What Not to Do When You’re Not Busy Enough

When lawyers and other professionals are used to being busy, it can be especially challenging when they hit a slow patch. Two sub-optimal responses tend to repeat themselves.

1. Overcompensating

You know the feeling. You haven’t worked out for weeks or months. You feel bad about it so you tell yourself that you will get back on track by going to the gym four days a week for the next three months.

How does this usually turn out?

A similar dynamic applies when lawyers and other professionals feel that they have neglected their marketing and networking efforts.  They feel bad about it and they overcompensate.

This is the lawyer who schedules 10 networking events in 30 days when they previously attended five events in the prior six months.

Likewise, this is the impulse that causes five blog posts to be written in the first week or sparks a sudden commitment to launch a podcast.

And how do these typically turn out?

Exactly like most New Years Eve commitments tend to workout. The commitment bursts on the scene like a supernova but fades out fast.

2.  Constructive Avoidance

The second sub-optimal response to having too few clients in the pipeline is to avoid the problem by keeping busy.

This explains the actions of the attorneys who suddenly volunteer for all sorts of projects, such as organizing bar association conferences, or take on work at one half of their normal hourly rate.

Why do smart professionals ignore a problem as important as not having enough good, well-paying clients?

It’s because it’s painful not to be busy and helping people feels good. Moreover, constructive avoidance is especially likely to take place when you lack confidence that your business development efforts will be successful.

The good news is that overcompensation and constructive avoidance are common and fixable. Focusing on growing your business during slow times is a skill you can improve. The first step is to slow yourself down. Recognize that panic and avoidance is kind of like being in a trance.   You can slow things down and get more comfortable with being momentarily uncomfortable.

Successful practices manage ups and downs. They recognize that falling short happens. It’s part of the process of succeeding. You can learn to observe dispassionately the stress you feel about lack of clients. And being able to recognize that it’s natural for flow of incoming clients to vary, will take the sting out of the pressure that comes from feelings that arise when you’re not busy enough. If you visualize the uncomfortable feeling without being overwhelmed by it, you will take an important first step towards avoiding either overcompensating or engaging in constructive avoidance.

And if part of your stress about business development is caused by a sense that what you have tried to do isn’t working or that you don’t know what you should do to attract new clients, that’s where business consultants can be especially helpful.  It’s much easier for us to assess your situation dispassionately than it is for you to self diagnose.

Five Overlooked Numbers in Law Firm Marketing

Many law firms overlook a free source of critical marketing data.  Law firms and other service providers benefit from understanding their clients and referral sources as well as they can.  And yet, in my experience as a business consultant to lawyers and law firms, very few firms take advantage of the wealth of demographic information that is stored in one five-digit number.

The zip code.

It can make your marketing efforts far more effective, but I’ve almost never met a small or mid-sized firm that collected and analyzed zip code information relating to where clients and referral sources live and work.

You might be wondering what’s the big deal about zip codes.  Plenty.  Zone Improvement Plan codes were introduced in 1963 to streamline mail delivery by the postal service.  An additional four digits were added to the codes in 1983.  There are now approximately 42,000 codes.

The Census Bureau has for many years collected and disseminated a vast array of data that is tied to zip codes.  This information is searchable through the Bureau’s American FactFinder portal.  See  https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Thus, if you know the zip code where someone lives works, or goes to school, you can collect a lot of information about them and their community, including its demographic and economic profile, as well as specific information about income, average household size, and educational attainment.  Moreover, private companies sell more detailed analyses that includes information about political and religious affiliation, purchasing habits, and other characteristics that allow direct mail companies and others to pinpoint their marketing efforts.

So how should law firms use zip code information?

The answer depends on the nature of the practice and the geographic scope of its best clients.  An AmLaw 200 firm that serves global corporations may have less use for zip codes than a firm that serves local businesses or individuals.  For the AmLaw 200 firm, the most important geographic consideration might be where the General Counsel works.  And that information doesn’t require a detailed zip code analysis.

But almost every law firm is likely to benefit from analyzing the geographic distribution of its referral sources.  One easy way to begin to find out where your best referral sources live and work, and show that on a map.  This analysis can be performed for an individual lawyer’s book of business, a practice area’s results, or for the entire firm.

So, for example, the next time a law firm wants to know where a reception should take place for its alumni, or what business networking events junior partner should attend, don’t guess.  Take the time to see where your best alumni referral sources live and work and use that data to make an informed decision.  Zip code analysis formation can also be helpful in in recruiting or when deciding where to open a new office location.

Zip code analysis is an accessible, low cost, and powerful tool.  And if you didn’t previously know how zip code analysis can help a law firm, now you do.

Five Signs That A Lawyer Is A Networking Martyr

Effective networking requires being helpful to others, but some lawyers go too far.  They are so generous and are so committed to helping others that they don’t take steps that would help them attract more clients for themselves. Here are five real-life examples of that suggest that a lawyer crossed the line from generosity to martyrdom.

  1. At a network event, the lawyer is thanked for providing a referral to another lawyer.  And the person providing the thank you publicly comments that the other lawyer’s rates are too low and that they should increase them.
  2. A lawyer provides close to a dozen introductions to a potential referral source and never even requests a meeting with that source.  In fact, the lawyer provided so many introductions that the person receiving them starts to wonder why.
  3. A lawyer who knows that they are under a lot of financial pressure and isn’t nearly as busy as they want to be refuses to ask other lawyers for referrals.
  4. A lawyer hosts a networking event and does an admirable job making sure attendees get the chance to talk about themselves in front of the group.  The only person who doesn’t discuss their work or explain what clients they would like to attract is the lawyer who organizes the meeting.
  5. A lawyer who wants to increase referrals from accountants only discusses personal matters and never talks about business when she meets CPAs.  She doesn’t ask them questions about their work because she prefers to learn more about them as people.  She continues with the approach despite rarely receiving referrals from the CPAs she meets.

In my experience as a business coach to lawyers, I have learned that networking martyrdom is often based on one personality trait and one fallacy.  The character trait is lack of self-confidence.  And that lack of self-confidence doesn’t relate to legal ability.  In fact, the lawyer described above justifiably believes they are better lawyers than many of the colleagues who are busier than they are.

The lack of self-confidence tends to relate to their ability to communicate.  For example, they may say to themselves that they aren’t good about talking about themselves.  Likewise, they may comment that they don’t do well in large group sessions.

The common fallacy, especially for those that are too generous with their time and expertise, is that, if they are sufficiently generous, that by itself will be eventually noticed, and will in turn lead to business.  This is somewhat akin to someone who feels that, if you bring someone enough milk and cookies, they will eventually take a romantic interest in you.  Admittedly the analogy to dating and romance isn’t perfect, but there is something instructive in the concept of being relegated to the friendzone when you actually want a romantic relationship.

There is no single way to get a lawyer out of the martyr zone.  These are solvable problems, which often involve finding the most comfortable way for a particular lawyer to ask for business or to let a referral source know that they want to explore the possibility of working together.  How one does that varies from person to person and is very situation specific.

But the crucial first step is to understand that, when it comes to networking, it is possible to be too generous with your time or expertise.

The Benefits of Marketing to Middle-Market Companies

Law firms could learn a thing or two from commercial banks about marketing to middle-market companies.  First and foremost, banks know what the middle market is and have a fairly consistent way of defining it.  Specifically, commercial bankers define the middle market as companies that have annual revenues in a given range.  That range differs a bit based on the size of the bank.  At Citibank, the middle market might include companies with annual revenues up to $1 billion, whereas at a regional commercial bank, the middle market might include companies with annual revenues of between $50 and $500 million.  I’ve never met an experienced commercial banker who couldn’t clearly identify what the middle market meant for their bank.

Business lawyers, by contrast, rarely define their target audience as clearly as bankers do.  Too often transactional lawyers and business litigators define their target audience solely in terms of their ability to pay the lawyers’ fees and their need for the specific problem the lawyer knows how to solve.  For example, management-side employment lawyers will say that they defend wage and hour cases but won’t explicitly say that their best clients have revenues in excess of a certain amount or more than a set number of employees.  That is inexplicable given that many important employment laws only apply to employers with 50 or more employees.  In my experience as a consultant to lawyers and law firms, M&A lawyers and other transactional attorneys are more likely to use specific metrics when describing their best potential clients.  But even sophisticated deal lawyers often fail to recognize the benefits of using the middle market or a comparable metric to describe their target market.

So what’s the big deal about middle market companies as potential clients for business law firms?

For starters, companies with revenues in excess of $50 million can almost always afford to pay their legal fees.  Moreover, whether it’s a breach of contract for a business litigator or a transaction, the bigger the amount in controversy or at issue, the more sensible it is for the client to invest in quality legal services.  Moreover, it doesn’t take ten times as much effort to bring in a $5 million breach of contract case as it does one where the amount in controversy is $500k.  But the larger matter is often more lucrative for the law firm.  That is one reason why middle market companies are generally better target clients than smaller companies.

Middle market companies are also more approachable than the biggest of the big companies.  The competition for Fortune 500 companies is fierce, and the barriers to entry for landing a $10 billion company are severe.  While general counsel of the biggest companies are less tied to AmLaw 200 firms than they used to be, with relatively few exceptions their best work goes to law firms and lawyers that have large law firm experience and in many cases attended a small number of law schools.  By contrast, there are many more middle-market companies and educational pedigree is likely to be an issue to be retained.

Finally, when business lawyers describe their target as belonging to the middle market, they are more likely to define that market in terms that are understandable to their best referral sources.  And when business lawyers of all stripes define their intended market in terms of annual revenues, employees or other concrete metrics, it makes it easier for commercial bankers, accountants, and other financial professionals to picture who might be a good referral for the attorney or law firm.

So the next time you attend a networking group or have a chance to describe who your best potential clients are, go down the route that most directly describes your best potential clients.  Specifically, use financial metrics to explain that you are seeking middle-market clients who have certain problems that you can solve.

5 Tips For Reaching Your Goals In The New Year

Too many people fall victim to the fallacy that New Year’s resolutions work. They don’t–and for a very good reason. Many of the most important goals that people want to accomplish require regular attention. Whether you want to lose weight, improve a personal relationship, or grow your book of business, you can’t get there by making a one-time commitment.

Here are five tips for turning your new year’s resolution (or any other goal) into reality:

1. Get it on your Calendar—In my experience coaching lawyers and other professionals, the biggest mistake I come across is over reliance on a to-do list. Lists can be helpful to identify what’s on your plate, but they generally don’t help you prioritize what’s important. If you want to increase your chances of actually reaching your most important goals, work off your calendar and not a do-list. In other words, schedule time for your most important goals and treat that calendar entry like any other important appointment.

2. Breakdown Projects into Next Steps. It is not enough to add a calendar entry to your schedule. You need to know what you will do during the time you have set aside. Too many lawyers make the mistake of keeping track of entire projects rather than individual tasks. Thus, for example, if your goal is to write an article or blogpost every month, your calendar entry should identify the next step or steps for that project. Often this means that you need to set aside time on your calendar to brainstorm or research what the article or blog post will be about. Many projects never get off of the ground because lawyers don’t allocate time for brainstorming or research. Likewise lawyers err when they wait to have enough time to complete the entire project in one sitting. Realistically, we know you aren’t going to have that much spare time, so block off 15-30 minutes and calendar your next step.

3. Make your Biggest Goals your Top Priority.  It’s tempting to take an incremental approach to setting goals. That’s why goals tend not to change very much from year to year. But if you want to make great strides in growing your business, focus on attaining those goals that have the largest potential impact. For many of my clients, this means devoting more time and effort to bringing in their very best clients. How about you? What do you need to do to attract your big fish?

4. Don’t Keep it a Secret.  You are much more likely to commit to a goal if other people know about it and can hold you accountable. The very act of announcing your goal to others make it more real and also increases the perceived negative effects of failing to reach the goal. Many of us are motivated to not disappoint others, so use that fact to help you reach your most important goals.

5.  Use Rewards and Punishments to help Reach Milestones. When your goal involves a long-term commitment to do many intermediate steps, there is a greater risk that you will lose motivation before reaching your goal. That is why it important to create and mark milestones along the way. This can take the form of rewarding yourself when you have, for example, written three blogposts on time. You can also use the pain associated with negative consequences to help you push forward. For example, you set up an account that will make an automatic contribution from your credit card to a cause you absolutely hate if you don’t reach a milestone. Imagine how you would feel if failing to write enough weekly blog posts caused your hard-earned money to be donated to a cause or political candidate you loathe. Although this sounds gimmicky, the underlying psychology is sound. Humans need help to reach goals that require ongoing effort and focus, and we are often more motivated to avoid pain and obtain pleasure.

Let this year be the year where you make audacious goals and actually reach them.

Three Marketing Lessons Law Firms Should Learn From the Presidential Election

The content between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump wasn’t exactly inspiring.  It did, however, demonstrate three truths about communicating a message that is particularly applicable to law firms that want to grow.

1.  A Memorable Brand Goes A Very Long Way:  However you feel about Donald Trump as a candidate or as the incoming President, you can’t ignore how powerful his brand has been during this election cycle, especially during the primaries.  Trump was a first-time candidate who demolished 16 competitors in the primaries.  Many of his competitors had much more experience and spent millions of dollars more than he did on television commercials.  And all that experience and money and endorsements withered in the face of the Trump name.  When you are on television for more than ten years and your persona is that of being wealthy and successful and in charge, you have a tremendous advantage over people whose name evokes no strong reactions.

And how many law firms are truly branded such that their very name evokes positive emotions and thoughts in the minds of their potential clients?  Almost none.  It is slightly more common for individual lawyers to have established reputations but that reputation is rarely constant or pervasive enough to rise to the level of a brand.  Usually it’s more a kin to saying that “she is a good lawyer.”  And there are many lawyers in any market who have that kind of reputation, so none of them have a true brand.  The biggest lesson to be gleaned from the election is that it worth the time and effort to transform your name into a brand.

2.  Spreading A Message Requires Perseverance:  Both candidates returned to Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina countless times.  In part, this is because of the workings of the Electoral College and that states are winner-take-all contests.  But even if they weren’t, you would still see elected officials returning over and over again to their key target audiences.  And they continually tinker with their message to see if they can maximize its impact.

Contrast this with how most lawyers communicate with their most promising and important potential clients and referral sources.  Too often they give up after one unproductive meeting, or when the potential client refuses to answer a single phone call or respond to a single email message.  Accomplished sales people know that sales often take place after they have had more than five prior contacts with the potential client.  This message seems to have eluded many lawyers.  This is especially unfortunate because the fastest way to grow a firm often involves landing a big fish.  And that takes effort and perseverance.  You can’t become a stalker but you can’t get discouraged easily.  You need to return to that potential client in smart and strategic way, as if you were trying to persuade an undecided voter on the eve of Election Day.

3.  Messaging Matters: What was Hillary’s message on her logo?  Can you remember it a month after the election?  And if you can, what does it mean?  Contrast the ambiguous phrase, “I’m with Her” with the phrases that Donald Trump repeatedly used during his campaign:  Make America Great Again; America First; Drain the Swamp, and others.  They are all short and easy to remember.

Moreover, his message had a higher emotional impact. His messages are more about what his candidacy will do for the audience.  Her message is about the candidate.

The risk in using Trump as an example of effective messaging is that many won’t be able to see beyond their dislike of him.  You don’t have to like him or approve or his candidacy to appreciate that there might be something to be learned about the way he communicated his message.

Avoid Comments About Appearance at Business Meetings

Is it ok if, during a business meeting, a man says to a woman, “You have beautiful eyes”?

Or how about commenting at a networking event that “I was sitting with the lovely Anne, Beth, and Cathy, and what could be better than that.”?

Based on my recent experience, some lawyers persist in making comments during business meetings that directly or indirectly draw attention to a woman’s appearance.  And when the discussion turns to the appropriateness of such comments, lawyers can be at their rationalizing best.  Some described the comment about beautiful eyes as harmless, as if it were equivalent to saying that a cat had pretty eyes.  Others said that men say such things because they honestly can’t perceive what might be wrong with what they said.  It was also suggested that it would set the wrong tone to criticize these comments immediately after they were made.  And several lawyers opined that such comments didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment.

As a lawyer, can I think of scenarios where the comment about beautiful eyes might be endearing or appropriate?  Sure.  Lawyers are good at coming up with all sorts of hypotheticals, but in the real life of doing business in an increasingly connected world, it’s something that can and should be avoided.

Interestingly, there was almost no discussion during the networking event about the risks of making such comments.  And in my experience as a former human resources executive turned business coach and consultant to lawyers and law firms, the risks are considerable.  The primary risk isn’t legal.  The legal definition of sexual harassment is largely immaterial.

The risk is much more basic.  More and more professionals (men and women alike) see such comments as outdated, distasteful, or a combination of the two.  If in 2016 someone still uses such language, they have managed to avoid a lot of training.  And it isn’t clear why the people who make such comments should be given the benefit of the doubt or a second chance.  Increasingly business professionals are likely to see these comments as disqualifying.

It’s not the comments themselves, it’s what they signal.  Specifically, if someone continues to comment on a women’s appearance at business meeting, they are behind the times.  And if they are behind the times in one aspect of their work, it’s more likely that they haven’t kept up in other areas as well.  That’s one reason why commenting on a women’s appearance in a business meeting is deeply suspect.  It suggests that you aren’t very good at what you do.  And an increasing number of clients and colleagues will just not consider doing business with a person who makes such comments.  It’s as simple as that.

Do Nice Lawyers Attract Fewer Clients?

Conventional wisdom is that people want to work with people they like. But is that true for lawyers, who are sometimes called upon to do things that are decidedly not nice? To what extent are lawyers selected precisely because they are perceived capable of being not nice, and does that put nice lawyers at a marketing disadvantage?

I asked about a thousand lawyers this question by email and the responses were illuminating. Those who responded explicitly or implicitly acknowledged that some clients seek out lawyers who have the ability to be not nice. For example, a management-side employment lawyer indicated that, “I’ve only seen “niceness” play a role in selection of counsel when the client is really overtly looking for aggression in their counsel.” A lawyer who describes himself as representing upscale business owners believes that his clients would tend to correlate abrasives with “lack of intelligence, judgment or both.” For him “nice and knowledgeable is the key.”

Likewise, a lawyer who represents businesses in bankruptcy and collections matters suggested that the most effective demeanor is reserved and even a bit aloof. “The best attitude to have with potential new clients is one of firm confidence and competence with a sort of distant, formal manner of address. Best example? Believe it or not, the attitude demonstrated by actor Raymond Burr in the old Perry Mason TV series.”

A personal injury lawyer had a very different view. He relayed a story from early in his career in which he was chastised by a client for appearing to be too nice to opposing counsel. He recently received a note at the end of the representation that thanked him for being a tiger. More generally he attributes his “success in obtaining clients without any advertising for the most part” on demonstrating his “passion for seeking what is right, fair and just.”  One way he does this is by sprinkling a few curses into his conversations with potential clients.

In telephone and in-person consultations over the years I’ve often found myself saying “pardon my bad language that I’m about to use, but your doctor/claims examiner is (expletive) and you should not have to put up with this!”

To my surprise, about two years ago an auto-mechanic in his 50’s with a work injury hired me at our in-office consultation, after a telephone consultation. He told me he’d met with two other attorneys before me but he was hiring me “because of your bad mouth”.

No one is suggesting that cursing is necessary to attract clients. But especially in litigation some clients are attracted to lawyers who exhibit passion for the client’s cause and a willingness to fight for the client. As one lawyer put it, “I think the key is whether clients feel that . . .there is genuine passion and care for their interests.”

It should be noted that the two lawyers who reported that they occasionally use very strong language with clients (including a criminal defense lawyer who sometimes yells at clients during the course of a representation) are middle-aged, white men. I suspect that women and minority lawyers as well as all younger lawyers might not be as warmly received if they started cursing when taking to prospective clients.

So what should we make of the variety of responses that were submitted? It’s too simplistic to conclude that lawyers representing corporations should be tactful and demure while those representing members of the general public should curse like sailors. The responses do suggest that it is helpful to convey a deep interest in the client’s predicament.

One trait of good marketing is that it attracts the clients you wants to attract and repels those you want to repel. That suggests that lawyers should be more willing to find out what works for them and their clients, and to show more of their personalities. Don’t be outrageous simply to act outrageous, but clients like lawyers come in more than one flavor. The phrase “different horses for different courses” seems to apply.

Thanks to all the lawyers who took the time to respond. That was very nice of you to do.

Why Attorneys Should Provide Non-Legal Support to Their Clients

An accomplished large law firm corporate attorney recently told me, “I want my clients calling me for everything.”

This statement was made in the context of him describing how he regularly refers a variety of service providers to his clients, many of whom aren’t lawyers. He wants to cultivate a sense in his clients’ minds that he can be useful to them beyond being their lawyer.

Too many lawyers fall into the trap of identifying their expertise solely in terms of their legal specialty. This narrow focus is one reason why many lawyers don’t try to help solve a broader range of their client’s problems. This is especially true for lawyers who represent businesses and other institutional clients where repeat business is a real possibility.

Thus, for example, M&A lawyers should network and cultivate relationships with lenders and other financing sources because their clients predictably require help raising money. Likewise, business immigration lawyers are often in a position to act as their clients’ concierge because foreign investors often have few connections when they first move to this country.

The non-legal services attorneys provide can also be more personal in nature. They can go beyond providing referrals and making personal introductions. You can provide clients advice with respect to wine, restaurants, or travel destinations. There’s a reason why almost every large company and law firm can provide their clients with tickets to sporting events or concerts.   An article published in Entrepreneur discussed strategies for improving a client’s experience, and highlighted the importance of helping clients solve their secondary problems—those issues that are not strictly within the reason why they hired you in the first place.

Encouraging your clients to contact you for non-legal help might seem like a bad idea if you are focused on maximizing billable hours in the short run. But if lawyers want to get serious about fully understanding their client’s priorities and helping them solve their problems, they need to stop defining themselves as operating out of a narrow silo that is their area of legal specialty.

How Much Should Law Firms Pay Associates For Making Rain?

There seems to be a magical belief in certain law firms that emphasizing the importance of rainmaking is the same thing as actually increasing revenues. Nowhere is this conflation of intent and result more obvious than in discussions of how to pay associates for their successful rainmaking efforts. In the past few years increased attention has placed on encouraging associates to bring in business, but in my experience consulting with law firms, the talk generally doesn’t translate into actual business.

Part of the problem is that law firms generally don’t articulate a career development philosophy for associates that puts rainmaking into a proper context. At the beginning of associates’ careers, the primary focus should be on mastering skills. If an associate happens to bring in business during this early phase, it’s a bonus for the firm, but that’s not the primary or even secondary role of a beginning associate.

The duration of this phase depends to some degree on the complexity of the work associates are required to so. Certain practice areas lend themselves to mastering a routine. For example, lawyers who represent plaintiffs in state court litigation may need to master certain kinds of pleadings. It might take the average associate two or three years to be very familiar with this work. By contrast, law school graduates are often less prepared to handle certain kinds of transactional work and the learning curve for M&A, real estate, and related transactions are often longer. As a general rule, the longer the learning curve to achieve mastery, the longer the firm should wait before emphasizing rainmaking for associates.

And when rainmaking is emphasized it should be presented as an additional skill a lawyer needs to master to become a full professional. Too often, firm leaders assume that associates will be primarily motivated by the possibility of additional pay. These are the firms that announce that they will pay associates a portion of what the firm collects from their rainmaking efforts, but do nothing more to foster a culture of rainmaking among associates. It isn’t enough to announce a policy that, for example, associates will receive 10% of what the firm collects on a case brought in by the associate.

A firm that is serious about encouraging associate rainmaking also needs to provide training, mentorship, and resources to associates who try to make rain. The most basic and overlooked training takes the form of teaching associates how to find a relevant target audience and how to talk about their individual capabilities. In other words, most associates (and partners) need help identifying who to talk to about business development and what to say when they are in front of that audience. Networking is a learned skill and trial and error plays a large part in mastering it. That is why mentoring is so important. Associates often underestimate how much effort and persistence it takes to bring in a client. This is something that more experienced lawyers are in a strong position to demonstrate.

Associates who have graduated from law school since 2008 don’t need to be reminded of the importance of bringing in clients. I have taught a few business development classes to law school classes and the students are infinitely more aware of the importance of networking than my generation of lawyers was. Associate rainmaking can be much more effective than it currently is, but as with many aspects of running a successful law firm, it requires a strategic approach and a commitment to implementing that strategy consistently.