Posted Jul 06, 2010 02:00 pm CDT
Yesterday’s service partners can be today’s niche lawyers. So says a panel of business development experts, who discussed a variety of tools for the transition.
In this month’s audio program, ABA Journal Podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward chats with our guests about the latest rainmaking tricks that lawyers can’t afford to ignore. Business of Law reporter Rachel Zahorsky (@LawScribbler) tweeted their conversation live using the Twitter hashtag #ABAJchat.
In This Podcast:
Stephen Fairley is CEO of the Rainmaker Institute, which focuses on helping small firm lawyers and sole practitioners find clients and generate referrals.
Karen Kaplowitz, president of the New Ellis Group, specializes in business development strategy, training and coaching for lawyers, law firms and other professional service providers.
Kevin O'Keefe is CEO and Publisher of LexBlog, which provides more than 3,000 authors with a professional, turnkey blog solution, and operates LexMonitor, a daily review of law blogs, and LexTweet, a community of legal professionals using Twitter.
Pamela H. Woldow is a principal with the management consultant business Altman Weil. Her work focuses on optimizing the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the lawyer-client relationship.
Peter Zeughauser, a former Irvine Co. general counsel, is chairman of the Zeughauser Group. The Newport Beach, Calif., business advises law firm leadership on strategic growth and marketing.
This ABA Journal Podcast is brought to you by WestlawNext, building on the strengths of Westlaw to bring you the next evolution of legal research. Their most significant innovation in 30 years, its a complete research system that gives you confidence you’ve found the most relevant information. And, it elevates productivity with intuitive work flow tools. Learn more at WestlawNext.com.
ABA Journal: Technology and the great recession have brought tremendous change in how lawyers get business. Just being good at what you do often isn’t enough, and today’s successful lawyers must envision and carry out new services and ways to recruit work. I’m Stephanie Francis Ward and that is what we’re discussing today at the ABA Journal Podcast.
We’re joined by Stephen Fairley of the Rainmaker Institute; Karen Kaplowitz, president of New Ellis Group; Kevin O’Keefe, the founder of LexBlog; Pamela Woldow, a principal with Altman Weil and Peter Zeughauser of the Zeughauser Group.
Pam, for lawyers who have been in practice for more than 20 years, what are some things many of those lawyers often miss. Or maybe aren’t accepting regarding how business development has changed?
Woldow: Well, you know it’s interesting. Once you’ve been doing something a long time and it seems to have been successful, it’s true you don’t always stay in tune with exactly what’s going on. And I would kind of concentrate on four main areas that those practicing a long time may not have kept completely current with.
One of those areas would be understanding how profoundly the client’s world has changed. Many of them have their client base and may not attuned to how important predictability of fees is, for instance, and how hard budgets are now being imposed on their clients. That billing and being able to be predictable in advance has become critical. They may not be aware that in their client’s world the procurement folks have come into the legal department and are taking significant roles in selection of outside counsel.
Also, as part of that, the way the client’s world has changed because of the economic pressures and the budget pressures. Relationships, which are still important, are yielding more to value conferred upon the legal department than ever before. Before you might have expected that relationships would trump everything and that’s no longer the case. We are seeing a lot of change in who is used by legal departments and those relationships kind of yielding.
The second thing they may not be as attuned to is how important process is in the delivery of legal services. That efficiency and process are critically important these days to clients. So it’s not enough just to be an outstanding lawyer, you also have to be able to deliver that outstanding legal services in a very efficient way and be able to define what that process is.
The third area would be the impact of social media. People who have been practicing a long time and maybe are at a particular point in their careers haven’t really ever had to use social media very much to network or stay in front of clients or be accessible to clients. But in this day and age, there is a huge need to have a presence beyond just what your law firm bio is. So that’s an important thing for people to be thinking about. When my clients who are general counsel vet law firms and lawyers, their first stop is usually LinkedIn or Legal OnRamp, and not to have a presence on those says something in and of itself.
The last area that I think a lot of lawyers just kind of overlooked is how important it is to engage in team-based business development, as opposed to the single-rainmaker style. That appeals more, it signals something really important to clients–that we are collaborative, that we work together, that we’re not just “eat what you kill” kind of lawyers and out for ourselves. So I would think those four areas are probably the most important.
ABA Journal: Karen, what do you think about Pam’s last point on that?
Kaplowitz: Well, what I’m seeing in many law firms is that they are becoming more “eat what you kill,” not less, in this economy. The pressure on lawyers to deliver business and to be seen as rainmakers has intensified and the days in which, especially the older lawyer–you asked about lawyers who have practiced more than 20 years–are embraced and enjoyed in law firms for their expertise as service partners may be a dying phenomenon.
So that although I agree totally with Pam’s point on the importance of collaboration, I don’t know that we’re seeing more of it in this economy. So I see older lawyers as being under tremendous pressure to figure out how to be seen as highly valuable in law firms that may be seeing them as redundant.
So I would say that more seasoned lawyers have to be very attuned in this environment to understanding their own value proposition, and to understanding their own leverage within their law firm. They have to be very attune to whether they possess critical knowledge, whether they are key liaisons to particular clients, whether they have importance to their firms in managing teams of lawyers or outside vendors. And whether they are particularly valuable to the rainmakers in their firm who rely on them in some way. I would say the more seasoned lawyers have to understand the total importance of their internal public relations and marketing strategies.
ABA Journal: Peter, as someone who works as a consultant of large law firms, do you have something to add to that?
Zeughauser: Yes, I do. I think that I agree with everything that’s been said so far, but I also think they need to understand that the work is coming from other places and increasingly going to come from other places. That in just 15 or 16 years, China will eclipse the U.S. in terms of being the world’s largest economy. In three years following that, the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China, will eclipse Europe in terms of the size in their economies. There are roughly in the United States 2,200 multinational companies. That’s 1 percent of the companies in the United States, but that those companies account for an increasingly disproportionate amount of the legal work that is bought by consumers of legal services, certainly from major law firms.
Most of the major law firms, the AmLaw 200, when they think of globalization and internationalization, they’re still pivoting towards Europe for their expansion. But the truth of the matter is that Europe is in decline and that the Asian countries and economies will very soon eclipse them. When we think about that, that’s when these lawyers who are out 20 years in practice are maybe 50, 55 or 60 years old, by the time they’re that age, there is going to be more legal work coming out of Asia than out of the United States. The Chinese law firms are already exceeding 1,000 lawyers and more and they are only 15 and 20-year-old firms. Shanghai will be a billion-person metropolis. The United States dollar is declining in value. It’s probably worth 80 percent of what it was worth in 1965. And there is going to be a tremendous amount of inbound-investment work in the United States. M&A work and real estate work is going to increasingly be coming from Asian investors, and this is going to be a challenge that senior lawyers are going to have to deal with as they progress through the last part of their career.
ABA Journal: Okay. Stephen, as someone on the other end of this, you normally work with small firms and solo practitioners. What are you seeing in terms of lawyers who have been in practice 20 years or more? What are some of the things the smaller firms and solos are missing or maybe aren’t accepting about business development and how it’s changed?
Fairley: Thanks, Stephanie. So at the Rainmaker Institute, we’ve worked with over 7,000 attorneys all across the country and virtually all of them are small or solo practitioners. Were seeing a growing number of attorneys who are over the age of 50, even into their sixties, that are now starting to look at succession planning and are now looking at how much bench strength do they have, if you will. What they’re finding is that they don’t have any. They have built their practice primarily, sometimes exclusively, by word of mouth, and one of the trends that we’re seeing is that referrals and word of mouth is simply not enough anymore. It used to be. At least they tell me, 15, 20-plus years ago in the legal industry, all you had to do to build a great practice was to be a great attorney. Be technically competent or excellent in what you do and the business would come.
It doesn’t work like that anymore. We’ve seen a hyper-competitive growth mode in the legal industry for at least the last decade, where there’s 43,600 new law school graduates every single year, and all of them are just as hungry, sometimes even more so, than the people that have been doing it for 10 or 20 years. So referrals and word of mouth are simply not enough anymore. You can’t wait and be passive about your marketing, you have to take a proactive or an active stance.
So one of the other ways you look at this and you say, “Okay, well how do you grow your business?” Someone mentioned earlier, one of the other presenters or panelists talked about social media. I think social media is a great tool to build your platform. I think there’s still some things that are still on the bleeding edge, right? They’re not even on the cutting edge, they’re on the bleeding edge. As far as how much time and energy should a senior rainmaker put into developing a Twitter following? I don’t know. I think a lot of it depends on your practice area, but certainly they shouldn’t ignore things like LinkedIn.
I think you would be a little foolish at this point to ignore things like Avvo. They’ve got a huge presence and they’re only growing in strength. I think at this point in the legal industry, at least from a marketing perspective, if you don’t have a website for your firm, you’re actually behind the curve. You’re not with the norm. You’re on the back end of that bell curve.
But I do think there’s a new thing that Kevin’s certainly an authority on, and that’s blogs. I think there’s been a minor explosion, I would call it, in the legal industry, of blogs. It’s still not even come close to reaching the tipping point. I think it will in the next three to five years, but I think certainly anybody who is doing blogging knows how important that is to building your online platform.
You can’t ignore the Internet anymore. Even five to seven years ago, people were saying, “Do attorneys really get any business online?” When an attorney asks me that, it’s hard for me not to laugh, right?
ABA Journal: Do you still get asked that question today?
Fairley: I actually do.
ABA Journal: Okay.
Fairley: I actually do. Most of the time it comes from the senior rainmakers, the gray hairs, the white hairs and the no hairs. So, I still get occasionally asked that question. I was actually asked it, of all places, in San Francisco last week at one of our rainmaker retreat marketing boot camps. A senior attorney, been practicing for 15-plus years, asked me, “Well, do attorneys get any business from the Internet?” I think part of it depends on your practice area. Certainly consumer law attorneys generate more business than say, high-end M&A or high-end commercial litigation attorneys. But we have attorneys that we’ve been working with as clients for the last several years that are generating multiple millions of dollars every single year off their Internet.
The last one I would say is alternative billing. I know there’s been a lot of talk in the legal industry about alternative billing and there’s been a big push back and there was that great editorial in the Wall Street Journal a while ago about alternative billing. But I’ve got to tell you, especially with the economy being as it is, more and more people are just plain scared, especially business owners and executives, when it comes to hiring attorneys based on an hourly fee. “How much is this gonna cost me?” The two famous words uttered by lawyers everywhere, “It depends.” They don’t want to hear that anymore. They want to be able to look at their legal as a line item budget, and honestly, I think this is where some of the smaller solo practices actually have an easier time than the corporate Behemoth, the Am Law 200s of the world, because they can actually use alternative billing arrangements as a competitive advantage. If you know if you go to an Am Law 200 firm and you’re going to get a top-notch litigator for what, $300, $400 or $500 an hour? You’ve even heard of a few attorneys that are charging closer to $1,000 an hour. Whereas you go to a small boutique commercial litigation firm that has a 20-year experienced litigator and he’s able to do some sort of alternative billing flat-fee arrangement, whatever that looks like, I think that can be a real competitive advantage. So I think those are just some basic tips to take a look at, especially for those senior rainmakers.
ABA Journal: So Kevin, what do you think about this idea that lawyers are still saying, “Can you really get business on the Internet?”
O’Keefe: You know, it comes up, but the lawyers that understand social media tend to be older, and they tend to be 45 to 65 years old. I don’t buy into the concept that things aren’t the same as they used to be. They’re exactly how they used to be. So the same way that lawyers got work before advertising was allowed or before the Internet was allowed is the same way that good lawyers are getting work the way they get it today. So what people should not get caught up in is the medium that is used.
The Internet, all it is is a communications tool. It’s all it ever was. So when you come to the Internet, you network through the Internet. That’s all it is. So those lawyers that understand that you get good work by being a good lawyer. This is not about developing some brand and getting known and getting seen on search. That’s fictitious, because anybody can do that sort of thing. The Yellow Pages where filled with lawyers that didn’t know anything, that damaged people’s cases and people didn’t know any better. But the good lawyers didn’t get work that way. Good lawyers won that work because they were damn good at what they did, OK? And they got good by networking with people for professional development. So one thing that people lose sight of the fact is that you network to get good at what you do. The Internet allows us to do that in a transparent type of way.
So if I want to evaluate a good lawyer, the most important thing I search on is not what they do and where they’re located, the most important thing I search on is their name. If I find a lawyer that’s doing sophisticated multi-national litigation issues, is being referenced by other people, is being cited by reporters, is being invited to speak at a particular association, because they went out and networked with certain people, that’s impressive to me. I know they’re staying up to speed. I know they’re looked at as a thought leader. That’s influential to me in the decision-making process.
So that lawyer’s not only getting good at what they do–by networking with more people, developing a network that allows them to grow, to learn from–but also is leveraging that network in ways to get work. Because you build relationships with people, and that’s what the Internet is all about.
So if you went to any law firm, you went to the managing partner or you went to an individual very successful solo practitioner. You say, “What’s the most important thing in getting work?” they’ll say, “Relationships with people,” OK? You don’t build relationships by getting found at Google, you don’t build relationships by kicking out email newsletters. You build relationships by engaging with people. Listening to what they have to say.
So what the Internet is just about is a way to further network. It’s a way to engage. It’s a way to listen. It’s a way to build trust with people, and that really works. So whether it’s a solo practitioner in Des Moines that’s doing family law, or whether it is a lawyer that is working in business dissolution issues for $200 million or $500 million deals in Manhattan, they’re using Internet the same way, and it’s to network and build relationships with people.
Now, blogs are one component of it. There’s other ways to do it, but the interesting thing is that when you do talk to the leading lawyers, the managing partners, the solo practitioners that have the most at stake, they get the Internet very quickly. When somebody is talking about relationships, communication,listening, engaging, offering value, giving of yourself first before you would ever ask somebody to do something for you. Now, what’s the percentage of lawyers that get that? Small. It may only be 10 percent of the lawyers, and that’s OK, because people associate with law firms if they aren’t a rainmaker because there’s other people to bring in work. They’re going to funnel it off and you’re only going to have a certain number that are going to be able to do that. But the opportunities to do it today are so much dramatically improved as far as who you can compete with.
ABA Journal: Well, it kind of…
Zeughauser: Can I just respond? Every Am Law 200 law firm has a profile on LinkedIn. Thirty one of the Am Law 100 law firms have fan pages on Facebook. Seventy six of the Am Law 100 have a presence on Twitter. I personally just don’t think that there’s any way that lawyers and law firms can expect to get business any further in the future without having a presence on the Internet. I agree it’s about building relationships, but it’s also, how do people find you? People find expertise they need on the Internet, and it’s not just about relationships, although I think it’s a lot about relationships. But increasingly it is about expertise, and it’s about breadth and depth. It’s known status in a given area. So I think it’s a much more complicated equation than it used to be. And I personally think that the Internet is more than about networking. It’s about how do people find you?
O’Keefe: You go where the people are, though. That’s networking. So when you go to the Internet, you identify where you want to be. The fact that the Am Law firms have Facebook pages, I’ll bet my house that 98 percent of them are a joke. They don’t know what they are doing. They build something and they expect people to come. You got law firms that build iPhone apps. People write about them and they’re embarrassing to the firm because they’re not providing any value to anybody. They’re looking at the Internet as the ability to get found. The problem is when they get found, they look stupid. So to me, you want to look at the Internet as the way you’ve always gotten work. Just use it that way. Facebook is an opportunity to build relationships by being able to highlight maybe success stories of your clients. Maybe you want to share experiences your firm had about contributing to a non-profit or how many people are involved in coaching little league or soccer, because it’s not about you. There’s so many of those people that want to build things about them.
LinkedIn, sure you use it to have that presence, but the power of running a group at LinkedIn so you’re providing value to groups of people and then networking with those people. Otherwise, we’re going to look at the Internet as a giant billboard for exposure. The problem with looking at the Internet as just exposure is we’re going to look at everything as a pipe. We’re going to look at Twitter as a pipe to get seen. Firms embarrass themselves with just sharing information of themselves. We look at iPhone apps as a way to get seen, they embarrass themselves. They use Facebook pages as a way to get seen, they embarrass themselves. It seems to me in those cases, the larger firms, a lot of them don’t really have a clue what they’re doing. They’ve just got a lot of money, so they go out and embarrass themselves. Guys like Stephen works with, that have the most at stake, probably do some of the better stuff. Because if they’re wrong, they’re not going to feed their family.
Kaplowitz: I want to add something. It’s Karen speaking. I want to add something about the importance of teaming as it relates to social media. We’re focused in this conversation on more seasoned lawyers, and for some of them, some of these tools are going to be somewhat intimidating. It’s a perfect situation in which to team with lawyers in their firms who are more comfortable with some social media. So the more senior lawyer, the more seasoned lawyer will find more junior lawyers in the firm who are completely comfortable with Facebook and Twitter and use them in their own lives in a very routine way and can help the more seasoned lawyer embrace those social media for their business development purposes. I agree with the notion that some of these social media need to be used in very conventional, familiar ways.
So for example, we talked about LinkedIn. Well, one of the great applications of LinkedIn is finding out who the clients and the people who think highly of you as a lawyer, who else they know so that you can find out that the people who are your fans already have a network themselves that you might want to get access to. You can approach them in the same way you would if you weren’t online in that social media and ask them for an introduction to the people in their network. We have new tools that expand some of the capability of things that we’ve done very traditionally in a business development context.
ABA Journal: I do have one more question for any of you. What it sounds like I’m hearing is that you don’t necessarily need to have a blog as a lawyer. Or you don’t need to be creating things to be put out there. It’s more you need to be listening and taking it in and being open. Is that right, Kevin? Because I think a lot of people they feel like, “Oh, I need a blog. I need a blog to market myself.”
O’Keefe: No, I mean you don’t begin with “I need a blog.” You need to sit back and say, “What am I trying to do? Who do I want to represent on what type of matters?” And then, “How do I frame that target audience and begin to listen to them?” If you decide a blog is a way to provide your commentary and to network and engage with people and if that fits into your strategy, then you take a look at it. But it’s just like anything else. I mean, you don’t say, “Because some partners have joined the golf course and they’ve done a tremendous job at networking and bringing in work, I’ve got to make sure I’m decent at golf and take golf lessons.”
It’s just different things for different people. What the blog has done for certain people, or at least what I hear from people, is that they’re looking for that home base so that as things wax and wane over the years, we know that these things will continue to exist, the way we network as people and build relationships, we just don’t know what it will all be called five and six years from now. So if something wanes in popularity, will we still have our home base? Will we still provide insight and commentary? The other thing a blog does is, you know we…the traditional news media are still very, very important, but you’re in the media now. As a lawyer, and especially in large firms, you have the intellectual capital there. You have to provide insight and commentary on things, because that’s more effective than pitching a story and getting quoted in a publication. So it is what works for you, I guess.
Fairley: If I could chime in here for a moment?
ABA Journal: Sure.
Fairley: I think a slightly bigger picture is this–to me, it’s about managing your online reputation. It’s about owning your name. It’s about knowing what people are saying about you and being able to manage that reputation online. We all know that when it comes to hiring an attorney, credibility is key. If you lack credibility, it doesn’t matter about your competency because people will never come in the front door. They’ll never pick up the phone to make that initial call.
I remember when I was speaking with a prospective of mine, not a client, but I was talking to him on the phone. I told him, I said, we were talking about this whole idea of managing your online reputation and I said, “Go to Google and type in my name.” And you’ve got to spell it right, it’s spelled a little odd, but if you spell my name right, it comes up, at that time, on over half a million different sites that use my name. He said, “Oh my goodness. How in the world did you do that?” I said, “Well, we’ll get into that in a minute.” But you’ve got to hear this, that was not a mistake. That was a marketing strategy. I own my name, and trust me, it’s not someone else with the same name, because my staff has gone through the first 30 or 40 pages and pretty much 100 percent of it, it’s me.”
Then I said, “Type in your own name.” And he typed in his own name, I could hear his keyboard clicking over the phone, and all of a sudden he started cussing at me over the phone. I was like, “What in the world’s going on here?” I was sitting at my desk, I typed in his name. And he had an unusual name. It wasn’t like John Smith or something like that. It was a fairly atypical name. Swear to God, absolutely true, first one that came up for his name on Google, convicted child sex offender. Now he said it wasn’t him and I believe him, but he said, “Well, that could be part of the reason why I’m not getting any business on the Internet.” He hadn’t even bothered to Google himself. He hadn’t bothered to manage his own name.
I had another client that his secretary told me that they had just gotten a call from this other person who was looking to hire them and they went online and they typed in his name, and he also had an atypical name, and the very first that came up was Yelp, and he had not one, but two negative reviews on Yelp. And I was like, I didn’t know Yelp reviewed attorneys. I didn’t know it actually started rating attorneys and service providers quite a while ago, and they have a very powerful online reputation.
So you’ve got all of these websites. Avvo’s another one. I’ve had a number of attorneys that have come and said, “I’ve got a black mark on my Avvo profile. How do I get rid of it?” You can’t.
ABA Journal: It sounds like you’re saying lawyers need to be more aware of what’s out there online.
Fairley: No, not just aware. I think you need to take an active role in managing it. Now the question is, how do you do that? So there are different tools. We’ve talked about social media, we’ve talked about blogs, we’ve talked about your website. All of those are just tools that allow you to build and manage your online reputation.
ABA Journal: Right. Another thing that comes up a lot, especially for the sole practitioners in small firms, is they say niche practices are a good way to go. And I’m curious, for someone who’s been a service partner over the years, who maybe didn’t have a book of business, but was very good in the area of law that he or she did. Karen, are you seeing these service partners successfully make themselves into someone with a niche practice?
Kaplowitz: Absolutely. Well, service partners either remake themselves or will be forced out of their law firms. In my opinion, they’re becoming more and more redundant. So for a service partner, you’re right that they often already have a niche. They have industry specialization. They have practice-area specialization. They have particular clients with whom they have great knowledge of the organization, and those are all niches that have great value.
So my advice to the service partner who is faced with a great deal of pressure from their law firm to either produce business or start planning an early retirement is to not get desperate, but to be proactive in thinking through what their value proposition is and having a strategy to build on that value. That often involves expanding from their niche, from their industry expertise, from their client base and from the particular practice from within their firm in which they may be leaders.
ABA Journal: Peter, do you have thoughts on that?
Zeughauser: Well, I agree with everything that Karen said. I think that all of it makes sense. I think service partners can develop niches. I also think that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and for people who are 20-years plus along in their career to think that, who have not been able to develop business so far at that point in their career. Personally, I think it’s very difficult to learn those skills in any stage in your career and especially the older you get.
Kaplowitz: Well, can I respond to Peter? You know, I think for many service partners, they don’t have to learn new skills. They have to understand that they’ve already been doing a lot of the things that they need to do, but they haven’t necessarily been particularly self-protective or aggressive in staking out their own value in their firms. So they may, for example, have to be less differential to some rainmakers and start asserting themselves a bit more, with respect to sharing of origination credit. Because they will no longer be able to have a job if they don’t do that. So it’s not just that they have to learn some new skills. They have to understand that they’ve been part of a rainmaking organization. They haven’t necessarily raised their hands and insisted on some credit for themselves in their firms and now they need to.
Woldow: I agree with that. One of the things that I see for the people that I coach in this space, whether they’re service partners moving to rainmaker, or they’re government lawyers moving into high-profile roles in a firm, is that they really have to be, as you said, understand their value. They also need to be able to articulate it to people, to their networks and to their clients and they frequently have never had to do that. They have never had to say what it is that I do that adds value to the client. If you ask them, they’ll say, “Well, I’ve done this and I’ve done that and I’ve done the other.” But they haven’t put together what is the value proposition for this type of specialization or expertise and experience that I have and it becomes important for them to be able to articulate it, because can’t just transform and magically become rainmakers until they can start to understand their value and be able to put it into a message.
The other thing, and I think that you sort of alluded to this Karen, is that there has to be a strategy, and I think they need an actual plan. You need a plan to build your network and to do business development and to bring it into your everyday schedule, because for people who have not done it before who have seen rainmakers in their firm, they think that it’s sort of magical that you go schmooze and then you get business. The fact is, it doesn’t work like that. It takes time, it takes a lot of contacts and touches, and continuing to nourish relationships. I always compared it to the drip irrigation. You can’t water a plant once and expect it to live. You have to keep giving it water, and you have to give it water over time, not just once every month. So you have to do that. You have to feed relationships and be able to demonstrate and talk about the value and get into the client’s mindset.
A lot of service partners have always focused pretty much on what they do for the client, but not where the client’s heads and needs and priorities are. So if they can sort of eliminate that magical thinking, and really begin to see themselves and articulate themselves as something else, that is a transformational point.
Kaplowitz: To get back to Peter’s point earlier about the importance to clients about teams. That’s another area in which a service partner has some opportunity in this climate to the extent that the clients are looking for viable teams, not for the prima donna, not for the person who’s not sharing credit with other people on a team. That creates an opportunity, an opening, for the person who viewed themselves in the past as just a service partner, to be more assertive on their own account. Because there’s a trend, and Peter perhaps can talk about that. I’d also be interested to hear more of what Peter has to say as one of the very first pioneers on alternative billing, going back what, 20 years Peter, or 25 years?
ABA Journal: What do you think, Peter?
Zeughauser: Well, I personally think that law firms operate on the tournament theory. Lawyers who join big law firms, I’m not speaking to small law firms now. I don’t really work in that market and I don’t know it as well. But among larger firms, Am Law 200 firms, firms that are 60, 70, 80, 100 lawyers and more, it’s a tournament theory and there’s a winner in the tournament. That winner’s a partner and then there are the more successful partners. And any lawyer who has operated in that environment for 20 or 30 years and has not yet figured out what their value proposition is, how to articulate it to their partners and the outside world in a way that gets business, in a way that distinguishes them favorably in the minds of clients they would like to get work from, I think is unlikely to get a wake up call at 30 years out.
Woldow: Well, it’s interesting that you say that, Peter, because I work all the time on the behalf on general counsel, selecting firms for big ticket litigation or M&A matters, and that means I’m dealing most of the time with ALM 100 law firms. It’s kind of interesting, because I would tell you that I see every single day, of every single week, big firm lawyers that cannot articulate their value proposition.
Zeughauser: So that’s why increasingly work is consolidating among a smaller number of firms.
Woldow: I agree with that.
ABA Journal: We discussed how, for these service partners, sometimes they have a hard time articulating what they’re worth. In addition to articulating what they’re worth and what they do, how do they identify their target audience and use it to build relationships?
O’Keefe: It’s not that hard. You make a list and you say, “Who are my clients? Who are my perspective client? Who are my referral sources? Those are three.
And then who are the implementers? And then to recognize that in this society, 98 percent of people are influenced by 2 percent. So when you come to the Internet, it doesn’t matter whether your clients ever read a blog or they follow Twitter or they use Facebook or they use LinkedIn. It just doesn’t matter at all. Because if you’re abusing those tools to engage influencers, if you’re representing the pharmaceutical industry and you do IP issues on a particular type of drug or process, you know there are certain associations which those companies are members of. Well, do you know the executive director? Do you know the conference coordinators? Do you know the publisher of their magazine? So you put them into Google News and into Google blog search and into Twitter and listen to their names. You don’t just drop a note and say, “Hey, I saw that you were written about in some place.” You write a blog post about a concept they may have been talking about, citing them. They’re in a company where they’re listening for their names. They’re going to be told they were talked about. If you want to subtly say, “Keep up the good work,” you drop them a note. You do it that way. So it’s not very hard.
Somebody cited the power of using LinkedIn. It’s so basic. Just going in there and putting in the title of the person. If it’s in-house counsel for a particular industry, a pretty good type of product, go in and do the advanced search and say, I’m in Philly. I want to know everyone with that title in 150 miles of my address. Well, listen to them. You go in and listen to their names. This is not complicated stuff. It’s very intuitive to people that have always done that. By engaging them, referencing them, you’ll get seen.
With clients and perspective clients, you want to tighten up your relationships. You want to have a more intimate relationship with existing clients so that they feel good about continuing to use you and come back for a certain type of work and then maybe other works and they’ve mentioned your name to other people. The way that you do that is you listen to the questions that they raise. You jot them down. You talk about the issues in a conversational type of way. You got a call from somebody in Trenton, a consultant that was working with an engineer down there on this particular type of medical device. You haven’t identified who they are, you haven’t breached any confidentiality. You talk about what you talked about, and it’s a 20-minute blog post. What happens then is people who are also engineers or VCs that are funding that area that you represent, they’re feeling good about the fact that other people are calling you as an authority. You’re building relationships, you’re sharing information. People do searches, you know you’ve got good information that’s up on that.
You’re developing relationships with people, but you make that list. And when you blog, the most important thing is not producing content, the most important thing is listening. It’s just like it is in any relationship. You don’t go to a cocktail party and shout content at people. You never would do that. It would be impolite. Would everybody remember you? Absolutely they would. If you’ve passed out pieces of paper that had your firm’s logo on it and you said, I don’t have time to talk to you, but I have time to shove this in your face. Would everybody remember you? Absolutely they would.
So think about it from client’s perspective, client’s referral sources. How do I engage them by listening and answering the type of questions that come up, just jot them down. And with the influencers, be listening to who they are. Then also listen to the subjects that they talk about, because if you listen to the subjects that they talk about, Google blog search, Google News, and Twitter, you’ll see the major influencers. As you reference the things they’re talking about or you reference them by name, they see you and that’s how you build relationships.
ABA Journal: Stephen, do you have something to add to that?
Fairley: Certainly. You know, it sounds really easy, like a softball question, “Who’s your target market?” I got to tell you, I have asked hundreds of attorneys, face to face, kneecap to kneecap, “Who’s your target market?” And I get the deer in the headlights look at least 50 to 75 percent of the time. So it’s not as easy as a lot of attorneys think it is, or maybe they just haven’t taken time to actually think through what that means to target a market.
I strongly believe if you don’t know who you’re targeting, who your target market is, nothing else you do will matter when it comes to marketing. You’ve got to know who you’re going after. Why? Well, because, as several of the other panelists have said, it depends. Certainly, different strokes for different folks. Some people like LinkedIn. Some people would never step foot on Facebook in a hundred years. It’s just offensive to them, for whatever reasons. Some people read blogs, some people have never read a blog in their life. So you have to know who your target market is. I think there are several different components into being able to identify who your target market is.
The first one is, if you really are lost, if you have no idea where to start, write down everything that you know about your top 10 clients, or your last 10 clients. The 10 biggest that you’ve got, or the last 10 that you’ve landed. Write down their demographics. If you’re business-to-business, focus on things like, what’s the average size of their revenues? What industry or profession are they in? Who are you dealing with? The general counsel or the VP or the CEO?
How many employees do they have in their company? Write down some of the demographic information. If you are more focused on consumer, business-to-consumer, you can write down things like where are they located geographically? Are they male or female? There are some law firms that target more males than females and vice versa. What ethnicity are there? What’s their socio-economic status? What kind of industry or profession are they in?
So for example, we have a client who is an estate-planning attorney. But that’s not how he’s built a national reputation. He’s actually built a national reputation as an asset-protection specialist, specifically for doctors and dentists. Well, how many estate-planning attorneys are there out there? Tens of thousands of them, right? But how many specialize in asset protection? Well, that’s a smaller number. But how many focus on asset protection for doctors and dentists? He’s really niched himself in a very unique niche that allows him to build a national reputation. And the result of that? The result of that is he’s been able to build a seven-figure practice while getting the majority of his referrals off of other estate-planning attorneys who don’t want to handle asset protection.
So I think there are four major ways that you can niche your practice. One is focus on a specific service, like labor and employment or estate planning or complex litigation or immigration or personal injury. Then focus on an industry. Can you provide that service to a specific industry? So if you’re doing litigation, maybe you focus on manufacturing or transportation or construction industry. Then a geographic niche, whether it’s your state or a geographic location. And then a specialty market niche, whether it’s the Fortune 500, whether it’s privately held companies, physicians, dentists, white -collar professionals or whoever. So focus on a service niche, an industry niche, a geographic niche and a specialty market niche.
One last thing. Ask yourself, “Who’s not your client?” Who don’t you want as a client? I was talking with a family lawyer recently and I asked her. I said, “So who’s your target market? Who’s your ideal perfect client?” She said, “People who pay me money.” Well, that’s a good place to start, but hopefully you don’t end up there. So make sure you ask yourself, who’s not your ideal target market? Who don’t you want to work with as well.
ABA Journal: Okay. I have a question for all of you. How do you successfully create word-of-mouth marketing? Karen, let’s start with you.
Kaplowitz: Well, we’ve talked about lots of ideas today that relate to word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing depends on the relationships you have with existing clients, existing colleagues that think highly of you. And for the seasoned lawyer in particular, I think it’s critical to concentrate on the people who think highly of them today. So the last question focused on building a target market, a target audience, and where I like to recommend people start is concentrating on understanding with whom they’ve had the best experiences. For whom they have delivered great results. With whom they have good work experiences. Because those are the people from whom they are most likely to get referrals to other clients, introductions to other people, people who will feel comfortable in recommending them.Whether it’s online, in a LinkedIn recommendation or in a person-to-person kind of way. So rather than just generically deciding that a target market and target for word-of-mouth marketing are strangers in a particular industry they’re interested in. I like to help people focus on who they already have had a fabulous relationship with.
ABA Journal: Pam do you have thoughts on that?
Woldow: Sure. One of the things I frequently encounter is that lawyers don’t often ask their clients for a recommendation from a particular counsel. I often ask them why? If you’re giving a good relationship, why don’t you ask for recommendation, even if it’s just a networking recommendation? My general counsel clients, when I ask them why don’t you just give recommendations for lawyers you really like, they say they’ve never asked. I think corporate counsels and general counsels in general would be delighted to give word-of-mouth recommendations to colleagues if asked and signaled. My best recommendation is to ask.
ABA Journal: Kevin?
O’Keefe: It still comes back to the basic things and fundamentals as a lawyer. I was in practice 20 years, I did so many things where I was driven to keep up with the competition, whether it was advertising or what not. but it all came back to word of mouth. That reputation that everyone is talking about, it always comes back to that. It always comes back to having that self awareness of how you look on the Internet, what you’re doing to further enhance that reputation and be willing to get over that fear.
Stephanie, you mentioned how do you overcome fear of getting out there? Some people will never get over that fear. There were always people at networking events that just mingle among themselves. I want to get back to that one thing about the associates being equipped to do the networking, and being good at Facebook. That’s the kind of logic where they’ve been to law school, they’ve been to undergraduate, and they’d go out a couple of nights a week and learned how to drink well. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell them to go to networking functions and drink alcohol, because they kind of suck at building relationships and networking. They haven’t had to appreciate the importance of relationships you build over a lifetime.
Lawyers should realize, the movers and shakers in our society that are growing businesses will be multi-national companies, like Peter said. In China, it will be based on relationships. Who have you established a relationship with in China? Because if you’re not living there, you’re not going to know how to establish relationships in China. If you’re not living there, it isn’t going to come. What are you doing about that? It isn’t going to come by advertising, which 14 percent of people in this country trust. Websites are advertising, Facebook pages are advertising. People don’t trust that.
For lawyers, the biggest thing is it isn’t as complicated as people think. A lot of reasons kids who are unemployed graduating from law school have to go back is that they’ve lost sight of the basics. They’ve only seen this day in age where lawyers advertise. People put up websites to get work. They’ve being misguided, in my opinion. they should be told about how you go out and build a relationship. They need to do free work to get a relationship. it’s all about word of mouth and relationships.
ABA Journal: That’s pretty much everything I have. Thank you all for joining us today, I really appreciate it.
Kaplowitz: Thank you Stephanie for the opportunity.
This ABA Journal Podcast is brought to you by WestlawNext, building on the strengths of Westlaw to bring you the next evolution of legal research. Their most significant innovation in 30 years, it’s a complete research system that gives you confidence you’ve found the most relevant information. And, it elevates productivity with intuitive workflow tools. Learn more at WestlawNext.com.
Last updated July 12 to add the podcast transcript.