Monthly Archives: April 2004

Naming, Again.

I came across this post at Scobleizer, a blog by Microsoft employee Robert Scoble, about naming products.  Here is an excerpt:

One thing I’ve noticed about Microsoft. We come up with boring names for products. Yesterday I gave Peter Loforte, an exec on the Tablet PC team, heck for the naming of the latest Tablet PC software: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005. 

Can you imagine Starbucks coming up with a name for its latest coffee drink like that? "The Tastes Like Last Year’s Coffee, But Is Sweeter, And Is This Year’s Version."

Compare the official Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, 2005′s name to the code-name for the same product: Lone Star.

Lone Star is so much cooler. And doesn’t try to communicate marketing information in the name. All of our code names are cooler than our product names. Whidbey, Longhorn, etc.

Let’s go over to Nike. Do they try to name their shoes something like "Mike Jordan’s technology, updated for 2005." No, they come up with wacky names like "Air Huarache" or "Zoom Generation" or "Shox."

Why does this matter? Because of word of mouth. Because of how our brains remember things. Be honest. Without looking at my previous posts or up above, tell me what the official name for the next version of the Tablet PC software is. Did you get it right? I didn’t. I had to look it up on Web.

Now, without looking up again, tell me the name of a Nike Shoe. Get it right? I bet more of you did.

If you tell someone your law firm’s name, can they repeat it to you five minutes later?

Help! Blogger in Need — Weblog Hacked!!

I’ve been reading Kirsten Osilind’s amazing Re:Invention Blog for quite some time.  She just redesigned the site and it looks fantastic.  When I e-mailed Kirsten to congratulate her on the new design, she e-mailed me back this:

Thanks for the compliments. Actually…someone hacked into the system last night and I effectually have lost the blog. They stole all the source files. And blogger has told me they can’t restore because it is instant publishing.

What the hacker did in effect was go in and delete everything but not republish. So the second I try to post a new entry and republish…the entire template will go to blank white screen and I will lose everything. Blogger is not being helpful and I am devestated. So I don’t think I will ever be able to post to the blog again.

If you know anyone who is techno savvy who could help I would be forever greatful. Cannot believe this has happened. Do believe it is the first example of a hacker with blogger though. So at least I am a first!

I’ve met Kirsten and she is one of the nicest people blogging today.  She writes out of a genuine interest in helping women succeed in business.  So, if you know someone who can help Kirsten, e-mail her here.

Primer on Value Billing

Ronald J. Baker is an absolutely amazing visionary. He is the accountancy profession’s guru of “value billing” and is the author of two of my favorite books: The Firm of the Future (with Paul Dunn) and The Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing . Anyone who is thinking about moving from the billable hour absolutely must read those books.

For an introduction to Baker’s ideas, read his Burying the Billable Hour (PDF). I guarantee that you it will give you incredible insights into pricing your services and provides the best indictment yet of hourly billing (from both the consumer’s and professional’s perspective). If you read this blog and are at all interested in what I write about, you must read it this weekend.

Billable Hours

Scheherazade posts about billable hours at Stay of Execution.

Okay, let’s unpack these numbers a little bit. Let’s use 2000 hours for THEM and 1600 hours for my life now. That’s a difference of 400 hours. Billable hours. Okay. What’s that mean? Well, remember, my average is about 35 billable hours per week. And I’m here about 50. 8 to 6 daily, or maybe 8:30 until 7ish, give or take, in the office, M – F. That means a BIGLAW lawyer needs to work the equivalent of more than 11 weeks more than me, just to get to 2000. Or they could make it up with every single Saturday, billing 8 hours. I haven’t been tuned into BIGLAW enough to know where 2000 hours falls in the heirarchy, but I have a hunch it’s not considered that high

A Harvard 2L, at Waddling Thunder, mach 2.0 responds:

Obviously, I’m not a lawyer yet, so I defer entirely to her sharp observations. However, unless we’re going to assume that billable hours were created by the American Law division of what I like to call France’s secret Committee on Economic Illogic (responsible for their 35 hour work week, for example), there must be some reason that managing partners of law firms use the system. Whatever we might think, I don’t really believe they enjoy torturing their associates. Torture isn’t all that profitable in the long run.

Read the full posts for some interesting insights into the billable hour dilemma from someone who is there (Scheherazade), and someone who hasn’t gotten there yet.

Some more billable hour stuff:

Yale Law School’s The Truth About the Billable Hour

The ABA Commission on Billable Hours Report

The Billable Hour:  Putting a Wedge Between Client and Counsel from the ABA’s Law Practice Today.

Grace Homann

grace_picture.jpgI don’t do a lot of writing about my personal life on this weblog. The big reason is that I can’t imagine people wanting to read it. However, I absolutely couldn’t resist posting this recent picture of my daughter, Grace. She is just over sixteen months old (when do you stop using months and start using years, by the way?) and is an absolute ball to have around. I have the luxury of getting her from daycare around 4:00 p.m. and spending around two hours of uninterrupted “daddy time” with her each day until mommy gets home. She is at the stage now when she reaches for your hand and pulls you to whatever she wants to do. Last night, she took my hand, led me into her playroom, grabbed a book, and “forced” me to sit down so she could sit in my lap while I read it to her. Absolutely an incredible experience that I hope I don’t forget as she grows up.

On a related note, Kevin Kelly, on his Cool Tools weblog suggests a book titled The Optimistic Child : Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resistance. Check out the quotes from the book on Kevin’s site and pick it up. I’m going to.

The Problem with Being a Young Lawyer.

I’ve been practicing law for ten years now, and don’t feel like a young lawyer anymore. When I saw this post on Dana’s Blog, it got me thinking about how screwed up the legal business is.

Are you a recent college grad? If so, my advice is to start with a sales position. You can never underestimate the value of working directly with clients and customers to better understand the purchase decision-making process. As you move up the marketing ladder within organizations, you oftentimes get further and further away from the customer. Starting in sales can help ground you in being customer-focused.

The problem with our business (law) is that it is absolutely impossible to take this advice and start in “sales” as a young lawyer. Instead, new lawyers start as far from the “customer” as the law firm can keep them. Then, when (if?) partnership rolls around, lawyers are suddenly expected to jump into “sales” and get business for the firm. By that time, they only know the law firm’s view of billing — not the client’s.

Read these quotes from an article Kevin O’Keefe sent me about alternative billing methods (the emphasis is mine):

Michael Saunders, chairman of 120-lawyer Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP, said a majority of the firm’s business still is done through hourly billing because many clients stick with what they know. “While a lot of people are talking about this, it’s still a small part of how companies are doing business with their counsel,” Saunders said. “No one wants to be guinea pigs. They’re interested in, ‘How can we get what we need done by the best people and the best way possible?’ A lot have not seen the need or seen the advantage.

And this:

Larry Bingham, president of 37-lawyer Seigfreid Bingham Levy Selzer & Gee PC, said the firm deals with medium-sized companies and doesn’t use alternative fees. “Not that we’re opposed to that,” Bingham said. “For a closely held company that doesn’t have a lot of legal work … you have to have a pretty big volume for a law firm to know how to bill for that.”

Amazing, absolutely amazing. Is it possible that the clients have not “asked for” alternative billing because the law firms have not put it on the menu? And since when does a client have to have a lot of volume of work for a lawyer to “know how to bill for” it? If these lawyers (and thousands like them) had been in “sales” as young lawyers, might they have a different view of what clients want and need? Food for thought.

LegalMatch Comments

I was going to write another long post about LegalMatch, but, frankly, am getting tired of the whole conversation. One thing I did notice was that a comment I received here from LegalMatch user “Marty S.” was very similar to a comment Jerry Lawson received here several months ago on the same topic on his eLawyer Blog from LegalMatch user “Adam.”

The funny thing is that both “Marty S.” and “Adam” had the same e-mail address. What’s more, when I tried to thank “Marty” for his comments, my e-mail was returned as undeliverable because the yahoo account was canceled. Why would Adam and Marty respond to LegalMatch posts in almost the same way with different names from the same invalid e-mail address? Are they really satisfied LegalMatch users — or LegalMatch insiders? Things that make you go Hmmmm…..

The New Firm Begins

It’s official. As of May 1, 2004, Homann Law and Mediation officially becomes “The Silver Lake Group.” The biggest news is that another lawyer will be joining me as I officially leave the land of solo practice. My new partner, who is now winding up his present partnership (on good terms), will be formally announced here next week. There are over one hundred things on my “to-do” list, so my blogging may be a bit sporadic, but here are some highlights of our business plan that I’ll flesh out in individual posts on this blog.

1. No client will be billed by the hour. I’ll unveil our Service Pricingsm plan in more detail next week.

2. We will guarantee each client’s satisfaction with our service or refund their money.

3. We will hire a “client concierge” who will be responsible for one thing: keeping our clients happy. The client concierge will contact every client weekly, organize monthly seminars of interest to them, write topical newsletters, send birthday and holiday cards, solicit client feedback, and manage our firm’s master client to-do list.

4. We will set up the “Silver Lake Small Business Foundation” and contribute ten percent of our profits to it. The money in the foundation will be used to teach entrepreneurship in local schools, donate books to public libraries, encourage people to start small businesses (with micro-loans), establish mentoring programs, and fund scholarships and work-study programs for local students.

5. We will share our methods, forms, letters, and experiences with others to encourage all of us in the legal profession to move away from the billable hour and toward a saner, customer-centered way of practicing law.

6. We will have a hell of a good time.

To say that I am excited is a massive understatement. I started this weblog to write about transfoming my practice, and I feel that I am almost there. Look for more details here over the next two weeks.

Administrative Professionals Day 2004

April 21st is Administrative Professionals Day 2004 (also called Secretary’s Day, Administrative Assistants Day, or Exceptional Assistants Day). Instead of the traditional gift you have given your administrative assistant, how about one to make him or her deliriously happy: let your assistant fire one client.

Several years ago, I told my secretary she could fire one client, no questions asked. After she picked herself off the floor, she chose a client that surprised me. Turns out that this client, while perfectly cordial to me, was consistently rude to her on the phone and made inappropriate comments to her when he came into the office. I sent the client a nice letter telling him I would be unable to represent him any longer, and my secretary told me it was one of the best presents she had ever gotten.

The moral to this story is that there are clients who, if they treat your staff badly, don’t deserve your hard work. Every day you work for them sends a message that you value their business more than the happiness of your staff. The trouble is that you probably don’t even know who these clients are. So ask your assistant, and go ahead and give yourself a little bonus and fire your least-liked client too.

Of course, flowers are also nice.


UPDATE:
Seems like Evan and I are on the same wavelength. I hadn’t read this post when I wrote mine. I wonder if we’re talking about the same client?

Two Anonymous Blawgers in the Same Fake Firm?

From Anonymous Lawyer:

There are days when I’m very generous to the associates who work under me. I try to give them as much freedom as possible with regard to their schedules, I try to make sure they understand the context of their assignments so dry tasks don’t seem quite so bad, I leave the truly heinous jobs for the paralegals, I praise them for a job well done…. And then there are days when I’m a jackass. Today is one of those days. I’m not in a very good mood — I didn’t get a chance to play golf yesterday, I got an angry e-mail from a client, and my wife thinks I should mow the lawn myself while I think we should just hire someone to do it for us even if it costs more than it should — so I got into the office about a half-hour ago, and decided I’m going to make someone’s day miserable, just for fun. I decided today would be a good day to have an associate “update our relationship information” at some of my more important clients. Which means calling into them and making sure all of the same people still work there, and seeing if there are any problems brewing that they just hadn’t gotten a chance to come to us with. Trolling for business, basically — but also updating records and making sure everything’s fine. Because there’s a chance they’ll really have a legal question, I can’t have a paralegal do it. So I’ve got a sixth-year associate who — once she gets into the office — will spend about 12 hours today on the phone. I mean, it’s something that has to be done every so often. I’m not sure there’s any reason why it has to be done today. Or by this particular associate. But oh well, too bad for her.

And from BeckyTurtle:

The partner I work with is breathing fire today. I guess he came in and made a phone call to one of our clients and asked for the old CFO, not the new CFO, because the contact database wasn’t updated when the old CFO was fired. He was embarrassed (and he should have been, because we had to buy the old CFO out of his contract, and it was an involved and protracted negotiation that both he and I were part of, and I can’t understand how he forgot in the first place). Anyway, he’s asked me to go through all of our clients and make sure the firm database is accurate with the personnel of the company and their correct address, etc.

It’s a huge pain in the ass. I’ve pushed some of it down on a third-year, but a lot of it is just me looking at the files and dictating to my paralegal, “ok, let’s see, BigCo just opened a Colorado office, make sure we have that information, you can get it in the annual report, and I think they laid off a bunch of their management, so pull me all the contact cards and let me look at them.” I mean, I keep so much of this in my head that I can’t just delegate it. Plus it’s sort of a rainmaking function — I call whoever my best contact in the company is and say “hello, hey, Alex, can I just make sure we have everything right, and is the chairman of the board still Pete, yeah, I thought so, and is there anyone new or anyone gone,” well, half the time Alex has a question he was meaning to call us about.

But it’s a huge hassle (well, except I can IM my friends while I’m doing it, which is kind of fun, since it only takes about half a brain). It means a million voicemail messages and not much uninterrupted time to get real work done. And I know I’m going to lose hours. I mean, it’s billable, I guess, especially in the cases where there turn out to be real changes or where they have legal questions or something to tell me. But a lot of it’s not, and even the stuff that is — I have to open a million different matters and bill each one with .1 or .2 and it’s just a real pain.

What business are you in?

Mark Cuban (outspoken owner of the NBA’s Mavericks, technologist, and blogger) persuasively argues that the NBA is not in the business of basketball, but of entertainment.

There are those around the NBA who think the business of the NBA is basketball. They seem to think that there are enough basketball junkies and purists out there, that if we “let the game of basketball alone”, we would fill arenas, the games would be more enjoyable and TV ratings would skyrocket. They probably also think that the tooth fairy is real.

Reality is that basketball is not the business of the NBA. Entertainment is the business of the NBA. Every single night of the week we battle movies, books, restaurants, TV and Cable programs, talking a walk, everything and anything that is an alternative to going to or watching an NBA game.

What is your business? Is it law? Trust? Peace of mind? Are your competitors other lawyers, accountants, business advisors? As a business lawyer, my competitors also include electricity, transportation costs, employee salaries, and rent. In other words, I am competing for my clients’ business dollars against the other things they spend money on. Unless I can articulate the value that I can give them and persuasively show them how I can save them money, time, frustration, or worry, I am just another line item in their budgets that they will cut in hard times.

More on Naming your Business.

This five-star standard of business naming comes from Naseem Javad at the Wisconsin Technology Network (via David Young at the Branding Blog):

A five-star standard of business naming: To qualify, a name must pass each of the five following criteria to get a star. If it fails at any point, then your name is in serious naming trouble. Anything less than five stars is really a liability wasting valuable branding. Is your name: 1) Very distinct and very unique? 2) Short, simple with attractive alpha-structure? 3) Highly related to the business? 4) Globally trademarked and protected? 5) With an identical URL?

My new firm name, The Silver Lake Group, gets at least four of the five stars. “Silver Lake Law” seemed a bit hard to say, though it did a better job of identifying what the firm actually did. I hope to take care of that with a tagline that will accompany our name and logo. I’m meeting with a graphic designer tomorrow to narrow down the field of logos, and I’ve already reserved www.silverlakelaw.com as a domain name. Trademark applications are next on the agenda. The name, logo, and tagline will all be unveiled here first on May 1, 2004.

Another problem with hourly billing.

A pretty insightful post from BeckyTuttle, an anonymous law firm associate blogger:

I sometimes feel sorry for the partners. It’s because the savvier clients, even though they like the partners, will go to one of the associates with five or six years of experience to do a lot of the work. One, it’s because they can often get us on the phone quicker, and two, it’s because they know they’re getting something nearly as good for a lot less money. I mean, a partner might write a better letter than me on behalf of the client, but it’s not going to be THAT much better, and it might not be better at all. And I don’t care whether you’ve been practicing law twenty five years, writing a decent letter is going to take a partner about the amount of time it’s going to take an upper level associate. But it’s going to cost the client $200 or $300 more for your letter than for mine. Wierdly enough, the further along you go in the profession, sometimes the less you are able to give your clients a really valuable service.

Patent Law Weblog

I am always amazed when I look at the weblogs referring traffic to this site. Today, I found someone who came to this blog from Patently Obvious, a legal weblog about, obviously, patent law. The author, Dennis Crouch, “is an attorney at the law firm of McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP in Chicago where his practice focuses on patent law in the areas of mechanical and electrical engineering.” After reading his bio, I am certain he is a lot smarter than me, but what impressed me most was the last line, “Dennis Crouch grew up on a farm near Pittsburg, Kansas.” One of my grandfathers farmed, as did two of my uncles. My other grandfather taught High School Ag, has a small truck farm, and still works (at 94 years of age) for the U.S.D.A. as a crop surveyor. I never grew up on a farm, but I remember fondly the times I spent with my uncles on theirs. I am sure that Dennis’ impressive resume has won him his share of clients, but am more certain that his farming background has helped him relate to many in a way his formal education never could.

LegalMatch doesn’t get it.

I have posted here, here, and here about LegalMatch.  This e-mail just came from Randy Wells, a LegalMatch executive whose prior e-mail I posted here.  Randy says:

In response:

In the early days of the dot.com existence, much was expected from the net.  It has taken years to change habits of the American public.  We now have literally thousands of clients coming to us each and every week in search of a competent attorney who is willing to take some time with a client prior to physically seeing them.  I am sorry if our practice of helping people find attorneys is somehow offensive or deceptive to you. 

We are the dominant space on the net, and our major focus is on helping people, not the attorneys.  We know if we truly provide service to the general public, then our attorneys will be happy.  Most other "models" on the net try to "sell the attorney" on some "future promise" of direct referral clients. 

Our focus is on helping clients and giving them a choice of professionals.  True, in the beginning stages, we had trouble getting enough traffic to support the model.  I’m proud to say, that no longer is an issue.  We are not a referral service by any means.  Our attorneys, and our client’s, names and contact information are kept confidential until the client chooses the attorney.  The client’s choice of representation is based on the attorneys response to the perceived problem, and the attorney profile page (which outlines background reference checks, and personal mission statement).  This allows a level of scrutiny that some lawyers are not comfortable with.  We know that legalmatch is not for every attorney.  We applaud the attorneys that have recognized that the internet is here to stay, and that helping potential clients by a methodology of getting background checks and dialogue, is a meaningful service for the public.

Randy Wells, Vice President
Membership

Randy, I applaud your company’s focus on "helping clients and giving them a choice of professionals," and I agree that the more a potential client knows about their lawyer, the better for all involved.  Oddly, neither of your e-mails has even touched upon my only complaint about your company — your sales tactics. 

You apologize to me by saying, "I am sorry if our practice of helping people find attorneys is somehow offensive or deceptive to you."  I don’t take issue with your business model at all — instead, I take issue with your sales model.  It is your practice of "helping" attorneys find Legalmatch that is offensive and deceptive to me.   If you want to sell me something, tell me so.  You would be surprised just how interested I may be in a company with "thousands of clients coming …  each and every week in search of a competent attorney who is willing to take some time with a client prior to physically seeing them." 

If you have a good product (and you seem to think that you do), don’t be afraid to openly sell it.  Evangalize it.  Make me excited about buying it.  Your sales pitch left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t know if I’ll ever use your product — no matter how good it is.   Also, your claim that you "are not a referral service by any means," and that your service is different from, "Most other "models" on the net [that] try to "sell the attorney" on some "future promise" of direct referral clients," doesn’t ring true when I look at these statements on your website:

The goal is to get you clients in your preferred specialty that you judge of high value, so that you work reasonable hours while maintaining or increasing your revenues.

If in your judgment we don’t provide you enough clients to more than pay for your membership within your membership term, we’ll extend it for free for up to 12 months until we do!

Therefore, we believe that we will have met our burden under this guarantee if you at least were engaged by enough clients via our service, by the end of your membership term, so that your expected revenues when and if collected, would more than cover the membership fee you paid.

To Insure Prompt Service

Not sure how this fits in with legal marketing and client service, but I found a fascinating article over at Epicurious.com about one man’s attempt to bribe/tip his way into New York’s trendiest restaurants. Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the link.

Quote of the Week

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

This one comes courtesy of Evelyn Rodriguez and her great blog Crossroads Dispatches.

All Work and No Play…

Linda Naiman is a “Corporate Alchemist” who maintains a fascinating website titled Creativity at Work. In this article, Linda gives us the “Top Ten Reasons to Play” at work and sets out the benefits for doing so. They are:

1. Play is the path to fun and profit. Play opens up new channels of creativity and increases the level of satisfaction we experience at work. How employees feel about their company is directly related to their level of productivity and creativity. Research shows that highly motivated employees are up to 127% more productive than averagely motivated employees in high complexity jobs.-Fortune Magazine, January 1998.

2. “Fun is the new status symbol.” Studies show, if you want to attract and keep talent, you need to have a fun, challenging and creative workplace environment. It’s your talent that sets your business apart from the competition.

3. “Non-stop work is for losers” Play is as important as work. The quality of our work suffers if we don’t take the time to play. We live in a workaholic society in North America. Being addicted to busyness is a product of low self-worth.

4. Even God rested on the 7th day! And universities have a tradition of offering sabbaticals.

5. We need time to be idle. Taking time to do nothing lets problems incubate and allows for creativity to flow. Children who are allowed to daydream develop a higher IQ.

6. Play helps us find our genius. Our childhood passions are the key to our genius. In the midst of play we experience unlimited possibilities.

7. Play is crucial to attaining a work/life balance. A work/life balance (not money) is the number one concern of employees at all levels, in Canada and the U.S. The ability to achieve this is the top determinant in whether they are happy on the job, and whether they stay or leave.

8. The bow kept forever taut will break. – Zen saying. Play helps us relax and let go. Play generates joy. Play replenishes and revitalizes our human spirit. It clears the mental cobwebs that keep us from thinking clearly.

9. Play is smart corporate strategy for solving problems. Play frees us from worry and stress, relaxing the brain and making it easier to be more creative. Solutions that seemed so evasive earlier now appear effortlessly in the midst of play.

10. Play keeps our passions alive in the workplace. Studies show, if you want to attract and keep talent, you need to have a fun, challenging and creative workplace environment. It’s your talent that sets your business apart from the competition.

Thanks to Curt Rosengren at The Occupational Adventure for the link.

The Value of Social Networking.

Saw this article today by David Maizenberg titled, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Reed’s Law and the Power of Networks.” According to Maizenberg, “Reed’s law simply states that the value of a social network (an open peer-to-peer information exchange) scales exponentially with the size of the network. Straightforward and intuitive, Reed’s law explains why allowing people to interact and group-form freely benefits everyone, eventually.” The author continues:

Why does all this matter to lawyers? Well, with all the various forums and groups everywhere beckoning for attention, some lawyers might be asking themselves: Is it a worthwhile use of my time to participate in volunteer, uncompensated knowledge sharing? Reed’s Law suggests that the answer is yes. Of course, one still needs to be selective. Network peer groups with no real purpose, or groups with weak participation, or groups that simply become too large, may not necessarily return maximum value. Nevertheless, here’s a good rule of thumb: don’t be stingy. If a peer group or forum is interesting and useful enough for you to follow on a regular basis, then for the health of the group, as well as your own standing within it, you should probably contribute as well.

I belong to the ABA’s Solosez discussion group and can vouch for the truth in this statement. Solosez has over 1000 lawyer members from around the world. Nearly all practice alone or in a small-office setting. I have received an unbelievable amount of value from the list.

Interesting New Weblog.

Great new weblog by Brace McEwen called Adam Smith, Esq. Bruce’s blog is subtitled, “An inquiry into the economics of law firms,” and has some really interesting stuff.

LegalMatch Part III

This LegalMatch thing has taken on a life of its own. Recall that I posted here and here about my experience with a LegalMatch marketer and the company’s reply. Since then, Rick Klau and Carolyn Elefant have continued the discussion on their blogs.

I have never used LegalMatch so I can’t vouch for their service. I’m sure they have dozens (hundreds, thousands?) of satisfied customers. My only complaint was that their sales pitch, which I felt was less than honest, offended me as a potential customer. Not the way to get the relationship off on the right foot.

The point I wanted to make in the original post is that you need to be very careful about first impressions when communicating with potential customers. Don’t overpromise, don’t pressure, don’t brag, don’t deceive, and don’t talk down to your potential clients. Articulate the benefits of hiring you with humility, and let the prospects decide on their own timetable if you are the right attorney for them.

Interesting Stats on Women vs. Men Business Owners

I have made it a point to focus much of my marketing on women-owned businesses. For some of the reasons why, take a look at this study from the Center for Women’s Business Research comparing woman-owned businesses to man-owned businesses with more than $1 Million in revenues:

Women are more likely than men to have been the founder of the business (73% to 60%) rather than have purchased, inherited or acquired in another way.

Women are less likely than men to use commercial loans or lines of credit (56% to 70%).

Women are less likely to have raised money from outside investors (4% to 11%).

Women were ahead of men in their adoption of the Internet and ecommerce as a business growth strategy (58% to 35%).

(From the Rhonda Report at The Planning Shop)

LegalMatch, Part II.

The other day, I titled a post, Why I’ll Never Use LegalMatch. Today, I got this e-mail from Randy Wells at LegalMatch:

I read your commentary with interest. It is important to understand that we uphold our attorney relationships in the highest regard. Our “start up” days are over, and we are respected throughout the legal community. We never contact an attorney unless we have more clients coming to us for help, than we have attorneys in our system. This system has proven to be very sucessful for our members. We do not use “high pressure” sales people. In fact, close to half of our attorney allocation managers have their J.D. and many have been in practice.

Our process is simply to interview attorneys that have responded to our call to help clients. We don’t quote pricing until we have a very clear understanding of the geographical area of practice, the preference within the specialty, and the years of experience. Quoting a fee schedule prior to understanding the needs of the attorney, and the practice of law they are involved in, would be akin to going to see a Doctor and asking he/she for a procedural price before even having an examination.

We are approaching this process responsibly, and reasonably, for the people who have asked us for help. Some Attorneys don’t like to be interviewed and have their records scrutinized. The public trusts us, and we will not betray that trust. You can’t “buy” your way into LegalMatch. We reject many attorney applications due to past disciplinary problems, but even more, due to NOT having a client flow that can support the Attorney practice. It sounds like you haven’t reviewed the site thoroughly. Please go to www.legalmatch.com, and go into the Lawyer join section. Our company history, press releases, and testimonials should give a fairly clear picture.

My response: I wouldn’t have posted at all, had the call from Legal Match been something like: “I”m Randy Wells from LegalMatch and I think you might be interested in joining our referral service because we regularly have potential clients in your area who may need a lawyer like you.” However, to call me and not identify yourself as a salesperson, but instead masquerade as an attorney with a specific client in need of an attorney immediately is dishonest — especially if you require me to join your service to get the referral.

I can’t imagine having a client come into my office with an out-of-state problem (let’s say it relates to her divorce in Montana) and I tell her I’ll call a few Montana attorneys to see if they can help her. To each attorney, I leave a message on their voice mail saying, “I have a client in immediate need of your services in Montana, call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX.” When they call, I tell them they need to pay me before I’ll give them the client’s name — whether the client hires them or not. I could never imagine doing that, and I doubt that it would even be ethically permissable. That is my complaint. Your sales pitch immediately makes me want to not use your service. And if your sales pitch angers me enough to write a two posts about it, think about how much other business you must be losing from lawyers who feel the same way.

Trust makes a holiday.

Saw a link to this article on The Nub about how the concept of “trust holidays” has been imported to Britain from this country, “where accountancy, law and advertising firms have all adopted the idea.” Now I don’t know how many law firms have adopted the idea, but according to the article, firms that have instituted the scheme:

allow staff to decide among themselves how much time they want off, so long as between them they get their jobs done. Each employee’s performance is assessed at the end of the year to ensure that they are performing up to standard.

One firm (with 30 employees) allows “everyone from the cleaner to the managing director” to take part. There are only two conditions: customers must not suffer and all holidays have to be agreed by their immediate colleagues.

This certainly has some merit. Define your employees’ roles, duties, and responsibilities — and reward them for the work they do, not the time they spend. Sounds kind of like value billing.

Don’t learn from your competitors.

David Young, in his Branding Blog, takes issue with the suggestion that small start-ups can learn the most from their competitiors by hanging out with them at the places they “schmooze,” like industry trade shows. In this post, titled, “When you seek differentiation and innovation, don’t expect to find it by sniffing around at your competitors,” David writes:

Don’t expect to find ideas for innovation or differentiation from people who are attempting to do the same thing as you. If you copy from them, are you differentiating? No. Are you likely to get fresh ideas? No. The best you can hope for is for some ideas on processes and practices that might make you more efficient. But, ideas to make you stand apart from your competition? Forget it. They won’t be shared.

You’d be much better off seeking the convention of an entirely different industry that shares some characteristics with your own. If you’re a chiropractor, look for a service industry that shares some characteristics with yours. How about a plumber’s convention? We only call plumbers (and chiropractors) when we need them. Most of the time we need to see them right away. And the plumbers will be delighted to share information with you, because you are NOT a competitor.

Henry Ford did not get the idea for the assembly line from visiting with other automobile manufacturers. He visited a meat processing facility and witnessed an un-assembly line.

David’s final piece of advice:

If you’re a small, entrepreneurial business looking to differentiate yourself from the competition, focus on the ONE asset you have that NONE of your competitors have: YOU! Do YOUR best. Be the greatest YOU can be. And, make sure your customers know that you care about them. Let the butt-sniffing dogs have their meetings.

I think David’s advice is right on. Model your practice on your competitors’ if you want to work just like they do. If you want to grow and innovate, look outside of the legal profession to find out what others are doing well. Who is the most successful accountant in your town? What is the most popular restaurant? Who runs that little store you love to shop in? Take them to lunch. Learn from them. They will be willing to share their secrets of success with you and may even end up hiring you as their attorney.

Don’t Sell Like This.

Yesterday, I received two after-hour voice mails that went something like this, "Hi, I’m Bill Johnson and I have some clients in your area in urgent need of a matrimonial lawyer.  Please give me a call as soon as you can at XXX-XXX-XXXX."  The number is not toll-free, but a long distance number on the west coast.  I’m not calling it this time, but I’ve fallen for this ruse before.  The caller is not an attorney seeking to refer a client, but rather LegalMatch, a for-pay lawyer referral company.  They don’t have a client in "urgent need of my services," but want me to sign up for their costly service to have them send me prospects.  Many lawyers I’ve spoken to don’t think highly of the company’s claims.  I can’t vouch for their services, but their deceitful telephone pitch really pisses me off.   If they are trying to sell me a product, tell me so. 

Top 10 reasons.

I just found the “Top Ten Reasons to Work at Google” on the company’s web site. They are:

1. Lend a helping hand. With more than 82 million visitors every month, Google has become an essential part of everyday life—like a good friend—connecting people with the information they need to live great lives.

2. Life is beautiful. Being a part of something that matters and working on products in which you can believe is remarkably fulfilling.

3. Appreciation is the best motivation, so we’ve created a fun and inspiring workspace you’ll be glad to be a part of, including on-site doctor and dentist; massage and yoga; professional development opportunities; on-site day care; shoreline running trails; and plenty of snacks to get you through the day.

4. Work and play are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time.

5. We love our employees, and we want them to know it. Google offers a variety of benefits, including a choice of medical programs, company-matched 401(k), stock options, maternity and paternity leave, and much more.

6. Innovation is our bloodline. Even the best technology can be improved. We see endless opportunity to create even more relevant, more useful, and faster products for our users. Google is the technology leader in organizing the world’s information.

7. Good company everywhere you look. Googlers range from former neurosurgeons, CEOs, and U.S. puzzle champions to alligator wrestlers and ex-marines. No matter what their backgrounds Googlers make for interesting cube mates.

8. Uniting the world, one user at a time. People in every country and every language use our products. As such we think, act, and work globally—just our little contribution to making the world a better place.

9. Boldly go where no one has gone before. There are hundreds of challenges yet to solve. Your creative ideas matter here and are worth exploring. You’ll have the opportunity to develop innovative new products that millions of people will find useful.

10.There is such a thing as a free lunch after all. In fact we have them every day: healthy, yummy, and made with love.

I’ve got to get working on the top 10 reasons to work at my firm — or just chuck this whole law thing and check out the new job postings.

Reinventing your firm.

Frequent readers of this weblog know that I am reinventing the way that I practice law. Jennifer Rice, responding to this Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article suggests her twelve ways to revive a brand here. They are:

1. Listen to customers and understand what they want.
2. Determine how your customer experience measures up to what they want.
3. If it doesn’t measure up, fix it. If there’s a list of things to fix, start with what’s most important to customers.
4. Do you have a meaningful point of difference from competitors? If not, create one using the understanding from #1.
5. Create a focused, durable brand position that meshes with the previous 4 items.
6. Communicate that brand message consistently over time throughout every customer touchpoint.
7. Break down internal silos to ensure that all departments are working together to build the brand.
8. Create mechanisms to gather ongoing feedback from customers.
9. Make sure your employees understand how they can build the brand, and make sure they’re happy. Happy employees make happy customers.
10. Happy customers generate referrals. Measure your buzz factor.
11. Now that you’ve built your brand from the ground up, it’s worth spending more money on advertising.
12. Have discipline to follow – and continually reevaluate – all the points on this list.

As I move away from time-based billing and towards service-based billing, I will keep this checklist front and center. You should too.

April Fool’s Came Early

Yesterday, I posted this about an anonymous lawyer blogging about his experiences as a large law firm hiring partner. Apparently, it was a hoax. The fact that some, like me, actually thought this could be a real lawyer surprised the blog’s author:

It actually scares me that these stories are close enough to the realm of possibility that it’s not obvious fiction. It’s not a reflection on the people who linked to them, I’m sure. It’s a reflection on either what these law firms really are, or, more likely, what their reputations are. Just the hours this imaginary guy works — 6:45 on a Sunday morning I thought for sure would ruin all credibility.

The problem is that the stories the anonymous blogger made up are perilously close to the truth. I don’t know if I am glad that this a-hole hiring partner doesn’t really exist, of if I am disappointed that many of us thought that he could.