The Dance Might Be Over, But It’s Not Time to Go Home

I don’t know about you folks, but back in the day, when the dance was over, rather than call it a night and go home, we headed over to Cantor’s for some late night snacks and coffee.

Huh? Not making the connection?? The dance might be over for mortgage-backed securities, but I don’t see anyone ready to call it a day on the financial services market, the lawyers who represent them, or the staffs whose livelihoods are dependent upon them.

Right now we’re all focused on the screaming headlines and gossipy articles.

No one wants to go to work on a Thursday morning to find their firm’s biggest client listed in this hit piece? And with an article titled “Sidley essentially told their people: ‘DON’T PANIC!!!!!!!!!’”, can they do anything else but?

But, come on, people, flip the page and read past the negative headlines and start looking for the opportunities:

I might be pulling a Pollyana here, but I just left a lunch where we talked about how we can look to the current landscape and find the positive opportunities. Since I don’t believe there is a firm out there whose clients are not susceptible to the crunch, I will add to my suggestions from the other day:

  • While the big cases will go to “CYA” firms, what specializations do you have that will benefit your clients as part of an overall team approach?
  • When one practice slows down, others speed up. Time to start dusting off those bankruptcy attorneys.
  • Become the expert now. What is the landscape going to look like in 6 months for your practice/clients?? Time to update your website and bio to reflect future needs.
  • Get top of mind: Client alerts, speaking opportunities at trade conferences, timely articles, etc.
  • Invest internally. Linklaters unveils in-house business school. The Linklaters Law & Business School was launched on Monday (15 September) and includes practice diplomas, training for partners and managing associates and an orientation programme for new trainees.
  • It’s time tear down the barriers and cross-sell your current clients within the firm. Make a list of any client that might be susceptible to the markets downturns, or who might benefit. What services can your firm bring to the mix?

And I’ll repeat this from Tuesday’s post – it’s time to pick up the phone and call your contacts. If they are personally at risk of losing their jobs, how can you be of assistance? Can you be a friend that they can call? Can you make an introduction or two? Can you serve as a reference?

We can all get caught up in the gossip, but these layoffs and company failings are affecting real people both inside the legal industry and with our clients. Heller won’t be the first law firm to go under and Lehman won’t be the last financial institute to fail. My question is: how are you going to approach the news?

Financial Markets: Cooler Style

As I logged onto the news this morning I kept seeing headlines like Wall Street Braces for More, Market Swing Amid AIG Drama and AIG, Lehman Shock Hits World Markets. But this one brought it home, as the fallout will hit each and every one of us personally, London, New York Stand to Suffer:

Jobs in financial services tend to be more important for the overall economy. About 5% of New York City’s jobs are in financial services, but they account for about a quarter of wages, some $60 billion in 2006, according to the New York Office of the State Comptroller. That same year, personal and corporate taxes paid by the securities industry accounted for about 10% of the city’s tax revenue.

But it’s not just the WSJ, NYT and LATimes that are reporting the effects. The Insurance Insider, a trade publication for my firms’ clients, in an article this morning, Four cat bonds on negative following Lehman collapse, summed it up (emphasis added):
… no asset class can be completely isolated from turmoil in the wider financial world.

It’s not just the corporate types who will be affected by the imminent extinction of Merrill and Lehman. There are a lot of litigators out there billing these companies–and worrying about losing them as clients.

What’s going on at large law firms right now?Everyone is nervous. And it’s not a good thing to be a lawyer and to be nervous.

“There’s not a firm in the city that’s not terrified about what’s going on right now,” a managing partner of one top New York firm tells Tony Lin of sibling publication New York Law Journal. The source asked to remain unnamed because he was dealing with a heavy volume of client inquiries about the current situation.

If you think that you or your law firm is immune, think again. Linda Hazelton, Hazelton Marketing & Management, is doing a presentation this week at the LMA-Southeast Conference on Marketing During a Recession. I’ve asked her to share with us some of her main points, and perhaps feedback from those in the rooms.

Until we hear from Linda, here are a few of my suggestions:

  • What are your clients’ key industry pubs reporting on today? Understand how the financial markets impact their companies.
  • If your clients/referral sources are at risk, call and see how you can be of service to THEM. Not just their companies, but THEM. If their company is on the brink of collapse or bankruptcy, their first concerns will be about putting food on their table, not who is handling the filings.
  • Face time. Face time. Face time. You need to be, and stay, top-of-mind with your key contacts.
  • For we marketers, time to start thinking about clearing our budgets of “unnecessary” items. Now might not be the best time to kick-off a rebranding campaign or overhaul the website. I’m not going to ask for a high-capacity color laser printer right now. End-of-year charitable contributions/tables-of-ten will soon be reaching your desks. How are you going to evaluate them?
As I told Linda last week: if it doesn’t involve business development right now, it’s not on my radar. I want to be able to track financial ROI in the form of new business to anything that I propose doing.

When It’s Broke, Fix It

Seth Godin’s recent post Breakage is a great commentary on people’s tolerance for steadily increasing rates year after year.

For the last couple of years ACC members have been at the point Seth was when he’d “get the bill, sigh about the fee, consider the hassle of switching, pay the bill and move on.” In-House Counsel are increasingly annoyed with poor resource management, never-ending rate increases, and the beaming pride law firms take in increasing PPP. To make matters worse now rumors of rate padding are surfacing. Passive consumers of legal services are being called to action and the legal landscape is rapidly changing.

Throughout 2008, ACC has been planning a revolution and there will be casualties. The opening battle is set for Sept. 26th. How much time is left to fortify relationships with clients before they are blown apart? By year’s end, who will be rushing to clean up the rubble?

When it comes to billing, the legal profession is broken. The current billable hour structure rewards inefficiencies. So which law firm will be the next to step up, take the risk, and begin to aggressively redefine billing for the profession? If it’s a top AmLaw firm the process of this change will be accelerated because everyone wants to keep up the Jones Days, O’Melvenys, Gibsons, Sidleys, and Lathams of the world.

Perhaps instead of debating “holiday cards” – electronic vs. traditional or “gifts” – charitable donation vs. logo item, law firms should start thinking about giving something that’s on their client’s wish list like reduced rates, value based fees, or alternative fee arrangements. I guarantee these are the types of presents clients will appreciate now and in the future.

Don’t Let Politics Derail Your Reputation

“Marketing Me” is an important topic for those of us whose professions are built on professional services. I’ve blogged a bit about it here and here, with the main ideas being that we are responsible for our own careers.
Well, we’re also responsible for our own reputations. Chris Brogan, in his new e-book, Personal Branding for the Business Professional, addresses why you might want to build a personal brand:

The easiest answer is that you might want to be memorable, and you might want to transfer your real world reputation into the online world. A strong personal brand is a mix of reputation, trust, attention, and execution.

Do not let politics derail your on-line reputations. As we enter the next 50 some-odd days of political friction we are all finding ourselves polarized by our political preferences. And, for those in the middle, the tug of war has started for their “undecided” vote. I see it at work, at home, with my personal friends, and now on the blogs and microblogs of my colleagues.

For some reason, perhaps the anonymity of readership of Twitter and Facebook, I am noticing a lot of posts that I am certain would never come up in polite conversation, unless the group had been vetted for political affinities.

Here are a few posts I recently cringed at (redacted to hide the identities of the political parties involved):

  • tired of (so-and-so’s) lies.
  • happy he’s going to miss the base-pandering speech tonight.
  • should have just aired a train wreck instead, (like the [insert political convention of your choice]).

I won’t even quote from one e-mail thread I received. My only comment, after thoughtful consideration and much restraint, was: “please remove me from this conversation.” It wasn’t worth my reputation to reply what I really thought.

I am the first to chat politics, and I have extremely strong positions, if I know I am in like company. Otherwise, my lips are sealed.

What I am finding is that I have already stopped following a few people on Twitter, and have removed a couple of “friends” from my Facebook. I also unsubscribed to a professional e-newsletter that turned into a political rant.

Rather than build their on-line reputations, these people were destroying their’s, in my eyes.

And while the Palin/Clinton skit on SNL was hysterical for reasons we can all disagree on, let me spell out my words of caution: D-O N-O-T B-L-O-G O-N P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.

That’s what the phone and the water cooler are for.

Now, go out and vote early and vote often.

Maybe someone else should do this Web 2.0 stuff…?

After reading Heather’s posting about trying to sell the benefits of reinventing a firm’s web site to embrace Web 2.0 technology, I imagined all of the law firms that might stick their neck out to champion such a move.

Then, I imagined all the ones here on Planet Earth.

Most lawyers I run into are more cautious than a scuba diver wearing a fish head suit in a shark cage. I think it is going to be hard for the conservative bastions of the legal industry to embrace the change before Silicon Valley is gabbing about Web 3.0 and how 2.0 is SO 2008…

Instead of investing in Web 2.0 technology, perhaps we should invest in training lawyers to exhibit Web 2.0 behavior: eliciting feedback, encouraging interactive discussions, collaboration and developing fluid, organic content.

OK, the old web site could use a tweak or two. The columns and the guy running up the courthouse steps with a briefcase have got to go. It would also be nice to see news and alerts that included client achievements instead of "Firm XYZ purchase 12 new desks for NYC Office" on the home page accompanied by a managing partner quote.

When it comes to Web 2.0, we should admit that we are not even going to go halfway with the investment it would take to truly transform a web site. Posting podcasts and having a couple blog links isn’t going to make Marc Andreessen nervous.  I think I would rather have my lawyers creating and utilizing groups in Facebook or Martindale-Hubbell Connected than creating a duplicate version of it on my own firm’s site.

In fact, that is the biggest problem the industry has when it comes to marketing and business development: an insular view of the world of the client where the law firm tries to dictate a one-sided conversation centered around the preeminence and history of the firm. Creating a Web 2.0 version of that alternate universe does not make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, it sounds like a very lonely place.

Call upon your lawyers to blog, network, join professional networks, discuss and contribute. They should even try to get people to learn more by coming back to your web site. I am just not sure the web site is where the conversation should start.

Just Because … Legal Marketing is Like Herding Cats

It’s been a busy week, and I swear I’m write something for the blog (ok, that’s a lie. I’m thinking about writing something for the blog). In the meantime, enjoy.

Law Firm Web Sites – Part 2: Web 2.0, Oh, My!

In Part 1 of Law Firm Web Sites I asked: “Is your Web site so 1999 that it’s holding your firm back?” Well, for many of us, including me, the answer is “yes.” So how do you approach a $40,000 – $1 million upgrade?

The first thing you CAN’T do is try to sell to your lawyers the interactive features of Web 2.0 – blogs, social networking and collaboration.

As marketers, we naturally gravitate to what is new, exciting and dynamic. Lawyers, however, are skeptical, autonomous and lacking is sociability. No wonder they resist Web 2.0.

According to Larry Richard, in an article Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed:

Research confirms that not only are lawyers highly autonomous, but they share quite a number of personality traits that distinguish them from the general public.

Personality Trait % Lawyers v. General Public

Skepticism 90 60
Autonomy 89 60
Sociability 12 50

So how do you measure and sell the ROI of a Web site upgrade?

First of all, it is up to the legal marketer to determine what they can and must measure for their firm, and then they need to communicate this importance to the attorneys in a style that they can understand.
Lawyers like facts. Lawyers like charts. Lawyers like results. Lawyers want to know if the new Web site will bring in new clients. In truth, it isn’t often we hit the jackpot by a new client finding us through our Web site, but we can track daily hits, link backs, new subscriptions, downloads, or a multitude of other measurements.
When an article is printed in a legal publication can you crosslink to your site and then track the referrals? When your partner speaks at a conference, can you post his materials online for download? Can you track subscriptions for your newsletter, if you have one? How’s your SEO? Do you know what search terms people are using to find you? All of these can be directly controlled by the legal marketer, measured for results, and then communicated back to the attorney as stats, facts and figures to show value.
Yes, corporate America has embraced Web 2.0. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than the lure of a blog to get the attorneys to buy in.
For me, the “sell” came down to the ability to send e-newsletters and announcements. At the same time I showed the attorneys how we couldn’t be found via Google searches and an upgrade on our back-end was necessary. No need to explain SEO.
Since our upgrade, our attorneys can now Google themselves and there they are. Success! We sent out an electronic client alert and I was able to show how many people opened the attachment and downloaded the PDF. And, we got a phone call from a client. Success!
Oh, and a service partner just approached me about starting a blog. Eureka!
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