Marketing

I recently talked about law firm names. But it’s not enough just to come up with a good law firm name. You also need to come up with a good law firm domain name. Otherwise, people will have trouble finding you. If you have your own firm, or think you might possibly someday, you need to become master of your domain, and you need to do it now.

When I started practicing in 1994, the Martindale-Hubbell directory was how people found out about your law firm. If you weren’t in there, you weren’t legit. That’s all changed now. If people want to learn about your firm, they either enter in your domain name (or your likely domain name if they don’t already know it), or they use the Google to find your website.

Nowadays, this is often how prospective clients (as well as opposing counsel) get their first impression of you and your firm. If your website looks like it would have been at the cutting edge in 1998 or 2002, you’re already sunk. Firm website design is a topic for a different day. Today we’re just talking about your domain name, because without a good one, you may never get found in the first place.

If you have your own small firm, or think you possibly may someday, read on for eight tips on choosing the right domain name.…

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Silly things happen when no one speaks up.

The classic example was when General Motors chose to name one of its cars the Chevrolet “Nova.” In Spanish, “no va” means “it does not go,” which isn’t a great name for a car sold in Spanish-speaking countries. I’d bet that a few hundred Spanish-speaking employees of GM noticed that issue before the car hit the market, but no one bothered to speak up.

Let me offer two more examples of failing to speak up, with both examples coming at my own expense. (I wish I weren’t such an easy target, but such is life.)

The first example involves a law firm. Twenty-two years ago, as a lateral sixth-year associate, I accepted a job at Jones Day in Cleveland. I saw during the hiring process, and again when I sat down at my desk on the first day of my new job, that all of the firm’s promotional materials included the firm’s marketing slogan: “Jones Day: One Firm Worldwide.”

I’d been practicing law for six years at that point, so I was a relatively sophisticated lawyer, although by no means an old hand. Perhaps older and wiser folks looked at the tagline “one firm worldwide” and thought: “Terrific! I’m going to hire those guys because they’re one firm worldwide!”

But that wasn’t how it struck me. I sat there scratching my head: How many firms was I supposed to think Jones Day was? Two firms? Three firms? A half-dozen? And why was the apparent misperception — that Jones Day was more than one firm — so widespread that the firm devoted its main branding opportunity to dispelling this confusion? Of the many praiseworthy things that could surely be said about my new employer, why did the fact that it was only “one firm” top the list? Wouldn’t it be slightly more helpful to say, for example, “Jones Day: Pretty Good Lawyers”? Would the Jones Day slogan make sense for any other big firm? Would “General Motors: One Firm Worldwide” be a useful marketing tool? What the heck was going on?

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I am not proud to admit this, but it is possible that my three-year-old niece knows more about branding than I do. I learned this the other day when I was reading my niece one of her favorite books, Fancy Nancy.

For those of you who not know Nancy, she is a little girl who loves to dress fancy, act fancy and talk fancy. For example, this little girl does not say that her favorite color is purple. She prefers fuchsia, a word that is “fancy” for purple. Similarly, Nancy does not want a new hairdo. No, Nancy uses the fancy word “coiffure” instead. For some reason, my niece loves Nancy, but I think she is a showoff. When asked why she loves the know-it-all Nancy, my niece explained that she made things sound better.

Maybe my niece had a point. If you want your small firm to sound better, then use fancy words. As Nancy would explain, do not call yourself a “trial lawyer.” Everyone knows that “litigator” is fancy for trial lawyer. Or is it?

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Yesterday was the last day of July, and baseball fans know that this day is important because it’s the trade deadline. (Seamheads and baseball lawyers understand that it’s actually only the nonwaiver-trade deadline, but why take the fun out of it?) So I spent some time this weekend following the interwebs to see whether the Red Sox would do anything to improve their league-leading team (and even better, thwart the Yankees from improving at the same time).

At one point, there were reports that the Red Sox had traded for A’s pitcher Rich Harden. But the Sox scuttled the deal once they learned that the oft-injured Harden had a hospital bracelet tattooed on his arm to save time. (They ended up acquiring left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard, who is injured slightly less often than Harden.)

But as I was watching the annual trade-deadline special on the New England Sports Network after Sunday’s game (apparently, I have no life), I saw a laptop commercial that only a law firm could appreciate.

Whose ad it was and why it made me think of the sorry state of law-firm marketing, after the jump.…

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A friend of mine is a plaintiff’s lawyer in Boston. We’ve opposed each other on several cases, and our interactions (always on the phone; weirdly, we’ve never met in person) are characterized by good-natured but acerbic jabs. Typically, he would bemoan my clients’ “colossally stupid” behavior. For my part, I would make fun of his firm’s name.

Don’t get me wrong: his firm is one of the most respected plaintiff’s firms in town. But its name follows the classic ego-gratifying law-firm style of putting all the partners’ surnames on the letterhead. With Biglaw firms, this doesn’t matter much, because the name partners tend to be, well, not-so-much alive. And the sheer number of partners at big firms means that ego notwithstanding, most aren’t getting their names on the sign.

But small firms have (by definition) fewer partners — with just as much ego. And they tend to be living. So the firm names are long and subject to frequent change.

Why is this a problem for small firms, and what they should do about it?

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Twenty years ago this September, I started law school not knowing anyone there. More importantly, no one there knew me.

Now, mind you, this was at Boston College Law School, where such things aren’t really emphasized. I mean, it’s not like at that school across the Charles, where people like the Winklevii both wear and file suits. At BC Law, which (at least back then) prided itself on being a kinder, gentler law school, it wasn’t really about who you knew, or who knew you. (Yes, one of those whos should really be a whom, but only someone at Harvard would actually say it that way.)

Still, it’s nice to have people know who are you are, and it’s a useful skill to develop for after school, when you need to know how to market your services as a lawyer.

So three weeks after school started, almost everyone knew my name. You see, I had a secret weapon.…

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As an in-house lawyer who occasionally influences our selection of outside counsel, I hear an awful lot of law firm pitches. And I must admit that I’m often entertained by them. I spent better than 25 years in the private practice of law, where attracting new business was an important part of the game. I was never sure which pitches had a chance and which didn’t, so it’s pretty amusing to sit on the other side of the table to see how other folks approach this.

I recently saw one good pitch and one bad one, and I just have to share.

First, the bad one. Several lawyers from a firm visited us for a chance to explain their firm’s capabilities. I don’t remember why we were meeting with them — we actually had a need for them; someone recommended them; someone important asked us to meet with them as a favor; whatever. I used to think that getting in the door to meet with potential clients was a big achievement; I now realize that it meant less than I thought.

Anyway, these guys started the pitch the usual way: The firm has lots of great lawyers who’ve done lots of great things in their lives. The firm is divided into several departments, and those divisions should for some reason matter to me. A couple of magazines had bestowed some awards on the firm or its lawyers. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And then the associate speaks….

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On a nice, lazy, summer Friday, it’s good to know that rudeness still exists this world.

Today’s example of questionable behavior comes from a midsized Midwestern law firm. Yeah, apparently Midwestern manners don’t extend to how you treat people while you are rejecting them. This firm decided to use its rejection letters as an opportunity to market its new iPhone/iPad application.

It’s an app for people looking for work, of course…

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Law firm advertising is expensive and certain methods may be cost-prohibitive for small firms. For instance, a small firm may not be able to afford a television or print campaign. Enter online marketing including, among other things, Google AdWords and sponsored links. In 2009, a law firm filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin state court challenging certain marketing strategies as an invasion of privacy, as defined in the Wisconsin privacy statute. Luckily for consumers and small firms, the court disagreed.

The case involved the two most prominent personal injury firms in Wisconsin. One of them, Cannon & Dunphy, used a Google AdWords PPC (price-per-click) strategy (and other search engines) to bid on the name of the state’s largest personal injury firm, Habush, Habush & Rottier. In other words, when a user would search the terms Habush or Rottier, a Cannon & Dunphy link would show up in the shaded section as a Sponsored Link.

Habush sued Cannon, alleging that Cannon’s online marketing campaign violated Wis. Stat. §995.50. That statute prohibits “the use, for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade, of the name . . . of any living person, without having first obtained the written consent of the person,” and provides a cause of action where such an invasion of privacy was unreasonable.

The result of the litigation, after the jump….

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* The bionic lawyer is coming. [CNET]

* Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. [Not So Private Parts/Forbes]

* Thank God somebody in Georgia understands the difference between Goth kids and murderers. [Siouxsie Law]

* The headline on this Pabst v. SEC story is worth the click. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Mitt Romney thinks gay should work, just not fall in love. [Poliglot / Metro Weekly]

* Here are 25 legal marketing cliches to avoid… or only use ironically, amiright? [Ross's Law Marketing Blog]

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