Quickly tell me what first comes to your mind when you think of your firm’s brand.

Does the brand just communicate who you are or what you do or does it also convey what your clients will experience working with you? How do you your firm’s clients would answer the same question? How would your lawyers and staff answer the same question?

A lot has been written about branding for law firms and firms have paid consultants a great deal of money to develop the firm brand. I recently saw a New York Times on line article on branding Letter from Pop!Tech: Tips on Persuasive Branding .

The article discussed a three hour primer on branding presented by Cheryl Heller, the founder and CEO of Heller Communication Design. She told the group that a good brand expresses identity, but a great brand conveys a promise. A great brand then would tell your clients and your lawyers and staff what they can expect in return for their fees and time.

According to Heller, employees (your firm’s lawyers and staff) are the most important audience any company (firm) has. “If your brand promise does not engage your employees, you won’t be able to deliver it.”

If you read my recent blog: Lagniappe: Giving Your Clients Value and Extraordinary Service, you read about my old law firm’s “brand:” “The Jenkens Experience, the Experience You Deserve.”

Those words were at least a promise, so using Keller’s test we were on the right track. There was only one slight problem: What did we promise?

At the end of the New York Times article the question is asked: “How do you create a brand message that expresses your identity, delivers a compelling promise, smf persuades your audience to behave in a certain way. There are four tips:

1. Be brief. Be Clear. The Jenkens Experience, the Experience You Deserve was brief, but it was not clear.

2. Don’t clutter your brand promise with references to how you differentiate yourself. That means we should not have cluttered our message with how we give clients the Jenkens experience. Yet again, we needed to have clarity about the meaning.

3. Avoid common words used by other companies. I bet if I went to 100 law firm websites I would see common phrases like: “full service, client focused or client centric, experienced, innovative, strategic, focused, winning, leading, service or serving, committed and my favorite: solutions.

4. Speak to all your constituents. The Jenkens Experience did not speak to lawyers and staff. I doubt that half our lawyers and a tenth of our staff even knew that was our branding slogan.

Business clients have shared in surveys that they want their lawyers to understand their industry, their business and their own personal needs. They do not want to teach their lawyers these things while paying them to learn.

Clearly I am not a branding expert. Yet, knowing what clients want would cause me to focus on those promises. Suppose my old law firm’s brand had been: “The Jenkens Experience: Lawyers who understand your industry, your company and your individual needs.” I think we could have at least have met the criteria in Cheryl Heller’s four tips.

 

Are you practicing in a small firm or on your own? If so, this blog is for you. Even if you are practicing law in a large firm, you likely know several lawyers in a small firm. Please share this post with them.

I am speaking today at the Collin County, Texas Bar Association: 5th Annual Law Practice Management seminar, “Making Your Practice Work!” The program is specifically for small firm and solo lawyers.

As I was preparing my presentation, I thought about my own career. I spent more than 20 years of my career in small firms. In 1976, when I was finishing my work as a Judge Advocate in the United States Air Force, I was offered two opportunities to go in-house at major defense contractors and I was offered an associate position with a large Washington, DC law firm. I very purposely took a different path.

I began my private practice career at a small firm, Martin, Hopkins and Lemon in Roanoke, Virginia. In 1983, a friend and I started our own firm with a young associate and our two professional staff members. Over time we added lawyers. I frequently said I would never join a large firm, but I finally did in 1997, when I joined Jenkens and Gilchrist here in Dallas.

It is interesting to look back now. My USAF friend who took the in-house job that I had turned down with the California based defense contractor is now happily retired. The lawyers my age who are working with the large Washington, DC law firm are doing very, very well.

I still believe I made the right decision for me. I would not have fit well in an in-house environment and I never wanted to be dependent on senior lawyers for work. I actually liked the pressure of being required to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients to feed my family. Throughout my career I was always hungry and never content about what I had achieved.

I suspect that many of the lawyers who will attend the Collin County event today are in the same position. I think they will pay great attention to each speaker throughout the day. If you are a lawyer in a small firm, or on your own, you might find my presentation slides Client Development for 2014 and Beyond valuable. You might also gain some insights from the Collin County Bar Association: Client Development for 2014 and Beyond Handout I will share with the lawyers.

Here are a few major takeaways:

  1. The principles of client development apply whether you are practicing on your own, in a small firm, medium firm or large firm. You have to be visible and credible to potential clients and referral sources.
  2. Unlike when I was practicing law in Roanoke, in 2014, it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows what you know.
  3. Lawyers need to know how to use both the old tools and the new tools. I feel like many senior lawyers do not know how to use the new tools and too many junior lawyers no longer pick up the telephone or get up from their computer.
  4. The internet, blogging and social media have given lawyers on their own and small firms more opportunities than ever before for more of the right people to know what they know.
If you are in a small firm, I would love to present to your lawyers. If you are active in a local, state, or American Bar Association Small and Solo Firm Division, I would love to speak to your group. In the meantime, please take a look at the presentation slides and handout materials and let me know if you have any questions.

 

I recently gave a presentation  to lawyers in a firm titled: Client Development 2014 and Beyond. After I finished a lawyer who had just been promoted to partner came up and said:

The one part of practicing law I don’t like is marketing. I don’t want to feel like a “used car salesman” hustling someone for business.

I told him that if I believed marketing for lawyers was hustling potential clients for business, I wouldn’t like it either. Selling legal services is counter-intuitive. The harder you try to sell, the more a potential client will think you are focused on yourself not on helping them.

Clients do not want to hire lawyers who are “needy” or “greedy.”

I told the young partner that I never asked for business. I always focused on being the most valuable resource to help clients. Approaching marketing that way meant that potential clients sought me to help them.

I hope you do not view marketing as hustling clients. That is no fun and more importantly is unproductive.

It was 2010. I was on a cross-country tour of a large firm giving presentations and answering questions on blogging and social media. At the time, the conventional wisdom in this large firm was the firm should not be blogging or using social media tools. I was sent across country to try and change the conventional wisdom.

If you are a regular reader, you might recall this story. I was sitting in a conference room with eight of the firm litigation practice group partners. I was there to answer their questions. The first question came from the youngest lawyer (about 40) in the room.

Cordell, suppose our practice group decides not to blog and not to use social media, do you think we will be behind our competitors in five years?

My response came to me right away.

Suppose in the mid-90s your practice group told firm leaders that you did not want to be a part of the firm webpage, and you did not want to use email, do you think you would have fallen behind your competitors in five years?

I think I made the point. But, the firm now has 10 blogs and litigation is not one of them.

You and I both know that law firms, and lawyers, have never been early adopters. To get the idea, read a LexisNexis White Paper: PERSPECTIVES ON KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IN LAW FIRMS. This White Paper covers knowledge management, but I believe some of the points are broader. It begins with:

Since the beginning of the office technology boom in the 1980’s lawyers have been accused of being Luddites, fearful and reluctant to adopt modern technology. Lawyers are often compared unfavorably in this arena to accountants and even doctors. A more objective view of lawyers demonstrates that they will adopt effective technology with enthusiasm when the tools are appropriate for the professional tasks that they face.

I had to look up the definition of Luddites. Here is what I found:

1. Any of a group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.

2. One who opposes technical or technological change.

In my career I can think of many lawyers and law firms who fall within the second definition. I will just mention one. Do you and your firm still have documents on WordPerfect? At my old firm, it took years before we abandoned WordPerfect for Word.

What about lawyers? I know lawyers who:

  1. Have never created a business plan
  2. Have never set goals
  3. Never personally sent an email
  4. Still do not have computers in their office
  5. Have never, or rarely visited their clients
  6. Think that blogging is unprofessional

I could go on, but hopefully you can think of other examples. 

Last Monday, my friend and marketing guru, Eric Fletcher posted a guest post I wrote: For Greater Success, Try Something New and Different — A Guest Post by Cordell Parvin. I wrote about ordering something new (Cassoulet Toulousain) that I would have never tried from a restaurant menu. I even gave a link to a recipe: Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

But, my guest post was not about ordering something new at a restaurant. My experience doing it last week in Montreal simply served to remind me that real breakthroughs in my career occurred when I tried something new and different as an early adopter.

Take a look at Eric’s blog. I find it valuable because he stays on top of what is new and different in client development.

Finally, I will leave you with this Seth Godin quote. Think about what kind of lawyer you want to be and become.

You need to know conventional wisdom inside and out. NOT TO OBEY THE RULES, BUT TO BREAK THEM.

 

In a nutshell, client development is about becoming visible and credible to your target market and then about building trust based relationships. If you want to start becoming more visible and credible and build relationships with clients focus on seven important points.

  1. Client development is all about serving and caring for your clients, not about selling them.
  2. You will not become visible and credible and build client relationships merely by being a highly skilled lawyer and doing quality work. Those qualities and efforts are a necessity, but they are only a starting point. Being a highly skilled lawyer is merely the price you pay to get in the game.
  3. Client development is about what your clients need. Find ways to learn what they need and put the work you do in that context.
  4. Strive to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Become known as the best at something and then be focused on your relationship building.
  5. Identify problems and provide solutions to problems before the client realizes there is a problem.
  6. Clients trust lawyers who are both competent and confident. Look and feel confident in yourself.
  7. Strive to always exceed your clients’ expectations.

 

When I coach lawyers, I urge them to offer something of value to a client at no charge. A construction lawyer I coach did that and spent a full day on three complicated construction projects his client was building. That time deepened the relationship with that client.

If you are looking for ideas on what you might do, here are some examples of things I did years ago:

  • One of my most important clients was a very successful family owned business in the construction and energy businesses. I learned they met quarterly for strategy sessions. When I learned that, I called and said: “John, I was just thinking about your family strategy meetings that you were telling me about last time we met. If you think it would be valuable, I would be happy to come to your quarterly meetings at no charge and listen and also share with your family what I see going on in the industry.”
  • Another important client had district offices throughout the country. The district offices regularly held quarterly sessions on Saturday mornings for the management level employees. I knew the district managers and the in-house lawyers who worked for those districts. I called an in-house lawyer and said: “ Tom, if you think it would be valuable, let’s get together and create a training program we can give at one of your district’s quarterly meetings.”
  • If your clients have no work for you right now, think about calling and saying: “Hey Bill, let’s get together and brainstorm ideas on something I could do for your company at no charge that will be beneficial for your company when the economy comes back.”

There are a wide variety of ways to develop a business plan and the best thing you can do is find what will work best for you. A construction lawyer I know asked what approach I used. I have shared a good deal of this with you before, but I feel it is worth sharing again because my five critical steps are likely the same ones you must take.

  1. I decided my target market – who did I want to hire me. At first it was large contractors in Southwest Virginia. I did not want to target small subcontractors or home builders. At the end of my career my target market was the Top 100 transportation construction contractors in the United States.
  2. I thought about what I wanted the target market to hire me to do. At first I wanted those contractors to hire me to litigate their contract disputes. I did not want to handle construction accident cases or anything else covered by insurance. Later in my career I wanted transportation contractors to hire me to negotiate, arbitrate and litigate their contract disputes, help them avoid contract disputes, help them with design-build and innovative financed projects, help them with ethics programs, help them with disadvantaged business enterprise issues and a variety of other day-to-day issues.
  3. I focused on what I needed to learn. At first, I focused on gathering cases. I had notebooks filled with every highway, bridge, rail and airport construction contract case I could find. I also focused on construction management and built a library, I learned how scheduling was done on big projects. Later I learned how highways and bridges were designed, bid and constructed and what caused failures. Finally I learned about innovative financing and design-build issues.
  4. I took the steps necessary to become visible and credible to transportation contractor clients. I wrote a law review article and spoke at an ABA Annual Meeting. I began speaking at state and local contractor association meetings. That led to speaking at national construction association meetings. That led to me being asked to write a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine. By the end of my career, I was clearly known by every contractor in my target market.
  5. I focused on referral sources. The best referral sources for me were association executives. In addition, I focused on equipment dealers, bankers, accountants and surety brokers who focused on transportation construction. That group became my network.

I sincerely hope you can see how this approach to planning can work for you.

 

How is selling your high end legal services like selling high end toothpaste? I have actually answered that question several times on this blog when I have discussed differentiating yourself to a target market.

When I grew up there was no high end toothpaste, In fact, there were only a few brands. A few years ago, I sat next to a very interesting gentleman on a plane. He was the first to create a $6.00 tube of toothpaste. I don’t remember the brand, but it was a huge success.

He told me that today there are a wide variety of  toothpastes  – toothpaste that stands up, toothpaste that the cap stays on, toothpaste with baking soda, toothpaste that will take care of your gums for life, smokers’ toothpaste, whitening toothpaste, fresh breath toothpaste, toothpaste for attacking plaque, toothpaste for kids, even toothpaste for your dog.

He also told me that drugstores loved his $6.00 brand of toothpaste because instead of losing money or barely breaking even on cheaper toothpaste, the margins for his brand were significant.

I wondered how he had come up with a toothpaste product for which a group of consumers would be willing to pay 3-4 times more than other products. He had narrowed his market, created a product that was remarkable and stood out from the hundreds of other toothpaste brands.

That begs these questions:

  1. Have you narrowed your market?
  2. Have you selected a market willing to pay for higher quality legal work?
  3. What are you doing to become remarkable in the eyes of your clients?

My traveling companion brought home to me that he understood the importance of narrowing the target market.  By the way, after his toothpaste success, he developed a high-end shaving product that was designed to give closer shaves with the new high tech razors.

Inc. Magazine recently published an on-line article: How to Narrow Your Market. As noted in the article, if you are not differentiating yourself, the consumer looks at price as the motivator. Law is no different than toothpaste, shaving products and other products. If you are not differentiating yourself, then your potential clients are motivated by the lowest hourly rates.

Focus on an industry or niche specialty and get known in that industry as a specialist or the “go-to” person in the type of work you want to do.  Be the best at what you do in a niche for which you have a passion and for which there is a need.

Have you ever heard the phrase “unique selling proposition?” If not, read the Wikipedia discussion here.

Each lawyer I coach has some kind of unique selling proposition. So do you. Have you figured out what makes you unique? Are you taking advantage of it? If not, start now.

Let me make the point by telling you a story about car rental companies. Which car rental company do you suppose is the most successful? Hertz? Avis?

enterprise logo.jpg

A few years ago I read a summary of the book: Exceeding Customer Expectations: What Enterprise, America’s #1 car rental company, can teach you about creating lifetime customers.  According to author Kirk Kazanjian, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has become a $9 billion global powerhouse, buying more new cars each year than any other company in the world. How have they done it?

Kazanjian points to the company’s focus on exceeding customer expectations and hiring top people and giving them incentives to provide extraordinary service.  That focus has led not only to high profits, but also led to Enterprise becoming one of the highest ranked companies in the world for customer service, financial stability and growth, employee retention and innovation.

Is your firm exceeding your clients’ expectations? Are your lawyers and staff rewarded in part based on their client service and teamwork? Are your leaders focused on these things?

What else has Enterprise done? The company has for years differentiated itself from its competitors. Its unique selling proposition and branding slogan is: “Pick Enterprise. We’ll Pick You Up.”

Hertz, Avis and others focus on airports and travelers. Enterprise focuses on local customers.  Instead of trying to compete against the airport car rental companies Enterprise created its own niche and became the dominant player.

If you want your law practice or law firm to be more successful, think about the answers to these questions: Can you create your own niche? What is your unique selling proposition? How can you effectively let potential clients know what makes you unique and become more valuable to them?

I recently posted Old Formula for Success No Longer Applies: What is the New Formula? and Why Being an Artist Will Make You a Better Lawyer. Those posts generated questions from readers.

Woman News.jpgIn the posts, I stressed that it is important for you to:

  1. Identify a potential problem, opportunity or change your clients and potential clients will face in the future before anyone else.
  2. Create a remarkable solution.
  3. Be first to market and give the solution away.

After reading my two recent posts, several lawyers sent me emails asking:

How do I identify the potential problem, opportunity or change my clients and potential clients will face in the future before anyone else?

You do it by reading business and industry articles. I have an iGoogle news page with subscriptions to at least 10 business publications. If I was practicing law, I would look at the headlines from the publications each day.

On March 14, HBS published an article titled: Water, Electricity, and Transportation: Preparing for the Population Boom. Read the article and identify all the future legal problems, opportunities or changes your clients will face.

If you do not already have an RSS reader page like iGoogle or Google Reader, I urge you to set one up and subscribe to business related news.