into a familiar metaphor to explain how her initiative might benefit from deeper analysis of how current customers perceive the brand, and why. That data could then be broken down further to enable insights into segmentation and differentiated positioning and messaging.

Without thinking about it, I started giving my elevator pitch:

“Shatterbox takes its name from a device used by geologists to crush rocks into a fine-grained powder so fundamental materials can be clearly identified and analyzed.

Similarly, marketing-driven companies and professional firms of all sizes are breaking down their communication programs — public relations, social media and advertising — into component parts, sifting out the most successful strategies and tactics and aligning resources with them.”

“So what?” you understandably ask. I mention this not because I think I’ve nailed it, but rather to underscore the utility of metaphor and storytelling in retaining the elevator pitch and easily incorporating it into conversations. The trick is finding a central image or analogy that feels natural and authentic, and is distinctively yours.

How simple metaphors make the best elevator pitches:

  1. Scripted messaging is usually undifferentiated, formulaic and stilted — and always hard to remember verbatim (e.g. “We are a full-service firm dedicated to our clients’ success…”)
  2. Metaphors are endlessly adaptable to various circumstances; scripts…not so much
  3. Humans process new concepts through analogy.
  4. You can make a pitch without sounding like a pitch

Do you have word picture or narrative device that you rely on to carry your brand message?

Winning Words: What Do We Mean When We Say “Experience”?

In a post on The Great Jakes Blog yesterday, Robert Algeri made an important point about vague or undifferentiated positioning and messaging in law firm taglines:

A quick glance reveals tagline after tagline of monotony. Here are a few examples from the AmLaw 100:

  • Experience. Creativity. Results.
  • Experience Innovation
  • When Experience Matters
  • Everything Matters

I agree that advertising taglines generally don’t provide value for professional services firms (mostly because they’re not pervasive enough to generate top-of-mind awareness), but a unique value proposition is essential for crafting an effective marketing communications program.

Crafting a pithy, evocative expression of your brand’s essence — whether it’s a tagline, a positioning statement or an “elevator pitch” — is tremendously difficult, but it provides coherence and focus.

For example, “Experience. Creativity. Results.” might not move the needle as a tagline, but could be a powerful editorial blueprint. Think of a blog where every post reinforces one or more of those attributes. Likewise, clearly and consistently incorporating those characteristics into case studies and presentations given by individual attorneys — whatever their niche — has a cumulative effect and distinguishes both the attorneys and the firm as a whole.

Differentiated positioning and messaging are:

Direct – Specific words convey clearer ideas. “Experience” is not an inherent strength, let alone a unique advantage. Also, unless it is contextualized, it can be high-sounding but basically meaningless — consider the Rommelwood Military Academy motto from “The Simpsons”: “A Tradition of Heritage.”

 At base, “experience” only conveys longevity, which is comforting but not compelling. If what you’re really talking about is superior insight or a record of success derived from experience, say that.  Similarly, if you have unique experience in a niche (e.g. international adoptions), lead with that.

Ownable – If you can credibly replace your name with a competitor’s in your positioning and messaging, it’s not ownable. How many times have you seen lawyers touting “We Fight for You”  or “We Have a Passion for Justice”? Unlike all those other surrender monkeys who are indifferent to justice?

What’s your secret sauce? Connections? Creativity? Big-dollar awards? Reassuring manner and pleasant phone voice?

Identify it and communicate it.

Defensible – You can easily and credibly support your claims with data.

No More Excuses: Texas Bar Journal’s Social Media Primer Provides Much-Needed Nudge

In a conservative profession bound by strict codes of conduct concerning solicitation of business (aka advertising and marketing), it’s easy to avoid or postpone innovation.

That’s what makes the March issue of the Texas Bar Journal about social media so interesting, helpful — and slightly provocative. I say provocative in the sense that in an understated way, it almost dares the profession to find ways to apply new tools in the practice and business of law.

The whole issue is a keeper, but of particular interest to me is an instructive overview by Debra Bruce of how the Advertising Review Committee’s Interpretive Comments help clarify how the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct apply to social media. Bruce does an admirable job of balancing reassurances and cautions:

LinkedIn profiles – You probably don’t have to file for pre-approval with the Advertising Review Department as long as you’re not overtly soliciting business.

” Using social media to build and enhance relationships and to engage in discussions about topics of interest can be distinguished from advertisement or solicitation.”

And if you’re not sure, file your profile for pre-approval and you will be deemed compliant.

Blogs – They’re fine, as long as the content is editorial, informational, educational or entertaining, and not false, misleading or deceptive ( or a solicitation for business, of course).

“[Indeed,] blogs have become a useful form of communication for attorneys to get information out about subject matter or events relating to their area of practice.”

Videos – Just as with blogs, keep it informational, truthful and not promotional.

User-Generated Content – UGC — ratings, reviews and recommendations — is the hot spot of social marketing for consumer goods, but poses unique challenges for lawyers. While Texas allows the use of testimonials for lawyers, you’d be well-advised to screen LinkedIn recommendations before they get posted for public view.

“For example, Rule 7.02(4) prohibits comparisons to other lawyers’ services, unless substantiated by verifiable objective data. Therefore, if your client enthusiastically reports that you are “the best trial lawyer in town,” you will need to diplomatically as for a revision before publication.”

Bruce ends her article with a key insight and simple advice:

“In summary, some lawyers may be rusty in their recollection of the advertising and solicitation rules because they normally rely on traditional one-to-one networking for client development. As you venture into social media, it’s a good time to give a fresh read to Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct to help you recognize novel issue you may not have encountered.”

In other words, have fun, but be careful.