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Distinguish Yourself – Be Responsive

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been sending out quite a few emails and leaving several voice mails for story and presentation pitches on behalf of a client.  As diligent PR professionals do, I created a spreadsheet to track my progress and activity.  Yesterday, I reviewed the overall status and one ugly fact was abundantly clear, most people are not responsive and it’s not just industry organizations and publications.  This trend is clear in my day-to-day business activities too.

hectic0I get it – we live in an information age and are inundated with emails, Facebook posts, LinkedIn mail and activity, tweets, texts, cell phone and land line calls, not to mention the actual work we need to accomplish, our volunteer commitments and, most importantly, our family life and activities.

I called my good friend Keith Wewe yesterday to discuss his interest in assisting with a planned LMATX mini-conference in the works for 2014 and was venting a bit about people’s general lack of responses these days (as a sole proprietor, I tend to seek input from any and every one – that’s fodder for another post 🙂 ).  I told him that I remember, even when I was in-house at big law and fielding 300+ emails a day, that I always sent at least a brief reply – “Now, is not a good time for me to focus on WONDERFUL PRODUCT #1,999.   Please check back with me in a month.”  And, that was for the unsolicited sales pitches. I’ve always tried to send a response quickly.  Keith said to me. “Lisa, you’re an anomaly; most people just aren’t that responsive.”

So, that got the old brain wheels turning.  Am I an anomaly?  That’s pretty cool if true – I’ve always like being different, prided myself on marching to a different beat, but I digress. Like any good journalist, I sought more input. My next call was with my attorney client on whose behalf I’ve been making the pitches.  Thankfully, due to my client’s great responsiveness, excellent writing skills in assisting me to craft good pitches and the long prospect list we prepared, in spite of so many unreturned emails and phone calls, we have been able to generate some wins. After discussing the wins and knowing how responsive she is, we discussed the lack of responsiveness by so many these days.  She said her clients expect instant answers and she provides it.  So, it’s not just me but it is something rare.  And, for a marketer, rarity is something to be mined – more on this later.

Back to the instant answers – that’s a pretty high standard. Do people really expect instant answers?  I think they do. In an information age, people want answers now. Just last week, I recall my daughter wanting some information from my daughter-in-law so she texted her and stared at her phone wanting an answer.  Now, my daughter-in-law has an infant. There are any number of things that could prevent her from responding within seconds.  Literally, within 30 seconds, my daughter was already talking about other ways she could find the information.  I reminded her that Barbara could have her hands full at the moment and I was sure she would respond soon.  “Patience, grasshopper,” I counseled.

Another example of the demand for instant answers involves another client project this week.  I was working on  creating social media profiles and had to change my client’s password due to a lost password.  I texted him (he is great at responding to texts), told him what I needed to do and why, and asked him to send me the code he would momentarily receive via text so I could do what needed to be done.  He sent me the code and I got things changed, went in and did the necessary work. Within 20 minutes, I was done and writing him an email to provide the new password and the information he would need to access all his new profiles.  As I was composing the email, I received two texts and an email from him requesting the new password.  So, yes, people do expect instantaneous responsiveness.

And, yes, many people are not responsive. Mine that rarity!  As a marketing consultant, I always ask my clients to describe what distinguishes themselves from their competitors.  One area where you can easily shine is to be responsive – even if it’s just a quick note to say you need to do some research and will get back later or that you are in a meeting and will respond more fully that afternoon (and make sure you deliver what you say you will – fodder for yet another post 🙂 ).  Respond quickly and communicate.  People want to know you’ve received their message.  Responsiveness says they matter to you and shouldn’t every client feel that way?

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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Legal Marketing, Marketing

 

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Legal Industry News – Managing Partners Share Forecasts and Insights – Part 1 of 2

By Lisa Whitley Coleman, 2013 LMATX Dallas City Group Leader and CEO of CM2 Marketing

Four Texas Managing Partners recently discussed industry trends, marketing roles and necessary changes to fundamental law firm business models at an April Legal Marketing Association Dallas City Group panel luncheon hosted by Haynes and Boone LLP.  The room was filled with attorneys, senior and junior marketers, and COOs who said they appreciated the opportunity to hear how top law firm leaders answered the provocative questions.

The panelists were Terry Conner, Managing Partner at Haynes and Boone LLP; Robert Jewell, Managing Partner at Andrews Kurth LLP; Emily Parker, Managing Partner at Thompson & Knight LLP; and Kevin Sullivan, Chairman and CEO at Winstead PC.  The discussion was moderated by Deborah McMurray, CEO and Strategy Architect at Content Pilot.

MP Panel 1

 According to McMurray, the positioning challenges for today’s firms include:

  1. Competition for legal business is now worldwide rather than local.
  2. Clients want to reduce risk by litigating less.
  3. The number of lawyers is increasing faster than demand – there were 46,000 new lawyers in 2012 alone.

McMurray began the discussion by sharing several book titles she found on Amazon while searching for books on Lawyers. She was surprised so many negative industry outlook titles published in 2012 and 2013 were returned in her search.

Books Final

A more positive title was used to segue into the panel discussion:

Book 6

Panelists were asked to start with the shift in demand for legal services and what they see in their crystal balls for 2020, only seven years from now.  “People tend to overreact to dire situations and have exaggerated perspectives when times are good or bad,” Winstead’s Sullivan said.  He predicts that we will continue to see fracturing among different-sized firms but says that we won’t see changes to the fundamental structure of law firms – law firms will still basically be law firms.

While the heyday is not returning, Haynes and Boone’s Conner believes demand will rebound, pointing out Texas’ growing population and resulting job growth.  “We will also see a growth in demand for legal services outside the U.S. and have opportunities for cross-border work,” he said. “The challenge will be to capture that business.”

Andrews Kurth’s Jewell pointed out that books like the ones mentioned above will drive people away from pursuing law school degrees, which will correct the overabundance in the supply of legal service providers. He added that it’s cyclical – this will result in a shortage of lawyers in key areas in a few years.

Thompson & Knight’s Parker reminded the audience that that the criticism of lawyers that we are hearing today has always existed going back to Charles Dickens classic tale “Bleak House.”  Dickens story reveals an arcane legal system badly in need of reform, where an estate case spans years without resolution and racks up an exorbitant amount of legal fees.

For the second question, McMurray reminded the panelists and audience that we have heard a lot of discussion over the last 20 years about how the pyramid-shaped structure of law firms is changing but, in reality it has only grown taller and narrower (with the number of equity partners decreasing).  “Given the change in service demand, do you see the law firm business model fundamentally changing over the next decade,” she asked.

“Clients are loud and clear in their desire for us to be more accountable, and they want to know who is working on their accounts,” Jewell said.  There is no longer any tolerance for huge teams to be assigned to client projects.  “Our challenge is to demonstrate to clients how young attorneys can add value to their matters,” he said.  In response to this challenge, Andrews Kurth provided a young class of associates with The Fullbridge Program training, a business boot camp to help junior associates understand the business framework underlying their legal work.  Jewell views the training as a success, concluding that this particular group of associates is noticeably busier than their untrained counterparts.

Sullivan believes we will continue to see incremental changes. He believes it’s imperative for each firm to study business models practice group by practice group.  “Every practice cannot be leveraged.” he said.  One change that has been clear, Sullivan said, is the rise of attorneys as employees.  Firms are seeing an increasing number of non-partner-track staff attorneys and counsel positions, which is a good move for clients, creating customized, economical service solutions, he said.

Conner commented on the need to become more efficient, the decline of billable hours and the importance of determining the profitability of projects. “I think legal marketers will be involved in these determinations,” he said.

“Given the Amazon book titles and what is published in major and social media about how law schools are even slower to adapt to shifting market conditions/demands than law firms, there is a resulting crisis in law schools and legal education, McMurray said.  “What does that mean for building and shaping the legal careers of young lawyers?”

It costs a lot of money to go to law school, Parker said.  “Prior to about 1992, only about 50% of people attending law school did not end up practicing in private law firms.  After about 1992 and through 2008, the percentage going into private law practice increased to about 75%.  Since the ‘great recession,’ the percentage going into private practice has dropped back to about 50%,” she said.

Sullivan agrees that it is better now than it was two years ago.  “I don’t see anything drastic changing,” he said.  “Competition remains strong for top graduates from law schools.   We do need to really pay attention to the new lawyer experience,” he emphasized.  Focusing on creating top-notch training and experience will help keep these tops grads interested in practicing law, he explained.

See Part 2 of 2 in the next blog post following this one.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Legal Marketing

 

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Legal Industry News – Managing Partners Share Forecasts and Insights – Part 2 of 2

This is part 2 of a two-part discussion regarding legal industry news, trends, forecast and insights by law firm managing partners. Please see the prior post for the first part.

Legal Industry News

MP Panel 2

Innovation

McMurray’s next question explored areas within law firms with the greatest need for innovation and re-engineering within law firms.

Marketers like to see themselves as change agents, Jewell said.  “Together, we need to explore new structures and answer the question –   Are there faster, better, smarter methods for delivering services?”

Parker agreed that answers are needed.  “I’m not sure that the way we are compensated encourages efficiency,” she said.  “In fact, the hourly billing rate method discourages efficiencies.  There is a need to set up systems that reward efficiency.”

Jewell says he sees the communication trends of younger professionals as being more instantaneous and efficient, but sees a flaw in the continued preference of the exclusive use of electronic contact.  Having analyzed Andrews Kurth’s pitches and proposals by practice group for 2012, the firm’s business development professionals found that meeting face to face resulted in a better than 50% chance of winning new business.

Conner sees a need for better project management, project management training and improved budgeting.

We Need You Guys

On the topic of the role of legal marketers and expected changes in the next five to 10 years, all the panelists agreed that the services provided by legal marketers play an essential role in the strategic development of law firms. That is not expected to change.

Sullivan confirmed that attorneys are very slow to change, a poorly-kept secret any marketer who has suggested something new can easily affirm.  He joked that the standard response to innovation is to ask who else is doing that, which drew a big laugh from attendees.

‘We need you guys,” Sullivan said. “Marketers are at the other end of the spectrum as far as change.  Attorneys in their 40s are much more comfortable with the role that marketing and business development team members can play – what they can add.”

Communication within the marketing department is critically important, Jewell said. “Thinking creatively is key,” he said.  Marketers need to use modular materials that can be customized within standards, and create high service standards that are communicated across the board, he said.

Parker sees an increasing reliance on chief marketing officers in law firms.

What are the highest value marketing and business development initiatives to the law firm?  What can marketing professionals do to add value and increase their indispensability in the future? – McMurray asked for the last question of the day.

The emphasis is on sophistication, performance and results, Conner said.  “Marketing professionals have to be more strategic.”  Marketing has a good seat at the table now and that’s important, he said. “Understanding pricing and profitability is very important.  We like data, especially competitive intelligence.  Marketers need to have a really deep understanding of what the law firms do, what their clients need and want.”

Conner would like to see marketing completely focusing on core groups of clients in order to achieve a deep understanding of their needs. “I see having more business develop managers embedded in our practices,” he said.

“Helping lateral hires to integrate would be a great initiative, Sullivan said.  “They bring new clients and new opportunities.  We need to ramp them up quickly,” he concluded.

Jewell would like to see marketing better assist with communicating what their attorneys do and how they do it.  He also mentioned that attorneys have personal relationships that are not being captured and explored, which creates opportunities for marketers.

“The marketing team can provide lawyers with good information about the legal market and legal services pricing and budgeting so lawyers can make compelling, relevant presentations to potential clients,” Parker said.  Marketers can help shape these important conversations – showing firm experience, determining the best pricing arrangement and the timeframe for getting the work done, she said.

One thing was clear from this discussion:   branding is no longer top of mind.  These managing partners value strategy, technology, research, analytical skills and competitive intelligence.  This isn’t to say that branding isn’t important today; it simply didn’t come up in the discussion.

Audience members questioned panelists about the use of sales professionals on client development teams.  The general consensus was that it isn’t being ruled out, but is not currently under consideration.

Another question raised the issue of a moving to flat-rate billing.  Panelists agree that many clients support this change and also agree that there are no clear answers.

“Clients know what’s reasonable,” Sullivan said.  “We need pricing incentives that line up with our clients’ interests. But it’s tricky.”

Profiles

Conner 1

Terry Conner

Terry is in his sixth year as Managing Partner at Haynes and Boone and he started his career at his firm in 1975.  He was the only corporate associate for Haynes and Boone and he says his office was right in between Mike Boone and Richard Haynes so they could keep an eye on him.

Q. At what point in your career did you set your sights on leading a law firm? I got involved in practice management 25 years ago and in firm leadership 15 years ago.  I didn’t set my sights on the MP job, but understood that’s where I was headed a few years before becoming the MP.

Terry describes his leadership style, with regard to decision-making, as fact-based and as analytical as possible.  He seeks input from all relevant sources – and he has the right folks at the table.  Internally, his emphasis is on communication, consensus-building and letting personnel know that firm leadership’s job is to help provide tools for their success.

Q. What is the best business development advice you received as a young lawyer?  Become a true expert in an area (or two) that you really know, like and can promote internally and externally.

Q. Over the next few years, what is your greatest concern about the practice of law?  Running the practice of law as a business will do fine financially. The concern is maintaining the dignity and integrity of law as a noble profession – a profession that has the highest ethics, client-first mentality and interested in improving our profession and society.  And related to that, heightened business pressures that affect law firm culture.

Jewell 1

Bob Jewell

Bob is completing his sixth year as the MP of Andrews Kurth.  He started his career at the firm in 1978.

Q. At what point in your career did you set your sights on leading a law firm?  I’m not sure I ever set my sights on leading a law firm  Your credibility with your partners as a potential leader is somewhat dependent on first having demonstrated success with your clients.

Bob’s leadership style is all about listening, but being decisive.  He’s open to constructive criticism and believes that empathy salves many wounds.

Q. What is the best business development advice you received as a young lawyer?  Whatever you’re involved in, do the very best you can.  Of course this means client matters, but also includes involvement with non-profits and charities – even coaching little league.

Q. Over the next few years, what is you greatest concern about the practice of law?  Bob’s greatest concern about the practice of law is that he wants it to continue to be an attractive profession for talented younger generations.

Parker Final

Emily Parker

Emily became managing partner on Feb. 15, 2012 and began her career at Thompson & Knight.

Q. At what point in your career did you set your sights on leading a law firm? “My sights were always set on being an outstanding practicing lawyer.  I first seriously considered becoming MP shortly after Jeff Zlotky (the then MP) indicated that he wanted to return to the fulltime practice of law.

She describes her leadership style as “a servant leader.”  She likes to lead by example, being transparent and accessible.

Q. What is the best business development advice you received as a young lawyer? Never lose touch with anyone you know either personally or professionally.

Q. Over the next few years, what is your greatest concern about the practice of law?  “The projected flat demand for legal services over the next few years creates pressures on lawyers and firms regarding how to develop and promote less experienced lawyers.  At the same time, clients want to reduce the cost of legal services.  Giving the next generations of lawyers and law firm leaders the opportunities we received is both an obligation and a challenge in today’s ‘what have you done for me lately’ legal world.”

Sullivan Final

 Kevin Sullivan

Kevin has been Chairman and CEO of Winstead for two and a half years, where he started his career.

Q. At what point in your career did you set your sights on leading a law firm? Exactly 2 ½ years ago.

Kevin’s leadership style is supportive.

Q. What is the best business development advice you received as a young lawyer?  First become good at what you do.  Then you will have a better product to sell.

Q. Over the next few years, what is your greatest concern about the practice of law?  My concern is that the quest for ever-increasing profitability will make it less fun.

Lisa Whitley Coleman serves on the LMATX Board and is the 2013 Leader of the LMA Dallas City Group.  She is the CEO of CM2 Marketing where she provides outsourced creative and customized marketing and business development solutions for her law firm clients.  She is an award winning marketer and writer, and previously worked as a journalist at Texas Lawyer and the Dallas Business Journal. She can be reached at lisa@cm2marketing.com.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Legal Marketing

 

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20 Tools for Your Client Development Tool Kit

 

Random Acts

Are you familiar with Cordell Parvin?  If you aren’t and you are interested in business development, you should take time to familiarize yourself with his books and blog posts.  Today, Cordell blogged about 20 Tools for Your Client Development Tool Kit.  This post really resonates with me because it echoes the messages I consistently share with my clients.

In all honesty, my messages actually echo Cordell’s because I’m a big fan of his work and have read his books.  I am proud to say I won a copy of three of his books at an LMATX: Dallas City Group luncheon seminar a few years ago.  Thanks again, Cordell!

But, I digress. In Cordell’s post today, his number one tip is to have a business development plan. Let’s take this a step further – have a personal business development plan, an organizational business development plan and a formal budget established for these activities.  Otherwise, you are committing random acts of marketing and that’s almost worse than no marketing at all.  Random acts of marketing lead to wasted money, wasted time, no increase in revenue and almost certainly guarantees brand invisibility. Your marketing and business development activities need to be strategic, highly targeted and measurable where they can be directly correlated to increased revenue resulting from those activities.

Read more of Cordell’s 20 Tools for Your Client Development Toolkit.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Legal Marketing

 

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Law Firm Marketing Functions: A Forensic Review

Marketing Functions Examined

BusDev1

Is it time to build up your marketing team?  Do you understand the different purposes of marketing functions?  For example, many people don’t understand the distinction between marketing and business development.  The following article by Susan Van Dyke published on the Canadian Bar Association’s website explains that the marketing function serves to funnel qualified leads into the potential client pipeline while business developers function to close the sale and turn qualified leads into client.

The article also discusses rules of thumb for the proper ratio of marketers to attorneys. It examines the role of marketing in small firms and how to stretch resources.  “Even in firms of fewer than 15 lawyers, a self-motivated marketing coordinator with one to three years’ experience at a salary of $35,000 to $45,000 will more than pay for him or herself with the savings in billable time,” according to Van Dyke. And, for those who aren’t ready to invest in a full-time marketing role, your needs can easily be filled through the use of contract marketers.  Seasoned marketing consultants can accomplish strategic and tactile marketing/business development tasks more efficiently than beginning marketers.  Additionally, their experience provides their clients access to high-level strategies and functions that would otherwise be financially out of reach for smaller firms.

Van Dyke also reinforces a message I have repeatedly blogged about – you must have a marketing plan in place to direct your efforts.  Your plan is your road map and should include goals that can be tracked and measured.  Marketers have a wealth of information about ROI at their disposal that can be used to easily justify the worth of investing in marketing functions to increase revenue through new and existing clients.

Lastly, the article provides in-depth descriptions for the various roles and job titles within the marketing department. Va Dyke provides an intense analysis of the importance of marketing and tips for making the best use f the marketing function within the legal industry.  Read Law Firm Marketing Functions: A Forensic Review here.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Legal Marketing

 

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Yet Another Warning for Law Firms That Major Change Is Afoot – Legal Industry Trends

Legal Industry TrendsBusDev2_blue

– A new report jointly produced by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor adds more evidence to a string of reports that the legal industry will never return to its prerecession hey day.  The study indicates that law firms that hope to succeed in the future need to embrace the shifting realities of the marketplace now, according to an article about the report published in The AmLaw Daily on February 4, 2013.

“The report notes that firms residing within the ranks of The Am Law 100 saw their profits rise just 2.45 percent in 2012, compared to the average 4 percent gain enjoyed by non-Am Law 100 firms.”

“Though law firms laid off thousands of lawyers during the downturn, their productivity—as measured by hours logged per lawyer—remained relatively constant between 2009 and 2012,” according to the study.

Decreasing overhead has been a priority for law firms for some time now.  One of the major changes in legal industry trends resulting from these cost-saving measures was the shift to a 3 attorney-to-1 ratio for legal secretaries. Another industry shift that made major news was the decrease in associate pay rates.

Other cost-saving options still remain relatively unexplored, such as outsourced marketing, telecommuting options and providing less expensive officing options outside the prime commercial downtown real estate space for some supporting personnel such as accounting, marketing and other administrative functions.

The legal industry is steeped in tradition and can often be slower to adapt to changes than other industries.  Just as large law firms moved away from using insurance defense work as a training ground for their associates when the work became unprofitable, there is no doubt that this industry will find its footing in the changing economic landscape.  The only question remaining is whether or not these changes will come sooner rather than later.

Read more about the report at The AmLaw Daily.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Marketing

 

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Creating Client Loyalty: Earn Their Repeat Business and Referrals

Do you ever ask your clients how you’re doing?  What they like?  What they’d like to see improved?  What other work they may have with which you could help?

At a recent Legal Marketing Association – Dallas City Group event, a panel of both current and former General Counsel told the audience of attorneys and marketers that they had never been asked for feedback regarding the performance of their outside counsel.

If you do ask questions about your service performance, as you can see, you’re already one step ahead of many of your competitors.

However, even if you already solicit client feedback, you should take it one step further.  It’s human nature to tread softly or even completely ignore some problem areas rather than directly deliver negative feedback.  Many people will do whatever possible to avoid any type of conflict.

To get the complete story on what your clients think. It’s important to enlist a neutral third party.  And, the panelists at the Dallas City Group event agreed that the use of an outside consultant skilled at conducting client surveys is the best way to ensure you obtain the full picture.

The most important thing to recognize in obtaining performance feedback from your clients is that you will receive constructive and, even, outright criticism.  You have to be prepared to make improvements.  You have everything to lose if you don’t make those changes.

On the other hands, if you don’t solicit the feedback and implement changes when necessary, your client is going to go away – probably quietly – and you will never really understand what jeopardized the relationship.

Consultants who are experienced at eliciting client feedback should go the extra mile in order to determine other existing projects and those in the works.

Client surveys are a winning tool for increasing your business.  Your clients know their business is important to you, the feedback shows what is being done right and what can be improved, and you learn more about upcoming opportunities.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Legal Marketing, Marketing

 

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