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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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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The Shareholders Meeting. via IGN TV.

A few months after gathering my bearings at the firm, I called the first marketing committee meeting, which consisted of two partners and myself. To say it was an organizational mess would be an understatement. Being the firm’s first marketing director and facing a website re-launch among countless additional “stage 1 marketing” obstacles, I felt like my mind was racing and I had no clue where to begin. An hour and a half later, the three of us were on the same page—I think—having  discussed the next few months of marketing initiatives for the firm, but our action items were unclear and the necessary follow-up tasks were hazy. One of my marketing partners politely asked, “Next meeting, can we have an agenda?”

“Yes. Yes, you can.” Doh.

As a young professional in a law firm, accounting firm, or any professional services environment where you are expected to drive the bus for seasoned vets, meetings can be an intimidating environment. Here are a few more tips to staying on track.

  1. Is a meeting really necessary? Ask yourself this first. If a discussion between all invited attendees will influence the next steps, then the answer is “yes.” If it’s going to be a one-way conversation, the answer is “no,” and you can relay your info via email.
  2. Set an agenda. This is crucial. Don’t be like me. The aforementioned meeting could have been 30-45 minutes had I properly organized my thoughts and set expectations for the discussion. Also, distribute it BEFOREHAND via email so attendees aren’t blindsided by a topic and come to the table with organized thoughts.
  3. Start on time. This is most important when working with slaves to the billable hour. Be respectful of that. They’ll appreciate it.
  4. Begin with what has been accomplished since your last meeting. “Today we’re going to follow up on the website renovation progress we decided to move forward with during our last month.”
  5. Control the meeting. This is the most important tip I can give you, especially when driving a discussion among strong personalities. I find that it’s also the hardest thing to do. Here are some sub-tips to my tips on how to stay in control of the debate (taken from this post):
    1. Get feedback from everyone. Having a clear leader in a meeting does not stifle feedback and collaboration, it ensures it. Without a leader, the opinionated loudmouths, who do not necessarily have the best ideas, will dominate the discussion, while the more reticent can’t get a word in edgewise. Draw out the quiet people by asking questions like, “Jane, you’ve had a lot of experience with that company, what is your opinion of their proposal?” Of course, some people are quiet because they have nothing insightful to offer. A good leader knows which is which.
    2. Ask good questions. Sometimes people can’t come up with the right solution simply because the leader isn’t asking the right questions. Ask questions that will really make people think and look at something from another angle.
    3. Shut down disruptions. It’s perhaps the hardest part of the job, but a leader must tactfully shut down people who are getting off-track, whether they’re simply going on and on or they’re just way off-topic. Wait for the bloviator to take a breath and then say something like:
      1. “That might be a good subject to discuss another time, but let’s get back to talking about X.”
      2. “Why don’t the two of us discuss that after the meeting.”
      3. “Good point but we need to get back to agenda.”
      4. “Let’s table that for now but we can put it on the agenda for next time.”
      5. “I’ve just signaled for Tom to render you unconscious with a blow dart to the neck.”
  6. Set specific action items. Conclude the meeting by assigning action items when appropriate.

Luckily for everyone around me, my meetings are much more efficient since utilizing these steps. For any young professional, stepping into a leadership role and getting things done can seem like a daunting task, but it can be made much easier by facilitating an efficient discussion.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything?

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At my very first legal marketing networking event, a wise woman advised me to “absolutely have an advocate” for marketing at my firm. For newish legal marketers—especially solo marketers—this is make or break advice regarding the success of your initiatives and overall job satisfaction.

A recent situation in my office reminded me of how crucial it is to have a supportive team behind the marketing department. It also made me reflect on the difficulties of our position overall and the tremendous ways that my marketing partners have helped me convince our attorneys that “marketing” is not a four-letter word. It really isn’t. Within the first few months at my new firm, I held a LinkedIn Lunch & Learn for all of our partners. The first hurdle would be attendance, and the “mandatory” stamp on the email from a managing partner took care of that. The second challenge proved to be more difficult. When Partner A described my LinkedIn tutorial as “dangerous” in front of the other members, I could feel my face burn as I hastily spewed out the many statistics about law firm use of LinkedIn that I’d already reviewed. My marketing partner’s interjection with a statement that the network is beneficial to the firm and that this is the direction in which we’re moving was a welcome buoy. As many solo marketers work to build credibility within the firm, accepting this type of support when it’s most needed is, in my opinion, not a sign of weakness, but an indication of business savvy. Know when to accept help.

The aforementioned “situation.” After Partner B informed me of the “historical” way law firms approach client development—inheriting a long-time client from one senior relationship partner—I knew that my marketing cheerleaders would have to intervene to ensure our business development momentum keeps its current pace (and moves further into the current decade). His concern lies in the fact that his colleagues might be drinking too much of the Marketing Kool-Aid, thus forgetting how it’s always been done. The horror.

Despite these sporadic hiccups, the cultural shift at my firm towards a more market-minded environment has been slow, steady and successful thus far. The advice I received during month one couldn’t have been more helpful. To take it a step further for solo marketers and, especially, early career legal marketers establishing credibility within your law firms, treat your marketing partners like you advise they treat their most prized client. This is the relationship that should be the most important to you in your office and you should set an example of how to nurture the clients you value most.

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image via corporette.com

I can’t stop thinking about a recent survey completed by Proctor & Gamble that measured perception of competence among women wearing varying amounts of makeup.  According to coverage of the survey on HuffPost, “the study examined the relationship between the amount of makeup a woman wears and her perceived attractiveness, competence, likability, and trustworthiness in the eyes of others.” As the majority of the legal marketers I know are women, I think we all walk a fine line when it comes to perception within our respective firms. Our use of makeup is one way we can distinguish ourselves, but we also run the risk of permeating the misconception that marketing is “fluff” if we present an overdone appearance. To be clear, this is just my opinion, and I certainly wear my share of makeup on the daily. So I want to know what the rest of you think. Are you even cognizant of the amount of makeup you wear in our more conservative office environments? Despite that this topic may seem inconsequential to some Shakeup readers, it is absolutely a personal branding issue and one we should think about as we address our attorneys every day and assert ourselves as credible resources.

This topic generated a ton of discussion on one of my favorite “working woman” blogs, Corporette. The general consensus was that the way we present ourselves in the office is a reflection on our judgement. By overdoing something like the dark red lips on the lady in the bottom right photo, we may project that we are vain–or as the survey revealed, untrustworthy, yikes! Alternatively, the photos on the far left may project that these women can barely get it together to arrive at work on time, let alone worry about their appearance.

This survey is hardly groundbreaking and as with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle (probably photo 2 in many offices, but photo 3 down here below the Mason Dixon). To me, this is just an interesting issue that professional women approach daily. Do you have staple lip colors that you use for daily office wear? Added credibility at meetings? Convenient for day-to-night?

I’m interested to know your advice and/or tips? I also want to hear from industry veterans. Enlighten us, pros.

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Image via markfrisk.com

I recently attended a meeting with Suzy Sour, a seasoned marketing professional who has decades of experience beyond my own. What surprised me was that, despite her lengthy career in the corporate environment, she demonstrated very little professional decorum with regards to our discussion. Our group consisted of a few professionals with comparable experience to Sour’s, but most of us have been in the professional services marketing arena for less than fifteen years. Throughout the roundtable meeting, some of the “less seasoned” marketers introduced new ideas or concepts that are being introduced within the legal marketing space. Suzy Sour, unfortunately, immediately answered that something similar had been done in the past and it was unsuccessful. “Next.” It was a strange response to ideas that could certainly have been developed into fresh new campaigns.

What any meeting’s Suzy Sour doesn’t understand is that by relentlessly reminding the group of her seniority through negativity, she is not asserting herself as a leader. She is alienating herself from the group, who would now like to work with anyone but her. A true team player listens and participates. And, in my opinion, a true leader facilitates. Don’t be the Suzy Sour of your meeting. You’ll leave the meeting unsatisfied and just as insecure as when it started.

A few tips for getting the most out of a meeting (whether it’s LMA, ALA, whatever):

1. Speak up.  Your colleagues have gathered to share ideas and information. That means they want to hear your thoughts, too!  You’re all there because more brains equal more ideas. However, if you disagree with a statement made by your colleagues, try to add another idea or build on it, as opposed to immediate, direct dissent. You’ll be rewarded for this. My favorite quote from Tracey Lalonde of Akina (She is my hero!) is that instead of preparing a rebuttal with “No, but,” choose to say “Yes, and…” Priceless advice. Practice it.

2. Spearhead an Initiative. For Shakeup readers in the early stages of our careers, this can be intimidating. What I’ve learned so far is that I know WAY more than I thought I did. You may have 15, 20, even 25 years less experience than a colleague, but there’s a reason you’re valuable. You have fresh ideas. Share them.

3. Follow Up, Quickly. This is me stereotyping and generalizing (sue me.). Those of us new to our careers get things done quickly. We have to. So if you do volunteer to take charge of an action item or lead a committee, follow up within the day on what’s coming next and in a timely manner regarding your progress. Many of us feel like we have something to prove (because we do.) and by demonstrating your commitment and reliability, you’re showing group leaders that you are a professional ready for more responsibility.

The takeaway: Suzy Sour’s only hurt themselves. By being an enthusiastic participant during a professional discussion, you’ll not only hear more from your colleagues, but they will also better “hear” you.

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