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.

Wikipedia Marketing – Use a Wiki to Market a Law Firm Or Practice

Wikipedia is a very important tool in a tech-savvy legal marketers’ arsenal. Web technologies like RSS from blogs, wikis, forums, and other kinds of channels into feed-enabled portals create buzz about an attorney or law firm.

Wikipedia has a massive traffic volume and influence in search engine results. The site also tends to attract a tech-savvy audience that researches RSS and other Web 2.0 technologies. Presented carefully, a strong presence for a law firm with relevant Wikipedia entries can help drive traffic to the Firm’s website. In the ever-expanding world of social computing, it makes sense for firms and attorneys to take the plunge into Wikipedia, but it is just as important to learn the rules of the game first.

GETTING STARTED

When creating the firm or attorney page, first check the state bar’s rules for the filing requirements for public advertising and written, recorded, electronic or other digital solicitations. In Texas, all attorney advertising copy must be submitted to the Advertising Review Department. However, since Wikipedia entries are assumed written by a neutral third-party the pages don’t officially fall into the “advertising” category.

Here is the official word from the Texas State Bar Advertising Review Department Director Gene Major; “Read the Texas Disciplinary Rules for Professional Conduct. Rule 7.07(e) lists the type of exemptions the Bar allows without submission for approval from us. These exemptions include publicly available information about the attorney or law firm, business card-type information about practice areas, firm website and information concerning legal issues, such as news articles, legal articles, editorial opinions, or other legal developments or events.”

Before constructing the framework for the Wikipedia page, the best advice is to list everything planned for the page, then read the individual state bar’s exemptions rule on filing requirements and make sure nothing on the Wikipedia list contradicts the state bar rule.

Wikipedia’s strict content guidelines must also be addressed and understood thoroughly. Wikipedia’s editors are basically anyone who owns a computer, and they can be merciless. Wikipedia defines itself as: an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion, or a vanity press. As such, it should contain only material that complies with its content policies, and Wikipedians must place the interests of the encyclopedia first. Any editor who gives priority to outside interests may be subject to a conflict of interest.

There are no firm criteria to determine whether a conflict of interest exists, but there are warning signs. Adding material that appears to promote the interests or visibility of an article’s author, its author’s family members, employer, associates, or their business or personal interests, places the author in a conflict of interest. When editors write to promote their own interests, their contributions often show a characteristic lack of connection to anything the general reader might want to consult as a reference.

When constructing a page if its decided to write an article on an area of law where there is personal involvement, be sure to write in a neutral tone and cite reliable, third party published sources, its important to beware of unintentional bias. A neutral point of view is the key to success on Wikipedia.

The best learning tools here are examples. Houston attorney Mark Lanier’s page is a good model of how to write a Wikipedia entry properly. It can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Mark_Lanier

You will notice Lanier’s page is categorized under American Lawyers/Living People. A page’s category is an important designation. According to the Wikipedia article traffic statistics (http://stats.grok.se/) Lanier’s page has been visited 246 times in June of 2008.

A law firm that created their Wikipedia entry properly can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skadden%2C_Arps%2C_Slate%2C_Meagher_%26_Flom

This firm categorized their entry under: Law firms of the United States | Law firms established in 1948 | Law firms based in New York City. According to the traffic counter, their page has been viewed 6,508 times in June of 2008. That’s a strong audience.

Along with the successful pages we should also cite examples of problem entries. Haynes & Boone is a good cautionary tale. Their page can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haynes_%26_Boone

You will notice there is a warning header at the top of the page listing the entry as being written as an advertisement. Judging from the length of the page a lot of work went into building it. But there aren’t any external links except self-promoting websites and there are no references listed. Whoever wrote this entry probably thought the link to the firm’s website would be enough to justify the time and effort it took to build the page. However, a quick check of the page traffic counter shows the page was visited once in May and not at all in June. It is important to cite sources and make sure other articles link to the page from related topics. Make content relevant for the Wikipedia community, not just the firm.

CASE CITATIONS

You will notice from the Mark Lanier page example citations of some of his flagship cases. These cases should not be cited unless they are considered closed by the courts and all parties involved. If an attorney is involved in a court case, or close to one of the litigants, it would be very difficult to demonstrate that what is written about a party or a law firm associated with the case, or a related area of law, was entirely objective.

The courts or their parties could potentially notice even a minor slip up in neutrality in a court-case article on Wikipedia for an active case-in-progress, and this could potentially cause real-world harm. Because of this, restrict case citations and edits on other Wikipedia pages to cases officially closed.

STEPS FOR DEVELOPING THE PAGE

1. Research State Bar Professional Conduct Guidelines for filing requirements.

2. Research Wikipedia’s guidelines for content creation and editing, including standards for writing style, formatting, editing, adding links, etc.

3. Study the attorney and firm pages listed in this article and notice how they crafted their page, then make it easy on yourself and copy them with your own content.

4. Choose the proper category for the page. Study other related firms and attorney pages to distinguish the particular area that will most benefit your practice.

5. Find someone outside of your organization to do the actual development of the entry to avoid being deleted by Wikipedia’s conflict-of-interest policy.

6. Craft practice articles in the Wikipedia Sandbox:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sandbox The Wikipedia Sandbox section of the site allows members to post draft articles, experiment with formatting, tone, and linking strategies, and receive feedback from the community

7. Write articles according to Wikipedia’s neutral point-of-view standards, which discourages users from putting spin or bias in articles. Remove all the slick marketing hype for the copy. This sentence, for instance, is similar to something that would appear in company marketing materials:
o “XYZ Firm is a diversified law practice focused on the highest level of customer service”
For Wikipedia, it needs to sound like this:
o “XYZ Firm is comprised of attorneys representing a number of diverse practice areas including, Intellectual Property, Maritime Law and Business Litigation.”

8. Strategically link related pages within Wikipedia. Guidelines state that content creators should provide relevant links to other Wikipedia articles.

9. Use external links to send traffic to a Firm’s site. Hotlinks are permitted in certain sections of a Wikipedia article, such as External Links. Be sure to add links to relevant Firm Web pages where possible. Use concise, targeted pages relevant to the Wikipedia article in question, rather than just linking to the company’s homepage. Add links to the firm’s Web pages, data sheets, and white papers in an article’s “References” section. Include links to third-party sites on company-specific pages to demonstrate neutrality.

Finally, take all the valuable content just created and add value to the Wikipedia community by expanding the information available on RSS technology.

TRACK THE RESULTS

Starting with the article traffic statistics, track how many people are visiting the Wikipedia page. Be sure to monitor where clients are hearing about the firm and keep a record of the new calls into the office and be sure and ask the client where they heard of the firm.

Wikipedia is a collaborative, constantly evolving site, and a firm’s page must be constantly monitored. The team responsible for overseeing the page must constantly be aware of edits to the page, participate in ongoing discussions about pages, and look for opportunities to add more relevant, useful content to the site. Provide value to the Wikipedia community and reap the rewards!

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.

Virtual Law Firms Offer the Next Big Thing – Online Wills Bundled With Attorney Review

Despite the proliferation of the many opportunities to purchase online legal documents, you should probably think again before buying do-it-yourself wills and the like. After all, legal documents are the most important items you’ll leave behind in the event of your demise. Rather than trust your intuition to handle the many details of a complicated legal document, you may want to take advantage of the numerous benefits of a virtual law firm.

You can buy anything online these days. The Internet offers so many choices, ranging from established, world-wide companies to local, single-owner businesses. In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, every company needs a web presence. Goods of all sorts are sold online, from jewelry to comic books, vintage guitars to designer clothing. After the successful sale of digital downloads for ebooks and music, legal documents were the next logical candidate for online sales.

Famous attorneys attached their names to the first few sites selling legal documents. However, those attorneys were merely representing the company selling the forms. They certainly weren’t there to represent their customers. That means that no matter who was the celebrity spokesperson, you still had to do all the research, enter all the data and take the chances if you didn’t complete the legal forms correctly.

A virtual law firm removes that risk by offering far more than a successful form download and directions. With a virtual law firm, you get valid advice from an attorney licensed in your state – an attorney who can handle all sorts of estate matters like wills, living trusts and powers of attorney. But that’s not all they do. They can also help you prepare living wills, health care proxies and deeds. Their advice is available to their customers for free by email and telephone. They also offer a review of your legal documents for free, adding expertise to the purchase.

Any estate planning is a serious undertaking. While it may be less-expensive to bypass the attorney fees and time spent in appointments, you surely don’t want to trust your will to a novice like yourself, unless your will is going to be as simple as bequeathing everything to one person. If you have a family, you want to be sure your will provides for everyone as you had intended. An attorney can assure your intentions are followed to the letter.

Some firms will even print your forms after you’ve filled them in online. That way, they can check them over for errors or omissions. If you decide you forgot something or want to make a change, most virtual law firms will permit changes and a reprinting of your documents within thirty days from the day of the document’s creation. They use expensive, official-looking paper to give your documents the legal appearance and feel you’d expect.

Like everything, virtual law firms aren’t for everyone. Here are some conditions for which you probably wouldn’t want to use a virtual law firm.

• If your will is likely to be contested.

• If you have substantial wealth.

• If you’re a citizen of a foreign country.

• If you plan to disinherit someone from your will.

• If you own a business that provides substantial income.

• If you want to establish a dedicated fund for a relative with special needs.

• If you are a property owner in a foreign country.

In some of the above instances, there are additional tax issues to consider when planning a will, so it’s best to not use a virtual law firm. In other cases, settling the estate may become complicated – more complicated than an online attorney can handle. But these cases are less common than the estate planning required by most folks, so most people are likely to be able to use an online attorney.

You’d expect that the fee charged for online attorney services is high. It’s not. It’s comparable to the fees charged by non-lawyer websites that offer forms without legal advice.

The obvious advantage to employing a virtual law firm is the same as for any Internet purchase. The convenience results in savings of both time and money – two things everybody can use. Why bother making an appointment and wasting gas and your afternoon by driving into the city to see an attorney? You can enjoy the same advantages of online shopping – 24 hour per day, seven days per week access – by using an online lawyer. You don’t have to miss time at work or sacrifice your weekend.

Of course, if you don’t need any advice or a review of your legal documents, you can simply get the desired legal forms to handle your estate planning on your own. Then, if you find yourself in a bind, you can always ask for assistance or a review of your document. The advice you need is only an email or phone call away.

The virtual law firm is an idea whose time has come. By working online, the attorney fees are lowered but the end-result remains the same – a legally sound document. Online attorneys are regulated by their State Bar. They’re required to follow the same rules as any other attorney in your state. Plus virtual law firms use SSL, the most robust, safest method of transmitting private information online. That guarantees a secure transmission of your personal data.

Unless you have a friendship with your local lawyer, the benefits of using a virtual law firm for your legal needs should be apparent. You can save time and money thanks to the convenience of their 24/7 service. An online attorney can help you make sure your will, power of attorney, deed or living trust is completed properly so it may be executed according to your wishes.

Estate planning is incredibly important. Why take a chance when you can have access to your own virtual law firm? If you’re already planning on buying legal documents online, step up and buy them from a virtual law firm. You’ll get value added to your purchase – the value of the expert advice of an online attorney.