Not the same year-end pablum again!

We’re at the tail-end of the year, a busy time whether you’re celebrating with family or pushing to meet a year-end matter deadline. At year’s end, the ‘net is awash in articles about evaluating last year and prepping for the new year that are just warmed over from previous years. Ugh! Who has time? But…

Here are two articles worth making time to read this week because they’ll challenge your way of thinking:

  • Paying the Smart Phone Tax by Seth Godin. I essentially run my business from a smart phone, and I rely on it for critical news about a terminally ill family member. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately worried about a financial tax on my phone, but the post itself points out a much more significant price to pay from overusing it.
  • The Four Hardest Questions to Answer at the End of the Year  by Michael Bungay Stanier. We all reflect on the closing year as a new one approaches, and our questions tend to scratch only the surface. As Stanier argues, asking only “what did you do” and “how did it go” allows you to avoid going deeper into what’s really going on. He recommends four alternate questions:
o    What do I need to kill off?

o    Where have I stayed stuck?

o    How did I let myself down?

o    Where are you really headed?

Read the article for further explanation of these questions, and then answer them honestly to gain deep insight leading into to purposeful action. I particularly like Stanier’s suggestion that you answer the questions out loud with a trusted friend or colleague.
These two articles got me thinking in a fresh and challenging direction. I’ll be working on Stanier’s four questions next week. Will you join me?

2016’s hot-or-not forecast

It’s prediction season! This time of year, you’ll find one article after another reviewing trends and predicting next year’s conditions in the legal profession. Here’s the best forecasting article I’ve read this season, with a few highlights:

  • Legal project management is a hot topic, though it’s also under-utilized.
  • Alternative fee arrangements continue to be popular, especially in the context of an overall reduction in legal fees. Some firms are using non-partner track attorneys to ensure more consistent profit under these arrangements.
  • Younger attorneys, especially millennials, are not as interested in the traditional law firm model as previous generations, which is causing a crimp in succession planning and challenges in hiring.
  • Corporate legal departments continue to expand and take on work that would previously have gone to outside counsel; lawyers with large books of business are joining in-house departments in search of better quality of life. (Though the article doesn’t draw this conclusion, I’d suggest that this is also a result of an increased squeeze on lawyers who don’t originate enough work to be considered financial contributors to the firm, particularly non-equity partners in large firms.)
  • Increased competition is here. Law firms are competing not only against one another, but also against accounting firms that are building legal services divisions and other outside service providers that can provide services previously offered only by lawyers.

Here’s another article that offers the 15 Best Opportunities and Trends for 2016. A key takeaway from this article is that “[m]ore clients expect outside counsel to understand their business” and that lawyers must seek to understand the business and demonstrate that understanding. If you serve business clients, this should be considered a non-negotiable area of focus for the coming year. (Interestingly, this article offers a generally rosier view of the upcoming year than the previous article.)

Read the articles and consider the trends… Ask yourself whether your experience bears out these articles’ conclusions. Predictions are often incorrect and where there’s a trend, there’s often a counter-trend as well. But the bigger question is, so what? What do the trends these reports identify mean for your practice, and what adjustments do you need to make? 

New study: Should you blog?

I ran across two interesting articles last week summarizing a recent survey on in-house counsel’s content consumption habits and preferences. (Download a summary of the survey results here.) The survey suggests that content marketing for lawyers may not be all it’s cracked up to be… But is that true?

“The survey clearly shows that in-house counsel know the value – or the potential value – of relevant content generated by law firms,” said John Corey, founding partner of Greentarget. “But the sheer volume of content out there combined with the dearth of documented strategies, and even the absence of any kind of strategies, has caused a problem for many firms – and an opportunity for those who can get it right.”

Survey findings include:

  • Client alerts and newsletters are more valuable to survey respondents than blogs
  • Professional use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is on the rise (though LinkedIn is still the preferred social media platform for professional use)
  • 71% of in-house counsel have used Wikipedia to conduct company and industry research
Blogging seems to take a particular hit in the study findings, with 30% of in-house counsel stating that they don’t visit blogs at all and a decreasing number who report being influenced by a blog in making a hiring decision. However, that means that 70% of in-house counsel do read blogs. It also overlooks the increased visibility that can result from valuable content generation, because a blog can often be a springboard to being quoted in traditional media, which 98% of respondents consider to be very or somewhat credible.

What’s the takeaway message for you?
  1. Have a strategy for producing and using content for marketing purposes. Value quality over quantity.  65% of in-house counsel rate blogs as “somewhat or very credible,” but 75% find law-firm blogs valuable. Don’t waste your time trying to crank out voluminous content; instead, invest the time to provide thoughtful exposition and commentary on topics that matter to your clients and potential clients. Be clear on your content marketing objectives.

  2. Be clear on your content marketing objectives. Are you producing content to establish your credibility in your area of practice? Are you writing in an effort to attract attention from potential clients? Are you writing (or paying someone to write for you) in an effort to attract web traffic through optimized search terms? Each of these objectives (along with others) is viable, but effective implementation calls for different strategies.

  3. Build distribution strategies into your content marketing approach. If you’re spending the time to produce high-quality content, you should also spend the time to distribute it via social media, perhaps to submit it to Wikipedia where appropriate, and to highlight it on your bio sketch and/or firm website.
  4. View content marketing as a door opener, not a business closer. If you’re expecting a blog or newsletter to generate business in and of itself, you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, use it to build a reputation, to buttress your credibility in practice, and to open or continue conversation with contacts that can lead to business.

  5. Value quality over quantity. It bears repeating, because this point is really the bottom line of content marketing. Throwing something together because you know content is supposed to be valuable is a dead-end effort. Producing content that starts or adds to conversation on issues that matter to the kinds of clients you seek to serve can create significant opportunity.
What’s your content marketing strategy, and how might the survey results influence it?

Making the most of holiday networking

Buckle your seat belt: the business-social season is about to kick into high gear. Many organizations will have holiday parties, and contacts will likely invite you to a variety of parties. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and, if you are strategic about the functions you attend, to meet and build relationships with people who will be helpful for your business development goals.

If you get energy from meeting new people, you’re probably polishing your shoes already. If you’re a bit more introverted, however, or if the idea of walking into a room of strangers is so off-putting you’d rather do anything else, you might be tempted to skip out on these business-social opportunities. 

Here’s help, through a few articles I’ve recently read, plus one video:

The 17 best icebreakers to use at awkward social events offers some good ideas to kick off conversation, with simple suggestions such as asking whether your conversational partner is originally from the city you’re in or whether she came here for business. Ignore the goofy photos and a few goofy icebreakers, but do read the commentary along with each suggestion for some valuable insight.

7 Tips for Networking has good principles for networking. The first (don’t arrive late) and last (follow up) are my favorites, but all are useful.

20 Ways to Start a Conversation and Build into a Connection makes the critical (but far too often overlooked) point that having a conversation doesn’t much matter unless it becomes the building block for a relationship. I particularly like tip 7, which suggests actively working on a repertoire of entertaining stories. Whether it’s a practice-related war story or a funny story about your kids, knowing how to tell a story well can pave the way for a great connection.

21 Conversations Starters Professionals Can Use to Break the Ice provides seven topics you might use to get conversation going and outlines a four-step process for good conversation: “One: Ask them appropriate, relevant questions about themselves — known as ‘conversation starters.’ Two: Practice active, appreciative listening. Three: Share brief, reflective relevant comments about yourself. And four: Repeat the process.”

Must Know Body Language Tips for Networking Events recommends watching the feet in a networking setting. It’s an unusual proposition, but a valuable a 3-minute video.

Using these tips will help you in both business and business-social networking opportunities. Choose strategically which functions to attend, prepare yourself to initiate conversations, and initiate good follow-up … And you’ll be ready to make the most of holiday networking.