Category: Marketing & Strategic Planning

Law Firm Layoffs Continue — Quietly — to the Detriment of Service Partners

At a recent presentation to students at a local law school, I emphasized that law firms are still downsizing, in order to deal with continuing underutilization.  The layoffs are not as spectacular as they were in the past few years, and therefore rarely make headlines like this recent one anymore.  But they continue nonetheless.

I was making this point in order to emphasize the perils of becoming a service partner.  In “olden days” this was often called a “worker bee” partner.  In the Finders, Minders, Grinders scenario, this would be a Minder as a partner, or perhaps Grinder as a partner or associate.  In short, if you are not familiar with these terms, we are referring to an attorney whose career involves servicing clients of some other partner(s).

How does one become a service partner?  Early in one’s career, one is convinced by one or more partners with heavy books of business, that they do not have to do any rainmaking on their own in order to do well, and even to become a partner; just service the partner(s) clients and that will be sufficient.

Many a capable attorney has been drawn by the siren’s call of no marketing necessity, and the ability to do nothing but practice law to their greatest capacity.  Many have made the ranks of partner, although for the majority who worked at firms with non-equity partners, that is the level of partner they achieved.  Still, even without a share of profits, and perhaps no say in management, having the title and a nice compensation package was more than adequate when coupled with the ability to ignore rainmaking responsibilities.

Here’s the problem.  It’s a lie.  Maybe a good-intentioned lie, but a self-serving lie nonetheless.  Because when a lawyer depends on someone else to fill his or her plate with work, in all likelihood that lawyer will eventually have an empty plate, and no justification for continued employment.  In some small percentage of such cases, the service partner may eventually “inherit” the desirable clients when the rainmaking attorney dies or retires.  But that assumes that the rainmaking attorney makes it a point to actively work on succession such that the relationships that matter are passed on to the service partner.  In my experience, that’s not going to happen often.  So eventually, at the point in one’s career when the attorney expects to start working less hard, he or she becomes a liability due to a lack of work, and has to start all over again somewhere else, or as a solo with no business and lots of experience.

Some firms have called me in to deliver the bad news, because no one within the firm had the ability to look the 70+ year old attorney in the face and tell him/her that the firm could no longer economically justify their existence at the firm.  The feelings of betrayal are incalculable.  The attorney feels that the “deal” with the firm required them to continue to fill his/her plate.  Why aren’t other partners, younger partners, feeding them work to make up for the partner who retired or died?  Simple:  they are going to push the work downward, so as to maximize their profit, as well as their control.  They are not comfortable pushing the work up.  They can not critique performance comfortably, and many times, the older partner doesn’t treat their clients with the same significance as clients from the more senior partner(s) who used to feed them work.

Law firms today can’t afford to elevate attorneys to true equity partnership positions unless they are also rainmakers.  So don’t be drawn by the siren’s call of alleviation of rainmaking necessity, to rocky waters where your ship will eventually crash and sink.  Stay the course.  Even if it means asserting your rights to keep some time to work on your own meager clients, as you build your book of business.  Your very existence will some day depend on it.

Newsletters are Only Valuable When They Deliver Timely Information That’s Useful

We’re all tired of getting newsletters containing information which we’ve already gotten from several sources.  If it isn’t timely, don’t bother.  And usually it’s written in unintelligible legalese.  That makes it useless for most prospects and clients.  Unbelievably, most firms still don’t “get” who their audience really is.  They write in a style which only another attorney might understand.  And by the time the editing cycle is done — each attorney in line who reviews, makes stylistic changes to the wording of the person beforehand, requiring the document to loop back for another round — the news is stale by the time it arrives in the inbox.  Yawn.  Yet another viewpoint about a topic that was fleetingly important.  When will firms stop over editing? 

When a firm gets it “right” the difference is clear. A tip of the hat goes out to Conshohocken-PA based Heckscher, Teillon, Terrill & Sager for their timely January 2, 2013 “Death and Taxes” newsletter. Heckscher, Teillon, Terrill & Sager, founded in 1994, provides sophisticated estate and tax planning and fiduciary related services in a personalized setting for individuals, families and small businesses.  They know their stuff.  And their timely news is expertly written.  Plain english.  Understandable, and by that I mean crystal clear. 

My only criticism, and it’s minor, is that their newsletter mentions that all previous newsletters are available on their web site.  I’ve been all over their site, and can’t find them.  So I am hopeful that my link above will work, even though it was a customized link for me.

If you’ve been sending out a newsletter, or are thinking about it, look at this as an example of how to do it right!  Bravo and kudos to HTTS.  And thank you for enabling me to understand the estate implications of the new tax law.  And for getting this information into my hands so quickly.

A Nice “Soft Touch” for Clients and Prospects

It takes a whole lot of “touches” to turn a stranger into a prospect, and a prospect into a client.  And a whole lot more to hold onto precious clients.  Soft touches work well this time of year.  People are in the holiday spirit.  They are feeling sentimental.  So anything which touches the sweet spot of sentimentality gives an extra charge.  I find that the good old-fashioned holiday letter is especially appreciated.

First, let’s start by defining what a “touch” is.  The following are examples of touches.  The prospect / referral source / client:

  1. Attends a seminar you present
  2. Reads an article you wrote
  3. Is given your name by a trusted colleague or service provider
  4. Meets you at a social event
  5. Meets you at a charitable event
  6. Meets you at a political event
  7. Meets you at a  sports event
  8. Meets you at an industry conference
  9. Is introduced to you through a connection on social media
  10. Sees your seminar or reads something you wrote on social media
  11. Finds your web site in response to a search
  12. Sits on a Board with you
  13. Serves on a committee or event you chair, or vice versa
  14. Hears your name mentioned when a topic comes up
  15. Is personally introduced to you by someone you both know
  16. Receives a personal communication from you, such as an article which might be of interest with a personal note, or a holiday letter

It can take anywhere from 10 – 17 quality touches to turn a stranger into a prospect, and subsequently into a client.  And then retention strategies must be employed, in addition to doing a “good job” for the client.  Otherwise, your experience may be “one and done” instead of a long-term client who refers others as well. 

As I mentioned earlier, this time of year lends itself to holiday letters to “clients and friends.”  Many of you are thinking that your holiday card is enough.  Yes, a holiday card is nice.  It is more nice when it’s hand signed.  And it’s effective if it arrives early in December, rather than after the holiday.  Yes, I get tons of holiday cards from attorneys which don’t arrive until after the holiday.  Not only do they go right into the trash, but they leave an impression of the law firm as disorganized.  Not the message you want to spend your hard-earned money creating.  However, a card just isn’t the same personal touch as a letter.

I usually only receive two or three each year.  So they stand out.  This year I want to commend Montgomery County attorney David Feldheim for his letter.  Thank you, David, for including me on your mailing list.  While David’s letter acknowledged the reality of a difficult year with many challenges, it also expressed gratitude over professional and personal milestones achieved.  It was a perfect balance that left me feeling like I know David better than I knew him before the letter arrived.  I felt warmed by his upbeat outlook for the future, and appreciation for his sharing his best moments in 2012.  We all love good news this time of year!

Let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for your contribution to a wonderful year at Freedman Consulting, Inc.  I also experienced many challenges, professionally and personally.  But I have come through all in better condition than I was when the year started, and I have all of you to thank for that.  Happy holidays and best wishes for a prosperous new year!!


Gaze Into the Crystal Ball at 2013

I would love your perspective on what you think are going to be the top issues law firms and individual lawyers will be wrestling with in 2013.  I’m researching for an article which will appear in The Pennsylvania Lawyer.  I would do it from my own perspective alone, but then again, I predicted the Beatles would never catch on, and since then I have been reluctant to trust my instincts alone to predict the future.  🙂

Of course there will be obvious issues: profitability, marketing, increased competition for clients and even jobs.  And then I am hoping some of you will tackle the more subtle issues, such as what seems the decline of civility, reduction in face-to-face communications, and so forth.

I will gladly provide attribution if you indicate I can quote you, and I choose to do so.   So gaze into your crystal ball and predict what you see coming in 2013, and more importantly, share what keeps you up at night regarding 2013 and beyond.

PA Lawyers Who Made the 6th Annual ABA Journal Blawg 100 List

Thousands of law-related blogs vie for attention from peers and prospects.  Only 100 make the coveted ABA  list each year.  Congratulations to those from PA.  To achieve this level of recognition  requires consistent effort and dedication.  The payoff is a decided elevation in name recognition.  Does it pay off in clients?  Let’s hear from those of you who’ve been nominated. 

How Appealing

As Nicholas Wagoner from Circuit Splits points out, Howard Bashman not only continues to churn out links on this appellate news-watch blog but also points readers to high-quality reporting on the subject. Bashman, practicing out of Willow Grove, Pa., also sends readers directly to federal and state court opinions so they can brush up on the latest appellate news from original sources.

Litigation & Trial

It’s a close call, but this blog from Philadelphia plaintiffs-side tort lawyer Max Kennerly is more about civil litigation and being a trial lawyer than tort law per se. Lengthy posts dig deeper than the mainstream media into the cases of the day—usually tort cases. But other posts cover First Amendment topics, law practice topics and legal news of import in Pennsylvania.


Philly Law Blog

Simple Justice’s Scott Greenfield calls Jordan Rushie and Leo Mulvihill “two kid lawyers with moxie, a sense of humor and a serious focus on what it means to start out in the practice of law.” These relatively new lawyers joined forces early this year to blog and practice in their own small shop. In posts, they (mostly Rushie) log the unwritten rules they are gradually learning from experience and other practitioners about trial practice and finding clients.



You’ve got a few more months until taxes are due, but you can read Taxgirl year-round. Philadelphian Kelly Phillips Erb blogs about taxes for Forbes, and it’s not just a personal finance blog; she also reports on political wrangling over tax legislation and tax-related news from the media. If you want to know about the tax woes of Prince and Michael Vick, Taxgirl’s your girl.


Tort Talk

Daniel E. Cummins, a frequent contributor to Pennsylvania Law Weekly, is an insurance defense attorney in Scranton, Pa. Tort Talk provides in-depth analysis of recent Pennsylvania tort cases and notes CLE events and national tort reform efforts.


You can view the list of all the nominated blogs here, and then click on the provided link to vote for ones  you like best.  Good luck to our PA bloggers.

Law Firms on the Edge

Loans to law firms used to be a “no brainer” until some spectacular failures created losses in the millions.  Now, law firms are watched and analyzed carefully by banks.  An article entitled “Consultant Has ‘Somewhat Robust’ Watch List of Law Firms in Possible Danger” which was appeared in ABA Journal Law News Now, included a video of an interview of Dan DiPietro, chairman of the Law Firm Group at Citi Private Bank.  I was impressed with the interview, and the fact that Dan uses “real” indicators of whether a law firm is in trouble, rather than just focus on the P&L.  He knows that underbidding jobs, partner defections, and excess capacity are all surer advance indicators that a law firm is heading for the fiscal cliff’s edge.  He rightly recognizes that only later do these trends reflect in the bottom line.

His view is that transactional work is strong in a few industries, but otherwise is mostly still flat, causing financial hardship at large law firms.  And that trend will continue for the foreseeable future.  Although his focus seems to be exclusively with “BigLaw” I can confirm that this trend is affecting mid-size firms as well.  Especially because of increased competitive pressure from larger firms now focusing marketing attention on smaller clients than normal, in an attempt to increase utilization of professional staff. 

I convey these increasing competition principles to attorneys by using a fishing analogy.  Think of the BigLaw firms as the deep sea fishermen.  They’re after the big scores.  But when their favorite locales are overfished, they look for new spots.  Next thing you know, they invade the waters formerly favored exclusively by the mid-size firms. Smaller fish, but still reasonable size and quantity.  They make up for the size difference in fishing for greater volume.  So what do the smaller firms have to do, faced with better-equipped increased competition that outclasses their operations?  They come and fish off the local pier of small-firm.   Firms that never expected competition; firms that always felt that larger firms were not interested in their clients.  They are now facing increased and daunting competition. 

When you know that you are or will shortly face steep competition where there was little or none before, it’s time to bring on your A-game.  Excellent service — defined from the perspective of the client, not the law firm — will be the number one determining factor of who gets or keeps the client.   Cost management and innovative pricing strategies will be another.  The days of clients rewarding inefficiencies are over.  If you haven’t taken quality-control measures to leverage your firm with knowledge management and workflow innovations, you will be unable to remain competitive.

Fan Mail: How to Get It

I have always been a big proponent of obtaining client feedback.  There are ways to do so which are expensive, and ways to do so on a shoestring.  The correct methodologies for your firm will depend as much on your clientele as your budget.  For example, a simple postcard enclosed with an invoice may be perfectly adequate and productive with the firm’s average client.  But a Fortune 500-level client should probably be visited by the firm’s marketing partner once a year for a personal check-up.  The bottom line is that it’s important to ask.

My philosophy is pretty much the same when it comes to internal feedback as well.  When I personally managed firms, I gave employees an opportunity to give me candid and anonymous feedback each year as to how I was doing from their perspective.  It allowed me to make significant improvements to my skill set over the years.   Nowadays, I ask clients at the conclusion of just about every meeting how they feel about the progress made.  And virtually every person I assist through the PA Bar Association hotline gets a member satisfaction form to complete.

What should you be asking?  Here are the essential areas to ask about:

  • RESPONSIVENESS:   Was the firm responsive in promptly responding to calls, emails and other forms of communications? 
  • TIMELINESS:  Did the firm complete tasks as promised?
  • CONCERN:  Did the people you interacted with at the firm make you feel that you were important, and that they genuinely cared about your matter and needs?
  • VALUE:  Did the actual cost of services feel commensurate with the value of those services?
  • COMMUNICATIONS:  Did the firm keep you well-informed, or did you have to ask to find out where things stood?
  • SUCCESS:  Did the representation provide the result you desired?  If not, do you feel that best efforts and/or creativity were employed?
  • RECOMMENDATION:  Would you return to the firm with a similar need in the future?  Would you refer someone else to the firm?

Another question which is best handled in a more detailed survey form or personal interview is whether there is feedback, positive or negative, regarding any individual at the firm.  While one hopes to hear that someone has stood out a notch above and made an indelibly good impression, it is even more important to proactively ferret out sources of client dissatisfaction and address them assertively.

I end each article I write with a request for feedback, and provide my email address.  I am amazed that people often take time from their busy schedules just to pass along a quick comment of their thoughts, corrections, or praise.  These words arrived in my inbox this week:  “You have a way of writing about the topics that lawyers just don’t want to think about or address in any serious manner.  Please keep up the good work.  ”  These are words a writer lives to hear; that their words have made a real impact and led to discussion and action. 

Getting fan mail isn’t always positive.  One can’t count on flattering words all the time.  But the most important feedback is often that which is decidedly not flattering.  It enables you to improve skills and refine procedures.  Either way, you need to recognize that in order to obtain meaningful feedback, you have to ask for it.  Make it part of your firm’s culture.


Does Investment in Social Media Pay Off? You Betcha!

The first thing attorneys ask is whether their investment of time in social media will produce results.  My answer is always a resounding YES!  Here’s proof of concept:  I received a call the other day from an attorney in New York.  I do not publish in New York.  I do not do seminar presentations in New York.  (Well, OK, I did speak at Legal Tech, but that was a decade ago.)  I am not a member benefit of the New York State or City Bar Associations.  So why did this attorney contact me?

First, let’s start with why.  With retirement age approaching, he realized that he needed to do some advance planning in terms of salvaging sweat equity from his practice, and figuring out what his best options would be.  He described himself as not a “googler” so he asked his wife to find him someone on the internet for him.  She made a short list of the types of questions he had, and from that searched for key words.  The series of searches she conducted returned hits on articles on my blog and web site on page 1 of each search result.  As he stated at the beginning of our conversation, it seemed like all paths were leading to me. 

Yes folks, that’s the whole point of your time investment.  Not only did I appear in the top of the search results each time, but the actual material was spot-on to the topic being researched, and provided genuine value.  I can assure you if it were fluff designed just to include the search terms, he would have continued looking.  But because the material he found indicated real expertise, he picked up the phone.

I admit that social media is a content monster.  When I am loaded with road trips and deadlines, it can fall off my radar screen quickly.  Then I remind myself that it is an essential habit for a healthy bottom line, and rededicate myself.  If you think about what information your future clients need and want, and address your writings to fill that need, they will find you.  It’s a fact.

Is It a Bird? A Train? Lawyers Who Leap Buildings in a Single Bound

There are so many designations nowadays for lawyers.  Super Lawyers is at the top:  those who wear a cape and are able to leap over buildings (or at least adversaries) in a single bound.  Best Of Lawyers.  AV rated lawyers.  A dizzying array of seemingly distinguishing designations.  The question of ethically advertising them, though, is still being asked.  As recently as yesterday, in fact.   And the answers are being largely ignored.  Mostly because so many attorneys have already ignored the answers, or failed to even ask the question in the first place, so that when an attorney looks at what their competitors have done, the “correct” answer seems to put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Keep in mind that just because some (many) attorneys list these designations inappropriately or improperly, it doesn’t mean it will pass muster with the Disciplinary Board.  There’s no safety in numbers.  Even if a thousand other attorneys do it wrong the same way you do, if someone makes a complaint about a particular firm, say your firm, that firm will be sanctioned.  Fortunately for most attorneys, the D-Board is so backed up with complaint investigations and hearings, they have no time to “prowl” to enforce.

I wrote about this in a post entitled “Have the PA Rules Regarding Lawyer Advertising Changed?” way back in August, 2006.  I stuck my neck out later that year in a post entitled “More on Lawyer Advertising” in which I declared my opinion that it would be best to have all attorney advertising in PA require pre-publication approvement in the same manner as in Florida.  It was not well-received, but I said it for exactly the reason set forth above, what is happening is a perpetuation of incorrect practices, simply because an overburdened Disciplinary Board barely has time to respond to complaints, let alone act on a proactive basis to enforce the PA Rules.

Let’s revisit once again what must happen in PA with respect to all these designations, under Rule 1.7.  From PA Informal Opinion 2005-188 we see this comment: 

“ . . .assuming you were voted “Best Lawyer of X County”, while the statement may be factually accurate, without an explanation regarding the basis for the designation, it could be deemed misleading and, thus, constitute a violation of Rule 7.1. . . . the inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.”

In Philadelphia Opinion 2004-10:

 “It is the opinion of the Committee that, although an attorney advertisement may state that an attorney has been designated a “Super Lawyer,” it may only do so when the advertisement contains sufficiently detailed information about that process and criteria for the reader to whom the advertisement is directed, to determine the manner and context within which the designation was made. Blanket statements that do not provide accurate and sufficient contextual information concerning ratings or other similar appellations do not comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, currently and as amended January 1, 2005.”

I think these are pretty clear.  As long as there is some notation about the process and criteria for the award, it may be mentioned.  Otherwise it is potentially misleading. 

While I am on this rant, let me remind you that you cannot use subjective adjectives or comparisons in your advertising, which includes your web site.  Words like “better, more, smarter” are no-nos.  I see them all the time.  You can’t call yourself “expert” unless it is in one of the specifically designated specialties of law where one can earn the designation, such as intellectual property.  Again, I see these statements all the time, e.g.  “Attorney X is an expert in land use and acquisition.” 

I hate to sound like the Grinch.  The reason I see these violations as problematic has not changed since I wrote about it in 2006.  Like many of you, I am seriously concerned about the loss of esteem with which lawyers are regarded by the general population.  I think that the impact which some lawyer advertising has had on the public has been responsible for some of this.  And it is exactly the general population which is so easily misled by these ratings, and what they actually represent.  Without any context, a designatiion of Super Lawyer or Best Of will most certainly create expectations.  When those expectations are not met, those designations will become quickly devalued in the eyes of the general population.  And that affects those of you for whom the designation should be meaningful.  In short, when misused on a massive scale, these designations become completely ineffective as differentiators. 


Lawyers Are Seeing ROI for Time Invested in Social Media

A recent survey conducted by American Lawyer Media shows that law firms, regardless of size, are realizing a return on investment for the time they are investing in social media marketing and building an online presence.  Read the article about it which appeared in the National Law Journal’s online publication

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