Stories & advice from two legal marketers on a quest to shake things up in the law firm community. Learn from our mistakes.
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There have been times where I’ve sat in a meeting where nothing actually gets said.

Yes, a lot of words are said. Sure, it sounds really smart, especially when “big” words are used – ones that are on an 11th grade level, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readibility test. But nothing actually gets said.

We walk out of the meeting confused. We all have different ideas of what the sum of all those words meant.

This doesn’t bode well if you’re working on a project – marketing or otherwise. You’ll have different ideas of what needs to be done, which can’t result in a coherent result.

Instead, paint pictures with your words. Say what you mean. Quit trying to sound intelligent. Otherwise, we’re wasting time. And we’ll just have to rehash it again, anyway.

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What are some of your “favorite” phrases that really mean nothing?

Here’s one to start: “experienced advice” (thanks to Gina for that one).
Oh, and another: “thought-leadership.” What does that really mean, anyway?

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Web marketing. Flashing advertisements. Billions of tags, categories. Trillions of #hashtags. Click here! Top 10 tips! Follow me! Share this or you hate the world. Buy my NEW BOOK. Did you know I wrote a book? Buy my book for $99.99.

I understand the concept of web advertising, using your blog as a form of revenue; there’s some necessity to it, you could argue. But the rampant self-promotion on blogs is beyond annoying. It’s almost insulting. You’re trying too hard—the proof is visible. Like I can’t get the hint?

This applies to websites and blogs across all industries, and law firms are not immune.

Did you know?

It’s unnecessary to include more than 10 tags on a single post, all variations on “Minnesota trial attorney.”

If I’m subscribing to your content, do you think I need to be reminded to buy your eBook after opening your site with a browser pop-up, and at the end of every post, and in every newsletter, and after I follow you on Twitter…(so many channels, so many opportunities to show your product/service down my throat!)

Kevin O’Keefe posted a thought-provoking discussion on RLHB about whether law firms should brand their lawyers’ blogs per the firm’s brand. While I’m sure there are blogs that are up to their law firm brand standards, it’s hard to pull off without coming across sales-y.

Like the too-long list of practice areas. A stiff description of the authors (which is a copy of what’s on their law firm bio). Over-zealous, aggressive SEO tactics.

It’s hard not to notice these things. The internet is big, and it’s getting bigger. And that means I’m consolidating, and your blatant pitches for my business aren’t staying on the list.

I want to read content written by a good author, who has a passion for his/her blog (and the topic). Who’d blog regardless of internal pressure or someone tells you it’s the only way to get business (the lies!). I’d hope consumers are able to read between the lines…

Give me some personality. Be authentic. Relate to me. Teach me something, but don’t hit me over the head with it (or act like you know it all).

And the next time you think about putting that 11th tag in the post, or promote your new book for the hundredth time, remember this:

If I want to read about it, I’ll have no trouble finding it.

And now, bringing it together…

As marketers in law firm, our credibility is all we have, and the same goes for our lawyers. We can negate all of our good work by coming off as clueless about this part of the sales process. Make sure you’re going for authentic and not pushy.

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Recently, I was on a conference call with a law firm to discuss industry groupings on websites. Currently, this law firm does not have this functionality, but was considering it (hence the call).

One of the callers, the CMO, was notably averse to attempting this. After some prodding, he described how groups of lawyers at his firm claim they’ve started a new group and request funds to attend a (expensive) conference on the subject, on the firm’s dime. This tactic has, obviously, left a bad taste in his mouth, and was understandingly hesitant about starting that discussion within his firm.

After explaining that having industry groupings isn’t necessarily the equivalent of creating new practice groups, internally, but rather the grouping of related practice areas in an industry, he felt better and was then open to using industry groups on their website.

This got me thinking about perspective and experience. We’re all individuals – we come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences – so it can be hard to understand reactions to topics most legal marketers think are “no-brainers.”

Believe it or not, legal marketers, there are times when lawyers have valid concerns that stem from experiences; ones that aren’t gut reactions (read: aversions to marketing). So before you become frustrated with the “no” reaction, ask what experiences made them react that way. Clarify your objectives. Ask under what circumstances your idea would make sense. Do everything but chalk it up to ignorance. Being on opposing sides causes nothing but conflict – and in law firms, we want cohesiveness and unity when it comes to marketing programs and tactics.

Who knows—maybe we’ll come to understand each other one day.

Note: This reminds me of the keynote from #LMA11 – the “question behind the question.” You can read more about it on Heather Morse-Geller’s blog, The Legal Watercooler.

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Five years ago, I didn’t know legal marketing existed. I had just graduated from college, was working at a liquor store (a great place to work, by the way), and wondering what the hell I could do with a double-major in English and PR.

After interviewing for a position in the firm’s library – which I didn’t get – I got a call from the director of marketing, asking if I wanted to work for her. I said yes, and that’s the start of my legal marketing career.

Now, after five years of being in-house at a law firm, I’m making a change. I’ve accepted a position at a web-development company – one that caters to law firms.

I’ve always been a creative person at heart – which is why working in a law firm has been a bit difficult for me. But…I love the industry, the people, and the Legal Marketing Association (seriously). So I knew if I left the firm, I’d want to stay in the industry – one that I’ve been networking in, the one I started a blog for. Those ties were not something I’d want to give up. So, when I was approached with this new position, I didn’t want to turn it down. I am so lucky to have found a position on the “vendor side” of legal marketing so I don’t have to give it up – the industry, the colleagues, and this blog! (I’m sure Rebecca is very thankful for that) :)

(For any of you who are considering a career change – don’t discount those organizations you work with. You really never know when a new opportunity will arise.)

And, if a position change wasn’t enough – my fiancee and I decided we might as well get married early. As a colleague of mine said, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go all-out.

All of this explains my lengthy absence from the blogging and social media scene (not that you noticed). Now…back to my “regular” schedule of posting!

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Just a few months into my time at the firm, I held a LinkedIn tutorial lunch for all of our members. After presenting a seminar loaded with LinkedIn data, social media tips, and examples of ways other firms effectively use the site, I knew our attorneys would be  ready to test the social media waters with confidence. The smug smirk was smacked right off my face when, after sitting patiently through my presentation, a partner stood up and declared LinkedIn “dangerous.” This partner then proceeded to explain the ethical implications of social media use on their bar licenses, as the “black and white” rules have yet to be decided. The partner concluded by suggesting that if you want to keep your bar license safe, you should stay out of this space entirely. Partner : 1; Rebecca, Social Media Evangelist & Dangerous Advisor: 0.

What happened? Despite the plethora of data in my presentation suggesting this is a safe and time-worthy marketing tool, I had serious damage control to do, and it had to be done on an individual basis. This was my mistake: I had yet to build trust among the members of the firm. I was brand new. Why would I think I could waltz in, speak social media-ese for an hour, and convince them all to try something totally foreign and uncomfortable? Huge mistake. Lesson learned.

Photo from JamesKane.com

During behavioral scientist James Kane’s keynote speech at this year’s Legal Marketing Association conference, client loyalty was the pervasive theme. He likened our firms to communities, built on loyalty and trust. But how do we know who to trust? What I thought was most insightful was his suggestion that simply satisfying our clients is about the past. Loyalty is about the future. Knowing where they want to go–and, what seems to be difficult for some attorneys–asking where they need to be are ways to exhibit genuine care for our clients. I made a mistake in building trust by not considering the wide array of concerns that may exist in the “community” of my law firm. I should have had more conversations, however informal, with my attorneys before promoting LinkedIn to evaluate their concerns and address them to the group as a whole. This way, an entire seminar would not have been negated by one person’s strongly-worded reservations.

I could have learned a lot about how to launch a marketing program at a new firm, had I met James Kane three years ago. But from this point on, I’ll heed his advice  (Check out Lindsay Griffiths’ full re-cap) when introducing new concepts to my firm. Kane advocates finding commonalities with your clients to build trust, citing studies that reveal an increase in brain activity when we find something familiar in another person. As important as it is to educate our attorneys about establishing common grounds with their clients, we must also remember that the attorneys in our firm are our own clients. I have 40. Across the board, they have varying levels of knowledge, interests and reservations about all of our marketing initiatives. I’ve learned that before addressing anything to the entire group, I need to know how they feel about the topic, concerns, and, most importantly, establish that I care enough about them that I’m meeting their needs and assuaging their worries. I’m their partner and they can trust me.

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Photo from Live Positive Way

It’s taken me a while to get back into the swing of blogging after spending an inspirational week with my legal marketing friends at LMA12. However, recent commentary about our industry as a whole lit a fire under my ass, so here I am.

During LMA President Alycia Sutor’s opening speech, she pumped us up as any organization’s president should, urging us to look at our jobs beyond the day-to-day and analyze whether we are considering the big picture (“What if?” – Check out Heather Morse-Geller’s re-cap). As inspired as I was by Alycia, I realized during her speech that LMA is truly transformative. Here’s why: no matter your level of experience as a legal marketer, this conference provides a forum to stop and reflect on our current place in our firms, where we want to be in our firms, and whether we are living up to the expectations set by both our attorneys and ourselves. That’s the “big picture” surrounding each year’s LMA meeting.

When other “professionals” put our entire industry on blast because of panelists or other legal marketers whom they feel lack credibility, they are being shortsighted. In response to Laura’s unexpectedly controversial post, I don’t think she was proposing a new world order of social media rainbows and butterflies. I think she was simply bringing to light the irony of professionals who specialize in image and branding painting a very negative view of themselves using a social media platform. That’s simply my interpretation. I will say that in many of our firms, there is certainly room for a positive person to encourage attorneys to get involved in the community, coach them to make a call to a brand new contact (I call this the “first date”), and reassure them that despite pursuing a goal for two years, perhaps, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s one of the reasons that we “delicate teacups” have jobs.

Scott Greenfield’s reactions to Laura’s post indicate exactly why attorneys employ marketing professionals: to more strategically target an audience and to better understand that group. Our blog is geared towards legal marketing professionals who may not understand the implications of looking like jerks on Twitter to the people who may be reviewing their resumes in a few years. Just a simple word to the wise.

As Heather Morse-Geller clarified in Laura’s comments, there is a clear difference between constructive criticism and using the anonymity of the internet to be disruptive. Kevin O’Keefe states it best in his comments:

Some lawyers don’t know the first thing about what to do with the fact that they can do good work and then how to use relationships and word of mouth (something that comes as naturally as breathing to most folks – especially those outside the law). These folks may need some help with marketing and business development. Not fluff, but business development founded on being a good lawyer dedicated to working their tail off for their clients.

Having visited Laura’s firm and having met their lawyers and their director of marketing, I believe her firm’s business development is founded on those principals.

What we are trying to do in our daily jobs, with our countless tweets and LinkedIn conversations, and during our annual conference has nothing to do with “making legal marketing look legitimate.” It’s as simple as taking the time see how we stack up to our peers, find out what makes them better at their jobs and take those principles back to our respective offices. Because legal marketing is a real thing, and if business development trends in the legal industry continue in their current direction, we aren’t going anywhere.

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Social networks make it easier for users to voice their opinion—opinions about anything and everything. But just because you can voice your opinion in no way means you should.

Writing has always been a release for me. I’m one of those almost-30-year-olds who still keeps a written diary. Weird for a technology fiend, but there’s a reason – because I’m human, and I have bad days. And because I have a career, one that can be public, I make sure to keep those bad days to myself. As much as I’d like to publicly vent my frustrations, I know better. Nothing good would come out of it, aside from some pressure being relieved. But apart from a temporary fix, I would be presented with a long-term problem. One that affects my career and reputation that I’ve worked hard to build.

A few weeks ago, Rebecca and I attended the Legal Marketing Association’s National Conference in Dallas. It was my third conference in so many years. With over 1,000 attendees, there were more Tweeters this year than any other. More users = more personalities, and a few who decided to use Twitter as their soapbox.

I must say…I was disappointed that people I consider colleagues took to Twitter to voice their negative opinions. Fine, you don’t like a presenter. Maybe a session was a joke, and you think you can do better. Or, maybe you’re listening from afar, and feel like you need to poke fun (I mean, who doesn’t have unlimited time to do this? [sarcasm, people]). It’s one thing to give criticisms, but entirely another to rip someone to shreds. And to do it on a platform where meanings are easily misconstrued. Online communities make it easy to “hide” behind a profile picture or as “anonymous,” but it’s cowardly to do so to hurt another human being.

I hope these people realized that senior members of our organization were “listening.” And so were the presenters who worked to put their presentation together – that doesn’t change, good presentation or bad. And these users who decided to publicly attack – their reputation is on the line because of the things they decided to publish. No one thinks you’re any funnier for making a mean-spirited quip about someone else.

As marketing professionals, especially legal marketers, we have to be very careful about how we’re perceived. It’s hard enough to work for lawyers, who have ethics they must abide by; now pile on some negativity and it’s likely you’ll be talked to about it. Why make it harder on yourself? Your colleagues, your lawyers, your law firm aren’t going to find the humor and may be quick to judge. Social networks still haven’t “earned” their rightful place in law firms, so it’s pertinent that you put your best foot forward, and not do anything that may jeopardize the hard work you’ve put in. Not only the hard work in your realm, but the work all of us in legal marketing have collectively put in.

Have an opinion, great – everyone should have an opinion. But keep the most negative ones to yourself. Before you publish, ask yourself, “what am I getting out of this?” A quick fix? A witty feeling? I would hope that, if the situation was reversed, and you were on stage in front of your peers, that you wouldn’t have the same experience as some of our presenters did this year.

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If you’re in legal marketing, it’s good to be a part of an organization to learn what’s going on in the marketing landscape and meet new people. Since legal marketing is a new niche, there are few organizations that cater specifically to us. And one of those organizations – one I am admittedly a part of – is the Legal Marketing Association. And like Rebecca said, this is our Superbowl.

Every year, they hold an annual conference, and I am once again very excited to attend. Rebecca and I will be live-blogging from Dallas, so stay tuned. Also, check out Lindsay Griffiths’s list of live-tweeters. Follow the hashtag #LMA12 and make sure to meet Rebecca & me in person. We’re always happy to meet and learn from others!

If you happen to be attending, or will be following the conversations via social media, here are the sessions I’ll be attending:

  1. Day 1, Track 3: Data+Relationships: The Web Strategy Revolution
  2. Day 1, Track 1: Rise of the Machines: Putting Technology to Work for Us
  3. Day 2, Track 2: Love & Marriage: Horse & Carriage, Marketing & IT? You Can’t Have One Without the Other
  4. Day 2, Track 1: New Technologies for Law Firm Marketing: Case Studies in Mobile and Video

And here are the sessions Rebecca will be attending:

  1. Pre-conference: SMORS: Smart Marketing on Limited Resources
  2. Day 1, Track 2: Leveraging the Big 4 Consulting Best Practices to Bolster Your Business Development Strategies
  3. Day 1, Track 4: The Evolution of the Law Firm Brand: How to Promote Individual Attorneys Within the Parameters of the Firm’s Brand
  4. Day 2, Track 3: Competitive Intelligence: Not Just Client Information
  5. Day 2, Track 4: Using Simple, Practical and Meaningful Measures to Drive Marketing and Business Development Activity

Both Rebecca and I will be attending the Shared Interest Group – or SIG – tweet-up on Thursday from 10-11 a.m. Contact us for more details if you’re interested in becoming part of the SIG.

NOTE:

There are a few “haters” of legal marketing who will be trying to interject their thoughts in our stream. Fine, let them. Engaging them isn’t going to do anything but egg them on. They’re not worth it. So block them if you feel like it, don’t reply, and let their thoughts fall on deaf ears. Seriously. It’s not worth it. They have nothing better to do than pick fights.

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OK, so this is basically our Superbowl. As we take deep breaths, review the agenda for the one hundredth time, Google the panelists, and pack this year’s interpretation of “business casual,” I invite first time attendees of the Legal Marketing Association’s annual meeting to read these extremely helpful posts I found today.

First of all, read Laura Hudson’s “Top Ten Tips” for getting the most out of your time at LMA. It’s extremely thorough and right on point. I also think you should check out Nancy Myrland‘s post from pre-Superbowl 2011 (LMA in Orlando) “Are you comfortable meeting people at conferences?”  Nancy provides some very simple conversation starters that will at least get your gears turning and arm you with an ice breaker.

“Hi, my name is Rebecca. This is my first LMA conference. How many years have you been attending?” Enter, conversation. Learn it. Live it.

Last year I cringed more than once when I saw young legal marketers walking through the halls with ear buds in…wasting not only their firm’s money, but also invaluable opportunities to develop their careers. Please, don’t make me cringe.

As always, I’m really looking forward to connecting with new and old friends at this year’s meeting. Please introduce yourself to me and look for frequent updates from Laura and me here at The Legal Shakeup and our Twitter feeds. Happy LMA!

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WE CAN DO IT!

The other day I was lucky enough to meet Susan at the birthday party of a mutual friend of our two-year-old daughters. During the 90-minute “safari” ride, we discussed our careers and I discovered that she is the director of sales at New Orleans most recently renovated and majorly hyped hotel. I mentioned that in my roles both at the law firm and as Legal Marketing Association city chair, we are always looking for great venues for events and that we should find a way to work together soon. It gave me energy not only to meet another working mother whose job I admired, but also to connect with a new potential friend.

Then she said something that made my head spin.

She asked how I manage to chair a group, work full-time, be a mom and, basically, still brush my hair every day. Belittling her own appearance soon after, she then dropped her bag and declared hopelessly, “I am such a mom.”

I’ve been struggling with this every day since we met. Her statement reminded me of a recent story on The Grindstone, which cited a 2009 study on perceptions of career-minded mothers:

“A 2009 study in the Academy of Management Journal showed that even in a company where men felt more pressure to juggle their job responsibilities and home life, the management team assumed women were having a harder time. Based on this assumption, bosses viewed their female employees as less suitable for promotions and increased responsibility.”

This is such an annoying statistic. Lindsay Cross writes that “these discussions can also lead to unfair prejudice in the workplace,” but she acknowledges conversations with colleagues concerning juggling, motherhood issues, etc., can be extremely beneficial for all of us. I couldn’t agree more. Because of what I’d classify as an “informal alliance” of mothers around me, I found the perfect childcare solution for my infant upon returning to work, the ultimate diaper rash fix (anything with “triple” in the name), and assurance that my toddler’s headbeating tantrums will soon pass. Sure, I could have done some Googling to research, but I trust these women and admire their careers. The confidence they have in their professional lives permeates into their methods as parents, and that’s why this network is crucial to every office environment. Why would we be held to a higher standard? Maybe because we frequently tap into our network to improve our processes in multiple facets of our lives. We have more answers.

This is why Susan’s comment has stayed with me. By denegrading herself as “such a mom” while she juggled her bags and toddler toys, she validated the idea that mothers struggle more than other women–or as Lindsay suggested–confirming the bias. I’d like to think we have access to invaluable resources and a common bond not found in our relationships with some of our childless peers, which results in “such a mom” being an positive thing. We all have moments where we don’t seem to have it all together, but I’d like to think we can focus more on our Chaka Khan moments then when we feel we’re failing, thus joining our management in holding ourselves to the highest standard.

In your office do you feel working mothers are held to a higher standard? Do you think they need to work harder to prove themselves?

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Copyright 2011: Laura Gutierrez, Rebecca Wissler. The Legal Shakeup.
Logo and header images designed by the talented Janet Klingbeil.