McMarketing vs. The Real Deal
For those of you who know me personally, you probably know that I'm not the world's greatest marketer. If I were, I'd probably have retired from the practice of law and would be blogging here full time. But I think I have a pretty good eye, a sense of what works and what doesn't, even if my judgment usually works better when I'm evaluating others' work rather than my own. So with that in mind, here are some of my impressions of some of the large firm, "McMarketing" efforts that I observed at a conference I attended earlier this week as compared with my efforts and those of some of my solo colleagues.
It's pretty clear that law marketing has invaded large firm practice - and guess what? They're all doing the same thing. Two large firm attorneys spoke at the conference that I attended; both had the requisite power point presentations which they'd also printed out on paper emblazoned with the firm logo and contact information. Both attorneys gave polished presentations, explaining just enough, in general terms - but not "giving away the store." In other words, none of the papers cited the statutory support for the matters discussed or listed references where people might go to learn more. So, that I gathered is Practice 1 of Biglaw McMarketing - give away enough to make 'em call you, but no more.
As for Practice 2, I'm not sure whether it was intended or not, but I'd entitle it "Be Elusive." The biglaw attorney from DC didn't stick around for any of the conference, didn't attend any of the technical talks (and some of the technology is pretty interesting) and really, just left right after he spoke. Another large firm attorney flew in for the day of the talk and hung around a bit, but I didn't see him engaged in much chatter either. Perhaps the large firm marketers need to tell attorneys that you should stick around and talk to the people you're trying to sell to.
As I said, I don't know that my approach is any better. My talk was loaded with substance - and in retrospect, too much, because I ran over time. I think for future talks, I'll pare down the substance for the oral presentation and back it up with web based materials or a handout. But I'm glad I erred on the side of too much rather than too little, because after my talk, several members in the audience complimented me on "really knowing my stuff." Whether wise or not, I don't subscribe in McMarketing Practice 1 - because while I want to sell my service, I also want to educate my audience, particularly when all but a handful are nonlawyers. (And which is why I don't subscribe to McMarketing Practice 3 - Speak to Bar Associations - because other lawyers won't likely become my clients, nor, in my field, are they likely to refer me work)
Finally, here's the beauty of not following marketing rules sometimes and just going with the flow. By the end of the conference, the rumblings about starting a trade association became a true organized effort and I was drafted as Legislative Director and interviewed for the local TV station. Because of my blogging background (naturally, I touted my professional blog during my talk), I was able to throw together a website for our fledgling organization while others started the efforts on the Hill. Had I just waltzed into the conference and left after my talk, this opportunity never would have fallen into my lap. Only I know it really didn't fall, it's the product of a foundation that I've been laying in this field for at least a decade.
I know we all read so much about Rules of Marketing. And it's true, we solos need to market and we need to be disciplined. But structured biglaw McMarketing isn't the solution, not just because of the presumably exhorbitant cost (I've heard that marketing heads at large firms are paid as much as $250,0000) - but also because it doesn't always work. Sometimes, the best rule of marketing (as with anything else) is to abandon adherence to strict rules and go with your instinct and see where it lands you.
Loneliness and Isolation: Hazards of Solo Practice
Ironically, one of the greatest benefits of starting a law firm - being able to work alone - may actually be one of the greatest hazards of solo practices, as this Q&A from the Massachusetts Bar Association website points out (thanks to my fellow blogger David Giacalone for sending this article my way). Here's what the post says in response to a concern from a solo practitioner about a lack of motivation and "practice blahs:"
You are describing a problem very common to sole practitioners, who must be their own primary source of motivation and discipline on a daily, ongoing basis. Persisting in that way is difficult for anyone, maybe more so for lawyers like yourself who may enjoy interacting with others. The problem that you describe may, in fact, be attributable to the relative isolation common to sole practice. Other practice venues, such as law firms and corporate offices, offer not only accountability but also at least some collegial and social contact[...]In some cases it may also be possible to establish some kind of collegial arrangement to hold each other accountable for timely completion of tasks. Though some work better alone than others, we are all fundamentally interdependent beings, and may derive a boost from such non-adversarial affiliations.
I have to admit that I'm a little bit of a recluse by nature - you know, the kid on the playground reading a book in the corner instead of socializing, the person who likes seeing movies alone and can't stand attending the firm Christmas party. But even I need interaction every once in a while. My own personal boost comes from the monthly solosez lunches we have here in D.C. (though Lex Think was a great rejuvenator too). The solosez lunches are held at a restaurant rather than a sterile bar conference space and everyone pays their own way, so if it's a slow month, you can still attend for the price of a cup of coffee. Though I only get around to the lunches every few months, there are always old friends to catch up with and new people to meet. We trade gossip, war stories and practice tips and we go around with introductions at the beginning so everyone knows who everyone else is without the awkwardness of asking. But sometimes, even if I'm swamped with work and tired of being alone in my office, it helps to work at the library or a coffee house (I know of several with free wireless) just for a change of scenery. These are just some of the tips that I discussed in my chapter "How Not to Be Lonely" for the upcoming edition of the ABA's Book, Flying Solo,
Go Ask A Blogger - It Works!
The greatest thing about blogs is that they give small lawyers like you and me access to resources that were once completely out of our grasp. The reason is that at least now, most bloggers still blog because they're completely enthusiastic about their field or enjoy sharing information.
Tom Lincoln at the Trial Prep blog has this great post about his positive experience in seeking help from a fellow blogger:
I can recall only last summer when I was working on an important Blakely issue, and had done an enormous amount of research, drafting and redrafting, but still felt somewhat uncertain on whether my planned approach was the best. I had seen a few comments posted by noted attorney Peter Goldberger over at Sentencing Law and Policy, as well as having seen a few postings to a listserv from him. Although I had never met Peter, I decided that he was the person I should ask for help, and had the nerve to send him an email one evening. A few minutes later I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Peter and after a few more exchanged emails, felt very much assured of what path to take. I grant you that not every lawyer approaches Peter in having both great knowledge and a willingness to share, but I can assure you that many more than you might think do have plenty of knowledge and that same willingness to help others. Moreover, at times the things we are uncertain of have nothing to do with substantive aspects, but "dumb" things such as (I recall these from my first oral argument before the First Circuit) where are the lights?, where do I sit? So, please, don't be afraid to ask for help.
I really hope that the free discussion of information continues in the blog world. And I hope that years from now, we don't look back at the nascent days of blogging and reminisce about how so many law bloggers used to answer questions, willingly and freely and wonder why they don't do it anymore.
Lawyer Rainmaker-Trainers Becoming More Popular
This article, Deluge of Clients the Goal for Legal Field Rainmakers (Philadelphia Biz Journal 4/20/05) reports on two Philadelphia rainmaking firms that provide rainmaking training to lawyers. From what I've seen, I'm not impressed. One of the training firms does have positive testimonials at its site, but it doesn't specialize in lawyer rainmaking, nor is the company president an attorney. The other firm is headed by an attorney, but the site is sparse, hardly any articles or tips that would enable me to evaluate the individual's advice.
Perhaps my readers can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that in order to coach lawyers on marketing, a law marketer has had to have "been there, done that." Maybe not so much at a large firm, where a good deal of the work involves more traditional P.R.. But for a solo or small firm lawyer, prior experience in building a law practice integral to knowing what works and what doesn't. Several years ago, I had a bad experience with a so-called lawyer-marketer-coach who was not a lawyer - and if I ever decide to hire another such person, I will be sure to use a former attorney (or even a J.D. who has never practiced). So what do you think - can a non-lawyer successfully train lawyers to market?
Dealing With Difficult Clients
This month's issue (April 2005) of Law Practice Today is devoted to malpractice - or rather, how to avoid malpractice. All of the articles are pretty interesting; one in particular that stood out was Carole Curtis' Dealing With Difficult Clients. Tips include saving copies of all correspondence, being patient and clear about expectations. Carole doesn't quote any statistics. But I'm willing to bet that at a huge percentage of the malpractice actions brought against solo and small firm lawyers result not so much from lawyer incompetence as from demanding clients who either get less than what they thought was coming or who make life so difficult that lawyers begin to avoid them and let their cases slide, to the lawyers' eventual detriment.
Lawyer Successfully Challenges NC Bar's Comity Rules
This article, A Break from the Comity Routine, Cynthia Lane, ABA e-report (4/22/05) reports on lawyer Steven Morrison's successful challenge to North Carolina's rules on comity admissions. Under the rule declared overly restrictive by the federal court, North Carolina allowed an attorney in a state with which North Carolina has a comity agreement to gain admission to the North Carolina bar without an exam, provided that the attorney had practiced four of the past six years in a comity jurisdiction. Morrison was admitted to several comity jurisdictions, but for the six years prior to seeking admission in North Carolina he practiced in California, a non-comity state. The federal court found that bar membership in a comity jurisdiction should suffice to gain admission to the North Carolina Bar and that the prior practice requirement was overly restrictive.
The article goes on to discuss how comity provisions like North Carolina's are outdated given the amount of mobility in the legal profession. But that mobility doesn't just extend to movement by practicing attorneys from one state to another, but also movement in and out of the profession. For example, women (or men) might leave the practice of law for several years to spend time with family - and if they moved during that period and then sought admission in North Carolina, they too would flunk the comity test.
Finally, the North Carolina rule adversely impacts solo practitioners most of all. An attorney who doesn't meet the comity rules and has to take another bar exam can work at a large firm while studying for and awaiting a decision on the test results. Solos can't do that - without bar admission, they're basically out of work unless they can do research for other attorneys.
It's true that North Carolina - and other states - could do away with comity entirely and require all attorneys to take a bar exam every time they want to practice in the state. But I can't think of a larger waste of resources. As it is, even waiving into another bar is a costly endeavor, with new admissions fees, paying for character investigations and possibly even taking a practitioners' exam. I can't see the rationale for making the process even more difficult.
Solo Stories from the Front
Here are a couple of first hand accounts on going solo: The First Year, a short blog post by patent attorney Russ Kraject (4/17/05) and Hanging Out A Shingle: Following the Dream of Starting Your Own Firm, Jaime Levy Pessin reprinted from Law Bulletin at the Legal Match Weblog (3/16/05).
Former Biglaw African American Associates Hang A Shingle
If you're a biglaw associate, do you stay at your firm and let the partners get rich off your work and credentials? Or leave and take advantage of that market yourself? The latter approach is the one taken by five young African American attorneys and former associates at prominent large law firms who struck out on their own to fill a niche for an African American firm to serve both Fortune 500 companies and black owned businesses in Atlanta. (full story in Lawyers Form New Practice (2/21/05).
Almost a year ago, this article Courting Shell (American Lawyer/law.com 6/24/04) reported on how large corporations are now demanding more diversity of the lawyers who serve them. Thus, corporations are turning to firms with female and minority attorneys - and firms are scrambling to respond by increasing diversity in the ranks. But isn't this just a little too late? After all, there have always been talented female and minority attorneys - but law firms never wanted them until their clients did. And now that there's a demand for sophisticated female and minority attorneys, why should they go to large firms at all?
Federal Judges Honor Pro Bono - But Exclude Solos
According to this Press Release, the Chief Judges of the D.C. Circuit will be honoring eight Washington D.C. law firms for commitment to pro bono as evidenced by meeting a benchmark of 40 percent of lawyers performing 50 hours or more of pro bono service. But sadly, though I'm a member of the DC Bar, neither I nor any of my solo colleagues qualify for such honor despite the fact that many of us have met or exceeded the fifty hour pro bono commitment for which the large firms are being honored. And the reason we're excluded is because we're solo; according to the press release, only firms of 25 attorneys or more are eligible to enter the so-called "40 for 50" Competition to begin with.
Seems a little inconsistent with what this type of event is supposed to accomplish. According to this quote from Chief Judge Hogan in the Press Release:
"To realize the idea of 'justice for all' we must realize that all must play their part. Although this award recognizes law firms, our true intention is to recognize those who donated their time and talent -- the firm leaders who fostered meaningful pro bono programs, the attorneys who took on cases when their workloads were already full, and the support staff who no doubt served a needed role."
So, the bar wants everyone to play its part in realizing "justice for all" - and yet it refuses to acknowledge the efforts of solo and small firm attorneys who help bring about justice day by day, whether through performing pro bono outright or reducing rates to serve clients who could not otherwise afford legal services. And in many instances, we provide that pro bono when our workloads are already full - and without support staff to help out.
To add final insult to injury, the tag line at the bottom of the Press Release says that the Judge's reception is a private event. Meaning that no one from the bar or the public, outside of the press, can watch these large firms bask in glory or learn of their accomplishments, despite the fact that the judges hosting the reception are on the public payroll. Why is that? Are the achievements not worthy of public display? Or is the reception not so much an award but rather a quid pro quo where big firms cash in on pro bono service by obtaining one-on-one access to the federal judges at an exclusive ceremony. Sounds harsh, but let's face it - that's how it looks from the outside peering in.
Come on DC - let's follow the example of the Florida Bar Association which honors lawyers for real pro bono service, regardless of the size of their law firm. Take a look at Local Attorney Honored for Pro Bono Work which reports on the FBA's award to small firm attorney Jacqulyn Mack for pro bono service that included work with Legal Aid of Manasota and Florida Rural Legal Services Inc, serving as a guradian ad litem, acting as a legal advocate for children in court cases and has co-chairing the annual "law week" event in South County that teaches fifth-graders about the legal system. Isn't that the kind of pro bono service that we want to honor and inspire - the kind that's borne out of a sense of professional responsibility and not an opportunity for professional gain?
Firms Are Starting Client Surveys
Even if you own your own practice, don't forget, you can still lose your job: according to this article, Law Firms Learn to Measure Client Satisfaction, San Jose Biz Journal (4/8/05), almost 60 percent of companies have fired or are considering firing at least one of their outside law firms, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Corporate Counsel based in Washington, DC. To avoid this fate, some firms are starting to pay closer attention to client needs, including conducting client surveys. Although the article reports that some larger firms are hiring professional consultants to perform surveys, seems to me that the best start is the personal touch; to just pick up the phone and ask how your clients are doing and if there's anything you can do for them.