Six Sigma for Law Firms: Move Over Client Surveys, Make Way for Net Promoter Scores

As I’ve written about previously, I am proud of my GE pedigree, particularly the invaluable Six Sigma and “Lean” training in operational rigor, analysis, continuous improvement, measurement and repeatable processes. So I was interested and encouraged to see Lisa Damon of Seyfarth Shaw honored as one of the ABA’s 2011 Legal Rebels for her work championing SeyfarthLean, the firm’s Six Sigma-inflected initiative to drive strategy and operational effectiveness that delivers both cost reduction for clients and revenue growth for the firm.

And earlier this week I came across a post by Darryl Mountain on the SLAW blog that discussed how to apply a standard Six Sigma DMAIC tool — the fishbone diagram — to analyze legal problems.

It seems like the time might be right for innovative firms to consider importing another quality and customer engagement tool from the business sector into law practice management: the Net Promoter Score, a customer/client loyalty metric and a operational discipline for using customer feedback to fuel profitable growth. Adopted by companies like GE, P&G, Intuit and American Express, the NPS is derived from a single question posed to customers/clients: “How likely are you to recommend [Company X] to a friend or colleague?”

Survey participants respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale divided into three groupings:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will continue buying and
    will refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who
    might be receptive to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your
    brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

To calculate the Net Promoter Score (NPS), subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters. In concert with the survey, NPS companies develop an operational model to drive improvements in customer loyalty and enable profitable growth. Key elements of the model include leadership commitment, effective business processes, and systems to deliver real-time information to employees so they can respond to customer feedback.

Studies examining the NPS “loyalty effect” have shown that companies with the highest customer loyalty typically increase revenues at more than twice the rate of competitors.

Know of any law firms that have tried NPS or a similar methodology with clients?

Texas Wildfires: Austin Bar Offers Free CLE for Disaster Recovery Volunteers

I don’t know if this is a common response by local bar associations. If not, it should be. I’m very proud to be an Austinite.

From the Texas Bar Blog:

The Austin Bar Association is offering a free CLE training for attorney volunteers responding to legal questions and providing assistance to all those affected by the wildfires. The training will be Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Austin Bar Association, 816 Congress Ave., Suite 700, Austin.

The cost is free to Austin Bar Association and Austin Young Lawyers Association members. The CLE credit for this training is 2.0 hours MCLE ethics credit.

This training will cover:

  •  Ethics & Pro Bono Service
  •  FEMA & Public Benefits
  •  Home Ownership Issues (title/mortgage, tax & fencing, barn, pens)
  •  Landlord-Tenant Concerns
  •  Insurance and Consumer Law Issues
  •  Pet and Animal Welfare Law

Read the full agenda.

Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas is providing malpractice coverage to lawyers volunteering through the Austin Bar.

To RSVP for this training, please contact Marissa Lara-Arebalo at 512-472-0279, x100 or at Marissa@austinbar.org.

Thank you to all the volunteer attorneys and donors for your support in helping evacuees affected by the Bastrop wildfires.

The Law School Debt Crisis: Forget Reforming Law Schools, Start from Scratch

Spiraling, uncontrolled costs. Crippling personal debt. Long-term joblessness and underemployment. Downward pressure on wages. Hand-wringing. Finger-pointing. Ineffectual half measures to address the crisis.

Sound familiar? But unlike the U.S. sovereign debt, there still are no urgent or comprehensive efforts under way to slow — let alone reverse — the job-killing effects of law school costs. Lots of talk, though.

This week saw another round of disingenuous harumphing when a post by an anonymous “whistleblower” law professor rehashed what’s been manifestly obvious for years: Law schools are revenue-generating machines with no checks or balances from the marketplace or government, and with plenty of self-interested reasons to push their costs ever higher. [Apparently this is an “astonishing” indictment because an anonymous law professor said it.]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE&w=420&h=345]

Fortunately, this week also saw a refreshing antidote to that impotent hand wringing — a well-reasoned and eminently achievable way to cut the Gordian knot: Build from scratch a no-frills, ABA-accredited, university-based private law school covering all its costs at the $20,000-per-year tuition level.

On The Faculty Lounge blog, Roger Dennis, Dean of the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, posted a precis for The Class of 1957 College of Law. The thought exercise begins simply:

“The Class of 1957 College of Law will have 500 students.  It will not offer any financial aid; one price [$20,000] for all will create $10 million in revenue.”

It then goes on to explain how the school will be structured, staffed and operated within that budget.

Key elements include:

  • A full-time faculty of 20, earning $100,000/year, plus benefits.
  • No research requirements for faculty, allowing them to teach three courses each per academic term.
  • No sabbaticals.
  • Professional development focused on teaching only.
  • The curriculum will be meat and potatoes (e.g. evidence, commercial law, federal income tax, business organizations, trust and estates, family law and legal drafting).
  • Beyond trial advocacy and legal drafting programs, the experiential education program will be based on other simulation courses and well-monitored externships.

No call to arms to actually build and test a model school, though. No discussion of approaching the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help underwrite a pilot.

Alas, while interesting, Dennis’ post is just another abstract academic parlor game (and it has the comment thread to prove it). But it was a refreshing counterpoint to the usual jeremiads — a welcome rhetorical sorbet.

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.

Law Practice Management: Legal Work vs. Work Lawyers Do

Last Friday Rachel Zahorsky at the ABA Journal filed a story from the ABA Annual Meeting headlined “As Nonlawyer Vendors, Would-Be Clients Take on More Legal Tasks, How Can Practitioners Get Ahead?”

Wait a minute…since the unauthorized practice of law is illegal, how can these brazen scofflaws get away with it? Because the work that is shifting is not intrinsically legal work, but rather non-legal work historically performed by lawyers. Granted, lawyers might be better at those tasks than non-lawyers, but economic, sociopolitical and technological factors are successfully breaking up those unofficial franchises nonetheless.

“It’s getting to be so hard to define what the practice of law is,” said Thomas C. Grella, chair of the management committee at the Asheville, N.C., firm McGuire, Wood & Bissette. “So it’s going to be even harder for state bars to regulate in the future.”

Grella was a participant on a panel entitled “The Once and Future Firm: Fact v. Fiction,” sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. According to Zahorsky’s post, the panel concluded that:

“For firms to succeed and flourish in the future, there needs to be strong leadership among law firm management, a willingness to innovate with regard to technology and billing methods, and concise plans of succession that address the compensation squabbles that plague many firms when it comes time for senior partners near retirement to transition high-revenue generating clients to junior lawyers.”

Mind-blowing, provocative stuff, right?

It might not have made it into the panel wrap-up, but at least one panelist clearly gets it:

“Lawyers need to ask: ‘Why are [clients] hiring me?’ said Mark Robertson of Robertson & Williams in Oklahoma City. ‘Can they hire someone else and not have a law firm do it? What is involved in putting together the paperwork of an M&A transaction that requires a lawyer, other than an opinion?'”

Ask not what the guild can do for you, but what you can do for your client.

Bar Associations: Most Trusted Brands for Lawyer Searches?

I’m a HUGE fan of Lifehacker, probably the most followed blog on tips and downloads for getting things done. A post this week on “How to Find a Reputable Lawyer” got my attention both for what it said and what it didn’t say.

Consulting with ABA and state/local bar associations and using their lawyer referral services was clearly the main recommendation:

“Both the American Bar Association and various state and local Bar Associations offer search and referral tools to help you find legal representation based on the type of lawyer you’re looking for. Bar Associations aren’t able to help you directly, but they can give you wholesale listings of practicing and certified lawyers who specialize in your subject area. They won’t help you make the subjective decision of whether or not a lawyer has a track record of successful litigation or charges fairly, but they’re a great place to start narrowing down your search if you don’t have anywhere else to start.

“Additionally, look for lawyer’s groups and legal aid groups that specialize in the type of issue you’re facing. Some of this involves web searching, but you can find a lot of this information by calling your state Bar Association. Even if they can’t make specific recommendations, they can direct you to professional groups of lawyers who specialize in different areas, like health care law, employment law, and more….

“Don’t hesitate to check your local bar for more information on the specific lawyers you plan to speak with, and don’t hesitate to ask for and then check on those lawyers’ references before making a decision.”

The only other online resources suggested had a distinct access to justice/legal aid bent– LawHelp.org, ProBono.net and Nolo.

Conspicuously absent from this how-to guide were references to lawyer search stalwarts like Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo, Super Lawyers and Lawyers.com. They’re free, too, and certainly would be likelier than LawHelp.org to show up in a Google search when researching such an article. So it looks like an intentional omission.

Why?

My sense is that the cost of legal representation — real and perceived — has transformed access to justice into a mainstream consumer issue, and bloggers/journalists writing for a mass audience sense that. In that dynamic, the traditional role of bar associations as impartial brokers comes into higher relief — and creates a great marketing opportunity to promote member services and increase participation in bar programs.

I’m Not a Lawyer, But I Play One on the Web

There’s a lot of discussion and debate in legal marketing circles about how well state bar disciplinary rules address Web-based advertising and social media. Admittedly, new media and their accompanying usage models require new lawyer advertising rules and the evolution of existing ones. But what about relatively straightforward and seemingly settled standards like the prohibition on actors portraying attorneys? Do current rules apply to online informational videos? Is such content considered commentary or advertising? Should it be disclosed if the speaker is not an attorney?

Today I came across the website for a company called LawInfo, which offers law firms area code-based sponsorship opportunities for Web-based video content on legal topics.

One Los Angeles-based LawInfo client uses some of these third-party videos to describe the firm’s practice areas, and offers others as “informational videos.” Do the lawyer-looking narrators work for the firm? Are they even attorneys? If they’re not, should that be disclosed? Does that matter in California?

Given that advertising rules are changing, and vary state by state, it seems like this type of content marketing needs to be approached carefully and advisedly.

So, gentle readers, I need your help. Has anyone checked whether, in what state(s), and under what conditions generic third-party video on legal topics has been cleared by your state bar for use on law firm websites?

[On an unrelated topic, what’s up with the typo in the caption?]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjiW8ROjY94&w=560&h=349]

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/4/11

Sometimes the best ideas in legal marketing are hiding in plain sight.

I think that’s the case with MCLE training. Practicing lawyers have to complete it to stay licensed, and judging by their bios, it seems like all of them have given a session at one time or another. So where are the firms that have made speakers bureau services and CLE training a distinguishing characteristic of their brand?

If you’ve already created a CLE presentation, why aren’t you tweaking and publicizing it for use with business and civic audiences? And if you have an inventory of general speakers bureau presentations, why aren’t you tuning them up into accredited CLE content?

CLE maven Tim Baran is one of the most visible and persuasive evangelists for leveraging CLE’s nexus with marketing, and in a Lawyerist post this week he reinforced how developing and presenting CLE content directly benefits the presenter, not just the audience. I was particularly pleased to see that he called out in-house training as an underutilized CLE opportunity, and he helpfully included a link to  Law Writing‘s excellent state by state guide to rules for in-house courses.

Here’s an idea starter: MCLE-palooza.

Nothing concentrates the mind on MCLE like the looming fulfillment deadline. And as with filing taxes, every year there is a sizable cohort of procrastinators scrambling to finish — or even start — their MCLE. Seems like some enterprising firm, local bar association or LMA chapter could turn that confluence of supply and demand into a great publicity event.

Imagine a Saturday of back-to-back MCLE sessions. Donate the space, have vendors underwrite the lunch, tie it in with a local charity, get a local TV station to cover it and — Voila! — marketing gold.

One successful example is the Austin Bar Association’s People’s Law School, which offers free informal courses taught by lawyers to the general public on topics like family law, wills and estate planning, criminal law, credit repair and the legal process. Why not an MCLE version for the lawyers themselves?

I’ve been flogging this idea for years now, but so far no takers. I hope this time someone grabs it and runs with it — and gives me credit, of course.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 12/17/2010

This week the Minnesota State Bar Association announced its picks for the “Top 25 Minnesota Blawgs, 2010 Edition.” I was familiar with some — what legal social media denizen isn’t a Lawyerist fan — but I was surprised and delighted to be introduced to many new (to me) and original voices.

As I reviewed the winning blawgs, I noticed something very encouraging: a large plurality were designed and run on WordPress software and haven’t needed the phantom “marketing support” of commercial blawg mill operators to gain traction and authority.

Because I’ve long maintained that small and solo practices with robust blogs don’t need a separate website, I was most excited to read the citation for Budge Law Offices LLC:

“When we talk to attorneys about law firm websites, they often tell us “I don’t want my site to look like a blog.” Hmmm. Confusing. One of the best ways to engage potential clients is a site that maintains fresh content. The Budge Law Firm takes that to heart. Their law firm web site is a blog, and their blog is a law firm website. And they do a nice job with it, showing how much you can do with some content, a few posts, and a nicely minimalist approach that actually uses a slightly tweaked version of the WordPress default theme.”

Other honorees powered by WordPress include:

Congratulations to the winners. I’ll be posting about you again soon.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 11/5/2010

Technically, my posts of the week are tweets. Specifically, the Twitter-driven call to arms and online mobilization in defense of social media for legal marketing. The issue involved is the ABA’s announcement in its Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools memo of its intention to promulgate new standards affecting:

  • Online social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter)
  • Blogging
  • Facebook and Linkedin profiles
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Gathering information through networking websites
  • Discussion forums
  • JD Supra document uploads
  • Lawyer websites
  • Use of case histories on law firm websites

I’m not sure who first sounded the alarm, but I’ll credit Heather Morse because hers was the first #LMA hashtag tweet on the subject (and I know, like and trust her 🙂 ). Heather’s message was retweeted over the next few days by, among others,  Nicole Carrubba, Auctorilaw, Jesse Wilkins, Nancy Myrland, Lindsay Griffith, Gail LamarcheDeb Cochran, Melanie Green Rebecca Wissler and The Great Jakes.

Larry Bodine amplified the issue with a “RED ALERT” blog post, a CMO Forum LinkedIn group discussion thread and the #ABAREGS Twitter hashtag.

The social media buzz on the topic picked up so much volume and momentum that it inspired the Voldemort-cum-Andy-Rooney of legal blogging (who I never mention by name or link to) to puke his trademark self-righteous bile on it in his “22,500 Tears” post.

I applaud and commend the clarion calls for thoughtful attention and advocacy on the issue, but I also net out with Adrian Dayton on the “silver lining” of this kerfuffle:

“Thousands of lawyers are waiting in the wings afraid to use social media because they aren’t sure how to use the tools – and there is such little guidance from state bar associations and the ABA that many are simply staying away.

“It is about time the ABA took look at online marketing and helped provide some assurances to so many attorneys that look to these governing bodies for advice.  As lawyers it is our responsibility to let the ABA know our opinions on the topic.  The ABA is accepting comments until December 15, 2010 to guide them in their decisions – feel free to make your voice heard.”