Archive for the ‘ business of law ’ Category

Controversial Clients and Social Media: Game Changer?

Photo credit: “The Controversial Topics of Wikipedia” on Wired.com

An interesting headline caught my eye this week via Forbes: “Disgusting!,” Cry Legal Experts: Is This The Lowest A Top U.S. Law Firm Has Ever Stoop (ht Above the Law).

Quick history lesson: During WWII the Japanese (allegedly) kidnapped (mostly) Korean women and forced them to be “comfort women” (prostitutes).

The case in question involves a U.S. law firm taking on a controversial action surrounding this issue:

Would any self-respecting U.S. law firm represent a client who suggested the Jews deserved the Holocaust? Probably not. As a matter of honor, most law firms would run a mile, and even the least honorable would conclude that the damage to their reputation wasn’t worth it.

Where imperial Japan’s atrocities are concerned, however, at least one top U.S. law firm hasn’t been so choosy. In what is surely one of the most controversial civil suits ever filed in the United States, the Los Angeles office of Chicago-based Mayer Brown is trying to prove that the so-called comfort women – the sex slaves used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II – were no more than common prostitutes.

Not exactly the way I’d like a story on my firm, in Forbes, to begin.

So why am I writing this post?

Call it what you will — a game changer, jumping the shark, yellow journalism, link bait — but something has shifted in the land of corporate communications and management with the advancement of social media.

While law firms like to hold themselves out to be above the fray (we’re a “profession” after all), truth is, we bleed green just like any other business and are susceptible to outside influences.

Earlier this month, the co-founder and CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign due to a relatively small political contribution he personally made to a now unpopular California state proposition.

Prior to the contribution being revealed — several years after the fact — there was no indication that his contribution ever impacted the running of the business, or the management of the employees.

But his personal position is now incredibly unpopular and political forces used social media to put pressure on the company once the contribution was unburied, and he resigned.

Then I saw the Forbes headline this week. And read the comments. And started a discussion. And listened to the debate. And I have one question that cannot be answered … yet:

What does this mean for law firms that take on unpopular or controversial clients or causes?

Prior to social media, would the corporate clients of any AmLaw 100 firm know if their firm or attorney was representing (insert unpopular cause or person)? For those of us in legal marketing and PR we know how difficult it is to get the New York Times, or any publication other than from the legal industry, to include the name of your firm in a story.

Law firms were, for the most part, immune from the general public’s gaze.

Now, with a Google search, particularly through Google Scholar, you can easily identify the law firm and the lawyer involved in most every notorious case or cause.

A quick blog post, a few links on Twitter, perhaps a Change.org petition, perhaps a HuffPost cover, and game on.

We are seeing the pressure being placed on businesses, political causes, and whether or not a kid gets an experimental (and potentially life-saving) medical treatment.

Bubba Watson found out that the food police didn’t like his Waffle House visit after winning The Masters (guess he should have gone to Disney World). Luckily, enough people have enjoyed a late night feast at WH and the feigned controversy lost wind quickly. But not everyone gets off that easily.

I’m thinking about Sea World and Blackfish, and the inability to have a conversation or a debate on the issue. Sea World does have a paid ad — Truth About Blackfish — at the top of any search for Blackfish, but I’m not going there on social media or anywhere else.

Seriously. Right now, there is no other side to the debate. You are against Sea World. Period. I am ready to go through my Facebook photos and delete every picture I have of my family and Girl Scout troop at Sea World dating back eight years ago.

And forget making a political contribution. I’m done. Who knows what will come back to haunt me when?

I thought it was bad enough having worked for Handgun Control, Inc. in the ’90s. I actually updated my resume with the newer name, The Brady Campaign, to soften the controversy. But I assure you, in almost every job interview I have had it has come up in conversation, and not always in a positive way.

Why would any of us think that this type of social media pressure will not impact law firms and lawyers?

While every accused criminal is entitled to a defense by our constitution, no law firm is under any requirement to represent an individual or corporation in a civil matter.

Will lawyers second guess taking on a client, even if they believe in the case, or just want the money? Will the law firm jettison the offending lawyer and client to appease the Twitterverse? Not like it hasn’t happened before in our above-the-fray world.

Let’s not forget that not every client, cause, or position is controversial when engaged. Not every opinion or stance is forever. While it was very unpopular, at the time, to take on the board of education in Brown v. Board of Education, times and attitudes changed and those spat upon are now hailed, and vice versa.

I don’t know the Mozilla CEO. I don’t know the lawyers at Mayer Brown. I do know that in a “free” country the idea that we have to hide our affiliations, beliefs, or clients lest we are monetarily attacked for supporting a bad or unpopular position is a dangerous path to walk.

Yes. There have always been economic boycotts, but this is different. It is the absolute shutting down of speech with the only resolve being the closing of a business or the black balling of a person. And while not a First Amendment issue, it is a worrisome one to me.

So what’s the answer here? What does this mean for law firms that take on unpopular or controversial clients or causes?

I don’t know the answer. This is another one of those “It will be interesting to see where we’re at in five years” situations.

Trends in Media/Pr for Law Firms: What’s Valuable and Effective Today

Denise NixThank you to guest blogger Denise Nix, Marketing and Business Development Manager at Glaser Weil, for providing her insights into “Trends in Media/Pr for Law Firms: What’s Valuable and Effective Today” from the recent Legal Marketing Association annual conference.”


Really the only LMA session this year to focus exclusively on the PR side of marketing, the panel broke down the topics into The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Future.

Panelists:

Moderator:

THE GOOD – sharing good news (new hires, successful outcomes, office moves, etc.)

  • “Content is queen” because it is used to create relationships and connections, and build awareness. Scoring (measuring and weighing reach of content and what it leads to in terms of hires, matters and other opportunities – or engagement) is key. Engagement is what we create from that content. (Eleanor)
  • All firms should have media policies, written and circulated to all staff and attorneys regularly. (Kathy) Make them a part of the staff handbook. (Paul)
  • PR can be used to influence litigation (Eleanor) or create the right visuals on the courthouse steps (Lisa). Attorneys are being, and should be, proactive in how they write court documents on cases that are, or might, be followed by the media. While the attorney may not be able to comment on the case, key message points in the filing intro will get the point into the press. (Kathy)

THE BAD – handling bad news about the firm or its client

  • Have a crisis communications plan in place (Jaffe has downloadable templates on its website. ) Identify a spokesperson and practice the key message points with him or her. Keep internal staff informed – a well-written memo with your key messages is a good strategy, especially if there is a chance it may be leaked. (Kathy)
  • “Killing” a story is difficult, but can happen. Get partners involved if need-be (Lisa) or ask for a delay to at least get your message together (Kathy).

THE UGLY – surveys, directories and submissions

  • The audience groaned at this topic, but a few indicated they have received business from these.
  • Think about how to use the content in a new way once the information is published.
  • Use the information gathering step to really mine the attorneys for information about themselves and their practices to be re-purposed for other uses. Turn it into “marketing gold.” (Kathy)
  • Be strategic when dealing with the politics of who is being submitted and who is not (Susan). Be transparent with the reasons why and use as incentive for work/communication in the future (Paul).

THE FUTURE – social media

  • “Social media is the megaphone” for your content. (Kathy)
  • Social media is like winning the PR lottery – use these platforms to drive traffic to blogs, website, etc. (Eleanor)

Personally yours, from the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference

It’s Monday afternoon and I have finally cleared my e-mail, spoke to a partner, posted a session recap/guest blog post (with three more in the que), and realize I have not personally provided any major content about the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual conference last week, except for my Twitter feed. Looks like I’m skipping the gym today.

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First of all, the LMA annual conference is exactly what Tim Corcoran, our president, described in his opening remarks: part educational & networking conference, part family reunion, part high school reunion. And we all know who the crazy uncle is.

There are so many layers to the LMA annual conference, that when I look at the conference from each individual pair of eyes, I find that it only tells one side of the story.

Family reunion: It was wonderful to see so many of my former colleagues from across my career in legal marketing. Kevin McMurdo from Perkins Coie, Ellen Musante and Corey Garver from my Pillsbury days. Not to mention all the current and former committee and task force members I have worked with throughout the years at both the local and international levels.

High School reunion: Some of my closest and dearest friends I have met through LMA. While we are in constant contact via Facebook, getting to see one another live is beyond measure. We have actually started to form an “after prom” event so we can focus on our business and networking while at the conference, knowing we’ll have our personal social time once the conference ends.

Scenes from an LMA Conference

Education & networking: Really, there is no better place in the industry for marketing professionals to gather. We are a strange breed, and only in LMA are “competitors” so open and willing to share, help one another as we traverse this road, mentor one another, and on board new legal marketers.

One of my favorite slides, ever, from Matt Homann

One of my favorite slides, ever, from Matt Homann

This year I found the two most powerful sessions, for me, to be the first and the last I attended.

Continue reading

When Firm Culture Gets In the Way of Firm Success: How to Overcome the Stumbling Blocks

Denise NixThank you to guest blogger Denise Nix, Marketing and Business Development Manager at Glaser Weil, for providing her insights into “When Firm Culture Gets In the Way of Firm Success: How to Overcome the Stumbling Blocks” from the recent Legal Marketing Association annual conference.”


Realizing that no marketing or business development strategy will work in a culture that isn’t ready for it, moderator David Ackert led the panelists and audience in an interactive discussion on firm cultures. David defined organizational culture as the behavior of humans in the organization and the meanings they attach to their actions.

A poll of the audience showed that most marketing/BD professionals in attendance rate their firms’ cultures as somewhere between “meh” and “toxic.” The panelists agreed there are ways these professionals can improve their firms’ cultures.

LMA Culture Panel

l to r: Maureen Flanagan, Joe Calve, Jay Wager, Liz Cerasuolo, David Ackert. Photo courtesy of Denise Nix.

Liz Cerasuolo, director of communications at Fish & Richardson, said culture will change organically with new people, clients and practices. But real change starts with the firm’s leadership. She advised to be a “catalyst” to start change . Start small, develop strategic alliances and share ownership of successes, she added.

Joe Calve, the chief marketing officer at Morrison & Foerster, said storytelling and language are powerful tools for change. As an example, he noted how changing the word from firm “management” to “leadership” creates a different feeling – and, thus, a different culture. He said he also evoked change by sharing the firm’s stories internally to create a culture of pride in, and knowledge about, the firm.

Maureen Flanagan, senior business development manager at Day Pitney, said to attach yourself to the young and current leaders of the firm. Make sure their initiatives are executed and followed up on. By aligning yourself with the leaders, she explained, you’re in position to create change.

Jay T. Wager, director of business development at Edwards Wildman Palmer, said culture change can begin with the firm’s mission statement. To change it, he shopped options around to small groups within the firm. He received honest feedback and buy-in with this strategy. But before you begin to make change, he said you should take stock of what the current culture is – only going forward after knowing what it is – and what it’s not.

Session Recap: Generational Marketing (video)

Thanks to the folks at Spark Media Solutions for doing a great round of post-session interviews after our presentation, Generational Marketing: Strategies and tactics for engagement with Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.They really picked up on the main themes of our session, and provides a great recap of our session.

Jonathan Fitzgarrald and I appreciate the feedback we received, and look forward to presenting next week in Orlando at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference.

Harvard’s Disruptive Innovation Conference Videos

I love disrupting things. From a recent assessment I did for a leadership program (I’ll blog on that soon), my natural traits include having a very high tolerance to conflict, which they defined as challenging the status quo.

So I was incredibly excited to hear about Harvard Law School’s Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services conference.

Sadly, I could not attend live, in person or as it streamed.

I can, however, watch the four videos at my leisure, and you can as well.

Panel 1: The Nature of Disruptive Innovation in Professional Services

Panel 2: The Role of Regulation

Continue reading

Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe – The Indictment

20140306-120932.jpg Well, the fall out from the Dewey implosion and bankruptcy has take a new turn with a 62-page indictment of senior partners and staff members, including a conspiracy charge worthy of John Grisham (ht Kathleen Pearson for that line).

Attached is the indictment. Will take more than just a cup of coffee to read through this.

ETA: sorry. Blogging from iPad and posted too fast. Trying to load. Stay tuned.

Here’s the link to the indictment:

http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/20140306deweyindictment.pdf

Mad Men and Law Firms: We Need a Pete

question markFor quite a while now I keep telling attorneys in my firm that we need a Pete.

For those of you who do not watch Mad Men, Pete Campbell is the head of accounts and a partner at Sterling, Cooper, Draper and the other guy.

His job is to go out, find the business, wine and dine (and throw in a whore house or two) the clients. He is not an ad man. He’s a BD (business development) guy. Client services professional.

And his role to the firm is key in their success:

  1. He finds the client.
  2. He is a bridge between the client and the creative team.
  3. He keeps the client happy and coming back for more.

Once Pete interests a client in the firm, he then introduces them to Don Draper, one of the agency’s partners and senior creative directors. Don then starts to get the potential client interested in the pizazz of what an advertising campaign run by him would look like.

Once they get the green light to prepare a formal pitch, Don then brings his team together. Peggy, the head copy writer, and on her way to becoming a partner, along with the media buyers, art directors, and junior copywriters. They then work together to pull the pitch together and present to the client.

We need a Pete

Advertising Agency – New Business Flow Chart

Nothing about this flow chart is unique. Accounting and other professional services businesses are run this way. They all have a Pete.

Law firms? For the most part, we don’t have a Pete. And our flow charts for new business doesn’t look like their process at all. Continue reading

Why the generational shift in leadership is impacting the legal industry

Last month came the news that another law firm is closing its doors. This time north of the 49th parallel.

One of Canada’s largest firms seemingly collapsed overnight. But, like most law firm failures, the collapse was a long time coming.

Canada’s online legal magazine, SLAW, sums it up well in this post, Requiem for Heenan Blakie:

Heenan Blaikie died from a combination of greed, poor management and failed leadership wrapped together in an antiquated business structure ill-suited to “more for less” client demands in a marketplace gradually filling with non-traditional competitors.

As I have said repeatedly, the Canadian legal profession is now entering the most disruptive period of time in its history. It has never faced such strong client demands for value and efficiency. It has never faced competition from non-traditional legal providers.

These are structural changes that never go away; they amplify.

And all of this in an environment of flat legal services demand, over capacity and legal tech entrepreneurs!

Layer in partners who are more loyal to themselves than to the firm and one can see that Heenan Blaikie (like every other law firm in Canada) was a house built on sand, not bedrock.

I fear that many of us can insert “name of American law firm” in place of Heenan Blaikie and tell the same story.

Yes, we’re chatting about this in my circles. What does this mean? Why? What will it take to change law firm culture and business models?

Some argue for the ability of non-lawyers to co-own law firms, thereby giving more control of the actual business function to the true professional business people.

Some argue we need true business development and sales people. Lawyers are not necessarily cut out for this.

Some argue that the services themselves need to be repackaged and sold (think AFAs).

Some argue that the growth through lateral hiring binge is unsustainable and a leading cause of law firm failure.

It’s the compensation plans. No, it’s the commoditization of legal services.

And then there are those lawyers who just want things to go back to the way things were. Institutional clients. None of this business development crap.

There are no single right answers. And there are no single wrong ones here either. These are all contributing factors, leading to a perfect storm that will continue to result in the roller coaster of growth through acquisition, and big law failures, along with a lot of mid-sized failures as well.

I’d like to add another layer to the conversation of change and disruption in the legal industry: There is a generational shift taking place and very few people are talking about it, nor the impact it is having on our sales culture, nor our business culture.

Continue reading

Why YOU need to care about Congress’ push for accrual based accounting for law firms

My daughter asked me a math question the other night. I replied, “I haven’t had to take a math class since Algebra II.”

Okay, that’s kinda a lie. I had to take stats in college to graduate, and was really happy to get through that class with a C.

But, needless to say, I don’t do math. And I certainly do not do accounting (yet).

Photo courtesy of meisdupid on Photobucket

Scrolling through my e-mails and blog feeds this morning and came across A Call to Arms: I by Adam Smith, Esq.:

I fear that most of you may be unaware that Congress is considering a proposal that would have, I believe, have tremendously negative consequences for Law Land, without any scintilla of a principled justification or countervailing benefit other than a cheap shot one-time hit of revenue heroin. Continue reading

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