You Can Look But You Better Not Touch

This seems to be the message of an article in this week’s National Law Journal, which was called to our attention by Ann Lee Gibson in her new Law Firm Competitive Intelligence blog.

Noting an increase in the reliance of law firm marketing efforts on competitive intelligence research, the author, marketing partner of the Texas law firm Winstead, frets about the extent to which fact-finding on the internet through diverse sources such as Facebook and personal Web sites may constitute unethical intrusion into the lives and activities of firm marketing prospects.

Ann dispenses with most of these concerns in an extensive post.

Frankly, I was never worried if some law firm or other firm CI manager was going to use my musical Web site or Linked In profile to gain questionable information about my firm’s marketing tactics or business development prospects. However, I have begun to recognize that promoting the use of social networking and other self-informational sites for business development has its downside.

The partnership of Martindale.com and Linked In has a persuasive effect on the use factor of these tools. For one thing, it enables Martindale.com to claim a social network function without having to build their own, and may cause lawyers and law firms to expand their “Martindale footprint” by participating in Linked In.

It also may cause lawyers who have been substituting social networking for a Martindale.com profile to reconsider exiting entirely. After all, why give up the credibility of a Martindale appearance if you can “double dip” the trust factor by going modern on Linked In and also being old school on Martindale.

Our partners Jayne Navarre and Heather Milligan have opined more extensively and more authoritatively on Linked In and Martindale here and here. And, like Ann Gibson, I find it silly to suppose that lawyers or their CI staff will slip over some moral or ethical line just to get an inside track on the possible legal services buys of a particular business or individual. (No cracks about PI lawyers, now, people.)

Still, when there are so many sites where we and our lawyers can “let it all hang out”, we certainly need to be wary of the same proprieties that we would need to recognize in a face-to-face networking venue. Be polite, be interesting, but keep the secret or strange stuff to yourself. ‘Nuff said.

Two Ears and One Mouth

Recently I participated in a twebinar on the subject of “Listening” where “Two ears and one mouth,” a shortened Epictetus quote was recycled throughout the sound bites and tweets. The entire quote is ““We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It got me thinking about the ratio of listening to speaking in different types of conversations I’ve observed. Here are some broad strokes of this quote taken to extremes:

When talking for both parties was significantly greater than listening these conversations became very one-sided. Both parties were so anxious to think of their next reply they failed to listen. If two people talk at each other no one hears anything and communication becomes a dead-end. Rarely does this stagnation inspire either party to move beyond the stalemate.

When listening was even with talking the conversation advanced but not with much depth. Answers in these types of conversations reveal that the both parties are somewhat disengaged. They rely on canned answers to keep the conversation at surface level. It’s a nice volley of words but little to no information is exchanged.

When listening was greater than talking, learning was taking place. This works best in the school years where kids are taught to be quiet and listen. Listening is after all a major tool for learning. After listening, students are instructed to go home and do some homework so the lessons sink in deeper. This basic communication dynamic must continue throughout life because it is critical to the learning process.

As business developers, it is even more important to listen twice as much as we speak. We are afterall in a service industry and good client service begins with “How may I help you?” In order to our jobs well we have to listen, ask, and listen again. Our audience wants us to understand their pain and locate areas where we may offer our skills. We can’t make bold proclamations that this CRM must be purchased for the firm or adding a new practice will raise revenue. We have to listen to the clients, the firm, and the marketplace before we can be heard credibly.

Attorneys all too often rush to produce a pitch book for a new client meeting with no due diligence. They are so eager to have a conversation that they forget to listen. Here’s a familiar scenario: “I don’t know if they need labor & employment; I’m a corporate attorney and I got the meeting. Let’s focus on my practice and throw in the general firm description.” Listening begins before the meeting.

In Heather’s earlier post “It’s My Reputation on the Line”, John Dent reminds those in the legal profession to do your homework. That really translates to listen! Listen to the newspaper, listen to our 10-K, listen to our press releases, listen to Google, and listen at the meeting. Please don’t assume!!!

Once the idea of listening becomes second nature to law firms and attorneys, I guarantee you the use of Web 2.0 will increase drastically. Why? Because you can be a fly on the wall and listen to what your audience is saying. You can once again have two ears and one mouth.

What do you think? My mouth is now shut and my ears are wide-open.

The Power of Voice. The Bio Blog.

Wilmer Hale has leaped ahead of everyone with the recent launch of four associate blogs aimed at attracting recruits. In a brilliant move, the firm enlisted 4 associates in 4 different offices to officially blog about their life inside the firm and out. The Blog of LegalTimes reports:

They are meant to provide a glimpse into each associates life. Heather Hayes, Wilmer’s legal personnel and recruiting communications manager say recruits “want to have a good sense of what their life might be like were they to join us.” She says summer associates and other entry-level recruits often complain that it’s tough to distinguish one big firm from another. Hayes says the new blogs will hopefully help “personalize” Wilmer.

A quick review of the 4 blogs tells me she’s spot on. Here are posts from 2. You can see all four at WilmerHale Careers.

Kevin Chambers’ Blog | Washington
Home Ownership and Workload Balance
August 22, 2008 11:59 AM
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It’s amazing how much I’ve changed during the course of our blogship. When first we met last month, I was a care-free attorney mixing it up in Washington, DC Today, I am a bona fide homeowner. Fortunately (at least for buyers) the DC real estate market has softened somewhat. Sorry, Ross [link to Ross's real estate post] and we were able to find a home that we loved in a great neighborhood. The commute into the office will be longer, but that’s the price you pay when you move to the ‘burbs, I suppose. Consider yourself invited to our first cookout. What’s that you say? I haven’t really changed at all? Well I have a recently-delivered SkeeterVac box in my office that says you don’t know what you’re talking about. For you urban denizens, a SkeeterVac is a device powered by propane and, quite possibly, magic that attracts, vacuums and dehydrates (read: exterminates) mosquitoes, allowing one to reclaim a backyard. Brilliant! Or bunk. I’m not yet sure.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was balancing a considerable workload involving two of my larger matters. A third, long-dormant matter must have felt left out because it has risen from the grave and is now running full-tilt. A governmental agency has asked for a substantial amount of information and wants it in a week. Feel free to consider that my excuse for being absent from the blog for so long. As one of my colleagues put it, while the matter is burning pretty hot, we hope it won’t burn long. ……[more]

Julie Smolinski’s Blog | Palo Alto
Of Waves and Financings
August 15, 2008 09:22 AM
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Posted by Julie Smolinski
Not to make my fellow NY blogger jealous, but getting to the beach from Palo Alto, or San Francisco if you live there, as many of my colleagues do, is a pretty easy matter. Sunday was a gorgeous, sunny day, so my husband and I decided to head to the ocean. Within an hour of making the decision to go to the beach, we were staring at the impressive expanse of the Pacific, feet in the sand. The water was cold, but the sun was warm. As my husband analyzed the quality of the waves—barrels everywhere, short and sweet, but too cold, I listened to them breaking on the beach. On our way back, we hit up Alice’s, a well-loved burger spot in the redwoods. Just thinking about it makes me hungry … grilled veggie burger (excellent, even for you non-veggie types), fries (watch out, when they say “garlic fries”, they really mean it), locally brewed beer, cheesecake … Mmmm!

But instead of telling you about my gluttonous Sunday night, perhaps you’d prefer to know what’s up at work, because, after all, that’s presumably what you care about if you’re reading this blog. I really hope you’re not reading it for entertainment, in which case I’d like to suggest some other activities you may find fun and exciting, e.g., ironing your socks, alphabetizing the items in your refrigerator, or watching C-SPAN. So, this week has been about three financings: closing a bridge financing, diligencing a Series-E round and running a Series A………[more]

I think this idea really has potential to replace the tired old attorney bio! You’ll notice that each blogger profile reads like a mini bio but you could also link out to something more traditional if you needed to, but essentially, the blog tells the story. Wouldn’t that be cool. Of course, the idea is not for everyone, but I think it could work. Really. More firms are using video clips to personalize recruiting or their messages from the chairman, but, while videos are nice they often seem scripted and too long. I like the immediacy and transparency of the blog idea.

Anybody out there think the same? Would it work? How far would you take it? What would or would you not do? If I were seeking representation for my business, I’d lean toward a firm where the attorney’s voice was personalized and the first line of impression.

Over 10 years ago I convinced the firm I was working for to incorporate real quotes from the attorneys into their bios, [example] {Example} talking, in their own voice, about why they practice law and what they do for their clients, etc. Today it’s become pretty commonplace to have the attorney quote on a Web bio. And I know it is effective. Clients and prospects have told me they remembered them. And just the other day, I heard about one progressive firm that is planning to write the whole attorney bio in first person. Nice touch. This type of breezy personal/professional blog on a firm Web site is perhaps even better. What do you think?

Little Help From My Friends

Maybe it’s a sign of maturing, but I don’t seem to hesitate to ask for help these days when I don’t know how to do something, or when I am overwhelmed. Some people might find that asking for help is a sign of weakness, or opens the door to criticism. I, however, have found it has deepened the relationships with the people who respond to my SOS; and has enhanced my reputation with those who get my “I’m not certain on that, let me do a little bit of research and I’ll get back to you later today.”

So, thanks to Jayne, Renee and Russ who answered my SOS and will be watching over the Cooler while I’m on vacation next week.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter or Facebook

Duane Morris Layoffs – Cooler Style

As I have said in the past, law firm layoffs are more than just gossip. These are our friends and colleagues, and I want to send the regards of The Legal Watercooler to our personal friends and everyone else who have been caught up in the layoffs at Duane Morris.

From Incisive Media, (nee American Lawyer Media, which is a MUCH better name, but not the focus of this post) Duane Morris Cuts Marketing, Business Development Staff:

The firm, which has about 650 attorneys, now has a marketing and business development team of 30 to 35 people, after eliminating seven managers and staff and hiring three more senior executives in the past few months, said Ed Schechter, the firm’s chief marketing officer.

(skip)

At Duane Morris, cost-cutting was a “secondary” consideration, with the firm primarily interested in building up a more experienced and leaner team, Schechter said in an interview.

I am a capitalist plain and simple. If your firm has hit a rough patch, and what firm hasn’t, I would hope that you would at least be open and honest about your layoffs. Isn’t that what Cadwalader is doing?? And, they’re getting off pretty easy by the legal gossip blogs for it, except for the whole mold in the $6 million house. By clouding the layoffs in anything other than firm economics you are tainting the careers of good, honest, dependable and loyal staff members.

Here, let me say that again in case you missed it:

By clouding the layoffs in anything other than firm economics you are tainting the careers of good, honest, dependable and loyal staff members.

No one wakes up one day and decides to layoff 18% of their staff. Unless there is a new Sheriff in town cleaning house, when have layoffs been about anything other than cost-cutting? Oh, I know, let’s blame it on InterAction, that panacea of a product:

The creation of a client-relations management system in recent years has allowed for the trimming the staff, he said. Schechter doesn’t expect additional cuts, he said.

“Now that our systems are in place and being utilized every day by our lawyers, we’re able to respond quickly and effectively and to do it with a leaner organization,” Schechter said.

Technology does not free up my time. Technology just allows me to get away from my desk since I no longer have to focus my time and energy updating mailing lists or recreating the wheel on an RFP. I can actually walk around and strategize with the partners.

I have lived through law firm layoffs. I have lived through culling by “performance,” when it’s really just a layoff. There is a right way and a wrong way of handling it. As marketers, we know spin when we see it, write it, or when we read it between the lines.

More Law Firm Layoffs

Duane Morris announced it is reducing its marketing and business development staff, currently at 30-35 people, by 18%.  The article says that they will outsource select “marketing” functions including PR and graphics.  

Will this outsourcing trend be extended to other marketing functions such as events, database management, speaking engagements, etc?  Will others bulk up on senior-level business development professionals and outsource marketing functions?  
During the past several years law firms have moved away from “marketing” titles in favor of those that include the words “business development”.  However, have the job descriptions and skill sets kept pace?  It seems to me that at this point, the titles have changed, but the job descriptions and expectations of “client service” remain largely marketing centric.
Right now the lines between business development/sales and marketing are very blurred.  What needs to happen to draw a clearer line between the two distinct functions?

LinkedIn Targeted by Law Firm CI pros? What am I missing here?

An article, posted on Law.com in the legal technology section, written by Shannon Sankstone, “LinkedIn a Competitive Intelligence Tool,” was brought to my attention this morning by fellow watercoolerite Russell Lawson who also blogs at progmark.blogspot.com.

As someone who focuses their marketing practice on social media in all forms, the article left me wondering: “what am I missing here?” So, I am turning to the watercooler in hopes that you can help me out.

The author’s claim:

“…more than anything, the wealth of information available on LinkedIn to CI [competitive intelligence] professionals is a result of the law of unintended consequences. Attorneys and firms, possessing the good intention of raising their credibility and visibility, have given out more information than was, in hindsight, wise. CI pros are using the information freely given on these sites to better position their own firms and to better understand their competitor firms.”

The author, then illustrates this point with a few examples.

“A quick search for a well-known law firm listed one of their attorneys as the top result. Although Mr. Lawyer made his connections private, he did not shy away from requesting recommendations. He lists over 40 recommendations, 26 of which are from clients. Some of these clients are (names have been withheld, but are available on Mr. Lawyer’s profile):

• A publicly listed hotel and resort corporation;
• A large biotech company; and
• A private equity firm.

At first glance, the CI pro now knows at least 20 of Mr. Lawyer’s clients (some clients had more than one person recommending Mr. Lawyer). Were a firm considering approaching Mr. Lawyer as a lateral hire, they would include this information, and an analysis of the clients, to determine if Mr. Lawyer’s client base was in line with the firm’s business development goals.

If, on the other hand, a firm was competing with Mr. Lawyer’s firm for work from a company in the hotel industry, then Mr. Lawyer’s recommendations might be leveraged to the CI pro’s firm’s advantage. While Mr. Lawyer may point to his recommendations as proof that he has delighted clients in this industry, the competing firm may highlight this as Mr. Lawyer having a better relationship with a competitor company.”

Is this really what CI pros do with their time? And I thought marketers were being undervalued….(snicker)

But seriously, what is the big downside to your competition knowing that you have satisfied clients and that you are working your contacts on LinkedIn?Aren’t the actions of public companies public anyway? Don’t most attorneys reveal their clients or case types on their law firm bios? Frankly, the information you can pull from LexisNexis about cases, clients, and jurisdictional penetration are more reliable, complete and possibly more efficient than time spent lurking on LinkedIn.

The author’s next illustration of the cautions of LinkedIn to unsuspecting law firms:

A certain Am Law 100 firm, AMLF, is an excellent example of a great company profile. 56 percent of users are male, and the median age is 35 years old. However, 30 percent of all of this firm’s representation on LinkedIn are partners. This suggests that: 1) the partnership is young; and 2) the “Related Companies” may provide reliable data as to clients and hiring trends.

Martindale Hubbell still lists birthdays, I believe. And partners.

The author goes on to demonstrate how the “related companies” section is a mine of information for the CI pro.

In the “Related Companies” section of the company profile, LinkedIn has mined its data and determined where companies hire from and where personnel go. In this case, LinkedIn has noted two boutique Am Law listed firms have kindly trained many of AMLF’s attorneys. Interestingly, one firm is a boutique IP firm, the other a commercial litigation firm. This suggests that AMLF is making a concentrated effort to expand specific practice groups. Furthermore, LinkedIn shows that AMLF, in turn, has provided two smaller Am Law 200 firms with quite a few people. Additional research shows that these Am Law 200 firms are marketing themselves as “family friendly” and providing an excellent work/life balance to potential recruits. Definitely something for AMLF to consider …

I mean, if it’s really that important to know which AM Law firms are marketing themselves as family friendly, yeah, LinkedIn might be a place to quickly get some of that information, but it sure is no secret, just visit their web site or do a Google search on family friendly law firms. Voila! And why is family friendly valuable intelligence anyway? We all know it isn’t true if you’re talking about an AMLAW firm. (snicker)

And finally, although this was at the top of the article I’ve moved it to the finale because I find it so fascinating….

Although Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace do provide value to business development programs, each firm must strive to balance the need for visibility and networking with safeguarding their firm’s competitive advantage. [Emphasis added]

Okay, this one really worries me. I’ve been in marketing a long time. Not only in law firms, but also in other industries. And, while I hate to disappoint those who think they do, does any law firm really have a competitive advantage that’s worth safeguarding? When I think of safeguarding competitive advantage I think of the one and only super secret recipe for coca cola without which would not make coca cola a leading brand.

Am I missing something? Law firms seem pretty much the same to me – baring a few differences of size or practice focus. Differentiation, (competitive advantage) for the most part, if you can dig up something, is generally exploited in marketing materials, not hidden in a secret place. IMHO, if any firm has competitive advantage it’s because they deliver the basic category benefits simply better than anyone else. Competitive advantage in law firms can’t possibly be as nuanced as; family friendly, who is your recruiting firm of record, or how young is your partnership, can it? What am I missing here? Help, I’m having a CI crisis!

Truth is, at least from my point of view, the cultural shift that read, write, web is forcing upon uptight personalities (and those that work with them) will take a while, but those who get a head start will find it very rich – in many regards. I’m not an evangelist I’m a pragmatist. It’s here, it’s a tool, let’s try it. Furthermore, social media is not a one trick pony. It is not only good for exposure and introductions (the awareness stage) -but where social media really works best is in the middle of the marketing funnel where people are gathering knowledge and making considerations that lead to selection, loyalty and a client! As long as I’ve been around I’ve never seen a tool that enables those types of conversations across geographic boundaries better. But like any tool, it’s only as good as the hand that holds it. A tool does not lead. It does what it is told to do. Strategy and planning are important.

Now, that being said, there really ARE some red flags about what you share on the Web while networking, blogging or even playing around in the safe haven of LinkedIn. Private investigators do get pertinent information online that can be used against you or your clients in litigation. Without going into detail, it’s a great source to put together 2+2, for example in family law cases, divorce, fraud, employment litigation, etc. (but the company email during discovery will get you that information too!)

However, for your basic social-networking-lawyer with some common sense, a little street smarts, and ethical behavior, there’s just too much to like and too many good reasons to be networking on line.

So, what am I missing? If this type of information is so very meaningful to the CI community within law firms -even so much as to put the brakes on something as valuable as networking for new business, is it really possible to “throw off” the competition with a little more or less information on your LinkedIn profile? Should you remove all the content from your Web site too?

One final note, the author does point out, wisely, that it may not be to your advantage to make your LinkedIn connections public. I know a financial adviser that keeps his private because he doesn’t want others poaching his list. Practical pointer: before posting a profile on any social space, always go to the privacy options. Turn them all private and then one by one click on those that make sense for your strategy.

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