Road trip!

Last year was incredibly busy for me, first with writing The Reluctant Rainmaker and then with designing programs like the Lawyers Business Development Bootcamp, plus working with many 1-on-1 clients. It was a great year, but toward the fall I started to notice that I’ve met very few of my clients and newsletter readers in person over the last year. That has to change. And so, as I’ve been hinting, I’ve been laying plans for something new.

While it would be great fun to meet you in a social setting, I know we’re often too busy to set aside time just to chat. So, I created a 1-day workshop that I’m calling Effective Business Development Made Simple. In this highly interactive program, you’ll learn my 7-step Legal Rainmaker System, which will show you the steps you need to take to bring in the new business you need, and you’ll work on creating your own plans so you’ll have a roadmap to take back to the office with you. And then we’ll close the day with good conversation and refreshments at a reception. Presto – an opportunity to learn something that has the power to transform your practice, plus an opportunity to meet!

And, I’ve heard those of you who’ve been telling me that this economy has put a crimp in your budget: the workshop will be priced under $100 for the entire day!

Finally, I realize that it would be difficult for many of you to travel all the way to my Atlanta home base. That means it’s time for one of my favorite activities… A road trip! Effective Business Development Made Simple will be coming to TEN cities across the country. Here’s the list:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • DC
  • Ft. Lauderdale
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • Seattle

I’m excited beyond belief at the prospect of meeting many of you and sharing the step-by-step process that will make your rainmaking efforts simple and highly effective! I’ll be announcing all of the details, including dates and exact locations, next week… So keep your eyes open.

Set Yourself Apart

Do you ever feel that you’re just one lawyer in a large sea of others?  New lawyers often begin their practices wondering how to distinguish themselves from the hundreds or thousands of other lawyers occupying the same niche.  And lawyers who’ve been in practice for some time may have the same nagging question.  Though the question may fade, it frequently re-emerges when a lawyer is preparing to grow her practice or is considering some shift in substantive areas.

Differentiation from other lawyers and law firms is useful in marketing and business development conversations.  So, how can you differentiate yourself?

While the options are potentially limitless, three examples may help you to create your own ideas.

  1. Blog.  My background is in patent litigation, and when in practice I often referred to the Patently-O Blog by Dennis Crouch.  Patently-O is know for, among other things, its full coverage of every patent case decided by the Federal Circuit.  It became the go-to reference for what’s going on in patent law, and I’d venture to guess that an amazingly high number of patent lawyers and “civilians” who are interested in patent law read the blog on a near-daily basis.  I was astonished when I learned that Dennis started the blog less than a year after being admitted to practice.  He’s since moved on to academia, a move that was quite likely assisted by his blogging efforts as well as his other credentials.It may be a bit of overstatement to say, “blog it and they will come,” but it isn’t a bad starting point since blogging provides a platform through which a lawyer may share resources, analysis, and enough personal content to become known to readers.  Blogging is a good way to build your repurtation as an expert in your field.  It’s also a good way to begin to form relationships with other bloggers and, perhaps, with your readers.  I would not recommend relying on a blog as your primary avenue for bringing in new business, but it’s a good complement for many lawyers.
  2. Create a unique experience for your clients.  What can you offer clients that other lawyers don’t?  The opportunities vary widely by practice area, but any value-added service is a good step toward differentiation.  Be attentive to the habit that may set you apart from others, including quick responses to telephone calls and emails, offering regluar case updates, and providing educational resources on topics such as how to prepare to give deposition/trial testimony or what to consider when getting ready to make estate plans.Another idea:  introduce your client to every member of your legal team who will be involved with the representation.  Even something as quick as an introductory letter identifying other lawyers, paralegals, and office assistants that is signed by each can offer a client comfort when contacting your office.  Consider, of course, what is appropriate for your practice:  what will impress a family law client may be radically different from what will impress the CEO or general counsel of a multi-million dollar corporation.Beyond adding value for your clients, look for ways to create value for them.  If your clients’ children often accompany them for visits to your office, have some books and toys in a kid-friendly corner.  If you become aware of a new issue or development that your clients need to understand better, create a presentation or an article that you can use to educate them.  What can you bring to an engagement that others can’t or don’t?
  3. Become active and visible in the community.  Volunteering, serving on boards, or working with non-profits in other capacities is a good way to become known.  It provides a context for conversations that often makes it more comfortable for reluctant networkers, and it may present you the opportunity to offer guidance and suggestions that serve as a taste of the service you offer clients.  Moreover, you may have opportunities to speak or write through these channels, both of which will serve to raise your profile.

Be clear about what makes you different.  If you want to differentiate yourself from other practitioners, it’s imperative to connect with an internal compass that will point to what does indeed make you different.  If you don’t know what that is, you won’t be able to convince anyone else.

Tactical Transparency: How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media to Maximize Value and Build Their Brand

Tactical Transparency
By Shel Holtz and John C. Havens

I recently noticed a new television commercial for Domino’s Pizza, in which the company lays bare the perception that its pizza is bland and then describes new changes to the recipe, closing with an invitation to try the new Domino’s.  That’s some transparency.  But in today’s world, dominated as it is by social media, no company could credibly pretend to be unaware of discussions about it.

We’ve probably all seen the emails, watched the videos, or heard the audios in which a clueless or uncaring company drives a customer to fury — fury that produces a social media backlash.  In the old days, we’d have been limited to telling a few friends (studies show that on average we tell seven others about negative experiences and tell only three others about positive ones), and they’d tell a few friends, and the word would get out…Slowly, and in limited distribution.  Today, though, as Tactical Transparency describes, feedback can spread like wildfire, and corporations’ only choice is how to handle that feedback.

Tactical Transparency opens with one story about Sony’s having launched a blog purportedly written by a boy named Charlie who wanted to help his friend Jeremy get a PSP for Christmas.  Readers quickly discovered that the blog was the creation of a marketing agency and lambasted it as lame and offensive, though Sony denied the deception until it finally had to own up to it.  A second story describes a blogger who wrote a series of posts describing his problems with Dell’s computer service and technical support.  His odyssey was followed by hundreds and Dell’s reputation (and stock price) suffered, until Dell saw the light and launched its own blog, Direct2Dell, which talked openly about problems and worked to resolve them.  Unlike Sony, Dell’s reputation improved as a result.

The message:  people  – your customers and clients and those considering doing business with you will talk, and you’d better listen and respond.  Though the facts are considerably different, this message is illustrated in the legal community through the many blog sites and posts that tracked layoffs last year and accused firms of conducting “stealth layoffs.”  It’s continuing now in discussions about which firms are cutting salaries and how much.  There’s been much speculation that some firms will be impacted by reduced loyalty from lawyers who watched colleagues sent packing and from law students who take the lessons of the last two years as an indication that they’d better keep their options open and trust nothing.  And it goes both ways, as witnessed by lawyers and summer associates who’ve left their own career-tanking tracks in unflattering emails that can be sent around the world with just a few clicks.

The authors of Tactical Transparency suggest that the new reality of transparency has arisen thanks to the twin trends of declining trust in “business as usual” and the rising public scrutiny of business due to social media.  Tactical Transparency goes to the heart of the matter, examining the practical steps a business can take to be “sincerely but prudently” transparent with its stakeholders about its leaders; its employees; its values; its culture; the results of its business practices; and its business strategy.  The authors identify four characteristics of transparency, which may be applied in varying degrees to meet varying needs:  Objectivity, Purpose, Esteem (for your stakeholders and your customers), and Navigation, which neatly form the acronym OPEN.

Tactical Transparency discusses transparency in a variety of contexts, many of which are aplicable to lawyers, but I’d highlight one as being particularly critical:  relationship orientation.  In other words, at least in part due to the rise of social media, business must look at the clients or customers in the context of relationships rather than one-off transactions.  This is certainly a key concept for lawyers whose clients may have more than one legal need that they (or their firms) might meet.  Tactical Transparency recommends seven steps to design relationship-focused marketing:

  1. Get specific.  Make sure your comments connect with this potential client and ensure that you understand his or her specific situation.
  2. Make small talk big.  Lawyers sometimes wonder how much to ask in the context of growing a relationship.  Small talk is the starting point.
  3. Make your pitch interactive.  Don’t tell a potential client how you’ll solve the problem.  Have a conversation about possible approaches and solicit input.
  4. Give a call to action.  This is marketing language for requesting a next step, and it can be as simple as offering to sit down and discuss how some event or legal development might impact your potential client’s situation and how you might help.
  5. Write down a connection point.  The authors suggest that you demonstrate that you listened and tried to help with something not directly connected to a sale.  If that’s not applicable (because sometimes your conversations will be quite sharply focused on the legal needs), simply demonstrate that you listened intently and how you’ve connected your background or approach to the potential client’s needs.
  6. Practice good timing.  There’s an art to finding how to move a conversation forward without pushing it.  Learn and apply that art.
  7. Follow up.
  8. Partnering versus closing.  Think of working together with a client to achieve identified objectives rather than landing a new client.  The distinction may be subtle, but the transparency you demonstrate in placing your focus on the service to this specific client will bolster your relationship.  Moreover, in my experience, it’s also likely to increase your willingness to engage in rainmaking activities.

Although the key lesson I draw from Tactical Transparency has to do with business development, the book is wide-ranging in its discussion of social media and its applicability to business.  If you participate in any kind of social media or if you’re considering stepping into the world of social media, this book will provide plenty of brain candy as you think about building your reputation with new social platforms.

All In Good Time

One of the top concerns for most lawyers is time management.  We all have so much to accomplish in so little time, and it often seems that we’re always trying to cram more activities (whether professional or personal) into the non-negotiable 168 hours we have each week.  Most of my coaching clients bring time management issues to the table at some point, and time pressures are largely responsible for the high levels of stress that many lawyers face.

One distinction, “urgent” versus “important,” can form the basis for effective time management.  Urgent vs. important is a simple distinction that applies equally to the substance of a lawyer’s work as well as to practice or career management.  Stephen Covey has written about time use and devised a four-quadrant chart to help us judge where we spend most of our time:

Urgent and Important: 
Crises, pproblems, deadline-driven projects.  Preparing for a client meeting that will occur in a few hours is a Quadrant I activity.  Hallmarks of Quandrant I activity include intense focus, high stress, and limited opportunity for review and reflection.

Not Urgent, but Important: 
Preparation, problem prevention, planning, relationship building, values clarification, true recreation (“re-creation”).  Preparing for a client meeting that will occur in several days is a Quadrant II activity.  When you’re operating in Quadrant II, you’ll likely be focused (because your task is important) but you’ll feel less pressure and you’ll have more opportunity to consider all aspects of what you’re doing simply because you’re not staring down the barrel of a deadline.

Urgent, but Not Important: 
Interruptions, some phone calls, some meetings, some email.  When you’re forced to deal with something that’s not especially important at a certain time, you’re in Quadrant III.

Not Urgent, Not Important: 
Junk mail, spam, busywork, trivia, “escape” activities, mindless web surfing, etc.  We all spend time in Quadrant IV, but spending time on those activities produces little or no meaningful results because the activities by definition are not meaningful.

Where do you spend most of your time?  While it’s undeniable that Quadrant I requires attention and Quadrant III calls for attention (though the call may be illusory), Quandrant II is the critical zone.  That’s where the real work occurs that truly moves us forward.

Clients appreciate lawyers who work in Quadrant II.  All too often, lawyers send important documents to their clients and request a fast response.  That’s disrespectful of the client’s time.  It creates the impression that the lawyer simply couldn’t get his or her act together in time to plan in advance and complete the work early enough to allow the client time for meaninful review.  Clients appreciate lawyers who handle matters during an emergency, but they tend to resent those who act as if every event is an emergency.  Living in Quadrant II will increase the quality of your client service.

I worked with a client I’ll call Sheri, who was having a great deal of trouble getting everything done that she needed to in the office.  She found herself staying at the office later and later, then going in earlier and earlier, and before long she was exhausted and angry that her personal life had disappeared.  We started with the urgent/important distinction and looked at the kinds of tasks on her “to do” list through that lens.

After our first conversation, Sheri cut Quadrant IV activities completely and worked to get better at identifying Quadrant III activities so she could eliminate as many of those as possible.  And then she looked at the Quadrant I tasks she’d listed to see whether any could be delegated or otherwise handled.  And then our focus shifted to Quadrant II.

Sheri developed a schedule that guaranteed her planning and strategizing time (pure Quadrant II activities) and found that by spending time on those tasks, she was able to prevent problems and facilitate the orderly accomplishment of important aims.  Her stress level decreased, as did the number of hours she had to spend putting out fires.  Most importantly, when she did have to put out a fire, it was a real emergency, not a self-created one.

Your assignment for the week:  look at how you spend your time.  Review this week’s task list and mark every item according to its quadrant.  If they’re all Quadrant I, you have plenty of room for improvement.  And then, take a moment at the end of each day to look back at how you actually spent the day.  Did you spend 30 minutes looking for a file or other document?  Did you spend so much time sending “one quick email” that you didn’t even get to your top five tasks for the day?