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Let’s not shoot the (strategically thinking) messenger

Strategic PlanningA way too short, but link-bait worthy titled article, is making its way into the conversation of legal marketers this week about law firms and strategic planning.

In fact, I am certain that Rita McGrath‘s article in the HBR Blog Network, Creative Destruction Visits the Legal Profession, is sure to be a topic of conversation and buzz at this week’s Marketing Partner Forum (follow along on Twitter at #MPF2013), as well it should be.

We’re chatting about it in my Legal Marketers Extraordinaire group on Facebook (A private group I started. PM me via The Legal Watercooler‘s Facebook page if you want to join).

In many ways I have to agree with Ms. McGrath’s initial paragraph:

Some years ago, I had the rather thankless task of directing a program on strategy for law firms. It was thankless in part because about half the participants didn’t think law firms needed a strategy. They figured if you were smart, served your clients well and worked hard that things would be fine, as they historically often have. Just keep billing those hours! The other half might have been open to the idea that law firms needed a strategy, but completely opposed to having anything other than a consensus-built, senior partner-friendly mechanism for making strategic choices, which almost by definition is doomed to fail. Tough decisions such as which clients to serve and which not; which partners are creating value and which are not; and where to focus in terms of practice expertise and geography are nearly impossible to make by committee.

Over the years, I have been in those meetings. I have sat in on those calls. I have worked to build strategic plans, only to see them fully ignored. Or, better yet, fail because those who did not buy-in picked up their toys and went to another sandbox to play.

Here’s my (short) take on Ms. McGrath’s article from our conversation on the LME group:

Of course she had a less-than-receptive audience. And, speaking with my peers, it’s still not the most receptive audience. Definitely getting better. Still room for lots of improvement.

The good new is that the concepts and implementation of true strategy can be found in large, small, regional firms (but not all). It’s no longer the purview of a few “forward thinking” firms.

And, for the firms that do invest the time, energy, money, and emotional capital to prepare a strategic plan, how well it is carried out, and how many barriers are faced, is still open to debate.

So why is this buzz-worthy considering Ms. McGrath’s experience took place “some years ago”?

Because it is still true today in too many firms.

Yes, there are some firms — mega, large, small, regional, boutique — that really get it and are operating at a highly strategic level. But how many of those firms were driven to this change by the recession? How many will willingly slide back into complacency now that things are looking up again?

And not to mention the rest of the firms that either fell apart during the recession, or squeaked their way through it. They continue to operate as usual, even though the world has completely changed.

I believe that one of the reasons that strategy is so hard to implement in a law firm is because of the emotional investment it requires.

We’re not selling widgets or cans of soda. We’re selling services provided by people. Those people are friends and partners. In many firms, these partners grew up together, joining the firms as summer associates 20 some odd years ago. It’s hard to challenge assumptions and make changes when you are that emotionally invested.

Let’s face it. They just don’t teach this shit in law school. They don’t teach that one day you might be the chairman of a multi-billion dollar operation. Hell, even the most modest of firms are multi-million dollar operations.

One of the roadblocks to strategy, I have found, is that at the end of the day, with all the good advice given and shared, we, as legal marketers and outside consultants, are not shareholders or partners. We are not the owners of the business. We are not personal friends.

We can be impartial because we are not emotionally invested in these people. We’re there to do a job.

If they do not take our advice, or seek our counsel, there is nothing we really can do about it. Sure, we have a seat at the table. But how loud is our voice?

I’ve been doing this legal marketing thing for 15 years now. The industry has changed completely in so many ways. But in other ways it really hasn’t changed too much.

We are still relationship driven, but how we create and manage those relationships is different.

Technology and innovations have changed, but they are still supporting the core of what we do: providing a service.

Lawyers are still skeptical. Clients still hire on the theory of know, like, and trust. We’re still herding cats.

And I am still the Pollyanna out there. I believe if we are moving the ball forward, even at a micro pace, we are making progress. And, readers, we are making progress.

Maybe not to the outside world, but in the inner world of legal marketing, we have made leaps and bounds of change. And we still have so much more to accomplish.

I hope that Ms. McGrath’s article continues to be a beacon of conversation. As it is a conversation I know we are having behind closed doors, in the lobbies during industry conferences, on private Facebook message threads and groups, and hopefully around the conference room table in our boardrooms.

Why do some people stay, and some people leave?

Keynote speaker James Kane is here to talk about loyalty. Why do some people stay, and some people leave? But we’re loving his slide deck – it’s all about getting to know him. You can fan him here on Facebook.

Our brains were going crazy during his presentation because we were finding something similar to ourselves in him. We were finding something we liked in him.

Relationships fall into four categories:

  • Antagonistic – I HATE you. I will write, Tweet and share how much I hate you. We have such a need to be social and a part of, that when
  • Transactional – You do something for me, I pay you for it, we’re square. I don’t owe you anything. We think we should be getting love for what we do, but we’re just fulfilling a contract
  • Predisposed – I like you, but I don’t love you. I’m not expecting anything until the game changes and then I need to make a change.
  • Loyal – The strongest relationship. It’s about forgiveness when we make mistakes. It’s about advocacy.

Loyalty is not a brand. It’s not about rewards programs. You cannot bribe someone to love you.

Loyalty is not about stisfaction. Dogs are loyal. Cats are satisfied.

Relationships with our clients is satisfaction. They are transactional. We do something, they pay us, and they are satisfied. They owe us NOTHING.

Satisfaction is a mood.

Loyalty is a behavior.

Satisfaction is the past. What you did for me yesterday.

Loyalty is about the future. What I will do for you tomorrow.

Human beings live in social communities. We learn from one another.

If we’re going to live in communities, I need to know I can trust you.

The process that builds love within the brain, builds loyalty.

Stages of love:

  • Attraction- romantic, can be familiarity. Attraction is contextual – what we know or what we aspire to be. We desire the familiar.
    • In our world this is called marketing. Get them to notice our firm.
    • Our job is to define/figure out what “attractive” means for our clients
  • Passion – Once we make the choice, the two parties define their interests and are willing to overlook everything else the person does to get their end result. We made a choice and we need to defend it. This is the flower, candy and love notes stage.
  • Pair-bonding – This is when the passion might be waining, and wondering why the attraction is not what it used to be. This is where loyalty kicks in. Do you make my life easier? Do you make my life better?

The challenge for us all is: “Do we make their life better?”

Our clients have an abundance of choices. Are they choosing us because they’ve always chosen us? Are they forgetting about the value you have provided in the past? Are they looking for someone else, today, who can provide the value you once provided and still can?

People don’t want a lot of choice, they just want to have control over making that choice.



We walk into every relationship with the expectation of trust. You can then lose trust.

We think we should get great credit for meeting expectations.

Trust is about managing expectations.


We want to feel a part of a bigger community. We want to feel that we have impact. We want to feel that we can change the world. We just don’t have the capacity.

When we can bring a sense of purpose to our firms, and thereby our clients, because we can do nothing without our clients. Don’t take credit for charitable activities. Give the credit to your clinets.


Recognition – Do you know who I am? Do I know the partners in my firm, or just their bios? Why should they feel a sense of loyalty to ME, as their marketer, if I don’t know who they are?

Do you know your clients? Are you taking notes about their needs and want? Use social media to get to know who these clients are? Receptionists should know who is walking in the door. Know something about them. Converse with them with that acknowledgement in mind.

Insight – Next challenge is to be insightful. You need to look beyond the obvious.

Most of us are not looking to save money, we’re looking to MAKE money.

You need to take a step into the back of the room and look around and figure out what is going on. Get that 10,000 ft view of what’s going on with your clients and their challenges.

Proactivity – Having insight takes practice. Being proactive is doing something before someone asks. Doing it when someone asks is just courtesy. Anticipate something I didn’t know I needed, and solve the problem before I knew I had it, and you become invaluable.

Inclusion – Solve my problem, but I need to be part of the process.

WWIC – Why Wasn’t I Consulted?

If you need to roll out a new marketing plan, you need to include others in the process. If not, it’s your plan and they can hate it. Hard to hate something that you helped prepare.

Identity – Do I feel that I know who you are? And do I recognize something in me in you?

You can do this by the things you place in your office, or on your website bio, or through your Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Definitely one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. Guess I’ll have to go and buy the book.

What’s in your in-box?

I don’t know what’s lurking in your e-mail in-box, but, if it’s anything like mine, it’s not an e-mail from a real person. And, if there is one in there, it’s hard to find between the spam, newsletters, weekly LinkedIn group updates, etc.

I keep sending more and more of my blogs and news subscriptions to my Reader, but my in-box continues to overflow with junk.

So, once again, here I am. Unsubscribing. Blocking spammers. Setting up a folder with a rule for all the newsletters to drop directly there. Setting up RSS Feeds where I can.

I’m doing anything and everything I can to declutter that in-box so I can find the important e-mails. You know. The chain e-mails from my mom ;-).

What was the result? Instead of waking up to 30 e-mail newsletters and spam this morning, I woke up to eight new items in my in-box and 10 new items in my “newsletter” folder, which I can read with my coffee when I get into the office.

Of the eight new items in my in-box, a couple of them were actionable, while the rest need a rule to move them into the newsletter folder.

As the days go by, I’ll continue to cull through my in-box, unsubscribing, blocking and setting up rules to ensure that the e-mail I receive in my in-box is the e-mail I actually want to read.

Can someone PLEASE get Kate Middleton an In-n-Out burger?

THAT's what a burger is all about

This post has nothing to do with legal marketing. It has to do with me being a mom, which is part of the holistic person, according to my Twitter profile, that I am: “Legal Marketer. Mom. Girl Scout Leader. Wife to the Sports Dude. 80s Music Chick … Tired.”

This post is about my concerns with body image distortion, and what are we, as parents, going to do and say about it?

In case you hadn’t heard, Will and Kate are in my town this weekend. They drove by our house on Friday. The helicopters flew overhead. They are all over the news.

I posted on my Facebook page a photo of Will and Kate getting off the plane, with this comment:

Seriously. Someone throw a canapé in her mouth. What is that? A 20″ waist??? (beautiful dress, BTW, I might have to check that designer out more – Roksanda Ilincic)

The comment, while flippant, spurned quite a serious discussion. My comments weren’t coming from a place of cattiness, but of concern.

I remember staying up through the night to watch Lady Di and Charles get married. I was all of 14 and eating up the fairytale princess story we were being fed by the media.

I followed her like most 14-year old girls follow a princess. I watched her ups and downs, her battles with anorexia and bulimia, her recovery, and her death.

I can’t help but think we’re watching it all happen again with Will and Kate. Fairytale comes to life. Commoner marries prince. Perfect princess. Fashion icon. And the impressionable 14-year old girls here are eating it up.

I’ve kept the TV off for most of this. I don’t want my girls looking to Kate as an example of where they need to be to be beautiful and “normal.”

Kate Middleton in college via

I will say that the first thing I am doing where body image distortion is concerned is calling it as I see it, and I will challenge any one who says that Kate’s current weight and size are “normal” and “healthy,” especially when compared with photos of her taken just a few short years ago in college where she looks healthy, athletic, perfectly fit and appropriately thin by anyone’s standards.

When someone on my wall, commenting on the current photo, said that “Kate looks just right” and “We are so used to seeing obese women that one her size seems thin,” I had to jump in, “OMG. Kate is not a ‘normal’ size.”

It’s not normal and healthy at 5’10” to be a size zero (which Kate was reported to be on her wedding day). She might be naturally thin, but this is diving well below that marker on the size charts.

It really hit me when I took my then 10-year old daughter to the Gap for the first time to buy some jeans. She’s was a size 0 (and, at 11 is almost a size 2). Perfectly normal for a CHILD who is still growing.

And while a size 0 or 2 might be a healthy size for a short and petite woman, that’s one thing my kids will not be. They are tracking to be as tall, if not taller, than me at 5’8″. Once again, Kate is 5’10”.

But body image distortion just isn’t about the girls.

Men and teen boys are being bombarded by these images in magazines and movies. They too are being fed that these underweight and Photoshopped images are the “ideal” for a woman, that THIS is what is desirable, achievable and normal. In turn, they project this on to the girls around them.

Phillipa Hamilton - Photoshopped vs. Natural

I don’t want my perfectly normal and healthy daughter to be told that she’s too fat, when she’s not. To feel pressure to starve herself to fit a designer’s Photoshopped projection of what is “normal.”

I vow that my daughter’s waist shall and will be bigger than her head, thank you very much.

I spend my days trying to teach my kids about healthy eating, healthy choices, why having some body fat is a good thing. It’s a battle as they are already talking about being too fat and diets, at 8 and 11. So we talk about proportions and balance in what we eat.

I have to keep my mouth zipped when watching what I eat. Like most women, I’d like to lose a few pounds, but I talk about it in regards to healthy food choices, keeping my body in balance, building muscle.

I hope I’m doing a good job. My oldest is off to middle school this Fall, and we’ll find out then, I suppose.

What it comes down to is that I’m just not one of those “stick-your-head-in-the-sand” kind of moms. If I see my girls withering away under stress, I WILL intervene. I will not stand by and say “wow, she’s so beautiful,” while ignoring the bones protruding from her concave chest and pelvis.

So, no, it’s not out of jealousy or bitterness that I say, please, someone, toss a canapé into Kate’s mouth. It’s out of concern that she is walking down a very dangerous path, one I do not wish my daughters, nor yours, to follow.

And, just in case either Will or Kate is hungry before they take off today, there’s an In-n-Out at the entrance to LAX on Sepulveda & Lincoln. I like mine Animal Style.

(edited to move the second paragraph up)

Don’t alienate your built-in audience

I love a good legal drama/dramedy. It’s like summer-time reading for me. Mindless. Entertaining. Unrealistic to a point. But, come on, I’m not watching them to be challenged and to think, but to be entertained.

LA Law

And when these shows are good, they are great (Law & Order, LA Law).

But when the show asks us to completely suspend belief in the legal system itself, I get annoyed and I turn it off.

Law and Order

Considering the millions of people who work directly in the legal industry (lawyers, paralegals, judges, secretaries, accounting, IT, HR, service center, and marketing professionals) or support the legal industry (technology companies, head hunters, sales people, document processors, legal processors, copy services, consultants, web designers, etc), you’d think they’d make the shows just a little, teensy bit realistic these days.

I’m not saying that short-short skirts, co-ed bathrooms and dancing babies are realistic, but the legal principles of Ally McBeal were (for the most part).

Ally McBeal

What I appreciated and enjoyed about these shows was that they give us a glimpse into the alternative, fun version of our daily lives.

Some of the cases on these shows were way out there in la-la land, but the lawyers, for the most part, acted within the confines of the legal ethics and bar rules to be believed. And, when they didn’t, we could suspend our beliefs long enough to make it through the episode entertained.

Franklin and Bash and Suits are two new summer-time shows that are killing me. I want to like them, but I can’t.

Franklin and Bash

Franklin and Bash run around each episode touting how they are breaking the rules of legal ethics and that they don’t care. People, including a partner in the firm, are also running around threatening to report them to the State Bar Association. I just want to scream at the TV, “Do it, already!”


Suits expects us to believe that a a major US law firm would hire an “attorney” without a law degree, let alone a college degree. I want to see what THAT guy’s profile looks like on the firm’s website. And we’re worrying about inadvertently creating an attorney-client privilege via the comments sections in blogs.

I tried watching these shows. Really I did, but I just can’t do it. I can’t sit through a whole episode. I just can’t suspend that much of my knowledge to be entertained by these “legal” shows.

Sure, I can accept the unisex bathroom, associates with incredibly large offices with INCREDIBLE views, and the law firm that is only filled with hot (and incredibly smart) attorneys who seem to have personal lives AND time to go to the gym, but I can’t suspend my beliefs that deep down lawyers abide by the legal ethics of the profession. That they will not speak ex parte with a judge;  illegally research and contact jurors; or knowingly hire, pass off as an attorney, and allow to bill on client cases, a person who has not passed the state bar exam.

I’m not asking for a “realistic” portrayal of law firm life. Come on. For the most part, it’s just like any other job. Deadlines. Long hours. Crappy coffee (just kidding, the coffee in my office is pretty good). Depositions might be exciting and lead to cat fights on TV, but when I pass by the fishbowl conference room it looks like some people are having a hard time staying awake.

When it comes to watching a legal show on TV, I just don’t want to have to call ((cough cough)) “bullshit” ((cough cough) throughout the show, or keep pausing it to explain to my kid that, no, you can’t encourage your client to disrobe in court because you want to prove her bosom is a distraction.

Sigh. Where is David E. Kelley when you need him?

Well, I guess I’ll just have to stick to time lords, white trash & vampires, and a man who does not age, but chases aliens, for my summer television entertainment.

Take a Time Out

OK. I just got back from the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference. Wow. What a great time. The educational opportunities were incredible. The networking phenomenal. The ideas from the exhibit hall inspiring.

So, before you shut your door and start replying to all the e-mails and voicemails that have backed up, take a time out.

I don’t care if it’s just a half an hour, or half a day, but you MUST pause and collect your thoughts and capture your experiences before you move on.

Here are a THREE minimal things you can do today so you don’t lose the VALUE of the conference:

  1. Grab all those business cards you collected and start connecting on LinkedIn. I actually did this on the plane last night, and it was great. Don’t use the standard message, but type something personal. You’re building your network, after all, it’d be nice to be memorable. If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, send me an invite from here.
  2. Write a quick marketing recap for your notes or the PTB. What great ideas inspired you, and what do you need to move forward? For instance, I love the idea from the GC panel that there is value to them when we listen for their corporate messages in press and across the social web. OK. Now what? Well, Manzama has a great “social listening” product that will allow you to do that.
  3. Walk the halls and show your enthusiasm. I’m tired too, and I also have a lot of work to catch up on, but I’ve already popped into a couple offices, shared that not only am I back (sans tan, by the way), but I learned a lot, I’m excited, and I’ll share more later. And, then follow up and share more with them later, after you’ve caught up on your e-mails, voice-mails, and put out those fires.

Way too often I leave what I learned at a conference on the tarmac and jump right back into the office where I left off.

Not this year … I’m capturing that enthusiasm and I’m going to use it to keep me motivated until we meet again in Dallas for LMA 2012!

Not so quick. The year isn’t up yet!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got “end-of-year” fever.

It’s similar to summer fever, vacation fever, and all the other fevers out there. My thoughts are elsewhere, and not really focused on marketing and business development.

But wait … there’s still a whole month left before we ring in the New Year (okay, three weeks until the kids get out of school and it’s all about Christmas).

So, what can we do?? It’s too late to set up a business trip to go visit clients. Holiday parties are kicking off … You can send a gift. Maybe sign a card.

You can write that marketing plan you’ve always sworn you’d write and live by.

Okay, stop laughing … we know you’re more interested in what Cyber-Monday has to offer.

How’s this:


  • What did you do to raise your profile??
  • How did you get your name (your brand) out there?
  • What should you repeat next year??
  • What fell flat, or didn’t really work???
  • That “annual” event … is it still relevant? Can you do it differently next year???
  • What can you add to your marketing mix for 2011?? What steps do you need to take to accomplish this?

Marketing and business development isn’t always about what’s on the horizon. It’s also about reflecting on what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you’ll do differently next time. It’s about defining your objectives, and measuring your results against those objectives. It’s about realigning our efforts, and changing direction mid-stream, if need be.

So, grab a cup of coffee, turn on some holiday tunes, and reflect on your year. List your accomplishments. And, maybe, lay out some goals and objectives for next year.


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