Business development

Keith Lee

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?

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Keith Lee

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….”

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Am I wrong to be suspicious?

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?

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Keith Lee

N.I.N.J.A – No Income, No Job, or Assets

Often used in connection with loans, it also applies to so-called social media “experts.”

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….

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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 disagree.

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….

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I took the title of this column from Aristotle: “Young men are easily deceived, for they are quick to hope.

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.

So I expanded my analysis and published the long-form of my article in the Arizona State Law Journal in 1987.

Because I was still a young man, I was still quick to hope. . . .

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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…

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Can Biglaw solve this puzzle?

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 (pace Brian 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….”

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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).

Still, do these sites work for solos and smalls?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

For years, I’ve been hearing firms describe their cultures as “entrepreneurial,” and I hardly paid the slightest attention. Like “collegial” or “collaborative,” it just seemed like so much white noise. Then finally I heard it once too often and had to face cold reality: I had absolutely no idea what these people — a lot of smart, articulate people — were talking about.

Let’s go to the dictionary, where we find:

/äntrəprə no͝orēəl/

1. characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit; enterprising

Other notions orbiting around the concept of entrepreneurism include engaging in genuine innovation and invention (to the extreme of shattering the status quo), proceeding decisively in the face of profound ambiguity and uncertainty, and shouldering the personal risk of sacrificing years of reliable income provided by others for whatever rewards you can persuade the market to deliver — with a meaningful risk those rewards could be nonexistent.

This is an audience participation column, so I ask you this: Would you describe your own firm as “entrepreneurial?” Are there firms you admire or look down upon that you’d describe as “entrepreneurial?” What mental image or behavior, what cultural archetype or partner personality type, pops into your mind when “entrepreneurial” is used to describe a firm?

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