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.

The Never-Ending Story

In yesterday’s Legal Blog Watch Alert, Carol Elefant notes that the Seattle Times is reporting that lawyer Shakespear Feyissa has demanded his alma mater’s college newspaper expunge a unflattering ten-year old story from their online archives, which they have refused to do. There is complex question of journalistic ethics and decorum involved, and I don’t see an easy answer given the proclivity of the internet to only get deeper and deeper with information. Perhaps the paper owes the lawyer a duty to at least post a follow up, even though it is 10 years later. That seems fair to me.

This dispute did make me aware, again, that the reputation of an attorney is somewhat under his or her control, and somewhat not. When the personal computer and personal digital assistant has access to virtually the entire world and publishers are racing to get their content on their Web sites for free access, or subscription, any and all reporting of an attorney’s activities become part of the reputation foundation.

The implication, it seems to me, is that attorneys need to be generating as much positive notice for themselves as possible, not just in the public relations sense, but also through participation in public forums, blogs, and knowledge demonstration that produces a Web archive. Law firms with strong Web presences are therefore, IMHO, responsible for broadening the amount of attention allotted to each attorney. We also should be willing to devote resources to researching the appearance of our attorney’s among the repositories on the Web, and, to the extent possible, offering some scrubbing services or counterbalance to the negative posts and stories for the benefit of both the attorney and the firm. The broad brush of public opinion paints each with a similar dark color when negative content appears.

In the June issue of the Strategies journal of the Legal Marketing Association, Rich Klein of Beckerman Public Relations wrote knowledgably about combating negative blogs, one component of online reputation that is increasingly accessible to a disgruntled client or muck-raking reporter. His ten tips should be standard procedure in every legal marketing department. The key to effectiveness is recognizing the negative postings and that requires constant vigilance.

Who in your firm is checking your online reputation?

Evolution of Change – Inspiration Required, Perspiration Optional

Happy Friday! As I was wrapping up for the day, I came across this insightful post by Chris Walker. I have never heard of Chris before and grammar aside, I appreciate his post on change. Here are some of the highlights:


• The world has changed. Things go faster, communication is more easy. Technological advantage is only a week in advance of the copy cat. Satellites watch us, the stock market pre-empts our decisions. Good practice is becoming more the norm, and we are struggling to keep up at a human level.

• However, if you read a book about life in the 14th century, you’ll see the same observation. There is always an observation that the world is changing and humanity is struggling. What people don’t realise is, that this struggle to keep up is of vital importance in nature’s plan.

• We evolve. You might not know it, you might not care about it, but everything is changing, and therefore everything evolves. People worry about water, atmosphere and resources, and they become part of an important balance between consumption and conservation. Human resistance is as much a part of nature’s evolution as
technology is. It’s an underlying principle that sits beneath our emotional opinion. All the world evolves, specie die, things become extinct, business go bad, new ones start. And here’s the key, those business, and the people within them that evolve, sustain profit. And those employees that evolve sustain employment. And those individuals that evolve stay healthy, and those relationships that evolve, stay together. Evolution is the key to sustainability. The ability to grow, in the right direction, is a powerful asset for anyone in all walks of life.

• It is a different world. Technology has replaced some mundane tasks, people need to evolve because what used to be the mechanics of work is now automated. People are employed to create more, think better, work less and do more. It’s a world where time spent at work is no measure of the profit, value or contribution a person makes. It’s a world where nasty, compliant, worried, clock watching managers have no real place. And it’s a world where employees who prefer emotional self gratification are not going to be able to create inspired work at the level of international competition.
Brains are being superseded by genius, hearts and inspiration.

• When people can’t inspire themselves, they need a new job or some serious coaching in order to free the organisation to grow.


Change is inevitable and our motivations are only the beginning of that shift. Change viewed as progress or evolution reminds us that we are people of possibility. Once we allow ourselves permission to be inspired and to dream we eventually learn to dream big. We are not our jobs, cars, homes, designer fashions, or other labels of status. As human beings we are immeasurable and when inspired can do almost anything. In a Web 2.0 world it’s no longer
“change or die” but rather “be inspired to evolve.”

If we agree with Chris that dreams are the inspiration that fuels us, then day dreaming is vital to our success. As you work with your attorneys, staff, and coworkers, do you inquire about their dreams? What do you do to spark inspiration for others? What inspires you?

This last week I found inspiration watching the world come together and compete in the Olympics. Whenever so many people around the world unite around a single moment in time, I can’t help but be inspired.

Hey. Here’s another solution. Part 2.

(updated)
Many general counsels find that associate salaries stand in the way of good client service. In fact, many GCs are doing their best to not pay for what they consider to be on the job training for first and second year associates on their files. The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) framed the problem this way in its (R)evolution in the Law Firm Service Market (emphasis added):

Some blame the ubiquitous billable hour and its perverse drivers toward inefficient and terribly expensive results. Some blame the morph of law firms (professional enti­ties) to a business model (profit driven). Others point to the almighty “profit per partner” ratings, highly leveraged pools of stunningly inexperienced and overpriced associates, and an increasingly de-equal­ized middle class of partners. Indeed, one of the most disturbing trends in all of this mess and despite the tall stacks of money paid out by clients is the incredible num­ber of lawyers who are either pushed out of the profession, or run screaming from the building, often before they’ve enjoyed any semblance of the career and professional fulfillment we all envisioned we’d have when we were in law school.

Our friends at ACC don’t have the magic solution that will fix it all, but they are talking about a conversation (hooray!) and a movement (bigger hooray).

What ACC’s Value Challenge is and isn’t: The value challenge is not an answer, but a movement. It’s not about laying blame; it’s about creating responsibility for change.

“Solutions” that Perpetuate the Problem
I don’t care what caused the problem, I want to know what are we going to do about those darn associates that no one wants to hire, train, mentor or pay for?

Right now the “we won’t hire them” model is picking up favor. For these firms, they see it as a better economic and business model to recruit a mid-level associate who has already been trained on someone else’s dime and is now seen as “profitable.”

If you follow the legal blogs, you have seen the posts on first year classes being cut back in size and start dates being postponed. More and more firms are reducing the size or shortening their summer programs, or cutting them out all together. On campus interviews are also seeing a hit.

And while a law firm might offer, on paper, training programs, mentoring programs and the like, unfortunately, with a 2200 hour billable requirement, associates never find the time to take advantage of these.

My solution.
For many years I have been having conversations with my peers on the law firm administration side about why we do not require a two-year paid internship for lawyers coming out of law school, similar to doctors. I am not alone on this.

From Mike Dillion, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Sun Microsystems Inc. on his “The Legal Thing. Notes from the General Counsel”:

Our legal education system needs to provide better practical training. In this respect it should mirror the residency requirements of medical schools or legal programs in other countries. For example, in Germany, a practice residency is already incorporated in the law school curriculum. In addition, law schools need to recognize that the “legal profession” is also a business for providing legal services. To be successful, lawyers need to be trained in how to manage a competitive business enterprise. Interestingly, future members of our profession already understand this and are focusing on the issue.

And Atlanta law firm, Ford Harrison, has already begun their program:

This unique 15-month regimen, in which all first year associates will participate, emphasizes on-the-job training through mentoring, hands-on work assignments and direct observation of client matters. It is modeled after the medical school’s resident approach.

The central component of the program is the elimination of billable hours requirements for all participants. Instead, an attorney’s performance is tracked and measured through participation in clinical hours. The firm’s new lawyers will be immediately engaged in the labor and employment law practice by participating in collective bargaining sessions, depositions, trials and hearings, labor or other arbitration cases, EEOC on-site investigations and strategy meetings.

I would like to add that not only does the legal education system need to provide better training, but so do the law firms.

Here I go all Pollyanish again, but by properly training, mentoring and exposing novice attorneys to the overall practice of law, without concern or focus on recouping costs, we can help cut the overall attrition rates, which, according to the NALP Foundation, have reached 64% within 5 years for entry level (hired as a 1st year) associates. By transitioning our legal educational system to mirror other professional services, we can increase job satisfaction and retention, heighten our client service standards, and hopefully cut down on some of those lawyer jokes.

(okay, let’s keep the lawyer jokes. I especially liked the one about the attorney, the BMW and the Rolex.)
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