Marketing

Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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This was the Twitter of Olden Times.

Seeing as law firms are among Earth’s last enthusiasts of Lotus Notes and fax machines, they can hardly be expected to be on the cutting edge of evolving social media technologies. As social media platforms and blogs were exploding over the last decade, most law firms did not engage. Firms continued to churn out the unread white papers and ignorable client alerts as part of their traditional marketing efforts.

This reluctance or skepticism has waned some in the last couple of years and given way to a wary appreciation of the positive role that LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, and similar sites can play in marketing, recruiting, client support and internal collaboration. A 2012 survey of lawyers and legal marketers by ALM Legal Intelligence attests to this shifting attitude. The survey had some striking findings. Among them:

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Nothing you can say or do can cause me to retain you.

That’s terribly disheartening for folks who believe that business development should work, but it’s awfully close to being true.

Why is there nothing you can say that will cause me to hire you?

Because long experience (and the rules of arithmetic) have taught me that the average lawyer is average. So about 68 percent of all lawyers are within one standard deviation from the mean, and about 95 percent are within two standard deviations. And that’s roughly the mark that I’m aiming for when I hire outside counsel: Good lawyers. Really good lawyers. Maybe two standard deviations from the mean.

This means that if I picked my outside counsel randomly, I’d be disappointed 19 times out of 20. I don’t like those odds, so I don’t pick outside counsel randomly.

And if I picked my outside counsel based on which outside lawyers told me that they personally think they’re great, I’d still be disappointed 19 times out of 20. I still don’t like those odds.

I don’t know if other inside counsel view things the same way I do. But, if they do, it makes business development awfully tricky. If there’s nothing you can say or do to cause me to hire you, what forms of business development might work?

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Over its long and storied history, Davis Polk & Wardwell hasn’t hired many lateral partners. Most of its partners are homegrown, joining the firm right out of law school and spending their entire careers there (like the two most recently promoted partners).

But this has started to change over the past few years, as managing partner Thomas Reid discussed in an August 2011 interview with Am Law Daily. In the August 2010 to August 2011 period, DPW hired a half-dozen prominent lateral partners.

And the lateral hiring spree continues (although not without the occasional snag). Let’s hear about Davis Polk’s latest high-profile hire, a new lateral partner at Paul Hastings, and an addition to the leadership of Orrick….

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Years ago, I knew a lawyer who thought that business entertainment worked. He was a plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer: “I treat a doctor to a $50 lunch, and the next day he refers a case to me. I make one phone call and settle the case for $9,000, netting a $3,000 fee. And the doctor thinks we’re even! It’s unbelievable! I can’t eat enough lunches!”

Good for him. But does it work for anyone else?

I certainly treated clients to dinners and sporting events in my day, but none of those clients (or prospects) ever hired me in return for that entertainment. I didn’t expect them to, and I’d be terribly disappointed in them if they did. My having treated a guy to a dinner doesn’t make me the best lawyer to handle his case, and he’d be nuts to hire me because the caviar was beluga.

The reverse is also true. Lots of people want to meet me, buy me a meal, or take me to a cricket match (I’m now based in London, remember?) since I’ve gone in-house. A few of the folks who buy me lunch even follow up with e-mails expressing their unhappiness that I haven’t promptly retained them: “Was it something I said? Why haven’t I heard from you, other than the thank you note?”

It was nothing you said. But why should I possibly hire you simply because you bought me lunch?

I have my own theory about why firms create large “client entertainment” budgets . . .

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Oh my, I can’t believe a major legal publisher is selling cheap-looking plaques for hilariously useless achievements. Actually, I can totally believe it.

I’ve never bought into the idea that lawyers need “credibility trophies.” Lawyers who festoon their offices with scores of plaques come across as desperate. Lots of plaques commemorate dubious achievements, and any colleague or client given a few minutes to examine the decoration will discover this and wonder, “Why did he/she hang this?” But sadly, much of the profession ascribes to the “plaques for plaques’ sake” mentality.

If an office must be adorned with memorabilia of legal achievement, frame the law school diploma, bar admission certificate(s), and any major achievements like being president of the bar association or something. These provide all the indicia of achievement a lawyer needs.

And nothing says “plaques for plaques’ sake” like a redundant plaque. Like a plaque that says, “If you didn’t notice the diploma on the other wall, this certifies that he REALLY did go to Harvard.”

But these plaques exist, and we’ve got pictures…

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If you are a Biglaw partner and have only one title to hawk, I hope you are at a really top-tier firm. Because “partner” is no longer enough to impress clients. Especially in this age of multiple industry “guides” eager to anoint mortal lawyers with honorifics befitting your typical episode of Game of Thrones. (I am sure there is a female head of litigation somewhere who would relish being called Mother of Dragons, or a managing partner in Silicon Valley who would not mind being thought of as Lord of the Vale.) Between Chambers, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, and others, there are plenty of possibilities to supplement “partner” with something more.

Of course, the race for titles happens internally at Biglaw firms as well. Factor number one is prior business generation. Rainmakers are given titles by their fellow partners, like farmers seeding clouds for future rainfall. Every firm has at least a managing partner or CEO, numerous practice group heads, and an executive committee. Some firms, typically those of the “eat what you kill” variety, also exhibit a form of “title inflation,” with co-chairs galore and sub-department chieftains abounding. Plus office-level “chairs” — it is always a hoot when there is a local head of litigation for a branch office with three litigators. Especially when the branch office is a major city, with dozens of robust litigation practices at other Biglaw firms for clients to choose from. Everyone who has been granted a title uses it when marketing outside the firm. Who would want to hire a regular partner for a bankruptcy matter when you can have the co-chair of the Boston office’s (two-member) restructuring department handling things?

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Aside from the daily challenges associated with sustaining or exceeding gross revenue year after year, Biglaw partners are probably most worried about their firm’s brand. After all, a brand is something that will keep clients coming back, and usher in new and exciting business opportunities.

But with so many firms to choose from, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which one is on top when it comes to being the most well-known of the bunch, regardless of what their Am Law or Vault 100 ranks might tell you. What matters most is obviously what the clients think.

Of course, there’s now a ranking to determine which firm has the strongest brand in the business….

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Yesterday, Brian Tannebaum wrote about many of the law firm web site marketeers that write dreck for their clients.

The marketeers put this stuff online for the lawyers and call it content. Those with even minimal composition skills use far less charitable words to describe it.

As an example, he writes about the self-linking that takes place in pseudo-blogs and the embarrassing effect it actually has on the lawyer being promoted. He uses the example below — a monstrous keyword smorgasbord you may have stumbled across in the past, and were dumber for having done so….

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This is a post about the internet, and yes, it’s about small law firms.

You’re still in the race to page one of Google. Nothing is more important. It’s tiring. Your marketeer tells you that blogging is king. You don’t have time to blog, you need clients now — you aren’t interested in waiting for some client to think you had something interesting to say in your blog, and in turn, call your office, or some lawyer to read what you wrote and refer you a case.

Not a problem, says the marketeer. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as your website is linked throughout the posts, like this:

Recently, this Craptown family lawyer read about a father being held in contempt for failing to pay child support. This case was not in Craptown and did not involve a Craptown family lawyer. As a Craptown family lawyer, it is important that anyone in Craptown who has a problem with Craptown family law call a Craptown family lawyer. It is unclear whether the father sought the services of a Craptown family lawyer, but contempt is a bad thing and is a reason to seek out a Craptown family lawyer. So for those of you fathers that are broke, it may be time to call a Craptown family lawyer.

These blogs all suck, say nothing, and exist only based on the marketeer’s promise of clients finding you via Google and dropping off a pile of cash at your office. The authors are very very very proud of their prose, as the marketeers cheer on their attempts to game Google. “Hey man, that last post was great, you had 27 links to your website.”

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the vast amounts of Biglaw associates who read every single word of this column under duress every single week while waiting for their next assignment, but for those small firm and solo practitioners, I have a question: Does it work?

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