Sunday, August 29, 2010

Relative Filth

… and, no, I’m not referring to your brother-in-law.

Several years ago, after California voters approved an initiative requiring their legislators to receive education on ethical principles, the state senate brought in ethics guru Michael Josephson ( to deliver the message.

In preparation, Josephson met with senators and staff members, and here’s his account of one interview:

A senior staffer confided, "We need this program. People lie a lot up here." I wondered if I should act surprised. But before I could respond, the staffer added, "I hardly ever lie."

Although his statement sounded like a confession, he wasn’t embarrassed at all. "Hardly ever lying" made him morally superior. In a culture where lying is common, the occasional liar feels like a saint. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

I’ve heard variations of this justification -- "I’m not so bad as long as others are worse" -- so many times I’ve given it a name: The Doctrine of Relative Filth.

Josephson’s doctrine came to mind during the last of three meetings I’ve had in recent weeks with law firms whose leaders have convened for the daring and laudable purpose of thinking strategically – examining themselves and the legal landscape and challenging themselves to paint, in bold strokes, a picture of their firm’s future.

These three firms, while differing from each other in many ways, are about to face a common challenge: how to break through the ceiling of “relative” visioning (“How much better should we be than we are now?” “How do become more competitive?”) in order to ascend to a place where they can shake off comparisons and consider, “What would we look like if we were as great as we could be?”

I believe that every good law firm has the potential to be arguably the best law firm in its market (or at least in its weight class) – provided it’s willing to quit comparing itself to itself or its neighbors. In your strategic thinking, be guided by the Doctrine of Absolute Greatness.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Branding (and Why You May Not Want to Do It)

Branding is a marketing craze that I thought had run its course, particularly among smaller, cash-conscious law firms that can’t justify the cost of etching their name, logo or tag line into their prospects’ temporal lobes.

Nonetheless, twice in the last month, “branding” came from out of left field during my meetings with attorneys. The first time, the perpetrator was part of the lunatic fringe and was brushed off by his level-headed colleagues. But when, in the second instance, launching a branding campaign started to gain traction, I had to restore order.

“Let me ask you this. In the last month, how many of you have booked at least one marketing lunch or meeting with a client, prospect or referral source?”

One hand went up. I asked its owner, “How many did you book?”

“Seven or eight.”

“OK,” I said to the group, “here’s what I think. A branding campaign won’t help ‘Dwight’ here, because he’s in the game and doesn’t need the help. And it won’t help the rest of you, because you’re not in the game. Plus, it’s expensive.”

Many years ago, I developed this principle: Things that cost a lot generally don’t work, and things that work generally don’t cost a lot. Sadly, most law firms waste a lot of money in the name of marketing to make up for the lack of real marketing by their attorneys.

By your behavior and action, “brand” yourself as an attorney or firm that is friendly, engaged, committed, responsive and skilled and that adds value to clients. That’s branding that works.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Marketing Roles for Non-Marketers

You don’t have to be a rainmaker to make major contributions to your firm’s marketing success. If you haven’t hit your stride in marketing, you can still have a big impact by playing a supporting role.

1. Become an Industry Expert. If a lot of the firm’s clients come from one industry, be the firm’s go-to person for useful information. Read trade publications. Know the trade associations. Track legislation and case law.

2. Read the Paper. Look for news that your clients and colleagues need to know about, and send it around.

3. If You Can Write, Write. The Internet has made writing skill a more powerful marketing asset than ever, since you don’t have to rely on third-party cooperation to get your message out.

4. Monitor the Web. Follow worthwhile websites and use Google Alerts to monitor news that affects our clients and industries.

5. Review the Firm’s Website. Once a month, look for contents that are outdated or inaccurate, and be alert for missing information that we want visitors to see.

6. Become the Referral Source Information Nag. Once a week, review the new client list and be sure that we have identified the referral sources, captured their contact information, and thanked them for the referral.

7. Become the Cross-Selling Czar. Thirty days after a file is opened for a new client, talk to the responsible attorney about that client’s cross-selling potential. What other legal needs could we handle? What other attorneys should that client meet?