Thursday, April 18, 2013

Using Other Attorneys’ Cases to Help Build Your Practice

In 1995, I, like everyone else, sat glued to my television as I watched O.J. Simpson tried for the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. My network of choice was CNN and the legal analyst on whose words I hung was Greta Van Susteran. For what it’s worth, she must have done a good job because 18 years later, she’s still around as the host of her own program on Fox News.  That’s not too shabby for someone who started out merely providing professional insight based upon her own experience and knowledge of the law.

A similar, though perhaps less dramatic story involves a family law client who contracted with us to generate publicity for a divorce case he was handling.  It was a landmark case that delved into matters concerning secondhand smoke. As a result of our efforts, the case (and the firm) received considerable attention and was featured on numerous regional as well as national television networks.

That was good.  But what happened next was even better.

As a result of the initial publicity generated, the attorney obtained another case – unrelated to family law, because the individuals involved felt that the attorney “seemed like the kind of lawyer who could help us.” For that case as well, we were able to get the attorney appearances on television and interviews in the newspapers.

Soon, this attorney was receiving requests to offer his insight on all kinds of family law matters, because as one media person put it, “When it comes to stories involving family law, you’re our go-to guy.” He was suddenly being asked for his thoughts on family cases he wasn’t even handling.

And then, when the New Jersey Nets’ Jayson Williams manslaughter trial began, area stations began calling our attorney client for his insight on the legal strategies imposed – even though he was not a criminal attorney.

The point here is not that every attorney should seek to become a media guru, but rather for lawyers to realize that opportunities for publicity abound and that they need not come from their own cases. Especially today, where the economic times require budget cutting (i.e., staff reductions), the media is constantly seeking out those who can provide professional insight on a host of legal matters.  Often, gag orders prevent the lawyers actually handling a particular high profile case to speak with the media.  This creates a void that the media must fill. And who better to fill it than lawyers experienced in that area of the law?

Attorneys and law firms seeking to generate some buzz about their practice would be wise to look beyond their own cases for free media opportunities.  They should ask how their insight and experience relates to what’s happening in the news?  It’s a great way to piggyback onto what might have been another attorney’s story.

So while someone else may be burning the midnight oil working on the case du jour, the smart lawyer is parlaying it into invaluable exposure for his own practice.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How to Reach Your Target Prospects and be Recognized as an Opinion Leader

Much has been written about blogs, social media and how it is critical that you maintain a high online profile by regularly generating fresh content. All this is true. Consistency is important.

All that being said however, the internet is awash with content that has been regenerated and replicated a couple of thousand times, as well as with superfluous musings that have little if anything to do with the subject your followers are interested in. Although there’s room on the internet for everyone, that doesn’t mean its space should be taken for granted. If interacting with the online community is important to your practice – and it should be, then use your online pulpit to talk about something that matters.

The key to being recognized as an opinion leader is to have an opinion. Don’t rely on canned articles.  Remember, the internet is an international medium. If the article is canned, your prospect has probably read the piece on another source. 

Instead, provide your insight and opinion on the topic.  Share your thoughts on the new legislation about to be passed, explain why reallocating assets might be in order given a new tax code, detail what to do if a spouse left the state with a “joint custody” child in tow, or state your opinion on the effectiveness of the new legal software that may have just been launched.  Regardless of the topic, give your reader something.

Because when you do… when you provide something to think about, mull over, agree or disagree with, something absolutely terrific happens. You earn the respect of your readers for your experience, your opinion and your insight. And when that happens you gain clients. Because people want to work with an attorney who is knowledgeable and who has already given something valuable. In other words, you’ve reduced the perceived risk of hiring you.

So now you’re probably a bit intimidated about the need to create original content and post on a consistent basis.

The solution is simple. Keep your posts to a narrow topic. You are not writing a legal brief. A few paragraphs on a single topic will more likely be read than a comprehensive legal treatise. Pay closest attention to the headline. It’s the hook that entices the reader to read on. Make it intriguing. Leave a little mystery.  Before you know it, you may just have a loyal following looking to you to stay informed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Most Boring, Though Critical, But Often Overlooked Part of the Legal Marketing Process

One of the most overlooked parts of the legal marketing process is also its simplest – the creation and utilization of new client intake. In all the years that we have worked with law firm clients of all sizes, it still baffles me that some law firms still show a reluctance to obtain the kind of data that can help them make important decisions.

While most law firms may know their click-through rates, directory page rankings and how much new revenue came in at any given time,  many still do not know whether those clicks turned into leads that turned into clients; whether the efforts at high page ranking were worth the time and money; or which marketing/business activities spurred that new revenue.

The new client intake form is critical if firm management wishes to know whether different parts of the firm’s business-building efforts are working and to what degree. Besides the obvious name, phone number, address data that will be collected, law firms should probe to get a deeper understanding as to how and why prospects came to them.  Where did the prospect learn about the firm? Was it from more than one source? Was a referral involved?  Did they take the time to visit the firm’s site? What message resonated with them? All of these questions are vital if the firm is serious about making better marketing-related decisions in the future.

I believe that law practices often initiate their marketing efforts with good intentions, but then fail to commit to tracking the results of these programs. Even when such information is available, there is often a reluctance to examine what the data is actually conveying. For example a pay-per-click campaign may have netted 5 new clients and $60,000 in revenue, but what good is that if the campaign itself cost $100,000? Similarly, how efficient is being ranked number one on Google if the efforts are not just justified by the revenue generated?  Conversely, might certain business building initiatives be serving a worthwhile purpose even if they are not “paying out” immediately? Is that new firm brochure really a waste of firm money, simply because none of the new clients mentioned it during intake?

Law practices should take a page out of the playbook of businesses that manufacture or sell products. Most have a pretty good idea as to how their marketing programs are doing. Similarly, it’s important that law practices create processes that offer measures of accountability. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Legal Marketing in an Impersonal World

Over the weekend, I watched my teenage daughter vigorously texting away a she tried to make plans for an upcoming dance at school.  Fortunately, when I asked her what this “intense” conversation was about, she actually gave me a reasonable response – or at least as reasonable as one might expect from a seventeen-year-old.

She showed me the stream of messages which had begun with “Are you going to the dance next week?” and ended with “Great. I’m sure I’ll see you before then anyway.”

This is not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but what struck me was that it took twenty-one back and forth texts to reach the conclusion that yes, both girls were going, they would get there around 7:30, one of their friend’s mom was driving, they would probably be picked up around 11PM and that it would be best if they made sure they were not both wearing the same color dress.

I suggested that perhaps this discussion might have been better handled with a simple telephone call in which all logistical matters might have been addressed. She rolled her eyes and looked at me in the way only a teenager really can and said with a note of exasperation, “Dad, that’s just not the way it’s done any more.”

And she’s right. And that’s unfortunate. But when I stopped to think about it, are we as professionals in the world of business, marketing or lawyering or any other industry for that matter, really any different?

Every day I go to work and after wading through hundreds of emails, proceed to make scores of my own, often preferring the anonymity of my keyboard. Sometimes, there’s price to be paid for this, particularly when one engages in electronic exchanges in which one’s “tone” may not be coming through accurately. We wonder what did the client really mean, or is there “stuff” in this email which “they’re” not telling me about.  Why did he or she only give me a one-word reply when he or she usually is pretty verbose?  What does it all mean?

There’s something to be said for verbal cues and feedback. It’s amazing how much a raised eyebrow or a soothing voice can convey.   Sometimes even a smile.

I thought about all this as I started working on an attorney’s social media campaign. The campaign is working fine, thank you, but I can’t help but wonder if this client might be better served if his social media efforts were augmented with a more personal, interactive outreach initiative…. Actually getting out and seeing or meeting his prospects and clients, networking the old fashion way if you will.

I’m not suggesting that social media tools such as Linkedin or Facebook should be ignored. Hardly. They are extremely useful in reaching large blocks of people. Hey, I’m writing this blog, aren’t I?

But I am suggesting that the most effective marketing and business development programs are invariably those that integrate the best of all the things different business-building activities have to offer. Even those of yesteryear.

Anyway, I gotta go. My daughter just texted me.

And this could take awhile.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on Marketing the Sole Practitioner and Small Law Firms

I thought I’d post some thoughts today on legal marketing for smaller law firms and the sole practitioner. Obviously, in terms of marketing, the biggest difference between smaller firms and their larger brethren is the depth of resources they can apply to the marketing function. It is foolish to think that such practices will be able to “out shout” their competitors. Hence, they must think smarter and utilize whatever resources they do have more wisely.

Part of thinking smarter means ignoring the temptation to be just another fish in a large pond and instead turning into the proverbial large fish in a smaller pond. And that “pond” can be the geographical area the practice targets, the type of individuals or businesses the practice seeks to reach, the sub-segment or niche in which it seeks to make its mark.

Some examples…

By geo-optimizing its SEO and pay-per-click efforts, a small family law firm can be ranked high up on the online directories within that area closest to its office. There’s no need to reach out across a large metropolis to seek business among people who will never see the listing and even if they did, would probably not venture miles away from where they live.

A small personal injury practice might recognize that it would be foolish to take on the “big boys” with a television campaign. But it could carve out a niche among new and young drivers by a) launching a social media effort towards high school and college students, b) running ads on highly targeted cable networks (e.g., MTV, VH1, Spike) or c) implementing an outreach program or special event for high schools/colleges in which students are rewarded for safe driving or participating in a contest on driving tips, etc.

By thinking vertically, a B2B law practice focusing on a specific industry can become the player in a given market. Every individual and every business inevitably considers itself to be unique. By highlighting its experience in transactions for, say, the retail industry, the small firm can become the “go to” practice. It doesn’t really matter if other firms might be just as capable. The mere fact that experience in transactional matters for retailers is conveyed through the firm web site, social media pages, collateral materials can convince potential prospects that you understand their language. Want to get even more specific. That same firm might consider becoming the perceived guru on matters pertaining to retail restaurants.

Solo practitioners and smaller practices should not grouse about the unlevel playing field on which they compete. Nor, in frustration, should they ignore the marketing function altogether. Instead, they should recognize that they can be highly successful by leveraging their resources against tighter definitions of geography, target prospects and/or area of focus.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Looking for More Revenue From Clients & Referrals?

Consider E-newsletters.

While they may not be for generating quick hits or fast leads, does that mean they’re not for generating revenue?


E-newsletters have very specific purposes -- namely keeping the firm name top-of-mind among clients, referral sources and prospects, highlighting very specific areas of expertise and cross-selling firm services. And while, as stated, they may not be for generating an immediate slew of new business leads (particularly if they’re being sent to the firm’s own database), they are for steadily increasing interest in the firm. And of course, more interest means more business – from both current as well as new clients.

Armed with an understanding of what e-newsletters can do, legal marketers are wise to implement such programs based upon some very basic concepts.  First, keep each issue short – preferably to one topic. Almost anyone you meet will tell you they’re “very busy,” (even if that term has different thresholds for different people). We are besieged by hundreds of communications each day, so make yours short, sweet and standout.

Second, keep the content to that which affects your target recipients. Again, as with all good marketing endeavors, the message is not about you.  It’s about the individual reading it.

For this reason, a third imperative is to use your database wisely. Segment your target lists as deemed necessary, perhaps by practice area, perhaps by B2B vs. B2C, or perhaps even by current versus potential clients.

Fourth, if yours is a firm with multiple practice areas, be sure to explore ways in which clients from one practice area can be made aware of services they might utilize in another practice area.

Fifth, and this may almost sound heretical – you should fret a lot more about the subject line under which you will send the e-newsletter than about the content of the e-newsletter itself. That is not to say you don’t want your e-newsletter to be of the highest quality possible, just that you need to recognize that the majority of recipients will either never even open the email or if they do, they may never bother to read the material. Hence, that subject line is the only opportunity you may have to convey your message. Make it count. Let the recipient see the knowledge you have about a very specific subject, about a service that may be applicable to them or a warning about the impact a new legislation may have.

Finally, be consistent in creating and disseminating firm e-newsletters. We all get very busy at times (hmmm, seems I’ve said that before) and the temptation is there to let such initiatives go for a while. Resist that temptation, because it’s the consistency and continuity that gives merit to e-newsletters. You’re staying in your clients’ and prospects’ faces – but doing so in a very nice way.

Different marketing tools serve very distinct purposes and this is true for e-newsletters as well. But one advantage e-newsletters hold over many other marketing options is that are darn inexpensive to create and disseminate. 

SEO or Pay-Per-Click. Which Route Should I Take?

In initiating their online marketing programs, clients often ask us whether they should focus on optimizing their web site (SEO) or engage in paid advertising (PPC).

The answer is simple.

It depends.

It depends on any of a number of factors, the four most important being the nature of the target market, what it is you’re promoting, the level of competition and the short vs. long-term goals of the firm. Notice I didn’t say money, because how much you spend on an SEO or PPC effort is really a function of the other three variables. Pay-per-click may require out-of-pocket dollars while an SEO effort may not.  But the amount of time required to develop an effective SEO campaign may be unfeasible for the firm to implement, in which case it is either hiring an in-house professional or an outside provider. And of course, this then becomes an out-of-pocket expense as well.

So I repeat, in determining whether to go down the SEO or PPC paths, it really depends.

In that it can be launched immediately, if you are looking for quick hits, then PPC is a much better way to proceed. Set your budget, determine your key words, write your ads and off you go. On the other hand, SEO takes time. It will take lots of man-hours to develop content rich web site pages hyperlinked to hundreds of other sites, and it will take even longer for the major search engines to recognize this and reward you with high directory rankings. In fact, in developing web sites, we often suggest that our clients begin with a PPC effort until that time when the full effect of an SEO campaign is beginning to be realized.

PPC may be a better way to proceed if you are looking for fast clicks-throughs. But if you’re looking for quality leads, then you might wish to skew your efforts towards SEO.  This is because high placement on the organic listing of the directories are generally thought to have more credibility than the paid-for ads that usually appear at the uppermost and right side of the directory pages.  Think of it as being akin to the difference between traditional advertising and public relations.  In public relations, when you get an article placed in a newspaper or magazine, you are in effect being vetted by an objective third party entity such as an editor or producer. But you have no control over when or where your article will appear (or if it even will).  In contrast, with a print or broadcast ad, while you’re guaranteed of being seen, your target market understands that the communication is being paid for by you and thus carries less credibility.

The nature of the practice and its target market are also key variables to consider.  For practice areas that target the general public, PPC may make more sense as the prospect is often an unsophisticated shopper who may or may not understand specific questions or ask or credentials to review. A carefully crafted ad may entice this individual drawn to being hit over the head with visions of successful outcomes (think your typical personal injury commercials). Law practices targeting the business community on the other hand, may be dealing with more sophisticated prospects looking for very specific types of law firm features.  Here, an SEO effort may be preferable, unless of course the firm has challenging competitors more solidly entrenched among the higher rankings, in which case, an alternative PPC initiative may be considered.

The fact that there is no clear-cut answer to the question of SEO vs. PPC, underscores that even in the online world, marketing is as much art as it is science.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why You Should Not Focus on Search Engine Rankings

Let me start by saying something sacrilegious. Search engine rankings do not matter. Well actually, they do matter somewhat, but not as much as many think. That is because many legal marketers tend to look at where their site is listed in a Google search as the end result of a search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click (PPC) effort rather than as just another interim metric.

“Wow. We’re listed in the top three!” we’ve heard many a client attest, undoubtedly feeling as though they’ve discovered the holy grail. Similarly, we’ve known some clients where anything short of such placement is cause for excessive hand-wringing.

The truth is that the only reason why it’s good to have a top listing is to generate greater number of impressions (exposures to the web site link) so that more people both visit the site and then contact the firm in some manner.
The variable that many miss is the expense involved. For example, consider a situation in which one firm is paying $10 per click to achieve a number one ranking and winds up generating 100 total clicks with a total expense of $1,000. Then compare that to a second firm that is paying $5 per click to be ranked lower. This effort generates 30 clicks costing the second firm $150. Compared to the first firm, the efficiency this firm has achieved will allow it to either invest more dollars into the campaign or recoup the savings.

The same can be said for an SEO program in which a staff member or outside vendor is paid to ensure that the firm is listed high on the organic section (i.e., left side) of the search engine directories. The cost of obtaining that service must be weighed against the potential revenue lost by not having that service. Perhaps that individual or SEO provider achieved the goal of a top listing…what was the cost of that effort versus the additional revenue earned by being listed first?

The point is not that search engine placement is irrelevant, or that being first is not often the preferred position. Rather, such a position is a means to an end, as is the monthly budget applied and the dollar amount of the click bid itself. If the goal of your firm’s PPC or SEO initiative is to generate more revenue for the firm, then the leads (or actual clients) generated per dollar is a much more significant metric. As important, it is also a better metric for directing you as to how your on-line dollars should be allocated.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Goes into a Law Firm Marketing Plan?

We are often asked by clients and prospects to develop a legal marketing plan on their behalf. This is always an intriguing proposition because what some view as perhaps a two-page outline of the promotional activities to be pursued, a true marketing plan offers something far greater. Such plans provide a more detailed picture of where the firm stands, its goals, and how it plans to achieve them.

A full-fledged marketing document should address the following areas:

  • Firm History 
  • The Services it Provides 
  • The Geography it Serves 
  • The Types of Clients it Serves
    • Businesses vs. General Public vs. Government Entities
    • Age, Income and Gender Demographics
    • Psychographic Profiles
    • Attorney Billing Rates 
  • Firm Reputation
  • Firm Strengths
  • Firm Weaknesses
  • Results of Marketing efforts to Date 

Industry Overview
  • General Trends
  • Seasonality
  • Client Development Cycle (from awareness through initial consult and retainment)
  • Attorney Billing Rates
  • Competitive Framework 
    • Competitor Descriptions (e.g., size, number of attorneys, strengths, weaknesses, etc.)
    • Competitor Reputations and Positionings
    • Analysis of Competitive Communications (e.g., ads, web site, brochures, etc.) 

Objectives & Strategies
  • Vision/Mission Statement
  • Long-Term Goals & Rationale (e.g., increase revenue to $XXX to support partner payouts of $XXX)
  • Long-Term Strategies (e.g., generate greater awareness of the firm among a particular business or consumer segment)
  • Short-Term Goals (e.g., Obtain $XXX in revenue in the upcoming fiscal year)
  • Short-Term Strategies (e.g., Implement social media campaign, broaden geographical target, add new practice area, etc. 
2013 Strategic Plan
  • Improvements to Firm Services
  • Billing Rates
  • Promotional Program
    • Objectives
    • Budget & Rationale
    • Target Market
    • Target Audience(s)
    • Marketing Mix/Budget Allocation 
      • Activity A (e.g., development of new web site)
      • Activity B (e.g., PR campaign) 
      • Activity C (e.g., social media effort)
    • Creative Development 
      • Positioning of the Firm 
      • Benefits the firm provides (particularly vs. competitors) 
      • Substantiation for Benefits
      • Communications Hurdles 
Opportunities & Red Flags
  • Indicators of Success (i.e., milestone to be achieved/interim metrics)
  • Plan Assumptions 
  • Firm Strengths as Related to the Marketing Plan
  • Firm Weaknesses and Red Flags as Related to the Marketing Plan (i.e., firm may or may not be able to effectively implement activity A for such and such a reason)
  • Plan Flowchart & Timetable 
While a full-fledged marketing document such as this may not be realistic or feasible to implement on an annual basis, we have seen it be an extremely worthwhile exercise for law firms undergoing a transition, requiring a new direction or seeking to tap into new growth areas.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Budgeting for Legal Marketing in the New Year

Most of us begin 2013 with hopes and plans for a big year in terms of generating new business, more revenue and greater profit. With that however, comes the unavoidable task of determining how much should be allocated for the law firm’s marketing function.

There are several ways to answer this, the most common being the standard 2-5% of the firm’s anticipated revenue. However, much more effective is to take a task approach in which the firm’s marketing budget becomes a function of its objectives.

In taking such an approach, it is important that several difficult questions be addressed:
  1. Are the marketing activities designed to generate new clients over the short term only or should some of the funds be more long-term focused? This will dictate the types of activities utilized and the relative costs involved.  For example, a new firm brochure or web site may not get the phones to ring immediately, but can set the stage for significant success down the road.
  2. How are resources being defined? If it only includes dollar outlays, then certan marketing vehicles such as search engine optimization and social media may make good sense. If the term “resources” is broadened to include “time,” then the drain on manpower may make such activities prohibitive. (Of course, an outside service can be handled to manage these efforts, thus again skewing the allocation of resources to being more dollar-focused).
  3. Is the concept of frequency being taken into account? Generating awareness and new business requires that prospects be continuously exposed to the firm, and often through a multiplicity of channels. To do anything less is money wasted.
  4. Will a better year only be a function of obtaining new clients or will it also be a function of higher rates and/or the cross-promotion of firm services? Both initiatives may require investments of time and/or money.
Ultimately, once the determination is made as to a) the firm’s objectives and b) the strategies it will employ to reach these goals, only then can the specific dollar amount (and or internal costs) required to achieving them be determined. The budget allocation of 2-5% of firm revenue is really only a guideline. Actual budgets must look at a wide range of variables, including the current image of the firm and the level of its awareness it enjoys among its target group.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Welcome to 2013!

It’s at this time of year that we all make our new year’s resolutions. Last year, mine was to eat better, exercise more and stress less. I failed miserably at all three.

This year, my resolution is to do something I’m always advising our clients to do – consistently generate new content for their legal blogs and e-newsletters. Have I been good about doing it myself? Absolutely not. But I know that adding quality content to my blog and disseminating it through e-newsletters is the best way to attract new visitors and hopefully ongoing followers as well.  So, net, net,…Do as I say and not necessarily as I have done.

But what I have promised myself is to generate one posting each week for 52 weeks on topics pertaining to legal marketing. There’ll be articles on marketing in general, branding, pay-per-click and SEO, business development, measuring return on investment, implementing seminars, niche marketing., client satisfaction, social media and much more.

With the new year upon us, we’ll start off next week with a discussion on how lawyers and law firms should go about the task of budgeting for marketing.

I certainly look forward to your comments and questions during what I hope (and think) will be a great year.