Archive for the ‘ Clients ’ Category

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.

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

Controversial Clients and Social Media: The Donald Sterling Edition

As an LA Clippers fan, I am disheartened and disgusted by Donald Sterling, his wife, and everyone associated with the franchise who have stood by and co-signed this racist crap.

However, just as his wife is currently being represented by counsel in her attempt to retain her ownership of the team, Donald Sterling deserves the same, controversial or not.

Yet, in our social media warfare world, TMZ is reporting that eight major law firms have rejected his attempts to retain counsel. Donald Sterling is “radioactive.”

Our sources say partners in the firms feel representing Sterling would alienate both their African American clients and corporate clients that are hyper-sensitive to controversy.

One source closely connected with Sterling tells TMZ … it’s especially galling for the Clippers owner, because a number of partners in these firms have called him from time to time asking for favors, including tickets to games.

They are reporting major firms in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which brings to mind several AmLaw 100 firms who are not shy or meek when it comes to their client base.

I am sad to say this, but I told yo so.

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?

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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.

Breaking up is hard to do – Vendor Style

It’s that time of year.

The invoices and renewals are making their way to my inbox.

I’m going over the 2014 budget and looking to see who’s been naughty or nice.

I have to decide who stays and who goes. Who gets voted off my legal marketing island.

My number one request?

Show me the value!

Why should I renew my subscription, whether for a directory listing, or conference sponsorship? Did I get my $2400, $5000, or $10,000 in value?

Three recent and very real scenarios paint the picture for me.

Scenario 1: Annual association membership, including conference sponsorships at additional financial investment. Annual cost: Big Bucks. ROI: Great potential for new relationship building. Speaking opportunities. This group has the right people, but are we meeting them?? It’s definitely valuable, but expensive. Not too sure, but I need answers.

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The GCs have spoken. Are you listening?

I’ve been working on the business side of law for a long time now. I have attended NUMEROUS general counsel panels. I have read study after study. And I have to ask, “Are any of you listening?”

I was at a presentation yesterday with the good folks at Thomson Reuters. They put up a slide of the general counsel’s top concerns. And then they put up a slide of the managing partners top concerns.

I, being me, raised my hand and asked: “What do you have to say about the complete disconnect between what the GCs are concerned about and what’s keeping the MPs up at tnight?”

I think I caught them off guard with that question because the next slides had nothing to do with bridging the gap between the disconnect.

According to a recently released Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey:

Inside – Outside Relationship
When asked to select the service improvements and innovations they would most like to see from their outside counsel, three of the top four CLO responses involved costs and pricing. CLOs’ first choice for change in law firm services was improved budget forecasting, followed by greater cost reduction, more efficient project management and non-hourly based pricing structures.

However, Chief Legal Officers appear to have little hope that law firms will rise to the challenge. For the fifth straight year, the survey asked CLOs to rate how serious law firms are about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value – and for the fifth year, the median rating was a dismal ‘3’ on a scale of 0 (not at all serious) to 10 (doing everything they can).

To balance the picture, CLOs were also asked how much pressure corporations are putting on law firms to change the value proposition. CLOs rated themselves at a median 5 on the scale, as they have for four of the last five years.

After five years of similar responses to this pair of questions, it’s seems pretty clear that Chief Legal Officers have decided to tackle these problems themselves, rather than rely on outside counsel to partner with them on change.

Yet survey after survey of managing partners still show law firms are way too focused and concerned about how to increase rates and billable hours as a strategic goal. Yes, they understand that they are under pressure to increase value to the client, but they don’t want to do so at the expense of their rates and hours.

Tim Corcoran wrote a great piece this week on Big Data: Big Deal or Big Win? I will pay him the highest compliment I can and say that I circulated the post to all my partners with a ‘MUST READ” in the subject header.

Tim breaks down how corporate legal departments and law firms can use their data to make predictive costs to manage projects, and clients.

I’m going to say it again, “Until a law firm places as much emphasis on achieving their clients’ highest goals, we will continue to run around in circles.”

Clients do not want us to not make money or be profitable. They want us to be efficient. They want to know where the hell their money is going. And they want to know that THEIR money is well spent.

They want to know, before they sign on the dotted line, what the project will cost, what the deliverables are, and what they can expect.

Clients do not want surprises.

Law firms want to be profitable. But sometimes they don’t know what that means or how to measure it. Working in a cost-center, I get that. You want to make money, so you often times look to where you can save money, or where the ROI does not directly link back to revenue.

Yes, it costs money to launch a new website. No, I will never be able to link back, with certainty, where we brought in a new client because of a website launch. Just like I cannot tell you how much business or opportunities you have lost out on because you haven’t updated your web bio in 15 years. How many people have clicked on and clicked off because there just wasn’t any content there to read? (Memo to self: send out annual reminder to attorneys to update bios with this year’s wins and accomplishments.)

Times they are a changing.

The habits of the new generation of decision makers is nothing like the prior ones. We all have to adapt to one another. To listen to what the other is saying. Private practice attorneys HAVE to pay attention to what their client are saying and what they want. It is just too easy in this 2.0 world to find someone else who will.

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