Driving Marketing Change At Law Firms – A Test of Leadership

Although it is never easy to challenge the status quo or achieve fundamental change within an organization – especially at a law firm. Yet change is a fundamental component to success. How does a firm steeped in culture and tradition address these questions? Very carefully. Especially if it is driven by a law firm marketing partner.

Driving change can bring about profound personal and professional rewards. It requires developing a strong vision of the firms identity. I call the process firm sculpting – creating your firms ideal image.

The goal of course is to find that new image and make it powerful – one that will greatly increase client satisfaction and propel the firm’s success. This of course takes true leadership – and that’s the rub.

True leaders have the capacity to articulate a vision and inspire others to pursue it with them. True leaders come from a place of honesty–with willingness to see what actually is and discover what could be through community effort. They bring with them a confidence that gives others the courage to strive for even the loftiest goals.

Your firm’s potential for change lies in the hands of such a true leader. Without a strong individual with the skill to push for change by enlisting rather than alienating others, your firm may make important improvements, but it is unlikely to reach its full potential.

The all-important first step in initiating change is to find such a leader within your ranks. Once you are committed to seeing things change, look around and ask yourself who will lead. (The answer may be as close as your own reflection in a mirror.)

Once the leader is chosen, whether he’s the partner with the most power and seniority in the firm or a more junior partner who is eager and willing to support the process, his or her first step is to identify and enlist the other key players in your firm.

Forming Your Inner Team (the Key Partners)

The next step is to identify the principal members of the team–the inner circle. Most of the time, the inner circle will be composed of key partners and, in some firms, top-level administrators. Without them on board, the probability of creating profound change at the root level is seriously diminished. Bring them on board as soon as possible.
But before the firm does this, it must address a very serious issue. It must know whether the core power base–the inner circle–includes what is referred to as a “Toxic Partner.” Like a drop of poison in a carafe, a single “Toxic” can be fatal to even the most brilliant and ambitious of plans.

Finding Your Firm’s Vision – The Heart of Legal Marketing

Once the leader and the inner circle have been identified and any Toxics have been dealt with, the next step is for your leader to set up a series of meetings to determine what the firm’s values and challenges are and then begin to articulate a vision for the firm’s future. Ideally, a facilitator will be brought in at this point to help keep things on track.
Uncovering your firm’s values is no easier than confronting its challenges. Your firm’s values must inspire the partners if there is any hope of inspiring the firm itself and its clients. When the members of the inner circle envision the firm, they should identify which values move and inspire them. These inspired values must appeal to them at a visceral level, not just sound good. Left to their own devices, many partners (and professional marketers) come up with meaningless phrases like “We live to serve.” Your firm’s inspired values must be held to a higher standard than this.
The values must be concrete and measurable; the first measure is whether they elicit a positive emotional reaction that motivates action. You’ll know when the values defined by the inner circle are powerful enough–endorphins will kick in, enthusiasm will rise and it will inspire people to take action.

Drafting Your Firm’s Master Charter (and Creating Derivative Charters)

The inspiration and commitment achieved during the first seminal meetings will soon be evidenced in the creation of your firm’s master charter. As will be discussed in much more detail in later chapters, it is the inspired values and principles found in the master charter that will guide what we call -derivative charters–charters that belong to your key departments, practice groups and committees.

The master charter must be anchored in the leadership’s inspired values. It is the first evidence of what has been a dynamic, proactive process. The master charter must be real, not contrived. It must be rooted in the leadership’s intentions for the firm and the principles on which the firm will be governed from now on.

The master charter will become the focal point of the firm’s identity. It is the document that articulates the inspired values and priorities of the firm. It will not be drafted in a day–creating it takes introspection, analysis, debate and thoughtful examination. But when it is finished, it is the equivalent of a constitution for your firm. If it is done with excellence, it will both guide and inspire every member of your firm to actions that are congruent with the firm’s identity.

Once a powerful firm culture is in place, the master charter’s norms and values will keep the firm on the path to following its inspired values and will discourage individual or group conduct that is inconsistent with those values.

Once the master charter is completed, many law firms falter. The leadership becomes excited about the new charter and circulates it among the other members of the firm. A few memos go out touting the power of vision and describing the bright future that lies ahead. A few of the more ambitious partners try to rally the troops around the cause, but soon the inspiration begins to pale and the charter fades into the background, with no more appeal than the firm’s letterhead and logo.

Resculpting is for naught unless the people below the leadership level believe that the vision is relevant to their lives. I can’t emphasize this enough: The relevance cannot be illusory; it must be as real to them as their weekly paycheck. So your next step must be to give them both the responsibility and the authority to put changes into action.
In order to do this, I recommend that the firm’s charter be a jumping-off point from which each major department creates its own charter and plan of action within the vision that the leadership has delineated. These derivative charters and the strategic action plans will give the members of the firm a personal stake in their future.

The facilitator, with the support of top leadership, must ensure that each of the firm’s major departments, practice groups and committees is given time and support in crafting these all-important documents. Otherwise the subordinates will perpetually feel that this is the leadership’s vision, not theirs. Giving them the opportunity to participate is the only way to make the vision relevant, and it will also make them accountable for the results.

The challenge lies in getting the inspiration and enthusiasm evoked by the creation of the new vision to truly motivate everyone–all the way down to the people on the lowest rungs of the firm’s ladder. The solution is to empower everyone. Skipping this step will undermine all of the firm’s efforts.

In the end, every member of the firm should be enrolled in the change process. Every member of the firm who comes into contact with clients, vendors, other firms’ attorneys, or anyone else should reflect the firm’s inspired values and identity. Every form of marketing, advertising and promotion should be inseparably integrated with the people who make up the firm.

Bringing the Rest on Board (and Creating Strategic Action Plans)

This last step in reinventing the firm happens once the master charter and derivative chapters are written. To allow everyone in the firm to take part–to take ownership–in the changes the firm is making, the leaders of each of the firm’s major departments, committees and practice groups, in conjunction with each of their respective team members, will construct detailed action plans that identify specific goals, specify time lines and names of people accountable for bringing the goals to fruition. These strategic action plans should be developed for each of the major departments in the firm.
Strategic action plans are developed only after the firm’s charter and the derivative charters have been carved out by the leadership. These charters are the basis for the strategic action plans, which are tangible instructions for making decisions and taking action.

Strategic action plans can be thought of as logical extensions of the firm’s values and beliefs. They are, by nature, imbued with the firm’s culture. They can take on enormous momentum, capable of pushing the firm forward to new heights and performance levels.

Strategic action plans bridge the gap between the firm’s words and its deeds. They provide specific task-driven objectives against which the firm’s leadership, including the managers, can test assumptions and gauge the firm’s departmental performance.

The single most important characteristic of strategic action plans is that they are task-specific–they describe purposes, time lines and responsibilities for the tasks the firm performs. These plans, as well as the specific goals they are intended to achieve, must in the end be measured against both the derivative and master charters.

Although it is never easy to challenge the status quo or achieve fundamental change within an organization, the personal and professional rewards are boundless. Moving away from a firm’s preconceived notions frees it from existing limitations. The vision that emerges from the process of sculpting your firm allows your firm to create a new identity that will greatly increase client satisfaction and propel the firm’s success.

Online Law Firm Marketing: Are Attorneys Complying With ABA Ethical Rules?

Law is a profession ripe with tradition. This profession is one of the few self-regulating professions and is governed by a myriad of professional rules, ethical opinions, and applicable common law. It is well-known that, historically, the law itself has slothfully adjusted to incorporate technological advances within its parameters. This is true regarding the ethical rules of professional conduct. Yet, as more and more legal professionals are now turning to the internet to market their practice through legal websites, blogs, and other social media outlets, there will become an increased need for further regulation regarding ethical advertising on the internet.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has draft model ethical rules for states to adopt and lawyers to follow. Today, these rules are called the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”) and were adopted by the ABA’s House of Delegates in 1983. These Rules were modified from the Model Code of Professional Responsibility. Additionally, the precursor to both was actually the 1908 Canons or Professional Ethics.

As noted, the Rules are not actually binding on an attorney until their state has either adopted them or some other related professional rules. Presently, all states except for California have adopted the ABA’s Rules at least in part. Most of the states have adopted the ABA’s Rules in full with slight modifications or additions to them. Other states, like New York, have adopted the ABA’s Rules but included somewhat substantial modifications.

The Rules and each state’s compilations do include provisions related to advertising and solicitation. Depending on the state, the distinction between each of these terms could be minimal or significant. Generally, “advertising” refers to any public or private communication made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm about the services available for the primary purpose of which is for retention of the lawyer or law firm’s services. In contrast, “solicitation” is a form of advertising, but more specifically is initiated by or for the lawyer or law firm and is directed to or targeted at a specific group of persons, family or friends, or legal representatives for the primary purpose of which is also for retention of the lawyer or law firm’s services.

Even though the Rules do address advertising and solicitation to the internet, they are unsurprisingly lacking. These gaps are somewhat filled by ethical opinions or case law. But this generally means that an attorney has already gone through the litigation process and, unfortunately, likely been subjected to discipline.

However, the Rules do provide a fairly strong foundation for an attorney or law firm read over. Even if your state’s professional rules do not adequately present internet marketing provisions, you may still consult the ABA’s Rules for guidance.

Within the Rules, the primary place to look is Rule 7. This rule pertains to “Information About Legal Services” and houses the majority of the applicable rules to internet marketing for attorneys. Duly note, that there still will be other provisions scattered throughout the Rules which apply to marketing. This is just the most applicable concentration of provisions an attorney should consult first before looking for those ancillary sections elsewhere.

Rule 7.1 is the first and more overarching provision an attorney should be concerned with. This section is entitled “Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services” and prohibits a lawyer from making “false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A “false or misleading” communication is further defined in the rule and Comments as one that “contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.” Most pertinently, Comment 1 expressly states that Rule 7.1 does apply to a lawyer or law firm’s website, blog, or other advertising because it states that this provision “governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising permitted by Rule 7.2.”

Under Rule 7.2, which is entitled broadly as “Advertising,” allows attorneys to advertise “through written, recorded, or electronic communication.” Comment 3 confirms that “electronic media, such as the Internet, can be an important source of information about legal services.” Thus, this only solidifies the fact that 7.2 and, therefore 7.1, apply to internet legal marketing.

In addition, Comment 2 for Rule 7.2 provides further information regarding what can actually be included in these advertisements; for our purposes, websites and blogs. It permits the following: Information concerning a lawyer’s name or law firm, address, and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer’s fees are determined, including pricing for specific services and payment or credit arrangements; a lawyer’s foreign language ability; name of references; and a catch-all for all other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.

However, there is a caveat! First, your state may actually have additional requirements. For instance, New York only permits foreign language ability if “fluent” and not just as for a general ability. Therefore, you might be complying with the persuasive ABA Rule, but in violation with the mandatory state rule (in this case, New York). Second, this Comment is also misleading. Sub(c) under Rule 7.2 actually requires that a communication–such as an advertisement which we now know includes an attorney or law firm’s website–to contain the name and office address of at least one lawyer of the firm or the actual firm itself.

Rule 7.3 is entitled “Direct Contact with Prospective Clients” and deals more so with solicitation–as opposed to advertising–to prospective clients. But, if the attorney or law firm has a mailing list or sends out a newsletter via e-mail, this rule can also be applicable to past clients are well! The rule prohibits in-person and live telephone calls to prospective clients, which includes “real-time electronic contact[s],” that involving advertising an attorney’s services in hopes or retention. Further, this rule requires that every e-mail sent must include “Advertising Material” at the beginning and end of the transmission. Moreover, this rule provides an exception for family, close friends, or past clients,

That is, unless another exception applies. Rule 7.3 still prohibits a lawyer from sending, for example an e-mail newsletter, to another person if that person has either 1) “made it known” they do not want to be solicited or if the communication 2) contains “coercion, duress or harassment.” Meaning, if a past client tells you they want to be unsubscribed from an e-mail mailing list, and you fail to do so, you will be in violation of this rule just as much as if you directly communicated with a prospective client!

Additionally, you may be able to extrapolate this rule to other aspects of social media. There is a seasonable argument that an attorney who directly sends a Facebook Friend message or “Friend Request” to the prospective client hoping for them to “Like” the attorney’s professional page might constitute a violation of this rule. Even if it does not generally violate this rule, if the prospective client rejects the first request and the attorney sends a second “Friend Request,” is the attorney now in violation of this rule? Arguably it would appear so!

Finally, the last rule that really applies directly to internet marketing such as attorney websites and blogs is Rule 7.5; “Firm Names and Letterheads.” Even though it does not appear that this rule applies, looking at the Comments clearly shows that it does. Specifically, Comment 1 directly remarks that firm names include website addresses. Further, it refers back to Rule 7.1 and reminds us that website addresses cannot be false or misleading. In effect, this means that an attorney or law firm cannot make their domain name “http://www.WinEveryTime.com” or something of that effect.

Yet, the Comments do permit trade names in a website address such as the example “Springfield Legal Clinic.” But duly note, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that state legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practices if they deem fit. So this is another state-specific area for the attorney or law firm to review.

In conclusion, even though law has typically lagged behind in adopting such advancements like technology, there are still ample provisions in the ABA Rules to guide an attorney or law firm to comply with internet marketing. More and more legal professions will branch out on the internet, which will create a greater need for more ethical regulation. Yet for now, with the ABA Rules as a guidepost, a profession should understand their obligations in creating, managing, and promotion their legal practice on the internet through websites and blogs.

Common Qualities of the Best Law Firms

In my 12 years of practice, I have been employed with a wide variety of law firms. When I decided to open my own practice, I started thinking about the qualities that make up the best law firms. In determining the best law firms do you include things such as employee benefits, firm culture and employee turnover rates? Or do you focus on the qualities that affect a law firm’s most precious commodity – the client? My take on this is that the best law firms employ quality attorneys and staff with the highest of ethical standards and the desire to fight within their ethical bounds for their clients.

One key factor in having a successful law practice is an effective leader. A good leader will have a vision for the firm’s direction, a commitment to serving its clients, and a desire to find like-minded people that believe not only in the clients, but the brand of the firm. I have found in my practice that effective leaders can quickly change with success and growth. They often lose touch with the very people that helped them grow into a successful powerhouse. It is easy to go from a scenario of weekly partner/associate lunches to rarely, if ever, seeing a partner in the office. Effective leaders at the best law firm have a good understanding of the legal work coming out of the office, the overall satisfaction of its clients, and an awareness of the employees’ overall job satisfaction. With success and growth, it is easy to lose touch with these important factors, but good leaders will remain cognizant of these factors, even with exponential growth of the firm.

The best law firms also have compassion for their clients. When attorneys at these firms meet with clients, it’s never about sharing the attorney’s successes. Rather, it’s listening to your clients concerns, determining their overall goal through representation by the firm, and showing empathy towards their situation. Many attorneys look at their clients and see dollar signs. They look at the opportunity to bill or the total fee they will earn on a contingency for a huge settlement. These attorneys fail to recall one of the most basic ethical consideration of attorneys, acting in the best interest of the client. Because at the end of the day, all the billable hours in the world won’t make a practice successful If you don’t satisfy and take good care of your clients. Firms with this mindset often have high turnover rates because they make billing THE priority. They burn their attorneys out and bring in brand new attorneys and start the process fresh with them. This can easily lead to dissatisfaction by clients. They may not know from one month to the next which attorney is representing them.

Another key quality of the best law firms is a narrow focus on a particular area of law. The days of general practitioners is (or should be) gone. Laws are complex and can change in an instant depending on legislation or new case law handed down by appellate courts. The best law firms have focus on one area of law and become very good at it. They are aware of recent changes as well as developing changes in their area of practice. With such a narrow focus, they can change strategy in an instant and become the authority to their clients by showing their knowledge in a particular area of law. Beware of the lawyer who claims to practice in all areas of civil litigation. While it is possible, consider that opposing counsel may have a more narrow focus. They may have that golden nugget of information that can make the case a winner for them and a loser for your client.

There are a number of other factors to consider when trying to determine the best. That may be the discussion for a future article. But those discussed here are, in this author’s opinion, the most important factors to consider when trying to figure out what makes a firm one of the best.