What if Shakers Blogged?

Maybe it’s zeitgeist, or maybe I’m just noticing more because it’s on my mind, but I’m finding a lot of fodder lately for my mission to motivate legal marketers to simplify their social media and networking activities to make them both useful and beautiful. How would Shakers design a social media strategy?

The first item was a post on the reliably interesting and and useful Social Media Today blog about focusing your social marketing efforts on one or two platforms/activities that you are most familiar/comfortable with and building organically from there. The post itself was a model of less is more. A few simple ideas, well-framed and concisely delivered.

The next item is brutally simple but a great forcing function for productivity: How to consistently write a blog post in 20 minutes or less.

Consistent with that last point, my time is up.

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?

If Divorce is Becoming a Luxury, How Should Legal Marketers Respond?

UPDATE: This post originally ran Aug. 2, 2010. Last week I had the good fortune to meet David Wells, who practices collaborative law in Austin and recently posted a two-part discussion of the divorce process.

Yesterday I read a New York Times article on married couples who separate but choose not divorce, and it got me thinking about the potential impact of a protracted recession on the practice and business of family law.

“Separations are usually de facto, rarely pounded out in a contract, and family law is different state to state. But even long-estranged couples are irrefutably bound by contractual links on issues like taxes, pensions, Social Security and health care….

Divorce lawyers and marriage therapists say that for most couples, the motivation to remain married is financial. According to federal law, an ex qualifies for a share of a spouse’s Social Security payment if the marriage lasts a decade. In the case of more amicable divorces, financial advisers and lawyers may urge a couple who have been married eight years to wait until the dependent spouse qualifies.

For others, a separation agreement may be negotiated so that a spouse keeps the other’s insurance until he or she is old enough for Medicare. If one person has an existing condition, obtaining affordable health care coverage is often difficulty or impossible. The recession, with its real estate lows and health care expense highs, adds incentives to separate indefinitely.”

One anecdote jumped out:

“One woman, a 39-year-old mother of two from Brooklyn…has stayed separated for nearly two years at the suggestion of five lawyers. [emphasis added]

‘There’s no advantage to getting divorced,’ she said. Both she and her husband are in new relationships. Most people assume they’ve officially split. But given the health insurance issue and the prospect of legal fees, she said, ‘I feel like we could just drift on like this for years.'”

That case got me thinking about two areas where innovative family law practices might differentiate or carve out niches for themselves:

  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around long-term separations as a divorce alternative
  • Building expertise, capabilities and marketing around cost containment in divorce proceedings and lower-cost alternatives to traditional family law firms.

I’m still looking for examples of the former, but I found two instances of the latter today.

A recent post on the Pennsylvania Family Law blog entitled “Practical Tips for Dividing Personal Property” forthrightly begins:

“Given the current economic climate, divorcing parties are more vigilant than ever about the value and disposition of their marital assets.”

An excellent primer, it outlines issues like depreciation, appraisals, valuation methodology and awareness of one’s motivations — also invaluable advice for couples open to long-term separation.

The second example popped up on Twitter today when family, wills and estates, and general business attorney Jordan E. Watson (@differentlaw) started following me. I was intrigued by her profile:

“A different kind of lawyer, who has created a practice solely using flat-rate billing practices. Despite people telling her she’s crazy.”

I clicked through to her website (www.notyourparentslawyer.com) and found this clarion call of a business pitch:

“I am not your parents’ lawyer. You know, the one who watches the clock tick by, who charges for every phone call, every minute spent in thought about your case, even when you didn’t ask them to. That’s not how I do things. My law office exists for one purpose: To bring quality, affordable legal counsel and care to clients who might otherwise never get the help they need.

With an emphasis on value pricing, I want to bring change to the legal profession. No legal issue is the same, so I likewise bring a unique approach to the practice of law. Competent and approachable, yet determined to get the best possible outcome for you, I will diligently work on your behalf. I welcome your questions and inquiries and the first consultation is always free, whether or not I take your case.

The billable hour is finished. The clock has stopped. This is a law office dedicated to you and to the upstanding practice of law.”

Practitioners attuned to the zeitgeist, plugged in to social networks and willing to take bold chances with their business models and marketing could end up winners in a down market — and fundamentally change legal marketing in the process.

3 Mandatories for a Successful, Sustainable Niche

The counsel to “develop a niche” is liberally dispensed in legal marketing discourse. On its face, its promise is very seductive: A lucrative pipeline of business from clients who seek very specific expertise. In practice, however, niche prominence is difficult to achieve — particularly for small and solo firms — and is more a function of inspiration and serendipity than of deliberate advance planning.

The most successful niche products and services emerge organically from identifying and leveraging a unique set of characteristics in work you’ve already performed. Mining your own experience ramps faster and is more sustainable over time than premeditated strategies.

An ABA Law Practice Today post summarizes it this way:

“Experience relevant to a particular niche market can be developed in many ways. Some practitioners may have generally relevant legal experience that they can couple with prior work experience in a particular market. Others may be able to apply generally relevant legal experience to a market with which they are familiar due to a personal interest such as a hobby. It is quite possible that you may have sufficient expertise to support a niche marketing effort without realizing it. Rethink the types of matters you have handled as an attorney. Viewed from a new perspective, they could well represent meaningful expertise in a particular niche.”

Characteristics of a sustainable niche include:

  1. Expertise in an industry or issue where potential clients are highly networked – Niche practices gain traction best when they tap into existing word-of-mouth infrastructure.
  2. Significant barriers to entry – Ownable, defensible niches leverage scarcity, which typically means a) deep technical, product or issue expertise, b) obscure  or arcane knowledge, c) high levels of complexity, or d) a singular service delivery model (i.e shared-risk/incentive-based compensation).
  3. Referral business unaided by niche marketing activities – Organic business development through word of mouth is the best predictor of sustainable success in niche markets. Without it, reaching prospective clients in a niche is cost-prohibitive.

Or you could try the “Gypsy” method:

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Content Marketing for Lawyers: The Copernican Revolution in Legal Social Media

Cheryl Bame’s recap of a Gary Goldhammer presentation on corporate social media reminded me of the Copernican Revolution — the paradigm shift from a geocentric (Ptolemaic) planetary model to a heliocentric (Copernican) one. Legal social media marketing seems stuck in the Ptolemaic model, where, despite clear evidence to the contrary, everything is believed to revolve around blogging — particularly one’s own blog. In contrast, mainstream business understands that social media is actually about seeking and engaging with your target audiences wherever they are.


While it’s presented in various ways, the orthodox version of legal social media marketing is the same — it all starts and ends with blogging.

However, as summarized by Goldhammer, the current understanding of social media doesn’t assign primacy to blogging — or any other specific social media platform for that matter. Customers occupy the central position around which social media platforms and content orbit.

  • Create a digital roadmap aligned with customer behavior and experience.
  • Create valuable content often.
  • Perform regular keyword analysis and incorporate results.
  • Engage in social environments where people already are and want to stay.
  • Online visibility is driven by people, not machines.
  • Focus on the business goals,  not marketing and PR or social media.
  • Move towards expressions, not impressions.
  • It takes three to five media channels before someone will trust your message.
  • Trust = authenticity and relevancy.
  • Digital strategy can’t live in the marketing silo, it must incorporate sales, PR, customer services,  internal communications and product/service development.

The biggest problem with a Ptolemaic, blog-centric model of legal social media marketing is not so much that it’s wrong — which it is — but rather that it’s limited and limiting.

I’d love to hear from people who have learned through their own experience that blogging isn’t the center of the universe.

Legal Blogging Reality Check: Suspicious Minds

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It is truly meet, right and salutary to regularly examine the marketing effectiveness of blogging by lawyers. Blogging is a not inconsiderable investment of time and mental energy, and it usually takes a long time to produce meaningful results, so it should not be initiated or continued unquestioningly.

Despite anecdotal evidence from some established legal bloggers and purveyors of lawyer blog services, there is not enough hard data on the effectiveness of blogging to support a general rule that all lawyers should have their own blog.

To its credit, the American Bar Association recently conducted a survey on the way individuals search for lawyers for personal legal matters. The survey found that only 15 percent of respondents indicated that they would consult lawyer blogs in making their decision. Most of the resulting commentary by legal blogging heavyweights focused on tearing down the survey methodology, and theorizing a case for blogging as an engine for positive word of mouth and its validation. But that discussion missed the much larger point.

As Adrian Dayton pointed out:

“The important piece of data here is that a significant percentage of of your average…clients are using Facebook, Twitter and blogs to find their lawyer.  Not to mention that fact that referrals are often requested and passed via these very same social networks.”

Words of Comfort and Support for Legal Blogging Pragmatists and Skeptics

  • Trust your gut. If you lack confidence, you will lack commitment; if you lack commitment, you will not succeed in blogging.
  • Focus on content first, then distribution channels. A well-designed, regularly updated website can be as, or more, effective than a blog. If you’re more proficient and comfortable with writing analytical long-form pieces — which are deadly in blogs — white papers and e-books available through your website or sites like JD Supra can be effective alternatives.
  • Twitter is turbo-blogging. Because it is a short-form, conversational medium, you can cultivate a meaningful following and form productive, reciprocal relationships faster and with less effort than blogging.
  • Make your mark in video. There are lots of blogs out there, but not so many video channels. If you are inclined to buy search terms, hot keywords are still plentifully available and affordable on YouTube.

Is Law Firm Branding Possible?

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Although they tend to be used interchangeably in legal marketing, the terms “brand” and “reputation” are not the same thing. Firms live and die by their reputation, but it’s debatable whether law firm branding is even possible.

Rees Morrison gets to the heart of the matter in a post recapping a recent conference organized by Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession:

“I don’t recall any general counsel I have consulted to who think of law firms they use as ‘brands.’ They don’t say, ‘X firm is a global leader,’ or that ‘Y firm puts clients first,’ let alone that ‘Z knows Canada.’ My sense is that inside counsel amalgamate impressions of the style and ability of individual partners they have dealt with from the firm mixed in with fragments of articles read or conferences spoken at by the lawyers of the firm all combined with some ads they have fleetingly glanced at as well as remarks made by peers and colleagues. The pastiche doesn’t rise to any level of ‘brand’ clarity [emphasis added]. Other than size or ‘AmLaw 100 I think’ they don’t store impressions as overall brands.

 “When pushed, a general counsel can always dredge up broad impressions of a firm: ‘A has uneven quality,’ ‘B litigates aggressively,’ or ‘C mostly does patents,’ but those are scattered attributes, not an overall, let alone distinctive, brand, and they are secondary.”

Morrison quotes conference panelist Ken Grady, general counsel of Wolverine Worldwide, observing, “Law firms talk about a single brand with hundreds of channels (the partners); I see hundreds of brands funneled through a single channel” [emphasis added].

 In other words, the currency of legal marketing is personal reputation, not firm brand.

 The problem with the general practice of legal “branding” is that it tends to fetishize standardized visual identity and slogans — taglines, logos, websites, collateral, Powerpoint templates, business cards — as the embodiment of the firm. Writing last year about the “‘rigorous branding analysis’ that led to an office-by-office and practice-by-practice review” at Baker & McKenzie Jayne Navarre identifies a tail-wagging-the-dog aspect of the process:

 “…It wasn’t the visual results that made the re-branding most valuable to the firm and its clients, it was the process—the rigorous branding analysis—and the outcome of that exercise that enabled them to re-connect with clients and ultimately drive their revenues.”

Legal Blogging 2.0: Lessons from Law Student Bloggers

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The first time I wrote about law student bloggers I approached it from the perspective of social media expertise as a competitive advantage in job hunting. In the intervening time I’ve come to appreciate something more transformative in blogs by current law students and recent grads.

In 2001 Marc Prensky famously postulated a bifurcation in the relationship with and adoption of digital technologies between digital immigrants — individuals born before the advent of digital technology who incorporated it to their lives to a greater or lesser extent later on — and digital natives — individuals immersed in digital technology since birth and therefore more naturally comfortable with and adaptable to it.

The same analogy can be applied to legal social media. While Baby Boom and Gen X lawyers have an uneasy, uneven relationship with blogging and online networking, Gen Y and Millennial lawyers and law students have been immersed in it for their entire undergraduate and graduate careers. While Legal Blogging 1.0 is mired in evangelism for social media marketing and online networking, Legal Blogging 2.0 comes to it organically, with different sensibilities and objectives.

Some distinguishing characteristics I see in Legal Blogging 2.0:

  • Technology and online social connectivity are essential — not adjunct — in both personal and professional life. For those who choose it, blogging is not a chore, nor a necessary evil — and it’s not a “strategy.”
  • Be an interesting person first, then a law student/lawyer
  • Peer mentoring and crowdsourcing are the most relevant and useful forms of coaching. Insights and advice from Version 1.0 legal bloggers are welcome, but not deferred to.

Following are some interesting blogs worth checking out that I believe embody the best characteristics of Legal Blogging 2.0:

World Wide Whit (Jack Whittington) – I like the manifesto-like quality to this post and applaud the mission of Law School Chat:

“As I reach the end of my law school career it has become apparent to me that life would have been incredibly easier over the course of the last three years if I would have had someone to give me a heads up about what to expect throughout law school or just someone to talk to when it all felt like it was too much to handle.

“Jason Tenenbaum, Brian Hoffman, and myself are launching a joint social media venture through Twitter to bring law school students, potential law school students, and attorneys together in conversation about what to expect in law school and how to deal with the many challenges it presents us. It is our vision to create a place where students can go with any questions they may have regarding law school or life in general and give them a broad range of opinions and insights in how to approach things. Most of all we want to create a friendly atmosphere that fosters collegiality among the up and coming generation of law school students with those who came before us and the ones who will follow in our footsteps someday soon.”

The next live Twitter chat with take place March 27, but in the meantime you can join the conversation through the #lawschoolchat hashtag or by email.

Fresh Thought Soup (Mariel) – From “About the blog & Disclaimer”:

“I’ll write about a lot of things: law school and the ensuing hilarity, life lessons, and general happenings.  I hope this is becomes a way to spread the encouragement and entertainment, dispel the mystery surrounding the hallowed halls of law school, and as a way for my friends to keep in touch [or at least feel less like I’ve disappeared].”

My Mind Rebels at Stagnation (Anonymous) – A recent collection of anecdotes and impressions of the new semester was followed by a very powerful, personal account of “What Planned Parenthood Means to Me.”

Daisy, JD (Just Daisy) (Daisy) – From “About Daisy”:

“I am an attorney married to an attorney, which means my house is full of boring books & equally boring discussions. To make up for the general lack of creativity I blog, I cook & I make fun of the legal profession at every available opportunity. Unless of course I’m feeling sassy and then I’ll offer unsolicited advice on being a law student or a lawyer or the spouse of a lawyer.”

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/18/11

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It was only a matter of time.

A new social media marketing survey making headlines indicates that the non-stop onslaught of messages from companies and professional firms large and small is causing the general public to “break up” with them — unsubscribe, unfriend, unfollow.

Citing unsettling findings in the new “Social Break-Up” research from ExactTarget and CoTweet, Jay Baer observed that “Regardless of platform, receiving too many messages from too many marketers is a very likely cause of subsequent break-ups, throwing dead weight over the side of the social and email ship until it floats again.”

A Social Media Today post split the blame between extensive messaging and little relevancy as the major reasons why consumers leave Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, or unsubscribe to email lists.

The survey authors asked 1,561 U.S. online users ages 15 and older why they’ve stopped engaging with companies through e-mail and social media:

Email
– 54% messages sent too frequently
– 49% content repetitive and boring
– 47% too many emails sent by brand
– 25% messages were irrelevant from start
– 22% subscribed for a one-time offer

Facebook
– 44% company authored too many posts
– 43% wall became glutted with marketing
– 38% messages repetitive and boring
– 24% posts were overly promotional
– 19% content was irrelevant from start

Twitter
– 52% messages repetitive and boring
– 41% stream became inundated with marketing
– 39% company tweeted too frequently
– 21% tweets were overly promotional
– 15% content was irrelevant from start

This survey reminded me of a recent post of Adrian Dayton’s that addressed the same phenomenon in an overused and therefore frequently ignored form of social messaging specific to legal marketing: the client alert.

So the phenomenon is real, big and pervasive. Yet there’s not much we can do about it. All direct response marketing is a matter of optimizing the probability that an item will be 1) opened/read and 2) acted upon.

The effectiveness of content marketing campaigns is a function of interactions among many factors, including:

* Frequency of distribution
* Form factor (i.e. design, formatting, length)
* Content quality & relevance
* Competing messages
* List quality

Until bigger and better minds than mine come up with a brilliant cap-and-trade solution, our best remedy is to focus on 1) useful content that grabs attention and 2) campaign design, planning and rigor.

The error is not in “spraying and praying” — because you don’t know what works until you try — but rather in not tracking, measuring and refining your content marketing strategy and tactics.

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

The billable hour isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but that’s not deterring innovative law firms from tilting at that windmill.

Today I’m featuring some Don Quixotes of alternative fee arrangements I encountered this week:

  • radiant.law [sic], a UK virtual law firm specializing in technology, outsourcing and commercial transactions, takes square aim at the ROI sensibilities of potential clients by placing fixed fee pricing at the center of its brand in a unique way. While their value proposition dutifully invokes tropes like experience and value, the real differentiator is price certainty. Finance people on the client side LOVE that kind of stuff — predictable expenses and no surprises.

“For each project we will give you a fixed price. You will not have to worry about hidden assumptions or cost over-runs. Our pricing is not based on time estimates or trying to retro-fit the billable hour into a fixed price. Instead we will agree a price with you for a clearly defined scope of work. If you then decide to change the scope of work, we will agree a revised price based on any changes you require in advance. Fixed prices give you more control and oversight of your project at every stage.”

“Essentially, the firm has gone back to the drawing board in terms of the pricing options it offers to its clients. Some of the firm’s ideas are pretty left-field, such as offering to charge for its services by reference to the price of commodities. But other ideas it make a great deal of sense – such as breaking down legal tasks into their component parts, to allow the firm to produce viable fixed price quotes.”

  • That Jay Shepherd of The Client Revolution blog fame has an ax to grind with billable hours is not news. But his post this week asserting that there are only two types of law firm fees — time-based pricing and solution-based pricing — is notable for the discussion thread it inspired. Commenters pointed out that client financial management models and contract law are more nettlesome impediments to widespread adoption of solution-based pricing than inertia and lack of innovation by law firms.

 Nick White said…

“I’m a great supporter of [solution-based pricing]. The main problem I see is getting clients to catch up. I offer a number of alternatives to time based billing but clients are so conditioned to the traditional approach that they find it almost impossible to get to grips with alternatives, when the focus is just the pricing.”

But life is never simple.

As much as I admire Tom Bowden the inherent issue I take with his analysis is the premise of a firm “requiring” a minimum fixed number of hours from time keepers. That requirement sets the stage for inefficiencies and too often puffing by timekeepers who are incentivized to do so merely to hold on to their jobs. The basic premise of value billing, AFA’s or solution based billing is to promote and reward efficiently delivered quality work. Minimum annual billing requirements has the exact opposite effect.

And to make our lives even more complicated, recently, a New York real estate developer was shopping around for a law firm to handle two lawsuits. One firm agreed to take on both cases for $300,000 as a fixed fee, payable in three installments. The client presumably thought this was the best deal around since the law firm would take all of the risk if the fees exceeded the $300,000. That, in Jay’s terms, was what the client thought the solution was worth. Well, the firm, Meyer Suozzi, apparently did a bang up job and its hourly charges were substantially less than the $300K. the law firm sued under the agreement and the trial court held “The Retainer Agreement that Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C. seeks to recover on is a non-refundable retainer agreement and as such, is unenforceable [under New York Law].” See http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/adgifs/decisions/020211lally.pdf and http://www.law.com/jsp/nylj/PubArticleNY.jsp?id=1202479960587 .

Bad law? I certainly think so. And probably reversible on appeal. The trial court did hold that Meyer Suozzi could sue under quantum meruit and hornbook law holds that the best evidence of quantum meruit is a price set forth in an agreement, even if the agreement might be unenforceable for other reasons.

Nonetheless, until and unless overturned, this case may well long be an 800 pound gorilla sitting in every fee negotiation involving a fixed fee arrangement.

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