Law Firm Marketing – Becoming Client Centric

The Client Experience

Receiving exceptional service is always a memorable experience. It can make a person feel valued. And news of exceptional service spreads fast. It’s talked about to friends and family and even eulogized to strangers. It can transcend the ordinary and take on an almost mythical form. This is especially true when ordinary things are done in extraordinary ways.

Years ago, I had to fly to Bangkok on a business trip. After a long, trying taxi ride in rush-hour traffic, I finally checked into my hotel, tired and hungry. I dropped my luggage in the room and went down-stairs to get some dinner. An hour later, when I returned, I found my luggage neatly unpacked–shirts folded, pants hung up, ties carefully dispersed along the racks. Almost immediately, I began to relax. I involuntarily breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I looked into the bathroom and saw something I’ll never forget. The items from my overnight kit had been neatly arranged by the sink,?and someone had actually cleaned my hairbrush. All of the hair strands had been removed and the bristles were glistening. But the coup de grace was this: Resting in the center of the bristles was a beautiful white petal.
After more than ten years, I can still see this image. This one experience–this unexpected gesture that went beyond exceptional service–left me with a whole new understanding of what it means to put a client first.

When I returned home and people asked about Thailand, I invariably told them about that small white petal on my hairbrush. Today, when I think of great hotels, I think of the Hotel Oriental. It is the standard by which I judge all other hotels.

In the universe of companies, only a few consistently reach extraordinary levels of service. Studies have shown that companies that do reach such levels share certain fundamental values and organizational traits.

Marketing a Service

There is a fundamental distinction between marketing a product and marketing a service. Products are tangible. They either work as represented or they don’t. Products can be returned or exchanged. We can touch and feel a product before we decide to buy it; rarely is this the case with a service.

Services are meant to be experienced, not ordered from catalogs. Serv-ices are profoundly personal in nature and our response to them is often emotionally driven. A service relation-ship, especially a professional service relationship, challenges the provider to be an expert in serving people.

Think about the ways buyers perceive “value” generally. When we buy products, we rely mostly on objective criteria. For products like shampoo and stereos, determining objective value is fairly simple. A large bottle of shampoo delivers more product than a small one, so we are justified in paying more for the large one. A stereo system that has more features is said to contain more value than one that has fewer features. Product features, quality and quantity are all critical factors in the determination of value. Service, however, is far more nebulous–and is therefore much more challenging to define and measure.

Service Is a Process, Not an End

One reason service is so difficult to measure is because it’s so subjective. It is experiential–we can feel it and see it, but defining it is another matter. Perhaps it’s a little like what the Supreme Court wrote about pornography: It may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it.

Truly great firms–those with legendary status–are always striving to reach greater levels of service for their clients. Fundamental to such firms is the understanding that service is a never-ending process driven by a specific mind-set. These firms know that while they must always try to reach higher levels of service, they can never assume they have achieved the highest level. There is always a higher level to strive for, and standing still squelches the pursuit of excellence. Either a firm continues to reach for higher service levels or it has abandoned the pursuit. There is no middle ground.

Most firms revolve around the desires and needs of their partners. For service-driven firms, just the opposite is true–not because these firms have partners who enjoy a higher sense of purpose, but because they have a higher sense of business smarts. For them, everything revolves around the client. And as you might expect, the benefits have a way of coming back to the partners. Consistently delivering increasingly higher levels of service to clients builds the types of returns that keep a firm thriving.

There is no quick and easy recipe for becoming a service-driven firm. There is no secret formula for meeting–and exceeding–your clients’ needs. But one of the best ways to find out how your firm can provide exceptional service for your clients is, strangely enough, one of the most frequently ignored: listening to what your clients need–being client-centric instead of firm-centric.

You may be convinced that your best clients have been attracted by the stature of your firm–by its size or its range of specialties. But the truth is that it’s not what you think you’re offering that counts, but rather what the clients are experiencing that matters most.

The Emotional Side

Providing a renowned level of service to clients requires paying attention and being sensitive to the emotional side of legal trouble.

Lawyers who pay attention to clients’ subjective experiences are able to expand the scope of legal and practical options available to their clients, which can result in the lawyers becoming better problem solvers.
Old marketing models were based on a number of false assumptions about what influences people’s decisions. Now that we know more about how the mind works, we have a unique opportunity to apply this knowledge to the goal of meeting our clients’ real needs as opposed to the needs we merely assume they have.
In our legal training, we are taught the paramount importance of words and logic. Even in the emotional setting of trial, most skilled attorneys–while highly attuned to the emotional reactions of juries–ultimately almost always rely on the persuasive power of logic, words and reason to win their cases.

Today, neuroscience is providing important insights into the ways people interpret information and the degree to which “thinking” is used to influence our decisions. Lawyers’ emphasis on words is based largely on the false assumption that most of our thinking takes place in our conscious minds. In fact, recent brain science research reveals that just the opposite is true: As much as 95 percent of our thinking actually takes place at the subconscious level.

Our memories, associations and emotions occur just below the surface of our awareness. In response to stimuli, our minds go busily to work at a staggering speed, networking, sharing, distributing, connecting, shuffling and reshuffling memories, images and thoughts before the first words of reaction ever leave our lips. Ironically, the words we speak are literally an afterthought.

How can this knowledge be applied to the way we communicate and deal with our clients? We would like to assume that clients, for the most part, make decisions deliberately and rationally. That is, that they consciously contemplate the relative merits of a choice, assign a value to each criterion and then convert this information into what we call a judgment. We’d certainly like to assume that’s how we make decisions ourselves! But the fact is, most decisions are made at the intuitive, emotional level.

Whether responding to an argument in the courtroom or to a firm’s marketing campaign, even the most intelligent people process their decisions below the surface of their conscious mind. In reality, words and logic have more to do with justifying a decision than forming the basis of one.

Consider how clients choose law firms. They may think they were led by logic–going with “a big firm” or choosing on the basis of a lawyer’s “professional demeanor,” but they are actually using their intuition to make a highly subjective -decision.

When attorneys learn to think emotionally, they will find new ways to communicate with their clients at the decision-making level. Therefore, providing a renowned level of service to clients means expanding the quality of personal attention given to the emotional side of problem solving. Lawyers who pay attention to clients’ subjective experiences are able to offer a wide scope of practical and legal options for their clients to consider.

“We see the same problems over and over again,” a partner in a small Cleveland practice explained. “When we know our clients are going through a painful time in their life, our job is often to help them connect the dots at a personal level. This requires us to think emotionally–to become more empathetic–so that we can get inside the minds of our clients. But the truth is, even in the context of law, a client’s decision process is driven more strongly by emotion than by any other single factor.”
Emotion is a stronger influence on the decision-making process, but words are not even a close second, although it’s a common assumption that we think in words.

While words play a central role in communicating thoughts, we rarely use them to think. Using words is just too slow, and language does not contain enough bandwidth to accommodate the complexity of our think-ing processes. Feelings can be both instantaneous and complex in ways that words cannot be.

The law firm that recognizes the important role emotions play in its clients’ decision-making process and adjusts its service accordingly will find new opportunities to provide clients with increasingly higher levels of service.

Knowledge Sharing

Professional service marketing is both knowledge intensive and relation-ship intensive. For law firms in particular, knowledge-sharing and relationship-building are two essential elements of providing quality legal counsel, and they need to work together. Developing client relationships comes from sharing knowledge in ways that build confidence and trust.
Unfortunately, many lawyers are reluctant to share their knowledge with clients. Some would rather create a shroud of mystery around their work, forcing clients to view them as indispensable–an especially effective technique for a lawyer who has already been successful in solving a prior legal problem for a client. However, this approach almost always results in clients feeling insecure and vulnerable, and it does not lead to the type of trust or loyalty that, in the long run, makes clients return.

Marketing is an empathetic process. It requires that lawyers step back and become observers in the lawyer-client relationship. In doing so, we must detach ourselves from our own views and old ways of thinking. For most of us, this requires a shift in perspective.

Neuroscientists tell us that our minds thrive on exploring new ways of thinking–seeing relationships between things we previously thought were unrelated and finding commonality between different disciplines such as language and the arts or science and philosophy.

The same can be said of the kind of shift in thinking required to connect emotions with marketing and marketing with identity. These new combinations are powerful and effective, but part of the challenge in us-ing them is to first get our minds around them.
The entire range of our thinking, the depth of our very perception, is said to shift when we challenge ourselves to understand the totality of something rather than just our narrow part of it.

Thinking is our forte as lawyers. But true mental strength depends on our willingness to understand different types of thinking on being able to shift and widen our perspectives and consider new approaches to problem solving.
Challenging our minds means breaking through the linear and narrow confines of our own categorical logic. We need to look beyond the world of opposites–things that are either true or false but never both. In short, we need to stop and take a fresh look at what we do and why we do it. If we hope to provide the kind of high-level service that will set us apart from our competition and create a new magnitude of client satisfaction, we need to see clients’ needs in ways we haven’t seen before.

This, of course, requires that we develop new ways of thinking. It means leaving our mental comfort zone–not a pleasant proposition for lawyers who have spent years learning how to think in that zone. Yet leaving it is essential if we are committed to the full range of the market-ing process.

Service Based on Character

Action that comes from one’s character is perceived as authentic and therefore predictable. Ideally, clients will come to know their lawyers as people who can be counted on under almost any circumstances. Lawyers who can be counted on to be responsible, attentive, caring, sensible, hon-est, hardworking and trustworthy will attract new clients and keep existing ones.
Developing a law firm based on these types of inspired values is what drives firm growth and fosters prosperity. However, character cannot be imposed from the outside. It must originate from the core of the firm’s leadership and grow outward. That’s why relationship building is so important to our work.

Many law firms balk at investing in education and personal development. Mentoring is too often limited to developing technical skills such as research and drafting. Developing lawyers’ communication and character-building skills has been devalued, and this reflects the degree of resignation and cynicism existing in our profession today. Ironically, the same firms that don’t value personal development wonder why they’re experiencing a staggering drop in client satisfaction.

The Trust Factor

Do clients see you as someone they trust? As someone who is honest with them and acts with integrity? Are you seen as someone who truly cares about their welfare?

What we do for our clients reveals not only our immediate intentions, but also our character.
Clients measure our service first and foremost–but not completely–by our actions. If our actions are perceived to arise naturally from our character, then we are perceived as sincere and trustworthy. If not, which all too often is the case, we can appear calculating and manipulative.

Clients trust their lawyers if they believe in the truth of the lawyers’ character. For lawyers to learn to serve from their character takes time, effort and a commitment to individual development. Despite popular opinion, character can be developed and learned, especially if it is en-forced by the firm’s culture and leadership. Thus, the term character building.
For most firms, however, developing communication skills in their lawyers is simply not a priority. In fact, some firms believe that it’s not necessary if they simply hire quality people.

“When we recruit, we look for young people who have a strong sense of purpose,” said a partner at an East Coast firm. “To our firm, this means maturity, manners and common sense. Sure, we want the brightest minds, but we refuse to compromise on character. We won’t give an of-fer unless we believe in our gut that person can truly grow into being a partner.”

Lawyers who are truly valued by their clients develop client relation-ships that grow into alliances. At the other end of the spectrum are lawyers who view their job as opening and closing files. They exist in a virtual dead zone–a place where the personal side of the client’s experience is not relevant, the client having been reduced to just another “fact” in a set of issues belonging to a file making up a unit of revenue.

Somewhere along the line, these lawyers have come to believe that as long as there is sufficient revenue flow, fixing and changing the exterior problems (applying the hammer) will be sufficient to keep declining service in check. In the meantime, the partners keep partnering and hope that no one notices that they don’t have a clue about where the firm is going or how it will end up.

Without a moral center, there can be no group intention or direction. Instead, there is just the “organization” operating on cruise control, applying superficial fixes to problematic contact points where service and performance have fallen to unacceptable levels.

Accountability

Consider what it means to be accountable to your clients. When clients put their trust in you, what does that mean specifically–to you and to your firm?

Accountability can be viewed as the process by which a firm either succeeds or fails to make and keep its promises. What types of promises? The types that come from the firm’s inspired values–those that originate from the moral center of the firm–the “V” spot.

One partner had a very clear sense of what his firm promises: “Our clients count on us to be dependable, honest and totally committed to their interests all the time, every time.”

Take the time to identify just three character traits that clients can count on your firm to deliver. As an experiment, list these traits on paper and ask a few other people at your firm to come up with their own list. You’ll be surprised at how the responses will vary from person to person.
Consider this: If a firm can’t agree on what its clients should expect, chances are, neither can its clients. This is exactly why a firm must define for itself what it means to be in the service of its clients. Only with a clear understanding of its inspired values can a firm hope to provide clients with a consistent experience of exceptional service that they will long remember.

Law Firm Marketing – How To Radiate Value – Professional Service Marketing

Any time you have a chance to determine what your clients need and want from you, consider it a priceless opportunity to learn. Their needs and wants–and their experience with your firm–are the key to identifying the focus of your marketing efforts. Finding and delivering what your clients need and want will not only result in satisfied clients but, if you apply this knowledge to your practice, their experience of your firm can also become your branding.

At a corporate law firm in Century City a few years ago, a senior partner shook hands with one of his clients after completing the company’s first public offering. The two men reminisced about their long relation-ship. “We’ve been through a lot together–both good and bad–from climbing out of our financial mess, to the opening of our first four stores, to building out nearly four hundred of them, to finally going public,” the president of the company said, smiling. “It wasn’t an easy journey, but I’m sure glad in the end that it was you who was with us. No matter where we were, you were always there too.”

When a client speaks to you from the heart, the insight you receive will be priceless. The marketing materials for that Century City law firm had previously emphasized their track record, their versatility and their willingness to be tough. Had they failed to incorporate this client’s insight, they would have missed a precious marketing opportunity. Luck-ily, the senior partner was a savvy marketer. He immediately knew the value of a long-term client’s praise. It became an important part of the firm’s identity and, after a while, made its way into the firm’s branding and marketing material: “Wherever you go, that’s where we’ll be…”

Beyond the decent service, the sound legal advice and the expectation of professionalism, what mattered to that client on an emotional level was that this firm had been by his company’s side through the good times and the bad.
Not all of your clients will hand you a resonant marketing phrase. But an experienced marketing professional with the proper skills can make you more aware of them when this does happen, and more impor-tantly, can help you use them to shape the way your firm brands its services. But the key in this example is not the catchy phrase or even the kind expression of gratitude. What makes the Century City firm’s marketing insight so important is the fact that it represents a fundamental truth about the firm: It does stick by its clients even when times get rough. That’s how the firm does business.

In the late 1990s, one of the largest law firms in the nation decided it wanted to tap into the technology boom. The marketing team advised the firm to target small start-up companies and offer them a reduced hourly rate for general business matters in the hope that, if the business succeeded, the firm would be handed all their legal work, including taking them public. The marketers believed that doing this would demonstrate the firm’s commitment and loyalty to their smaller, more vulnerable clients. One such client had this unfortunate experience dealing with the firm:

“In the beginning, the firm really seemed interested in what we were trying to create. They spent time getting to know us and expressed a real desire in seeing us suc-ceed. I really believed them. I was invited to firm-sponsored seminars and even got invited to the firm’s sky booth for the big game. Everything was going well until the technology bubble burst–and with it, our close relationship with the firm. No more friendly partner calls to see how we were doing. After a while, I was lucky to get my calls returned. They knew we were strapped for cash and, when we were unable to pay their bills, they sued us. They didn’t just sue the corporation (the one they helped us set up), they sued me personally, since I was the president of the company. It was a disas-ter. When the chips were down, this firm came at us with knives. I will never forget this experience–nor will my associates and friends.”

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know that it’s bad business to sue your clients, but the contrast between the Century City firm and this one is worth noting. One firm made a loyal friend out of a client while the other made an enemy. The point is that how a firm does business, whether it’s how they manage their receivables or which new practice group they decide to open, says something important about the firm in relationship to its clients.

In most cases, firms consider internal business decisions to be entirely internal–separate and distinct from the external side that the public sees. Firms fail to recognize that what a firm is can often be measured by the decisions it makes, and they often make decisions without regard to the effect they might have on clients, even in indirect ways. Firms must con-sider the ways in which their decisions may change the nature of the con-tact between them and their clients.
Law firms make important business decisions every day, and rarely do they consider the impact on those who do business with the firm. When problems do surface, they are often handed over to the public relations department to clean up.

The Zone of Contact

Consider that almost everything a firm does or communicates impacts the clients’ experience of the firm. The parts of a firm that clients deal with directly are part of the firm’s zone of contact.

Everything a firm does is, in some way, an expression of the firm’s values or lack of values. Every act or omission reveals the level of the firm’s commitment or lack of commitment.

Everything–from the paper stock the firm uses to its policy of return-ing phone calls to how lawyers and staff greet new clients and say good-bye to departing ones–can impact clients. Even small things–like the quality of coffee, the effort put forth to make a client feel welcomed, the demeanor of a law clerk and the pictures on the wall can make a differ-ence.
Sophisticated marketing experts take great effort and time in examin-ing a firm’s major points of contact. The quality of the client’s satisfaction relative to a particular point of contact is an indicator of the general health of the firm. Much of marketing consists of translating these ordi-nary points of contact and shaping them into positive client experiences.
Altering the point of contact to be more in line with the client’s satis-faction will certainly improve the quality of the service your firm pro-vides, but it will not, by itself, bring about a fundamental change in the firm’s quality of service. For this, the firm must examine its innermost core–the primary leadership and the inspired principles these leaders rely on when building the firm’s character.

Only by reaching this level of depth can you transform your firm from ordinary to extraordinary.

Contact points are only as good as the quality of service that speaks through them. Service must be a direct expression of the firm’s values, made real through the language and actions of the entire firm. When a firm’s actions are an expression of its inspired values, every point of con-tact becomes an expression of its unique brand of service. But the concept of service must originate from the center of the inspired values formulated by the firm’s top leadership. I call these central values the firm’s “V” spot. When a firm has a solid set of inspired values, every point of contact will resonate with the firm’s vision.

Without the formulation of inspired values and the clarity of purpose these values create, the firm will be unable to build the language, the structure and the systems necessary to ensure that all of its actions and communications are commensurate with these values.

Every action a firm takes must reflect its true identity and its in-spired values; otherwise, it risks seriously damaging its reputation and its credibility. What the firm does, what it stands for, and the promises it makes and keeps must be seen and experienced by everyone–not just clients–as an authentic expression of the firm’s true identity. Only then can the in-spired values become a central part of the firm’s branding–the firm’s persona–an undeniable statement of what the firm stands for and what people can expect of the firm, whether they’re a client or a foe.

Identifying every point of contact with a client or a prospective client must become the focus of the firm’s marketing efforts. Each point within the zone of contact must reflect, and be consistent with, the firm’s char-acter. A client’s contact with the firm should be viewed as an opportunity to convey what it means to do business with the firm.

Assuming that the firm has taken the time to do the planning and hard work necessary to identify their inspired values, the next challenge is to ensure that everything the firm does is an accurate and sincere expression of these values–that these values are conveyed to clients and others who interact with the firm through the zone of contact.

The zone of contact is where the firm interfaces with its clients, either directly or indirectly. Since every contact the firm has with others con-veys information about the firm, every contact becomes an important representation of the firm’s values. The zone of contact includes every-thing–including the firm’s business cards, the lobby decor, the recep-tionist, and meetings with staff, associates, lawyers and partners.

In order to maintain quality control over client satisfaction levels, many marketing professionals focus on reactions of clients to various parts of the zone of contact to make sure that what people experience in their contact with the firm is an accurate and positive expression of the firm’s character.

This examination of quality focuses not on what the firm intends to convey as much as on the client’s actual experience within the zone of contact. To perform such an examination, the firm must assess its major points of contact with clients, and once these contact points are identified it must determine which of the contact points elicit positive service expe-riences from the client.

Ideally, the specific action and communication responsible for a positive service experience can be traced to one of the firm’s fundamental values. If the client is having an experience–even a positive one–that is not in keeping with the firm’s values, the firm may wish to consider whether the value being conveyed is at odds with the firm’s values. If it is, the firm’s actions should be changed to reflect its values more accurately. If the experience is not at odds with the firm’s values, the firm’s action may simply reflect an unidentified value.

When a point of contact is in keeping with the firm’s fundamental values but elicits a negative service experience, the challenge is to quickly determine what has gone wrong. Has an action or communica-tion been missed? Can the firm remove a barrier between its fundamental service values and the client’s experience to make the experience a more positive one? Often, what is missing is a value that is either hidden from view or unable to be expressed.
As you’re no doubt beginning to see, the zone of contact is not separate from the firm–it is the firm.

The firm constantly radiates its values to clients, prospective clients, the legal community, and vendors and the business community. When you can achieve an alignment among the inspired values of your firm, the language of your firm and the actions of your firm, marketing becomes an expression of your firm’s unique identity. It becomes proprietary and is evidenced in every point of contact you have with your clients, whether the contact occurs through the legal services you provide or the way your receptionist greets the firm’s visitors.

Some contact points exist quite naturally within a firm. Clients’ initial calls, their first meeting, the letters and messages they receive during the course of the relationship–all of these are points of contact, and all of them ultimately become expressions of your firm’s unique brand of service.

But there is no reason to leave it at that. Considering the importance of heightening the value of these contact points with clients, the firm that is determined to provide great service will create new points of contact. These moments allow you to meaningfully shape client interaction, mak-ing special efforts to convey the inspired values of your firm while learn-ing more about how you can improve the quality of your service.

Instituting a completion ritual with your clients is one example of this approach. In most law firms, when a case is concluded, the client’s next point of contact with the firm is the bill. For the client it’s anticlimactic, to say the least. And, socially, it’s counterintuitive. If you have a friend over to dinner, you shake hands at the end of the evening and say, “It’s been great having you here.” This is a social nicety that provides a tiny ritual of completion. Clients, in contrast, are typically left dangling.

Imagine how much your clients’ experience of the firm would im-prove if you were to conclude each case with a completion meeting. Not a quick, patronizing handshake with a junior associate, but a qual-ity meeting with a senior partner of the firm who says, “We are committed to your satisfaction.”

Better yet, show your clients what they mean to you by making a symbolic gesture. For example, during a golf game, a Texas lawyer in-troduced a client to a large real estate developer. The two men ended up doing business when the client was later contracted to build a huge shop-ping center. When the deal closed and the papers were signed, the lawyer took his client aside and presented him with a golf ball imprinted with both the client’s and the developer’s names, courtesy of the law firm. Corny, you might say. Perhaps, but ten years later, the client still has that golf ball sitting on his desk and the lawyer still gets all of his business.

A true symbolic gesture is more than a clever expression. It demon-strates that you took the time to think about the relationship with your client and made it both significant and interesting. Compare this gesture with the all-too-ordinary imprinted pen or calendar sent out to clients once a year.

Effective marketing creates a quality point of contact that demon-strates your commitment to your client. It elicits respect and trust. It ac-knowledges the importance of the client relationship. And, if done suc-cessfully, it will create a lasting and invaluable bond with your firm.

This approach is magnitudes more powerful than coming up with the catchiest jingle or the most sophisticated ad campaign.

A client who is emotionally touched by a relationship will tell every-one about your firm. In terms of generating more business, this kind of marketing is worth ten times the value of a great TV commercial. In terms of personal satisfaction and quality of life–for your clients, your firm and yourself–it’s priceless.

Positive Service Experiences

Understanding “value” requires understanding different types of emo-tional responses resulting from experiencing different levels of service. The list below describes some of the major emotions psychologists asso-ciate with positive service experiences.

For every point of contact, it is important to identify the specific emotion elicited from the interaction that made it a positive experience.

Positive service experiences can elicit these positive emotions:

important
valued
inspired
appreciated
listened to
understood
pampered
relaxed
satisfied
pleased
comforted
protected
secure
confident
independent
strong
calm
trusted
informed
cared about
accepted
respected
recognized
admired

Although these qualities are subjective in nature and cannot be evoked in every client every time, there are some tangible ways to consistently produce positive experiences for your client. The key is to recognize how important it is to generate these types of feelings–then it’s astonishing how many opportunities will arise.

One way of making clients feel more secure and confident about their legal predicament is to become a resource of important information—especially if what you offer goes beyond legal considerations and is both practical and immediately useful to your client.

Willy Little, a partner in a small Los Angeles firm, described his spe-cial brand of value-based service like this:
If we have a client in the midst of a divorce, they often need to find alternative living quarters. They need leases to be reviewed and names of reputable services that can help them with the mundane, but often exhausting, task of relocation.
We’re a family law firm. But we are committed to providing our clients with the best service possible. So we do our best to become a resource for our clients–not just in our legal capacity, but in a much broader sense, assisting clients in dealing with the many aspects of di-vorce. We become a client information hub–an information resource. Clients really appreciate this and, when they need legal help again, they know where to turn.

Sometimes providing superior value to clients means expanding the focus of the legal services a firm offers. Cecilia Smithers, a partner in a midsize litigation firm, remembers the rationale behind a change at her own firm that expanded the firm’s zone of contact:

“While our firm was litigation-intensive, we felt there were many times it served our clients’ interests to con-sider alternative dispute resolution. To do this effectively, we needed to focus on counseling our clients, which meant making the effort to get to know them and, with some work, earn their trust. We worked with clients to consider alternative points of view whenever possible, which often led to helping them clarify their objectives and think about their situations in new ways.”

There can be little doubt that the clients of these firms experienced the service being provided to them in emotionally reassuring ways. Research shows that experiential marketing –marketing that addresses a client’s needs–is far more effective than the coercion, persuasion and propaganda on which many marketing campaigns are founded.

Consider today millions of clients are turning to cyberspace for their legal solutions. One web portal that is near and dear to this writers heart is: http://www.GotTrouble.com – a legal help portal that expresses it’s own set of core service values and weaves them into the user experience.

5 Tips for the Best Law Firm Logo

What does your law firm logo suggest to your potential clients?

You only have one chance to make a first impression. Upon meeting a new or prospective client and exchanging business cards, the client will get an impression of your firm based on the law firm logo alone.

So, what does your logo say about your firm?

Your law firm logo represents your law firm to the outside world. Every seemingly insignificant aspect of it makes an impression on the client. Font. Color scheme. Name arrangement. Text size. Spacing. Inclusion of a scale or gavel image.

Looking at your business card and firm logo, your client gets an impression. Your client forms an idea in his or her head of what your firm stands for. Is your logo modern or traditional? Does it make you look frugal and indifferent, like you made the logo yourself in Microsoft Word or does it look like you value your reputation and appearance, and had a professional designer create the logo?

Before approaching a logo designer or creating the logo yourself, there are some very important steps you can take to get a clear picture of what the logo should entail and how it should represent your law firm.

Tip 1: Look at your competitors

You don’t want your law firm to look like the other law firms in your practice area and location, lest your firm be unmemorable to the client. The last thing you want to do is confuse the client with what sets your firm apart from everyone else. See what you like about their logos. Make notes. Try and gauge how their logos make you perceive their law firms. Do their logos make the firms appear professional or do they seem like the firms are unremarkable? Think about what you like and don’t like about these firm logos when deciding on how your own logo is going to look.

Tip 2: Modern or traditional? Decide on a theme

Do you want your logo to be modern or traditional?

These are the two main theme options for law firm logos. This usually means the difference between serif and sans-serif font. What does that mean? Open Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Type your law firm name in Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond font. Then, type your firm name again in either Arial or Helvetica. The first three fonts are considered serif fonts because you can see they have little lines on the bottom and sides of letters like A, B, and C. The sans-serif fonts do not have these lines. Serif fonts are associated with newspapers, considered more traditional fonts. Sans-serif fonts are associated with Internet content and are considered modern. Do you want your law firm to have the appearance of a traditional, storied practice or do you want it to appear sleek, adaptive, and modern? The choice is yours.

Tip 3: Choose a Font

Now that we’ve decided whether to go serif or sans-serif, we need to choose which font is going to represent the firm. First thing’s first, it should be noted that you should NOT use a commonly used font. Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman. People see these fonts every day. Whether they recognize them immediately as Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, people know these fonts. They see Times New Roman while reading the newspaper. They see Helvetica when getting on the subway. They see Arial while reading websites. These fonts do not make an impression anymore.

There are many sites where you can download fonts for free. Google has a directory of free fonts, most of which you’re guaranteed to not have come across. Take a look around. Use the Google Font tool to test out your law firm name in different fonts and compare them side by side.

One last tip on choosing a font: Don’t be indecisive. While two or three fonts may look similar to you, your clients will never know the difference when you choose a font for your law firm logo. They will never know that it was down to three similar fonts. The client will likely not be influenced any differently by similar looking fonts. You may want to ask someone else for their opinion on two or three fonts, but make a choice and stick with it.

Tip 4: Choose your colors

Online you can find many color wheel tools useful to help web designers choose color schemes. Click on a primary color and they will suggest complementary colors. Just make sure that you use a color selection helping tool. Otherwise, you may end up picking two colors that just don’t work together.

When picking colors try avoiding those of a law firm in your practice area and region. You want to make sure you stand apart in the mind of the client. If you think every color combination has been taken by the firms in your region, just ensure that your logo look different to distinguish you from your competitors.

Tip 5: Images or No Images?

Often a law firm logo entails an arrangement of the names of the partners. Sometimes it’s an abbreviation of those names. Other times, the logo includes a tried and true symbol of the legal profession – the scales of justice – or a gavel – alongside the partner names.

Generally, I hate the scales of justice and gavel. They’ve been played out. They’re overdone. They’re sickening. They’re unimaginative.

If you are going to include an image alongside your partner names, why not include a memorable image that represents your law firm, conveys professionalism, and also originality? You can do this by including an image, if you so choose, of the initials of the firm partners’ names. If the firm is Crane, Poole, and Schmidt, you could have a small CPS initialed logo. This is a more modern element to law firm logos, differentiates the firm, and also looks professional. So, if you are going to include an image, consider shelving the gavel and scales for something a bit more contemporary and unique.

Conclusion

With all of these tips in mind, you’re ahead of the game. Whether you decide to make a logo yourself or approach logo designers, you know what you want your logo to convey. You know the message you want your clients to receive. You know how your competitors look and how you’re going to look different. Now, you can clearly envision what your logo is going to look like without having to get wildly different designs from a designer that won’t be useful for your firm.

If you are proficient at Photoshop, I would suggest taking a shot at creating a logo yourself. If not, maybe you should consider hiring a logo designer. In this crowdsourcing era of Internet technology, logo designs can be incredibly inexpensive. There are many sites now like 99designs.com where you can crowdsource your logo design, having up to several hundred design mock-ups sent to you by freelance designers, with you choosing and paying for your favorite.

Good luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• If your will is likely to be contested.

• If you have substantial wealth.

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

• If you plan to disinherit someone from your will.

• If you own a business that provides substantial income.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without Disruptive Innovation, Many IP Law Firms Destined to Meet Same Fate As Buggy Whip Makers

A possible upside to the recent economic downturn is that many previously accepted business models are being revealed as in need of substantial reinvention or even total elimination. The billable hour/leverage law firm model for legal services is one of these increasingly maligned business models, and is now appearing to be in danger of ending up in the dustbin of history. Specifically, even those who benefit handsomely from the billable hour, such as the Cravath firm’s many $800 per hour lawyers, now realize the fundamental irrationality of charging a client for time spent instead of value provided. This alone should signal that change is in the air.

Notwithstanding the growing conversation about the need for alternative client service models, I fear that the majority of IP law firms will either try to ignore the desire for change or will respond by offering only incremental modifications to their existing methods of providing legal services to their clients. As someone with considerable experience dealing with IP lawyers, I believe that, unfortunately, the conservative nature of most IP attorneys means that IP firms will likely lag behind in client service innovations. Thus, I am of the opinion that many prestigious and historically highly profitable IP law firms will in the foreseeable future cease to exist.

I reach this conclusion as a result of various salient experiences. In one of these, several years ago, I approached a managing partner of a well-known IP law firm with suggestions of how to decrease the number of attorney hours expended on client matters. At that time, the firm was beginning to experience considerable push back from clients about the cost of routine legal services. I noted to the managing partner that he could lower the cost non-substantive e.g., administrative client IP matters, by assigning such tasks to lower billing paralegals. His response to this idea: “If paralegals did the work, what would the 1st and 2nd year associates do?”

Of course, the central premise of the managing partner’s response was that in order to keep the gears of the firm’s billable hour/leverage partner model turning smoothly, he needed to keep the young associates busy billing by the hour. The existing paradigm of his law firm required that it keep hiring associates to increase partner leverage and ensure that they efficiently billed clients by the hour, with a significant portion of each associate’s billed time directly going into the partner’s pockets. Left out of this business model was whether the clients’ best interests were properly served by the model that best served the law firm’s partnership.

Clearly, this law firm was not well managed, which might serve as an excuse for the managing partner’s self-serving perspective on client IP legal services. However, my experience as a corporate buyer of IP legal services further revealed that that the billable hour/leverage partner business model was an arrangement that frequently ut the client–which was now me–after the law firm’s interests.

As an in-house counsel spending several $100K’s per year for legal services at a number of respected IP firms, I consistently felt that when I called outside counsel for assistance the first thought that popped into the lawyer’s mind was “So glad she called–I wonder how much work this call is going to lead to?” More often than not, I got the sense that my outside IP lawyers viewed my legal concerns as problems for them to solve on a per hour basis, not as issues that might affect the profits of the company for which I worked. The difference is subtle, but critical: the context of the former is lawyer as a service provider, whereas the latter is lawyer as a business partner.

Against these experiences, I was not surprised at what I heard recently when discussing my feelings about the billable hour/leverage model with a partner friend at one of the top IP specialty law firms in the US. This partner echoed my sentiments about the need for innovation in IP client services. However, she also indicated that most of her firm’s partners do not recognize that there is a problem with the way they currently provide IP legal services to their clients. As she told it, many of her more senior partners have been living well on the billable hour/leverage model, so they currently see little need to modify their behavior. My partner friend nonetheless realizes that her law firm is critically ill and is likely to soon experience something akin to sudden cardiac arrest. Sadly, she is not a member of her law firm’s management and, since there is no upper level recognition that change is needed, it would serve little purpose for her to raise her concerns to those partners who could effect change (and would probably not be politically expedient for her to do so).

The failure of these currently well-compensated IP law firm partners to recognize the shifting winds of their client’s acceptance of their billing practices–the fundamental basis of their law firm’s business model–mirrors the response of entrenched interests throughout history to innovations that did not mesh with their existing business model paradigm. Moreover, the inability of many IP law firms to recognize the climate for change leads me to believe that many of these venerated law firms will soon meet the fate of buggy whip manufacturers if they do not innovate in the manner by which they provide legal services to their clients.

Playing out this analogy, buggy whip manufacturers met their demise because they thought they were in the buggy whip business when they were actually in the transportation business. When buggy whips became obsolete, so did these formerly prosperous manufacturers. Notably, buggy whip manufacturers possessed the ability to change and thrive in the new world of the automobile. They already held strong business relationships with the buggy manufacturers that became the first automobile companies. They also employed skilled craftsmen who could have turned their efforts to making leather seat covers or other aspects of the automobile. These buggy whip manufacturers needed only to accept that they needed to ride the wave of innovation occurring at that time and reinvent themselves as suppliers to automobile manufacturers instead of buggy makers.

Like buggy whip manufacturers, I believe that many lawyers have become so entrenched in the law firm business that they have effectively forgotten that they are first legal services providers. As people charged with ensuring the continued vitality of the business, law firm lawyers often become primarily fee generators in that the fees are obtained from billing clients by the hour for legal services. Care and feeding of the law firm and its partners by ensuring constant creation of billable hours therefore often takes precedence over the legal needs of clients. Also analogous to buggy whip manufactures, IP lawyers working in law firms have the ability to change to prevent obsolescence. Indeed, these lawyers possess the requisite skills to continue practicing their craft outside of the existing paradigm of the law firm. Still further akin to buggy whip manufacturers, lawyers also have the existing relationships with customers i.e., clients, which gives them a valuable head start over newcomers who wish to enter the IP legal service arena using innovative, but unfamiliar, client service models.

Using the well-known picture of obsolescence presented by buggy whip manufacturers more than 100 years ago, I believe that IP lawyers who recognize that they must embrace innovation in the way they provide IP legal services to clients will be poised for success when their clients decide that the time for change has arrived. On the other hand, lawyers who believe they are in the IP law firm business will invariably be left behind when innovations in client service enter the marketplace that render the law firm business model obsolete.

IP lawyers should not expect that they will be able to predict when their clients will demand change. As with the customers of buggy whip manufacturers, law firm clients will not serve their IP counsel with notice warning prior to taking their business to lawyers who provide them with innovative, and more client-centric, service models. To the contrary, when clients are finally presented with acceptable alternatives, they will naturally migrate to the innovation that best meets their business needs. The result will be that one day, these currently successful IP lawyers will likely wake up to realize that they are losing their clients in droves to lawyers who succeeded in developing and introducing an innovative client service model to the world. And, as most lawyers will tell you, once a client is gone, they are likely gone forever.

Not only will clients fail to announce that they intend to leave their law firm before they do so, they also will not tell their lawyers how you can serve them better. Why should they–they are not in the business of providing legal services. Accordingly, mutually beneficial client service innovations must be generated by and because of lawyer action. But, because of their inherently conservative nature, I believe that many IP lawyers may fail to realize that innovation is critical until it is too late to preserve their client base.

Some might contend that complaints about the billable hour model have abounded for many years, but no major changes have occurred to date, thus indicating that most clients may be all bluster and no action. While it is certainly true that clients exerted no real pressure on lawyers for change in the past, circumstances are markedly different today than before. Disruptive innovation is rocketing through society, and many formerly solid business models, such as newspapers and recorded music, are now teetering on the cusp of demise as a result.

The signals are there that law IP firms that rely on the billable hour/leverage model appear poised to experience significant stress from clients and critics in the near future. Those relying on this model for their livelihood would be well-served to look for innovative ways to address this changing environment. In short, those who think that the billable hour/leverage law firm model will escape the transformative business innovations of the current era are merely “whistling past the graveyard.” IP law firms, as well as other types of law firms, must innovate now and innovate big or I fear they will suffer the fate of the buggy whip makers.