Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.
Some time ago, I met with a consultant to discuss how I could improve and expand my solo practice. I told him my future goals: to be recognized as an expert in my areas of practice, make lots of money, and have free time for my personal life. He said I could accomplish these goals, but it would depend on how much time and effort I put in. He then told me that I would need to “invest” money in marketing, blogging, networking events, and joining various organizations. I would also need to make plans to upgrade my office and get a staff. Finally, he told me to pick a religion, because I’d be praying often.
But when I looked at the projected costs to accomplish my goals along with the non-guarantee of success, I hesitated. A flurry of questions went through my head: Who do I need to connect with and hire? What niches are marketable and enjoyable? When would I start to see a return on my investment? Where are my potential clients? How many more networking events do I have to attend? Why am I doing this? Am I going to enjoy doing this? When I found myself asking that last question, I knew it was time to look at other options…
It’s always struck me as odd how isolated law schools tend to be. They often seem to be the loftiest towers in the ivory towers of higher education. Far removed from the day-to-day grind of their graduates and unconcerned with any sort of practicality as it relates to their instruction. Not only that, they seem to exist separately from the other enclaves of education within their university. For instance, at a university which contains both a law school and a business school, it would seem a natural conclusion for the two schools to work together and provide students with opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and education. Particularly given law schools’ new found fetishization of “experiential education” and a focus on practical education for law students.
I mean, given the choice to learn how to run a business, would you rather learn from a law professor who spent a year or two as an associate in Biglaw before hitting the life-long professor track, or a MBA who spent 20 years in business before semi-retiring to teach a class or two in business school?
I recently noticed a post by James Levy over at the Legal Skills Prof Blog about LexisNexis’s new “Think Like A Lawyer” program. The program aims to help law students be more prepared to work at a firm while they are summer associates. But as Levy points out:
“Apparently some employers have hired summer law clerks chiefly for the purpose of taking advantage of their free computer research access which until now has been a violation of the end user agreement. But Lexis is changing that with the announcement this week of a new training program called ‘Think Like a Lawyer’ that, among other features, gives 1Ls and 2Ls free, unlimited access to computer research over the summer which they can use in their jobs. That’s going to make it easier for at least some students to find summer clerkships especially with smaller firms where free Lexis access will add value.”
Firms using summer associates purely for free legal research?!? Say it ain’t so. But if that’s the case, just call it the “Free Legal Research Monkey” program and not “Think Like a Lawyer.” Because my knee-jerk reaction was: “Ugh, law school graduates actually need to think less like a lawyer….”
I knew a defense lawyer whose online bio said that he had “spent more than a year of his life in trial.” But I also knew the facts: He had tried precisely one case in his life; it lasted more than a year; at the end of the year, the jury awarded more than the plaintiff demanded in closing argument.
Despite having spent “more than a year of his life in trial,” I’m not certain he was a proven trial lawyer.
Google the words “consummate trial lawyer” or “quintessential trial lawyer” or the like. (The actual bio may use a synonym to those superlatives; I’m concealing my victim here.) One bio will pop up from a guy who has, in fact, tried a few cases. But he lost them all. He hasn’t secured a defense verdict at a jury trial since the early 1980′s. (He did manage to reverse on appeal several of his trial-level defeats, but I’m not sure that’s too comforting to someone who’s looking to retain trial counsel.)
These examples, of course, come from the guys who are being honest: The words contained in their bios are technically true. I’m not even talking about the folks who brazenly lie.
Given the skepticism that puffery breeds, how can you write an online bio that actually persuades a reader?
There has been a ridiculous rise of people claiming to be some sort of expert or professional or guru in social media in the past few years. How many? Try this on for size.
So in the three years, the number of social media experts multiplied by 11 times. Either there has been legitimate, explosive growth in the need for social media marketers, or perhaps (just maybe) people are promoting BS and blabber. These people are hoping, desperately, that someone will buy into their BS for long enough to pay them for it.
Unfortunately, lawyers are often some of the people who buy into it. You would think lawyers would know better — logical reasoning, analytical thinking, problem solving, etc. Nope. Lawyers seem to fall prey to these people as often, if not more so, as every other business….
Conventional wisdom says that solos and smalls should join a bar association — either the American Bar Association, a state or local bar, or a practice-specific bar (such as an association of telecommunications or criminal defense or real estate lawyers) — as a way to generate clients. Here’s but one recent article that recommends pounding the pavement at bar events to find clients.
I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits, including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice. But if lawyers think that they’ll find business through bar membership, most are sure to be disappointed….
But I’m really thinking about business development and, as I often do in my navel-gazing columns, simply using myself as a case study.
I graduated from law school in 1983 and published my first article (in California Lawyer) in 1986. (I’d provide a link to the article, but I’m afraid the internet didn’t exist way back when. The article was a thriller, though; trust me: “Reviewing the Unreviewable: Obtaining Appellate Review of Federal Trial Court Remand Orders.”)
Because I was a young man, I was quick to hope: I’d published an article! My phone would naturally start ringing off the hook within the next few weeks! I’d be deploying my novel thesis in cases left and right, and the partners at my firm would be dumbstruck by my ability to develop business! Life of Riley, here I come!
Because I was quick to hope, I was easily deceived: Publishing one short article — even an article with a pretty decent thesis in a journal with a fairly large circulation — does not generate new business.
Throughout 2013, along with our friends at Good2BSocial, ATL researched the social media practices of law firms. The research had three components: (1) a review of the websites and social media profiles of the Am Law 50 across all public platforms, including an assessment of each firm’s publicly available content as well as social reach and engagement (number of followers, comments, etc.); (2) a survey of the firms themselves regarding the extent to which they are currently using social technologies and practices internally; and (3) a survey of the ATL readership to glean the perspective of practicing attorneys and other legal professionals.
We are publishing the results of this research in two stages. Back in December, we published a white paper summarizing our findings and analysis. (Sign up here to receive a free download of the paper.) Our findings show that, while the majority of the Am Law 50 are established on the major public social media platforms, their presence often exhibits only a token effort. Generally speaking, there is little evidence that Biglaw is addressing the social media landscape strategically rather than using it as just another marketing channel for firm news and press releases. That said, some Biglaw firms are distinguishing themselves with the reach, engagement, and creativity of their social media efforts.
Today we publish the second component of our findings: our inaugural Social Law Firm Index, where we identify which specific firms are making the most effective use of social media…
Most every law firm — including 100 percent of the Am Law 50 — maintains a Linkedin company page. Or rather, “maintains” such a presence on that most buttoned-up of all the social media platforms. A quick look at the LinkedIn pages of the Vault top 10 shows that only two firms bothered to change their page’s default setting to display “Services” rather than the inapt “Products” tab on the navigation menu. (Kudos to Kirkland and Debevoise!) This might seem like the most trivial of nits to pick, but aren’t these firms defined by fanatical attention to detail? Yet this nonchalance is emblematic of Biglaw’s unsettled relationship with social media.
We can safely assume that Biglaw’s old guard just wants social media to get off its lawn already, but what data we have strongly suggests that, as organizations, firms believe — or act as if they believe — that engagement with social media is worth doing (paceBrian Tannenbaum). When we examine the particulars of how they are managing this engagement, firms should hope that there is truth to Chesterton’s dictum: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly….”
Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the growing new crop of online matchmaking services designed to help small and mid-sized business clients connect with qualified and affordably priced lawyers. The sites profiled include UpCounsel, which allows clients to bid projects, handles payments, and collects feedback (sort of like Elance for legal services); Priori Legal, which provides clients a list of pre-vetted attorneys with 5+ years of experience and negotiates discount rates; and IP SmartUp, which also charges discount rates for patent services.
From what I can tell, in the short term, these sites make money through various ethically permissible transaction fees (read: no referral fees, though some of the models tread dangerously close). My guess is that in the long run, these sites’ greater value will derive from big data gleaned from transactions that may shed insight on the factors that inform lawyer hiring (and in turn may hold value for lawyer marketing operations).
No doubt, from a small business perspective, these sites are golden. With their clean modern look and easy navigation, these platforms give prospective small business clients a far better user experience than any bar referral or local chamber of commerce site I’ve ever seen. Plus, many of the lawyers registered for the sites so far boast stellar credentials. And the price is right — the WSJ piece shares the experience of one happy user who procured legal services at a price of between $100 and $600 per project (though the average cost of a transaction on UpCounsel is around $1000, the story notes).
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.