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

 

How Yelp Is Upending Lawyer Ratings and Reviews

If it gives you peace of mind to continue investing time and money in “pay-to-play” and “claim your profile”  lawyer ratings and reviews websites, then god bless and best wishes. But the mind share these vestigial marketing tools– “basic boxes” to check — continues to command could be distracting lawyers — particularly small and solo general practice firms — from leveraging local word-of-mouth communities, Yelp in particular.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_yohVlVbEA&w=420&h=315]

Consider this quick-and-dirty case study.

As of this writing, a general search for “lawyers” on Yelp’s San Francisco community site turned up 5,557 profiles.  General litigation and estate planning attorney Michael Blacksburg showed up near the top of the results page. His 63 reviews yielded a 5-out-of-5 stars rating. In a “Michael Blacksburg San Francisco lawyer” Google search, his Yelp profile was the first listing after links to his own website. A Super Lawyers link turned up down the page, but notably absent from the first page of results were links to “basic boxes”Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell.

Interestingly, a basic Google search for San Francisco immigration law firm Van Der Hout Brigagliano & Nightingale LLP — which had a 5-star overall rating based on two Yelp reviews — produced similar results. The top search result was the firm’s own website, followed by the firm’s Yelp profile.

Why Yelp Deserves More Attention from Lawyers

  • Yelp is the online ratings and reviews destination of first resort for service businesses – While it’s not necessarily a household name, Yelp has higher top of mind awareness with the general public than lawyer review sites. Ask an average person on the street whether they’ve heard of Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell or Super Lawyers and you’ll get blank stares. Heck, ask the average lawyer and you’ll likely get the same response.
  • Yelp has monster SEO clout – As discussed above, even a modest Yelp profile is easily found through a basic name search on Google. As of June 2011, more than 53 million people had visited Yelp in the previous  30 days. That compares with Avvo’s claim of 2 million unique visitors per month. Because Yelp is a multi-category site and Avvo is limited to lawyers and physicians, the sheer volume of visitors and the resulting flow of fresh content makes Yelp’s search benefits for members practically insurmountable.
  • Positive experiences in one service category means higher propensity among Yelpers to consult the site for other, unrelated service providers – In other words, finding a plumber or HVAC guy they like increases the probabilty that a Yelper will look for a dentist or lawyer there, too.
  • Yelpers trust other Yelpers – Every Yelp reviewer has his/her own ratings — even followers and fans — which factors into the perceived authority of their opinions. It’s also important to note that Yelp’s filtering and page rank algorithms favor the contributions of established users.

Have you established a Yelp business profile? What’s your experience been so far? Any advice?