Category: Marketing & Strategic Planning

Differentiation Always Counts

Do you fully understand what differentiation means when it comes to your marketing efforts, and ultimately your success?  I just read an amusing anecdotal blog post from the powerhouse legal recruiting firm of Major, Lindsey & Africa.  Entitled “Tales from the Inside: Do You Think I Should Send a Thank-You Note?” It tells the story of how three candidates for a desirable in-house position were differentiated by the simple fact that one of the three took time to send hand-written thank you notes after each interview, and the other two did not.  Guess who got the job?

Take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about differentiation, when used in the context of marketing (emphasis added):

In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors’ products as well as a firm’s own products. The concept was proposed by Edward Chamberlin in his 1933 Theory of Monopolistic Competition.

The objective of differentiation is to develop a position that potential customers see as unique. . . .

Differentiation primarily affects performance through reducing directness of competition: As the product becomes more different, categorization becomes more difficult and hence draws fewer comparisons with its competition. A successful product differentiation strategy will move your product from competing based primarily on price to competing on non-price factors . . . .

Most people would say that the implication of differentiation is the possibility of charging a price premium; however, this is a gross simplification. If customers value the firm’s offer, they will be less sensitive to aspects of competing offers; price may not be one of these aspects. Differentiation makes customers in a given segment have a lower sensitivity to other features (non-price) of the product.

The anecdotal blog post illustrates how simple it can be to develop differentiation in some cases.  However,  any good law firm management consultant or marketing professional will tell you that development of differentiation for lawyers and law firms may not be so easy.  It depends on so many factors, such as whether you have a niche practice, what unique qualifications exist at  your firm, and so forth.  Sometime a firm must make purposeful changes to develop differentiating factors.

Your takeaway from all of this is that being different (in a good way) from your competitors, will always help you stand out in the crowd, and enable you to compete for work on a basis other than cost.


How Quickly Do You Follow Up on Prospect Calls?

Time is of the essence when you are contacted by a prospective client. How can you improve your response time to the prospect?  Law firm marketing guru Stephen Fairley recently wrote

A study on the lifespan of sales leads conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that leads contacted within one hour are 7 times more likely to be converted than if the contact was two hours later – and 60 times more likely to be converted than if the contact was 24 hours later.

He offers valuable advice on how to improve your response rate.  Spoiler alert: effective use of your existing technology is involved!

How One Keystroke Can Undo Your Deal — Confidentiality:

What does a teenager have in common with confidentiality?  Absolutely nothing.  Today’s youth live out their lives on social media without a thought of consequences from sharing every thought and action.  Following is a guest blog by Wayne, PA employment lawyer Robin Bond.  Read about how a college-age daughter’s Facebook post cost her father $80,000. These are your
employees and clients, folks.  Make sure they understand the meaning of the term “confidential.”


When a company and an employee sign off on a deal or settlement agreement, “confidentiality” about the terms of that agreement is often a key condition for payment. That means “keeping quiet” — and keeping your social media fingers, and those of your children, off the keys!

In Gulliver Schools, Inc. v. Snay, Patrick Snay’s lawyers negotiated a settlement of his age discrimination and retaliation claims; however, confidentiality was a key term for payment of $80,000.  Snay told his college-age daughter that the case “was settled” and that he was “happy with the result.” Snay’s daughter did what many of her age would do: she immediately went to her Facebook page and posted the following message: “Mama and Papa Snay won their case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”

Snay’s daughter — a Gulliver alum — had approximately 1200 Facebook friends, and many of these were current or former Gulliver students as well – the exact population Gulliver did not want to know about the settlement. The school withheld the payment to Snay and the Court sided with the school, on the basis that the daughter’s social media posting violated her father’s duty of confidentiality under the settlement agreement.

Coaching for PA Lawyers to Improve Marketing and Other Skills

My first major step onto the coaching soapbox came in the form of an article entitled “Coaching to Improve Skills,”  which appeared in the December 3, 2007 issue of The Pennsylvania Bar News.  I wrote it because I was sick and tired of hearing attorneys say that if an attorney did not instinctively know how to market, they would never learn.  It’s just wrong.

Most attorneys are not instinctively good at marketing.  However, marketing is very much a learned skill.  Any attorney is capable of learning how to become an effective rainmaker, or at least a strong contributor to a firm’s efforts.

The fact is that Baby Boomer attorneys grew up in a rapidly expanding marketplace.   Individuals and companies were happy to find an attorney who did decent work, and had a nice “bedside” manner.  That’s about all that was required to grow one’s practice through word of mouth.  There was plenty of room for new attorneys to try one methodology or another, and make mistakes along the way to honing one’s skills in asking for legal work, and referrals to new clients.  Those who chose not to do so were able to make partner by serving the needs of other partners’ clients.  Those “worker bees” chose not to develop skills outside their comfort level, because they didn’t need to do so in order to succeed.  That doesn’t mean that they weren’t capable of doing so.  Maybe they would have needed some assistance to get there, but if motivated, they could have.

When the marketplace leveled off, development of marketing skills started to become a determinant of who would make partner, and who would not.  Firms would invest enormous resources in helping attorneys develop professional skills.  But when the same attorneys did not “naturally” develop marketing skills by a certain point in their career, they were cut loose, on the assumption that they were a lost cause.  Such a shame.  Many who were cast aside went on to develop the skills out of necessity, in order to survive on their own.  Some did better than others, but most managed to survive in the profession.

Now that we’re in a highly-competitive, contracting marketplace, there is even less room for experimentation and trial and error in client development.  Smart firms are realizing that training in this area is as necessary as any other area.  And let’s keep in mind that real learning by lawyers is acquired by “doing” and not by “studying” about it.  That means one must know what to do, how to do it, and then practice and perfect the skills.

For many attorneys, coaching can provide the difference between success and failure.  And that doesn’t apply just to development of rainmaking skills.  Coaches work directly with attorneys to help them create a personal action plan.  They help attorneys identify what is holding them back, and develop strategies to overcome the roadblocks.

I have searched for coaches I can recommend for many years.  Most that I have met over the years do not meet my expectations.  It’s not about the credentials; it’s about the person and their methodology.  I have a few I can recommend to PA Bar Members.  Some focus just in marketing.  Others in more general areas contributing to success.  However, I was recently so impressed by one in particular, I will mention her here.

We became acquainted through LinkedIn.  After some e-conversation, we met in person.  Obviously I was impressed.  So let me recommend you take a look at the credentials of Dena Lefkowitz.  If you decide to call, tell her Ellen sent you.  I don’t get any referral,  just satisfaction knowing attorneys are getting the additional skill training they need to be successful.


Custom Apps Created by Law Firms – Brilliant Marketing

A terrific next step in education-based marketing strategy is the law firm mobile device app, designed to address a specific client need.  Law Technology News recently reported on  apps designed by Latham & Watkins and O’Melveny & Myers, to inform users about anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws.

The Latham & Watkins iPhone and iPad app, which is called the AB&C  Laws Application, was launched on  July 18th.  It is free from Apple Inc.’s iTunes app store. The app serves as a reference tool informing users about anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws  in major jurisdictions around the world. In November, 2012,  O’Melveny & Myers released a similar app with a more narrow scope, which focuses exclusively on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA).  The app can be downloaded free from  Apple Inc.’s iTunes app store. (search: “OMM FCPA”), and is designed for use on the iPhone® and iPad® devices. According to a firm spokesperson, the app has been downloaded 550 times since it  was launched.

More firms are jumping on board to develop apps.  Fox Rothschild launched its New Jersey Divorce app in June 2013, after taking six months to build it.

I completely agree with legal marketing guru Micah Buchdahl, owner of marketing company HTMLawyers, who is quoted saying, “there are more law firm apps on the market than people may realize. But that  doesn’t mean they are all effective. . . . The reality is that most of these apps that the law firms have developed have  very small usage and really it’s just about saying that you have one . . . If a firm does create an app, the best bet is to be practice-area specific . . . the apps have come down in price and can cost between $5,000 and $25,000 to  create, depending on the app’s sophistication.”

I didn’t say this was a cheap strategy.  I said it was a smart one.

Most firms don’t have the internal resources to develop an app.  Latham & Watkins and O’Melveny & Myers had the talent on staff.  I’m not sure whether Fox Rothschild did their own design work on the app, but suspect they did.  When West Virginia-based Spilman Thomas & Battle, which has an office in  Pittsburgh, decided to develop a human-resources-focused app, they turned to  Pittsburgh-based Quest Fore for assistance.  They launched their app, SuperVision in early July, 2013.

There is no doubt that we’re just scratching the surface of the development of law firm apps which are actually useful to clients, rather than being a glorified advertisement for the firm.  Right now this is a strategy which requires a significant investment of time and dollars.  Given increased demand by law firms,  I anticipate that tools will be developed which will make app development an affordable strategy for smaller firms.


Big Time Competition Just Arrived

The legal marketplace has become extremely competitive.  You know that.  But it just became a lot worse, and you may not yet be aware of the new threat.

A 700 lawyer private law firm in China — Zhong Lun Law Firm — has opened an office in New York.  The firm announced in a press release that the purpose of the office is to help American clients investing or doing business in China, and also to help Chinese clients conduct business and make investments in America.

Two attorneys with degrees from top American law schools — Philip Zhang and T.K. Chang — will head the firm’s NYC office. They will be supported by  over 40 partners in the firm’s worldwide offices who have American law degrees.  Thanks to varying time zones, they will be able to support clients 24 hours a day.

So many of you are reading this and thinking that this is not a threat to your firm, but rather to the huge firms which handle international law.  True enough.  But contemplate for a minute what happens when this foreign law firm starts trolling the waters and catching clients formerly netted by these large firms.  Those firms will in turn need to find a new fishing spot.  Maybe your fishing spot.  And it will take a whole lot more fish of the size you catch to replace the ones they will be losing.

Where will you fish next?

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.

Something to Brag About – Linked In

I just received a note of congratulations from LinkedIn letting me know I have one of the top 1% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.  Considering that they just announced passing the 200 million member milestone, I think that’s quite an achievement.  I attribute it to the relentless pursuit of creating and reposting content, which I hope is meaningful and helpful to attorneys and law firm administrators.  In this medium, content is King!  If it gets me an occasional visitor to my profile or web site, so much the better 🙂

Teaching an 89 y.o. about Social Media

I’m amused when someone thinks they’re too old to learn to use a computer, social media, or whatever.  One is never too old to learn if willing.  The reality is that they don’t care to learn.  Ok, I get it.  We all have varying interests.  But there are some skills that should be required.  And in fact a lawyer is required to keep abreast of the proper usage of technology in the practice of law, both in service of clients, as well as in the efficient management of their practice.

My 89 y.o. mother was forced to stop working a few years ago when her health took a dip.  She is doing well now, but her retirement remained permanent.  However, her mind is sharp as a tack, and she continues to love to learn.  Her computer skills are decent, and she cruises the internet daily in search of knowledge, and the occasional game of bridge.  She wanted to know about social media, or, as she worded it, “whatever’s taking up so much of your time on that darn computer and phone!”

This past Saturday was lesson one.  We went to her favorite deli for early-bird dinner.  As soon as we sat down I pulled my iPad out of my pocketbook.  (Yes, my pocketbook is that large and heavy!)  I took a lovely smiling picture of her perusing the menu.  I showed her the picture so that she could be satisfied she looked young and vibrant.  A few pictures later and I was ready to post.

After we ordered dinner, I opened Facebook.  I have a personal page, and a business page for Freedman Consulting.  I took her to my personal page.  There she got to read what some of my friends and our family are up to.  She found it fascinating.  Then I created a short post which said “Saturday nite early-bird special at Ben & Irv’s fabulous Jewish deli makes my 89 y.o. Mom very happy.”  I added the picture of her smiling face to the post.  I allowed the locator to capture the location.  And I hit POST.  Mom was astounded by how easy what I did was, and how fast I did it.   At this point our soup arrived.

Before soup was done, we had 2 LIKES and 3 comments.  All of which I shared with Mom.  Two of the comments were from people who worked for me decades ago at the law firm I managed.  Mom worked there in accounts payable.  Another was from someone I went to junior high and high school with, who was just happy to hear I was lucky enough to still have my mother in my life.  (AGREED!)

The instantaneous nature of the communications astounded her.  “Wow, this is way better than email.  I don’t have to think about who to say anything to.  If they’re my friends and relatives, and we’re connected, I can just say what’s going on, and they’ll respond if they want.”  Yes, exactly.  She got it.

Then we want onto my business page.  I wrote, simply “Words of wisdom from my 89 y.o. mother:  at this age buying green bananas is a risk!”  It’s one of her favorite old-people jokes, and she says it every chance she gets.  She was greatly amused.

Within just seconds of hitting POST we picked up the first LIKE.  Again, mom was amazed.  Her quote is getting a fair bit of attention, which I share with her.  She is delighted with each additional LIKE.  So for her sake, I hope it goes viral.  (For her, viral would equate to about 12 people!)

This isn’t really very scary stuff, folks.  Setting up your social media presence takes some skill, mostly in the writing area.  It’s not and shouldn’t be legalese.  There are tons of people out there who you can hire to assist.  Some are expensive, some are not, and price is not necessarily an indicator of quality or skill.   So check references and check their work product.

It takes time for sure, because ultimately it’s all about content. Just having connections means nothing unless you have something to say, which is of value elsewhere. (In this case I’m only speaking in a business context. Personal pages serve an entirely different purpose.) But with the right tools (smartphone and tablet) you can keep the time under control.  I have increasingly translated down-time into productive social media time by using my Smartphone and tablet, and downloading the mobile components of each social media app.  That means that less and less time is taken away from work production. Yet I am creating a larger presence. And that’s a very good thing from both  earning and marketing perspectives.

Bottom line?  No matter what your age, these are tools you should understand.  And they’re not that difficult.  Really.  You might consider them a burden, a distraction, a continual noise droning on in the background.  And you would not be incorrect.  At least while you’re getting used to them.  But they are also incredibly important methods of communications, and sources of information which may be relevant to your clients’ matters.   Ignore them at your own risk.


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.

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