Archive for the ‘ business of law ’ Category

First Amendment: Rated E for everyone, even lawyers

In a week where the news has been so bleak, it was heartening to see Stephen Fairley‘s short post, Federal Appeals Court Rules Attorneys Have Right to Publish Praise from Judges pop up in my Feedly today:

A federal appeals court issued a ruling yesterday that attorneys have a First Amendment right to publish ads that quote judges praising them ….

I have to confess, of all the amendments, the First Amendment is my favorite. The freedom it provides us Americans is unique to any other country or culture in our world. I love that the First Amendment, when properly employed, protects the speech I like and ascribe to, and, even more importantly, the speech I do not like and might abhor. How beautiful is that?

Which makes me wonder what the hell these bar associations, run by lawyers, are doing banning free speech? You can’t use the word “expert;” you can’t use client testimonials; you can’t … you can’t … you can’t ….

Yes, I know, private organizations v. the government, but come on … nothing like a bunch of lawyers doing the whole “do as I say, not as I do” routine. It’s getting old and tired.

So thank you, Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And to all the attorneys in the jurisdiction, praise away. Just make sure to properly site it, and link to the decisions.

I’m hiring a law firm. Oy!

In my 20s I received a great piece of dating advice: Don’t answer the door on a first date wearing a wedding dress.

I would say similar advice applies to lawyers: Don’t show up for the first meeting with a potential client carrying a proposal and an engagement letter.

I am in the process of looking for a very specialized law firm to handle a very specialized matter for a specific type of business. I am the new president of my HOA, which is a stock corporation (coop), not a condominium. Our issues are different, as are the legal requirements set by the state, to be reflected in our governing documents.

I thought my email inquiry was clear: “Do you work with Stock Cooperative HOAs? We are looking for a firm to handle the updating and revising of all of our governing documents.

The reply back within hours from the administrative assistant included 1,818 words in the reply (that’s four full pages if you’re wondering), along with two attachments.

Wow. Holy boiler-plate.

I was looking for a yes or no answer and I got a whole crap load of copy-paste gunk, a 21-page proposal misidentifying our type of association as well as our governing documents, along with a 7-page fee agreement and engagement letter “signed” by one of the name partners. However, the did customize our association’s name on the cover of the proposal.

Sadly, my simple question was never really answered: Do you represent businesses like mine? The admin said yes, but their marketing materials don’t lead me to believe that is true.

If we were on a first date I would have been tempted to excuse myself to use the restroom and just keep on going out the back door.

Considering the admin didn’t even got my name right, my first inclination is to pass on the firm, even though they are considered one of the top in the field. That or send the admin an invitation to the next LMA-LA event so she can learn how to properly market her firm.

But I’ll speak with an attorney first before I pass on the firm. Bad legal marketing shouldn’t stand in the way of good legal work. Let’s face it, not everyone can be a legal marketer extraordinaire.

Helpful tip from my introvert friends: Brainwriting

I know my blog posts have slowed down as of late. On behalf of LMA, I’m in in the heart of a leadership training program, The SmithBucklin Leadership Institute, which is taking a lot of my blogging time (and it is well worth it).

I just returned from session four and very quickly want to share one of those “ah-ha” moments before I dig back into my work here at the firm:

Brainwriting v. brainstorming.

We all know what brainstorming is. Great fun. Lots of people shouting. A white board or giant pad of paper and different colored Sharpies to capture ideas and concepts.

As an extrovert I process externally. I think out loud and then sit back and reflect to find my answers. I LOVE to brainstorm.

Introverts are the exact opposite and brainstorming is very overwhelming for them. They need to collect their thoughts before they can process them, and they do that internally.

So here’s the tip: Next time you are in a meeting, rather than brainstorm an idea, have everyone write down their thoughts for 10-15 minutes. This will give the introverts time to process the information and form their ideas, and keep the extroverts from controlling the dialogue, which is the point to brainstorming: Get all the ideas into the pot so that the group can benefit from the richness of the diversity of thoughts.

Just make sure that when the writing time is over you call on the extroverts first. You’ll know who they are; they are the ones about to burst.

This is NOT legal marketing: Findlaw Edition

A recent article on FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites has the Legal Marketers Extraordinaire group on Facebook debating: Is this ethical? Or just disgusting.

In short, Findlaw will “sell” (rent) you a website with pre-written content, which they will then update and attribute to the attorney, in an attempt to game the SEO and boost search results:

And now Eric Zentz owns rents the domain that Kajioka and Bloomfield presumably paid to have FindLaw build and optimize for them – including all of the legacy blog content and . . . links. Yup – despite the fact that Zentz started on the domain just this year, “his” blog posts stretch back well into the first quarter of last year and have the exact same content from the Kajioka era. Explains how he’s been able to rank #1 for a super competitive term in less than 3 months. And not to miss a black hat beat, FindLaw made sure to establish authorship for Eric . . . for pre-existing blog posts written long before he was their client. Note the date below . . .

Is this ethical? Rule 7.1 of the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct’s says:

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer’s or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.

(ht Jaimie Field for the site)

First of all, I would like to stress to the community at large, and especially to our distracters, this is NOT legal marketing.

Our job, as legal marketers, is to bring out the best in the lawyers and firms we represent; to teach them how to identify what differentiates them from the competition, and how to communicate that outside their offices (when we can pry them out of there).

Our jobs are to bring best practices in business, client service, project management, communication, education, and more, to the forefront of an attorney’s legal practice, not to remain hidden away as an afterthought.

Legal marketers are not there to “game” the system, or break the rules of professional ethics and conduct provided by the various bar associations. We have to consistently and diligently blend best business practices with the “profession” of law.

The process outlined in this article does not fulfill any of these objectives, and therefore it is NOT legal marketing. It is a misleading communication, and therefore unethical, per my lawyer colleagues.  And I find it disgusting.

(Slightly edited on 7/24 for clarity, not context)

Big Titles are not the problem at Big Law

imageA momentary pause in my vacation to bring you the latest installment of the showdown in Texas between the “haves” (a JD) and have nots (“non-lawyer” professionals).

In his must-read post, Texas Scold ‘Em, RyanMcClead responds to Chrysta Castañeda‘s article from Texas Law Book entitled Get Wall Street Out of the Practice of Law. (Subscription Required)

From Ms. Castañeda’s article:

Hourly rates have gone up because that is how you increase profits in a law firm, and what the business school graduates who run Big Law know how to do is to measure profits. Increasing profits is how they get paid big bonuses (a potentially unethical practice, according to the opinion).

There is only so much cost-cutting you can do to increase profits, and the hourly rates have to pay for the Big Titles of the ever-increasing non-lawyer management ranks. As a result, every lawyer needs to bill more hours at a higher rate each year for the firm to look profitable in the year-over-year metrics that the non-legal managers live by. They have trained the lawyers to live by them too. Et voila: sky-high billing rates that only the most profitable corporations can afford.

Seriously? The skyrocketing costs of legal services has nothing to do with partner profits and associate salaries? A quick scan of the original AmLaw 50 firms finds partner profits tripling or more (even when adjusted for inflation) at many of the firms. Associate starting salaries go far beyond their skill and knowledge level. But that isn’t the problem either; I’ll save that for another post when I don’t have a dune buggy to pick up for the day.

Let’s just take the easy out and blame the half-dozen “chief” whatevers at the firm. Their salaries are just breaking the bank and driving those $700-$1500 hourly rates.

For those subscribing to Ms. Castañeda’s opinions, my friend and professional services consultant Ben Greenzweig has a question for all of you:

What makes the practice of law so different, so special, so unique that it’s business model must be so fundamentally different than other professions including professional services?

Let me let you in on a little secret: in my role as the senior marketing professional in my firm I do exert influence, and sometimes control, over the BUSINESS of law, but never the PRACTICE of law.

This exertion comes in the form of conversation, guidance, the drafting of letters and RFP responses, coaching, etc. It comes from going over the numbers and making suggestions based on my knowledge, education, and experience. And while I am not obligated under the California Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, I am obligated under my employment contract with my firm to adhere to them nonetheless.

However, as much as I try, I cannot make a lawyer do anything they do not want to do. As a legal consultant once noted to me, “Lawyers pay a lot of money for good business advice they never take.”

Ms. Castañeda, I wish you well in your new career as a consultant to law firms, and look forward to seeing if your opinions have changed now that you have joined our ranks.

Oh, Brother. The Period Space v. Space Space debate. Again.

typewriter r. nial bradshaw

Hello. The ’80s called. They want their electric typewriter back.

As a legal marketer I often times debate with partners over whether or not it’s “period-space” or “period-space-space” in a document. As a writer, I often times debate this with random people in cocktail settings. Working with lawyers, who always want me to site my sources, I am always well prepared. Unfortunately, I don’t always carry my grammar books on me, so I will link my sources here for the inquisitive:

Chicago Manual of Style (online)

The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes. I’ve noticed in old American books printed in the few decades before and after the turn of the last century (ca. 1870–1930 at least) that there seemed to be a trend in publishing to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods. And many people were taught to use that extra space in typing class (I was). But introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability—as your comment suggests, it’s probably just a matter of familiarity (Who knows? perhaps it’s actually more efficient to read with less regard for sentences as individual units of thought—many centuries ago, for example in ancient Greece, there were no spaces even between words, and no punctuation); (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.

So, in our efficient, modern world, I think there is no room for two spaces after a period. In the opinion of this particular copyeditor, this is a good thing.

Wikipedia has a full page dedicated to the topic, and another on language and style guides that references the spacing as well.

AP Stylebook:

Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

Gramamer Girl :

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

And while Strunk and White have remained silent on the topic, you can see that they use the single space in their publication.

To me there really is no debate, but I am happy to compromise nonetheless. In personal correspondence, take your pick, but just be consistent. In any published piece coming out of the marketing department, it’s going to be a single space after a period.

For those of you who are looking for the loophole, here it is: Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history).

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr.

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence. – See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-many-spaces-after-a-period?page=1#sthash.Of5W7jmi.dpuf

Two tips to revolutionize your time and project management

busy-ladyI know I am not alone in always trying to manage my time and projects. Truth be told, I do this better on some days then on others.

When things get out of hand, and my in-box starts to overwhelm me, I know it is time to get back to basics. I need to declutter, toss and delete, file, create action lists, and hopefully find a couple new tools or tips along the way to aid my efforts.

So here are two tips I will be living today as I clean out my in-boxes. Yes, plural: Work. Personal. Girl Scouts. Not to mention all the piles of paper on my desk.

  1. If it takes two minutes or less, do it now.
  2. Begin your project/action items with a verb. (this one is new)

Both tips are courtesy of David Allen, the go-to guru for productivity. I also liked this article today from HBR, How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day.

And for those wondering, I’m still loving the Get it Done app to manage my projects and lists. I just have to do it more.

 

 

Legal marketing lessons from the NBA playoffs

I was reading a debate on the NBA playoffs where the commentators were wondering how an older team could beat the better players? And not just beat them, but crush them.

Very simply stated, the San Antonio Spurs played as a cohesive team, competing with the Miami Heat for the title; while the Miami Heat players competed against one another for the ball.

How often do we see this in the law firm environment?

Lawyers down the hall, or in other offices, competing against one another for work, then wondering why the smaller, less prestigious, or more expensive firm got the business?

How often are client “teams” built based on “protecting” an individual partner’s relationship (origination credit), rather than deepening the client’s relationship within the firm?

Working together as a team across a firm allows a law firm to pool the strengths of the individual attorneys, endure challenges, make it through rough patches, and regroup to try again and do a better job, based on the lessons learned, the next time a similar opportunity arises.

Competing against one another only pits rainmaker against rainmaker, practice against practice, and office against office.

While on paper the firm might be the better firm for the work, have the more experienced partners, and a wider variety of practices to provide better service, but gather them together and the group does not function as a team. In these “best player” firms, there is often a lack of communication, sharing of work, and, worst of all, a lack of trust.

I urge us all to learn the lesson from the older, not as fast or agile players of the San Antonio Spurs, and come together as a team at all times.

However, players alone did not win the 2014 NBA Championship. The strong leadership of Coach Popovich cannot be overlooked nor minimized. Without his leadership we might have another three-peat on our hands.

Without a strong leader, to whom all the players, or, in our place of business, all the “some partners are more equal than other” partners will answer and take direction, we will never achieve true success. We might make it to the final rounds, we might win some great matters, but we won’t have the longevity of a dynasty team … or firm.

Exceptions don’t make the rule. The business model is broken.

2372626568_63f6b8c069_oGreat debate starting to take place in the legal marketing/business of law world.

Is the business model broken?

At the Legal Marketing Association‘s annual conference, I attended a moderated roundtable discussion on Disruptive Legal Trends. While it began as a discussion of the Axioms of the world, the conversation quickly shifted to the business model itself. The summary of that session, along with the Big Data session, can be found in LMA Think Tank Live Summary prepared by Shift Central.

I was in the room when Toby Brown spoke his now immortal words, summarized in his post, The Business Model is Not Broken, and he is right, all eyes in the room “turned and gave me [him] the ‘who farted’ look.”

I must admit, I am one who believes that the model, in general, is broken. And while there are exceptions out there, such as Toby’s firm, Akin Gump, who are leaders in the change management, there are too many firms out there refusing to evolve.

The leverage pyramid of partner to associate is gone. The billable hour is losing popularity and faith. Alternative fees are not discounts at $1 million billed.  And merger to grow (or survive) is not a strategy.

Clients are more and more in tune with cost and price to value propositions, and lawyers, the service provider, need to evolve and meet their clients on their plane (and I am not talking the kind with first class seating to be billed out as a necessary expense).

I have heard attorneys say, when presented with new processes and procedures that will save time, “Don’t they know how I make my money?”

And that’s what’s broken. The profession of law has evolved into the business of law and not all lawyers and law firms have drunk the Kool-aid and evolved.

Firms and attorneys that truly understand the nuance between profession and business will survive. Those that don’t will fade away. Sadly, most of those firms will fade away with little fanfare.

Toby and I are not really at odds. We’re just looking at the same thing, yet our perceptions are skewed by our vantage points. He is at Big Law that is doing it right, while I am at a regional, mid-sized firm that is evolving. The conversations we have with our peers are different, because our peers are different.

Our firms are lucky. They are the exceptions. Their legal professionals are in the middle of the conversations surrounding this evolution, and helping to reshape the cultural and business model within our firms. But what about the rest?

The Patton Boggs and Orricks (are they next???) of the AmLaw 100 world get lots of press as they search for a merger partner, yet annually there are dozens of other firms of local prominence across the country that are acquired by big law with little more than a press release, or fail on their own and quietly close their doors.

As I said in the Think Tank, on the smaller platforms it is hard to hide a failing business model. It is readily apparent what is working and where things are not, and merger as a strategy, in and of itself, will not help a firm to survive. It just puts off the inevitable.

It’s a very interesting conversation and one that will continue.

Photo credit: Amanda Hatfield on Flickr

Memorial Weekend Reading: Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future

Legal Technology Future HorizonJust in case the weather kills your plans to drink, BBQ and surf your way through the holiday weekend, I suggest you download a copy of ILTA‘s new study: Legal Technology Future Horizons, Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future (PDF).

From the (seven page) executive summary:

At the legal industry level, they have highlighted six critical issues:

  • An accelerating pace of technology disruption and diffusion with the associated challenges of learning to manage rapid systems change and embrace the strategic potential of IT
  • Responsiveness to client needs around value, speed, innovation and security
  • Industry level forces such as intensifying competition, changing firm structures, business models, new entrants and a heightened talent agenda
  • The impacts of consumerization, commoditization, automation and the pursuit of optimal firm scale
  • Responsiveness to the opportunity and competitive challenges presented by emerging economies
  • The pursuit of differentiation in the face of continuous change

And while the report was written with the global or large firm in mind, how can any firm, of any size, in any location not take note of the following:

While IT advances are expected to permeate and transform every aspect of law firm activity, four core themes emerge:

The Client Is the Priority

We must focus IT investments on securing and enhancing customer relationships. Strategic priorities must include quality of insight and advice, speed, responsiveness, flexibility, enhancing the capability and efficiency of professional staff and the capacity for innovation. Operationally, client demand is expected to focus on clarity of progress and budget  reporting, providing real-time visibility of legal workflow, improving collaboration, integrating with client systems and building intelligence into systems to add insight and value and reduce the level of human involvement required.

Leverage Lawyers

We must enhance the productivity, strategic insight and impact of lawyers. At the most basic level, they need to perform from anywhere at any time on a range of personal devices that could emerge over time. Next, we must build intelligence into lawyer support to anticipate and provide the content they need when they need it — from analyzing critical information to presenting in court. Artificial Intelligence will play a major role in learning how lawyers work, personalizing the support and gradually automating many of the tasks historically performed by professionals.

Re-Engineer Processes

We must take a process- and project-management approach to all work undertaken. Workflows must be streamlined, broken down to discrete tasks to be allocated to the lowest cost resource that can complete them — a lawyer, outsourced service partner or intelligent system. This will accelerate the commoditization of many tasks and could reshape the legal value chain as more low value tasks are parceled out to external providers. This in turn will drive the firm to focus on developing new, value-adding higher-fee services.

Innovate to Differentiate

As a greater scope and volume of work is automated and the price gets driven down, firms must focus on using IT to generate and support client-focused innovation. This may be the development of new products and services, taking on activities traditionally performed in-house by the client and moving up the value chain into areas such as new product development. For example, as clients enter new markets with technology solutions like driverless cars, these will be highly disruptive and will require new thinking in areas such as risk and liability. Increasingly intelligent products might even have laws embedded; for example, cars could fine us for exceeding the speed limit. Law firms will need to use IT to help develop early warning systems that alert them to the emergence of such new ideas. Leaders will seek to gain a “first mover advantage” by approaching the innovators and becoming involved from the product design stage.

If you are interested in having a conversation on the study, turns out we have some June Gloom headed my way … so feel free to post in the comments below or join us over at the LME. We’re talking 140 pages of good stuff here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,360 other followers

%d bloggers like this: