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

 

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.”

Exactly.


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?

 

 

Law Firm Websites: Bios and Headshots vs. Marketing Speak

Whether by design or by accident, Vinson & Elkins’ use of attorney bios on its home page makes a clear, engaging and — some might argue — innovative branding statement.

Over the past several months the team at website development and marketing firm Great Jakes has been making a persuasive case for fundamentally reconceiving law firm websites as marketing platforms for individual rainmakers (instead of the traditional focus on firm practices/capabilities), and the firm recently reconfigured it’s own services offering to deliver that model.

Interestingly, despite an otherwise unremarkable website, V&E’s home page makes the case for how a simple array of bios can command attention and communicate a brand message.

What stands out:

  • Attorney headshots are the only images on the page and therefore immediately grab and anchor visitors’ attention.
  • As the dominant design element, the “Featured Lawyers” box — by design or default — communicates a unique value proposition: the broad capabilities, professional accomplishments and diversity of its key players.
  • Visitors read bios more than any other website content type, and placement on the front page stimulates click-through to the full bios as well as to additional pages of featured lawyers.

Imagine how impactful this approach would be with a few more graphic blandishments to make the site more visually appealing, and dynamic content to add usefulness and depth, attract search engines, and encourage repeat visits.

What law firm sites — large, mid-size or small — do you believe leverage rainmaker bios to their best advantage?

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/08/10

I am a big fan of Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert blog, and this week’s “Six Timely Tips for Twitter Success” is a must-read, especially if your Twitter strategy lacks vitality. I particularly like the tip of scheduling posts to appear just after the top and bottom of the hour to catch tweeps as they check Twitter between meetings.

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog is on a roll about ways to improve the impact of attorney bios, and this week posted a pictorial spread of attorney headshots, annotated with what works/doesn’t work in each example.

Adrian Dayton combines Algeri’s insights with other interesting data points and SME comments in a broader argument for reconceiving the style, substance and role of attorney bios in “What’s Wrong With Your Law Firm Bio” on Above the Law.

Attorney Bios as Street Fashion

Legal marketers would be wise to heed fashion writer Teri Agins’ advice in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Pay close attention to the daily fashion parade.”

The legal marketing street buzz that currently intrigues me is personalized attorney bios, because 1) it’s a blessed respite from blogging-as-cutting-edge-marketing paeans, 2) it hints at the humanization of the profession and innovation in legal marketing, and 3) it has valences to SEO, WOMCRM and content marketing.

The transformative power of personalized content and engaging visual style is coming to legal marketing.

One of the catalysts has been a string of recent posts on attorney bios by Dion Algeri on The Great Jakes Blog, particularly the post “The future of attorney bios. How personal is too personal?” In it, Algeri critiques the website attorney bios of Axiom and Edelson McGuire, in both cases netting out that they might be too long on style and short on substance. A post today by Algeri explores the visual — and brand – impact of attorney headshots.

Lawyer-turned-therapist Will Meyerhofer, whose blog The People’s Therapist is carried on Above the Law, makes a case for innovation in attorney bios with his own attention-grabbing, John Waters-themed post “A sick and boring life”:

“There’s no sense of an actual person in those pages – only a scary apparition from the world of the serious and very grown-up.

I still recoil, looking at those bland, comically formal law firm directory pages – just as I wince looking at my old photo in the Sullivan & Cromwell facebook.”

I’ll conclude this post the way I started it, with a fashion axiom from Teri Agins that also is finding resonance in legal marketing: “The most original dressers have one thing in common: They tend to experiment with bold, unexpected colors.”

Now don’t go crazy — this is still legal marketing — but experimenting with bold design and personalized narratives could get you attention and help tell your story in a more compelling, impactful, memorable and influential way.

UPDATE: Speaking of going crazy, check out this off-the-hook website for French attorney Justin Conseil.