Law Firm Marketing – How To Radiate Value – Professional Service Marketing

Any time you have a chance to determine what your clients need and want from you, consider it a priceless opportunity to learn. Their needs and wants–and their experience with your firm–are the key to identifying the focus of your marketing efforts. Finding and delivering what your clients need and want will not only result in satisfied clients but, if you apply this knowledge to your practice, their experience of your firm can also become your branding.

At a corporate law firm in Century City a few years ago, a senior partner shook hands with one of his clients after completing the company’s first public offering. The two men reminisced about their long relation-ship. “We’ve been through a lot together–both good and bad–from climbing out of our financial mess, to the opening of our first four stores, to building out nearly four hundred of them, to finally going public,” the president of the company said, smiling. “It wasn’t an easy journey, but I’m sure glad in the end that it was you who was with us. No matter where we were, you were always there too.”

When a client speaks to you from the heart, the insight you receive will be priceless. The marketing materials for that Century City law firm had previously emphasized their track record, their versatility and their willingness to be tough. Had they failed to incorporate this client’s insight, they would have missed a precious marketing opportunity. Luck-ily, the senior partner was a savvy marketer. He immediately knew the value of a long-term client’s praise. It became an important part of the firm’s identity and, after a while, made its way into the firm’s branding and marketing material: “Wherever you go, that’s where we’ll be…”

Beyond the decent service, the sound legal advice and the expectation of professionalism, what mattered to that client on an emotional level was that this firm had been by his company’s side through the good times and the bad.
Not all of your clients will hand you a resonant marketing phrase. But an experienced marketing professional with the proper skills can make you more aware of them when this does happen, and more impor-tantly, can help you use them to shape the way your firm brands its services. But the key in this example is not the catchy phrase or even the kind expression of gratitude. What makes the Century City firm’s marketing insight so important is the fact that it represents a fundamental truth about the firm: It does stick by its clients even when times get rough. That’s how the firm does business.

In the late 1990s, one of the largest law firms in the nation decided it wanted to tap into the technology boom. The marketing team advised the firm to target small start-up companies and offer them a reduced hourly rate for general business matters in the hope that, if the business succeeded, the firm would be handed all their legal work, including taking them public. The marketers believed that doing this would demonstrate the firm’s commitment and loyalty to their smaller, more vulnerable clients. One such client had this unfortunate experience dealing with the firm:

“In the beginning, the firm really seemed interested in what we were trying to create. They spent time getting to know us and expressed a real desire in seeing us suc-ceed. I really believed them. I was invited to firm-sponsored seminars and even got invited to the firm’s sky booth for the big game. Everything was going well until the technology bubble burst–and with it, our close relationship with the firm. No more friendly partner calls to see how we were doing. After a while, I was lucky to get my calls returned. They knew we were strapped for cash and, when we were unable to pay their bills, they sued us. They didn’t just sue the corporation (the one they helped us set up), they sued me personally, since I was the president of the company. It was a disas-ter. When the chips were down, this firm came at us with knives. I will never forget this experience–nor will my associates and friends.”

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know that it’s bad business to sue your clients, but the contrast between the Century City firm and this one is worth noting. One firm made a loyal friend out of a client while the other made an enemy. The point is that how a firm does business, whether it’s how they manage their receivables or which new practice group they decide to open, says something important about the firm in relationship to its clients.

In most cases, firms consider internal business decisions to be entirely internal–separate and distinct from the external side that the public sees. Firms fail to recognize that what a firm is can often be measured by the decisions it makes, and they often make decisions without regard to the effect they might have on clients, even in indirect ways. Firms must con-sider the ways in which their decisions may change the nature of the con-tact between them and their clients.
Law firms make important business decisions every day, and rarely do they consider the impact on those who do business with the firm. When problems do surface, they are often handed over to the public relations department to clean up.

The Zone of Contact

Consider that almost everything a firm does or communicates impacts the clients’ experience of the firm. The parts of a firm that clients deal with directly are part of the firm’s zone of contact.

Everything a firm does is, in some way, an expression of the firm’s values or lack of values. Every act or omission reveals the level of the firm’s commitment or lack of commitment.

Everything–from the paper stock the firm uses to its policy of return-ing phone calls to how lawyers and staff greet new clients and say good-bye to departing ones–can impact clients. Even small things–like the quality of coffee, the effort put forth to make a client feel welcomed, the demeanor of a law clerk and the pictures on the wall can make a differ-ence.
Sophisticated marketing experts take great effort and time in examin-ing a firm’s major points of contact. The quality of the client’s satisfaction relative to a particular point of contact is an indicator of the general health of the firm. Much of marketing consists of translating these ordi-nary points of contact and shaping them into positive client experiences.
Altering the point of contact to be more in line with the client’s satis-faction will certainly improve the quality of the service your firm pro-vides, but it will not, by itself, bring about a fundamental change in the firm’s quality of service. For this, the firm must examine its innermost core–the primary leadership and the inspired principles these leaders rely on when building the firm’s character.

Only by reaching this level of depth can you transform your firm from ordinary to extraordinary.

Contact points are only as good as the quality of service that speaks through them. Service must be a direct expression of the firm’s values, made real through the language and actions of the entire firm. When a firm’s actions are an expression of its inspired values, every point of con-tact becomes an expression of its unique brand of service. But the concept of service must originate from the center of the inspired values formulated by the firm’s top leadership. I call these central values the firm’s “V” spot. When a firm has a solid set of inspired values, every point of contact will resonate with the firm’s vision.

Without the formulation of inspired values and the clarity of purpose these values create, the firm will be unable to build the language, the structure and the systems necessary to ensure that all of its actions and communications are commensurate with these values.

Every action a firm takes must reflect its true identity and its in-spired values; otherwise, it risks seriously damaging its reputation and its credibility. What the firm does, what it stands for, and the promises it makes and keeps must be seen and experienced by everyone–not just clients–as an authentic expression of the firm’s true identity. Only then can the in-spired values become a central part of the firm’s branding–the firm’s persona–an undeniable statement of what the firm stands for and what people can expect of the firm, whether they’re a client or a foe.

Identifying every point of contact with a client or a prospective client must become the focus of the firm’s marketing efforts. Each point within the zone of contact must reflect, and be consistent with, the firm’s char-acter. A client’s contact with the firm should be viewed as an opportunity to convey what it means to do business with the firm.

Assuming that the firm has taken the time to do the planning and hard work necessary to identify their inspired values, the next challenge is to ensure that everything the firm does is an accurate and sincere expression of these values–that these values are conveyed to clients and others who interact with the firm through the zone of contact.

The zone of contact is where the firm interfaces with its clients, either directly or indirectly. Since every contact the firm has with others con-veys information about the firm, every contact becomes an important representation of the firm’s values. The zone of contact includes every-thing–including the firm’s business cards, the lobby decor, the recep-tionist, and meetings with staff, associates, lawyers and partners.

In order to maintain quality control over client satisfaction levels, many marketing professionals focus on reactions of clients to various parts of the zone of contact to make sure that what people experience in their contact with the firm is an accurate and positive expression of the firm’s character.

This examination of quality focuses not on what the firm intends to convey as much as on the client’s actual experience within the zone of contact. To perform such an examination, the firm must assess its major points of contact with clients, and once these contact points are identified it must determine which of the contact points elicit positive service expe-riences from the client.

Ideally, the specific action and communication responsible for a positive service experience can be traced to one of the firm’s fundamental values. If the client is having an experience–even a positive one–that is not in keeping with the firm’s values, the firm may wish to consider whether the value being conveyed is at odds with the firm’s values. If it is, the firm’s actions should be changed to reflect its values more accurately. If the experience is not at odds with the firm’s values, the firm’s action may simply reflect an unidentified value.

When a point of contact is in keeping with the firm’s fundamental values but elicits a negative service experience, the challenge is to quickly determine what has gone wrong. Has an action or communica-tion been missed? Can the firm remove a barrier between its fundamental service values and the client’s experience to make the experience a more positive one? Often, what is missing is a value that is either hidden from view or unable to be expressed.
As you’re no doubt beginning to see, the zone of contact is not separate from the firm–it is the firm.

The firm constantly radiates its values to clients, prospective clients, the legal community, and vendors and the business community. When you can achieve an alignment among the inspired values of your firm, the language of your firm and the actions of your firm, marketing becomes an expression of your firm’s unique identity. It becomes proprietary and is evidenced in every point of contact you have with your clients, whether the contact occurs through the legal services you provide or the way your receptionist greets the firm’s visitors.

Some contact points exist quite naturally within a firm. Clients’ initial calls, their first meeting, the letters and messages they receive during the course of the relationship–all of these are points of contact, and all of them ultimately become expressions of your firm’s unique brand of service.

But there is no reason to leave it at that. Considering the importance of heightening the value of these contact points with clients, the firm that is determined to provide great service will create new points of contact. These moments allow you to meaningfully shape client interaction, mak-ing special efforts to convey the inspired values of your firm while learn-ing more about how you can improve the quality of your service.

Instituting a completion ritual with your clients is one example of this approach. In most law firms, when a case is concluded, the client’s next point of contact with the firm is the bill. For the client it’s anticlimactic, to say the least. And, socially, it’s counterintuitive. If you have a friend over to dinner, you shake hands at the end of the evening and say, “It’s been great having you here.” This is a social nicety that provides a tiny ritual of completion. Clients, in contrast, are typically left dangling.

Imagine how much your clients’ experience of the firm would im-prove if you were to conclude each case with a completion meeting. Not a quick, patronizing handshake with a junior associate, but a qual-ity meeting with a senior partner of the firm who says, “We are committed to your satisfaction.”

Better yet, show your clients what they mean to you by making a symbolic gesture. For example, during a golf game, a Texas lawyer in-troduced a client to a large real estate developer. The two men ended up doing business when the client was later contracted to build a huge shop-ping center. When the deal closed and the papers were signed, the lawyer took his client aside and presented him with a golf ball imprinted with both the client’s and the developer’s names, courtesy of the law firm. Corny, you might say. Perhaps, but ten years later, the client still has that golf ball sitting on his desk and the lawyer still gets all of his business.

A true symbolic gesture is more than a clever expression. It demon-strates that you took the time to think about the relationship with your client and made it both significant and interesting. Compare this gesture with the all-too-ordinary imprinted pen or calendar sent out to clients once a year.

Effective marketing creates a quality point of contact that demon-strates your commitment to your client. It elicits respect and trust. It ac-knowledges the importance of the client relationship. And, if done suc-cessfully, it will create a lasting and invaluable bond with your firm.

This approach is magnitudes more powerful than coming up with the catchiest jingle or the most sophisticated ad campaign.

A client who is emotionally touched by a relationship will tell every-one about your firm. In terms of generating more business, this kind of marketing is worth ten times the value of a great TV commercial. In terms of personal satisfaction and quality of life–for your clients, your firm and yourself–it’s priceless.

Positive Service Experiences

Understanding “value” requires understanding different types of emo-tional responses resulting from experiencing different levels of service. The list below describes some of the major emotions psychologists asso-ciate with positive service experiences.

For every point of contact, it is important to identify the specific emotion elicited from the interaction that made it a positive experience.

Positive service experiences can elicit these positive emotions:

important
valued
inspired
appreciated
listened to
understood
pampered
relaxed
satisfied
pleased
comforted
protected
secure
confident
independent
strong
calm
trusted
informed
cared about
accepted
respected
recognized
admired

Although these qualities are subjective in nature and cannot be evoked in every client every time, there are some tangible ways to consistently produce positive experiences for your client. The key is to recognize how important it is to generate these types of feelings–then it’s astonishing how many opportunities will arise.

One way of making clients feel more secure and confident about their legal predicament is to become a resource of important information—especially if what you offer goes beyond legal considerations and is both practical and immediately useful to your client.

Willy Little, a partner in a small Los Angeles firm, described his spe-cial brand of value-based service like this:
If we have a client in the midst of a divorce, they often need to find alternative living quarters. They need leases to be reviewed and names of reputable services that can help them with the mundane, but often exhausting, task of relocation.
We’re a family law firm. But we are committed to providing our clients with the best service possible. So we do our best to become a resource for our clients–not just in our legal capacity, but in a much broader sense, assisting clients in dealing with the many aspects of di-vorce. We become a client information hub–an information resource. Clients really appreciate this and, when they need legal help again, they know where to turn.

Sometimes providing superior value to clients means expanding the focus of the legal services a firm offers. Cecilia Smithers, a partner in a midsize litigation firm, remembers the rationale behind a change at her own firm that expanded the firm’s zone of contact:

“While our firm was litigation-intensive, we felt there were many times it served our clients’ interests to con-sider alternative dispute resolution. To do this effectively, we needed to focus on counseling our clients, which meant making the effort to get to know them and, with some work, earn their trust. We worked with clients to consider alternative points of view whenever possible, which often led to helping them clarify their objectives and think about their situations in new ways.”

There can be little doubt that the clients of these firms experienced the service being provided to them in emotionally reassuring ways. Research shows that experiential marketing –marketing that addresses a client’s needs–is far more effective than the coercion, persuasion and propaganda on which many marketing campaigns are founded.

Consider today millions of clients are turning to cyberspace for their legal solutions. One web portal that is near and dear to this writers heart is: http://www.GotTrouble.com – a legal help portal that expresses it’s own set of core service values and weaves them into the user experience.

Law Firm Marketing – A Search for Leadership

The Partner Pole – Early Expressions of Law Firm Marketing

In ancient times the totem pole was a symbolic expression of past generations. It offered information about a tribe’s identity–a type of linear -understanding of generations that came before them and the leaders who showed them the way. It enforced group solidarity and provided a necessary relational context to their lives.
The totem pole was worshiped and ritualized. The history of a whole tribe could be understood by this one linear expression. Symbolic communication, as a group organizing method, is also found in law firms. Law firms proudly list their partners’ names on letterhead and post them on doorways. Often some of the names are symbols of the past–a lasting recognition of those who came before as well as those who are currently carrying the torch of the firm’s traditions into the future. This symbolic communication portrays the history of a firm’s leader-ship and is an indicator of predicted performance. But what happens when the firm’s past is forced to yield to the firm’s future? When it becomes necessary for the firm to reinvent itself and set out new organizing principles that match its vision–when the old belief system is no longer in sync with the needs and demands of changing markets and clients? Most firms are facing this challenge right now, and some are not even aware of it. The partners I spoke with clearly recognized the need to re-invent themselves or risk sacrificing growth and prosperity.

Are You the Leader?

Who among you will lead the charge? This is a very personal decision that should not be taken lightly. It will depend not only on your own willingness to take on the challenge, but also on the willingness of the key partners who make up most of the power base at your firm.

If you are up for the challenge, accept this knowledge and get on with leading. If not, find the person in your firm who is ready and able to lead and offer that person all the support you can. You’ll soon realize that the quality and commitment of your support for this person will be recognized as an important form of leader-ship in its own right.

The Genetics of Leadership

It’s been said that some people are born leaders. That may be true, but for most of us, leadership is an acquired skill that comes from our mind-set and our desire to effect positive change. Similarly, people are not born extraordinary. Instead, they choose to accomplish extraordinary things.
As recently as 2003, scientists discovered that our natural traits are not “set in stone.” (See Matt Ridley’s Genome and Nature via Nurture.) Rather, our genetic code–especially the code responsible for our brain function–is neither unchanging nor unchangeable. As we respond to the challenges and stimuli in the world, so do our genes. Depending upon our needs and the degree of our determination, different formulations of our genetic code are activated. This results in the emergence of a new pattern of genetic instructions. Contrary to what scientists formerly believed, our genes remain active, malleable and fluid throughout our lives.

Until these discoveries were made, the received wisdom was that the traits that enable us to think like lawyers or strive for excellence or find the courage and charisma to lead were handed out to us–or not–at birth. It was taken as fact that our neural makeup was primarily dictated by the genetic code we inherited from our parents. If we were fortunate enough to have inherited “smart” genes, it was anticipated that we were destined for greatness; if the opposite happened, we were destined to be the village idiot.

In reality, the reason so few of us break out of the mold is not due to genetics at all. It’s because of the fact that, strange as it may sound, most of us surrender to our strengths rather than engage our weaknesses. If we tend to be naturally gifted in mathematics, we gravitate toward mathematics. If we show an early talent in the arts, we gravitate in that direction. It’s simply easier to rely on our existing strengths than it is to develop new strengths from scratch.

Psychologist and theorist Carl Jung described this irony in his book Psychological Types:

“Experience shows that it is hardly possible for any-one to bring all his psychological functions to simultaneous development. The very conditions of society enforce a man to apply himself first and foremost to the differentiation of that function with which he is either most gifted by nature, or which provides his most effective means for social success. Very frequently, indeed as a general rule, a man identifies himself more or less completely with the most favored, hence the most developed function.”

Since Jung’s time, however, neuroscientists have discovered that the human tendency to follow the path of least resistance is not merely ironic but counter-productive. We now know that the brain grows stronger, developing at a much higher level, when we force ourselves to think in new and different ways.

Until now, you may not have thought of yourself as a leader. But that is no reason to believe you can’t become one if your motivation is strong enough. The first question to ask yourself is this: What does it mean to be a leader?

What Is a Leader?

The stereotypical image of a leader is that of a commanding figure, able to speak to large groups of people. We think of leaders as people who speak their minds and are charismatic performers, able to manipulate people’s emotions in order to get things done the right way–usually their way.

This popular stereotype is not only unrealistic, it describes characteristics that are undesirable in a leader and, if we dare to admit it, characteristics that make a leader quite dysfunctional. Real leaders are listeners; they don’t bark out orders from behind their desks. Such leaders find ways to develop strengths in the people they work with. They work through people, by understanding and evoking their intelligence, creativity and participation.

The ideal leader works for the firm, not the other way around. In fact, leadership is more a property of the firm than of the leader. In mid- to large-size firms, it is unrealistic to rely on one person to provide all of the leadership.

The most successful managing partners I have seen rarely dominate the group; rather they support the group by keeping it focused and on task.

Exceptional leaders work hard to remove barriers in communication among their key people. They see their role as smoothing out processes. They are facilitators, not dominators. They think about ways of making others more effective and productive, making it easier for them to do their jobs. And when their effort results in success, these leaders rarely take the credit, instead giving it to the group, where it belongs.

The single most important quality people look for in a leader is honesty. For most people, this is what determines whether a leader is worthy of their confidence and loyalty. With honesty often comes wisdom. For firms in the midst of great change, leadership requires a unique set of skills. Leaders must be able to work through teams of people, delegating work and rewarding performance while encouraging persistence. Such leaders encourage excellent performance at every level. Effective leaders are relentless in their determination to keep reaching for higher levels of performance. Interestingly, leaders like these seem to work best when the chips are down and change is upon them.

The Best Leaders Are Perspective-Driven

The most dynamic types of leader are perspective-driven. These in-tensely inquisitive people need to know what actually causes firms to grow and prosper and, just as importantly, what causes them to falter. They want to know what clients think about the firm–what clients actually experience when they visit and do business with the firm.
Perspective-driven leaders seek to discover new ways of serving, new ways of making clients feel valued, and new ways of earning trust. They seek what many managing partners would rather sweep under the rug. That’s because perspective-driven leaders know that the creative process depends more on differing views than conforming ones.
A common trait of perspective-driven leaders is that they are pain-fully honest and realistic when it comes to evaluating performance–including their own. These leaders do not claim to have a monopoly on knowledge. They understand that their point of view is simply that–their point of view.

They know that to completely understand a major challenge, they must turn to people who think in a variety of ways; thinking in teams is usually more productive than thinking individually.
Perspective-driven leaders do not let dissent or disagreement distract them from their goal of problem solving. In fact, such leaders are attracted to disagreement, especially from intelligent and competent people.

Listen to how one managing partner dealt with disagreement:

“Most of our partners were having a major problem with our top administrator, who was insisting that we convert to an entirely new computer system. The partners couldn’t see how the cost and expense of putting in a new system could possibly be worth the projected productivity gains. We just weren’t seeing what he was seeing–and none of us were willing to make the effort to see the problem through his eyes. No one doubted he was a talented and intelligent administrator. But no one here could possibly imagine that an administrator might be seeing something that we couldn’t.
I later realized that it was our arrogance that was get-ting in the way. When we finally put the system in, a year later, we were kicking ourselves for not having done it earlier. . . . “

True leaders value the differences among people–and more importantly, they respect those differences. The more a leader discovers what was previously unknown, the more opportunities can be identified. Leaders must be committed more to understanding the problem from an-other’s perspective than worrying about protecting their own understandng.

Playing at Top Performance Levels – Leadership and Marketing

Great leaders, like great athletes, are relentless and uncompromising when it comes to reaching top performance levels. It is this tenacious desire to be the best at one’s game that drives them.
Perspective-driven leaders recognize the limits of one’s own perceptions and appreciate the need to interact with different types of people. They realize that people do not always see the world as it is, but tend to see it from the perspective of who they are and how they view and inter-act with others. This is why such leaders encourage diversity. This is why you might hear an effective leader say, “Jay, you seem to see this issue differently than I do. Tell me how you’re seeing it. I want to see what you see.”

Most people in management roles would rather learn from what’s working at their firm than from what’s not working. Typical managers seek out agreement among their coworkers rather than finding opposing views. Perspective-driven leaders seek just the opposite–they are more interested in what’s missing from the firm that, if instituted, would make a qualitative difference and elevate performance.

A business litigation firm in rural New York was experiencing a serious decline in new business. When the partners got together to discuss the issue, they thought it would be useful to see what other firms were doing that they were not. Giving associates bonuses had always been discretionary, based on their overall performance. But the partners realized, when they compared their compensation packages with those of other firms, that theirs lacked a specific and immediate reward structure for associates.

One partner said, “We found that associates were especially motivated when they knew exactly what they would earn from new income they brought in and when they could expect to receive their share. We were amazed at how quickly they responded.”

This firm was acting proactively. They sought not only what was working, but also what was not working in their new business efforts. When they discovered that there was a decline in associate-generated revenue, they looked at what was absent–from the associates’ perspectives. Discovering what was absent allowed them to take immediate action to remedy the situation to everyone’s satisfaction.

Knowing Your Game

Perspective-driven leaders consider the challenge of finding what’s not working at their firms to be particularly interesting. That’s not to say they don’t acknowledge their firms’ strengths, but they are much more intrigued by their weaknesses. Why? Because they understand that removing weakness builds strength and increases performance. It is like finding the beautiful elephant in the block of stone. When you eliminate what’s not working (what’s not the beautiful elephant), you often get closer to what is working.

For perspective-driven leaders, finding what’s missing in their organization is like working a puzzle. The more pieces they find, the more complete the picture becomes and the easier it is to find the next missing piece.

It’s no different from the mind-set of a great athlete–and athletes don’t get any greater than Michael Jordan. Even at the height of his career, Jordan was notorious for studying his game tapes the day after he played. To him, reaching higher levels of performance meant learning as much as possible about how he played. It wasn’t vanity that drove him to study his game. It was his desire to see what he could not see from his perspective on the floor during a game. By changing his perspective, he could see things that he might have missed before. He might notice, for example, that in fast breaks in the last quarter of a game, he tended to pass the ball more to the left than to the right. Was this a mistake on his part? That’s not the point. What great athletes like Jordan look for is more knowledge about how they play their game. It’s finding that next piece of the puzzle that lets them get closer to seeing the complete picture.

Powerful Leaders Are Great Listeners

Perspective-driven leaders have many traits in common. One is being masterful at communication. This does not mean just being an effective speaker–it also means being an effective listener. The way one listens is said to be more important than what one says.

Providing consistently high levels of service requires constant listening to feedback from clients, and the people listening must be the most senior members of a firm’s leadership. Unfortunately, for the more senior partners, it’s too easy to avoid such listening–they become insulated from the front lines.
The inertia of this avoidance is enforced by those who wish to “protect” top leadership from unpleasant experiences such as speaking directly with dissatisfied clients. This happens in even the most well-intentioned firms. To counter it, firms must be proactive.

The best firms, for example, are obsessive about conducting in-depth debriefing sessions after a matter is concluded. These meetings are essential to ensure the firm’s ability to track its progress in serving clients, and clients also appreciate and admire the firm’s frank and honest willngness to improve its relationship with them.
Most leaders pretend to listen. Perspective-driven leaders, on the other hand, are fully engaged in the listening process. They are tenaciously committed to understanding the perspectives of others. To them, listening is not just waiting for someone else to finish talking or a com-petition between views. Nor is the goal of listening necessarily to reach agreement.

Rather, astute listening is the process of working through issues and separating the emotional from the logical while discovering more about the assumptions used to draw conclusions. Good listeners care less about being “right” than they do about building strong coalitions among their people.
Often people listen in order to validate their own replies. Few actually listen to understand another person’s perspective, and even fewer try to understand the person behind the perspective. Listening has become a -unilateral waiting game. We nod our heads to look attentive and interested, but inside we’re working up a clever reply. (“Finish up, so I can tell you what I think about it!”)

Sadly, most of us don’t bother to really understand the people we listen to. This is not just a trait of lawyers, but lawyers in particular should not settle for how “most people” communicate. Providing legal service demands that we strive to reach a much higher standard than “most people” in interpersonal communication. It is not by chance that we are called counselors-at-law.

People need to be understood. This need is second only to their need to survive. They need to participate in communication that affirms and validates them as people. Listening is perhaps the single most important aspect in client communication. No matter how much time it takes, it is worth every moment. Furthermore, it is said that it is only after we listen and listen well that we earn the right to be listened to.

It is through listening that you will begin to discover what your clients truly value. Only when you know what each client–individually–values can you hope to provide them with the type of excellent service that builds loyalty and praise.

Listen to the Clients You Already Have – Basic Law Firm Marketing

It is not the hundreds of potential clients that might one day become revenue opportunities that count. It’s your existing clients that are your greatest assets. Investing in them by listening to them will generate your greatest return.
The traditional 80/20 rule applies to most large firms: That is, 80 per-cent of a firm’s revenue comes from just 20 percent of its clients. So marketing well must begin with your existing clients. Listening to these clients, reassuring them and making sure that they are well-served at every level must be your first priorities.

Henry Dahut is an attorney and marketing strategist who works with some of the largest law firms in the world. He is the author of the best selling practice development book, “Marketing The Legal Mind” and offers consulting services in the area of strategic branding and law firm marketing. Henry is also the founder of the legal online help-portal GotTrouble.com – the award winning site that helps people through serious legal and financial trouble.

Law Firm Branding – The Danger Of Illusory Brands

Over the last ten years, we have witnessed advances in law practice technology, the expanding roles of paralegals, and the outsourcing of legal work. Yet despite all of these cost-cutting and time-saving advantages, many law firms, especially the large ones, remain struggling for their very survival.

Only a decade ago, law firms were enjoying remarkable levels of growth and prosperity. Firm coffers were full and firms were spending significant sums of money on promoting themselves in order to enter new markets and acquire premium business. Some firms even began experimenting with branding. In those days, branding was mostly viewed as just another form of advertising and promotion. In truth, firm leadership rarely understood the branding process or what the concept of branding was actually intended to accomplish. But it didn’t really matter, revenue was climbing and profitability remained strong. But what so many of these firms didn’t expect was that, in just a few years, our economy would be shaken by a deep and fierce recession, one which would shake the financial foundations of even the most profitable of firms.

For law firms, the recession that began in 2007 had, by 2010, penetrated the most sacred of realms- the proverbial benchmark of a firms standing and achievement- profits-per-partner. For many firms, especially mega-firms, the decline in law partner profits were reaching record lows and it wasn’t long until the legal landscape was littered with failed firms both large and small.

In trying to deflect further losses, firms began to lay off associates and staff in record number. But the problems went much deeper. There simply were too many lawyers and not enough premium work to go around. It was a clear case of overcapacity, and it was also clear it was not going to improve anytime soon.

More than twelve of the nation’s major law firms, with more than 1,000 partners between them, had completely failed in a span of about seven years. Against this background, law schools were still churning out thousands of eager law graduates every year. Highly trained young men and women who were starved for the chance to enter a profession that once held the promise of wealth, status and stability.

As partner profits dwindled, partner infighting grew rampant. Partner would compete against partner for the same piece of business. The collegial “team-driven” identity and “progressive culture” that firms spent millions of dollars promoting as their firm’s unique brand and culture had vanished as quickly as it was created. While financial times were tough, in truth many of the big firms had the resources to survive the downturn. Instead, partners with big books of business were choosing to take what they could and joined other firms- demoralizing those left behind.

To understand why this was happening, we must first remove ourselves from the specific context and internal politics of any one firm and consider the larger picture. The failure and decline of firms was not only a crisis of economics and overcapacity, it was also a crisis of character, identity, values and leadership. Sadly, the brand identity many of these firms pronounced as their own did not match up against the reality of who they actually were. In other words, for many firms, the brand identity they created was illusory- and illusory brands ultimately fracture in times of financial stress.

Ultimately, the branding process must also be a transformative process in search of the firms highest and most cherished values. It is, and must be, a process of reinvention at every level of the firm- especially its leadership. The transformative process is fundamental to building a true and enduring brand. Without it, firms run the risk of communicating an identity that does not represent them, and this is the danger, especially when the firm is tested against the stress of difficult times.

How this miscommunication of identity was allowed to happen varied widely from firm to firm. But generally speaking, while firm leadership was initially supportive of the branding process, in most cases these same partners were rarely willing to risk exposing the firm’s real problems in fear that it would expose their own.

While decline of law firm revenue was clearly attributable to both a bad economy and an oversupply of lawyers, from an internal perspective the firm’s inability to come together and develop effective measures to withstand these pressures could usually be traced directly back to the lack of partner leadership. A firm that proclaims to be something it is not- is inevitably doomed to failure. Say nothing of the psychic damage it causes at the collective level of the firm. It is no different then the psychological dynamics of the person who pretends to be someone he is not- ultimately it leads to confusion, frustration and eventually self-betrayal.

It’s easy to indulge in self-praise when economic times are good. Some partners might even attribute their success to all that clever branding they put into place years before. But, when the threat of financial crisis enters the picture, the same firm can quickly devolve into self-predatory behavior- a vicious cycle of fear and greed that inevitably turns into an “eat-or-be-eaten” culture- which for most firms marks the beginning of the end.

For any firm playing out its last inning, it is simply too late to rally the troops or reach for those so-called cherished values that were supposedly driving the firm’s success. In truth, when times got bad, these values were nowhere to be found, except on the firms website, magazine ads and brochures.

The point is that when a firm is actually driven by its cherished beliefs and core values, the firm will begin to live by them, especially in times of adversity. The firm will pull together and rally behind its leadership, and with clarity of purpose, each person will do what needs to be done to weather the storm. But when there exists a fundamental contradiction between what a firm says they are, and how they actually conduct themselves both internally and to the world- the vendors with whom they do business and the clients they represent- the firm will never reach its full potential. It will remain dysfunctional and it will risk joining that growing list of failed firms.

The financial collapse and deterioration of so many law firms in the past few years is a compelling testament to the importance of insisting on truth and integrity in the branding process.

In 2014, it is clear that business-as-usual in our profession is no longer a sustainable proposition. For this reason I am convinced that firms driven by fear and greed are firms destined to eventually self-destruct. That is because, no matter how much these firms try to brand, they will never be able to brand truthfully, and therefore they will never be able to compete against more progressive and enlightened firms- those that do not worship wealth and power, but rather cherish personal and professional fulfillment.

There is a choice for those who believe their firm is worth saving- reinvent yourself to reflect values that are truly worthy of cherishing, or risk devolving into something less than what you aspire to be and risk your firm’s heart and soul in the process.