New Survey: Client Acquisition is the Biggest Challenge Small Law Firms Face

Most attorneys who practice on their own or at a small firm will tell you they love the freedom and close relationships with their clients. Many lawyers leave big firms specifically for these reasons. But every rose has a thorn, and at small firms, that thorn is having to be a business owner in addition to being a lawyer.

Thomson Reuters’ annual State of U.S. Small Law Firm Survey shows that the majority of small and solo firms face the same challenges that all small businesses do, but they aren’t always handled successfully. Whether due to a lack of support, knowledge or time, many lawyers said they had no plans in place to deal with their most significant challenges. For example, 75 percent of respondents said that acquiring new clients was a “moderate or significant challenge,” yet less than 30 percent of firms said they’d done something in the last year to address it. Pretty alarming.

Finding solutions to these challenges can feel overwhelming. But to improve your small firm and ensure its long-term success, you have to start with a plan (even a small one) and work from there. To get your wheels turning, here are three common challenges from the survey and tips to handle them.

  1. Finding new clients
    Survey respondents ranked client acquisition as their number one challenge, and it’s not hard to see why: there’s no foolproof formula for success. If this is a challenge for your firm, start by analyzing where your current clients are coming from. If most of your clients find you through Google but you haven’t gotten any clients by speaking at conferences, it’s probably best to invest in SEO and improving your Google ranking rather than filling your calendar with conferences.
  2. Spending too much time on administration
    This was the second most common challenge, with 70 percent of attorneys saying it was a problem for their firm and less than half doing anything to address it. Many firms are woefully behind on the technology front, which plays a big part in time spent on administration. Technology can help with transcription and document drafting, practice management and digital note-taking. Just ensuring that your firm has the most up-to-date software can make things run more smoothly. Upgrading your technology may be a financial and time investment up front, but it really does make a difference in the long run.
  3. Clients asking for more for less
    59 percent said they struggle with clients demanding lower costs, yet only 42 percent had a plan in place to deal with it. You may be able to keep costs to clients in check (or at least prevent them from increasing) if you streamline your administrative tasks by outsourcing them, investing in technology or simply cutting or reducing anything unnecessary. Also, the problem might not be that your costs are too high, but that your clients don’t recognize your value—in fact, 56 percent of survey respondents said they struggle with this. If clients aren’t seeing your worth, it may be time to adjust how you think and speak about your firm and, therefore, tweak your marketing plan.

Five Tips for a Productive Marketing Budget Season

The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to give gifts, celebrate with loved ones and…plan next year’s legal marketing budget. Yes, as the year comes to a close, law firm marketers need to wrap up their projects, reflect on what worked (and what didn’t) and decide how to spend their money next year.

Budgeting isn’t the most exciting activity, but it doesn’t need to be a burden. If you follow these five tried-and-true budgeting tips used by top marketers, you’ll ensure that budget season not only runs smoothly, but also sets your firm up for success in the New Year.

  1. Start early.
    The worst budget is one that’s thrown together without proper care, so you need to account for unexpected roadblocks and ensure that your team has enough time to create a budget that’s thoughtful. According to Marketing Profs, it’s typical for budget approvals to take at least two months, but it can take up to six, especially if the budget needs to be approved by a board. Plan for this. It’s not too late for this year, but get started ASAP.
  2. Work from the top and bottom.
    Some law firms plan their budgets from the top, starting with the CFO splitting dollars up into a few general pools that are further refined. Others have the boots-on-the-ground employees create wish list items that are added to the budget based on what’s realistic. Jennifer Cracklen, an education consultant at Marketing Profs, says that for many firms, a combination of both is best. This allows leadership to set goals while allowing lower-level employees to have a say as well.
  3. Brainstorm with control.
    Any marketer’s brain starts churning with ideas when they hear the phrase “unlimited budget.” Unfortunately, that’s far from reality for most law firms. So, while it’s perfectly fine (and fun!) to think outside the box when planning your marketing activities for next year, make sure you keep track of the estimated cost of each of those activities before you get too attached to any of them. Be creative, but be realistic in your plans.
  4. Ask the hard questions.
    After you’ve allowed yourself to dream a little, it’s time to analyze, analyze, analyze. If the paid advertising you did last year was a flop, it’s time to cut it (or at least rethink it). But if you’re seeing results from your social media campaign, maybe it’s time to put a little more money behind it. Don’t do anything simply because it’s easy or because you’ve always done it. Take an honest look at your law firm’s marketing activities, and don’t shy away from pulling the plug when something’s not working, no matter how much you want it to.
  5. Keep good records.
    Finally, it’s critical that you’re basing your budget on accurate financial information. And don’t forget about the nonnegotiables that tend to be overlooked: subscriptions, prepaid plans and annual retainers need to be included in next year’s budget, too. Make sure that contracts and receipts are easily accessible and noted in your budget spreadsheets. That way, you won’t have to scramble when a renewal notice sneaks up on you.

The Dangers of Dinosaur Marketing

Longevity at a firm has many benefits, and one of them is that staying with one firm for multiple years or even decades makes it possible to build up a solid and reliable book  and network of business contacts. However, law firm partners with many years of experience under their belts run the risk of becoming set in their ways and ignoring innovation in favor of using the same marketing strategies and tactics they’ve always been comfortable with. And with the marketing landscape changing radically every day, those who rely on “dinosaur marketing” are getting left behind.

It may be true that in order to fill your Rolodex with new clients, all you had to do in the past was attend a few industry events each year and call up a select number of referral sources every so often. But nowadays, with an oversaturated market and a dizzying array of choices available to potential clients, it’s not only important but also completely necessary to be innovative and stay on the cutting edge of marketing. (And if you’re still using a Rolodex, it’s also probably time to make the jump to a digital contacts database.)

Though it’s tempting to give in to nostalgia and say, “Well, this is how I’ve always done it,” you’re doing yourself a disservice by dismissing modern marketing tools, such as social media advertising, search engine optimization, programmatic advertising, retargeting and more. You’re also putting yourself at a disadvantage to competitors who may be less talented than you, but who are doing a much better job at marketing outside of their comfort zone and getting their name out there.

It’s also tempting for those who have been in business for a long time to fall into the popular trend of looking down upon young professionals. Avoid this mistake. In addition to the fact that the stereotypes casting millennials as lazy, precious and entitled have been repeatedly debunked, allowing this type of ageism in your corporate culture means you risk underestimating your younger competition, who generally have few to no reservations about utilizing modern marketing tactics. You also risk driving away promising young talent to more millennial-friendly workplaces.

So, the next time your marketing agency or fresh-out-of-law-school associate proposes a strategy or technology that sounds completely ridiculous to you, take a step back and at least give it a chance. If you keep your head in the sand, you may be content with the status quo, but you’ll never know what opportunities you’re missing.

In short: don’t be a dinosaur marketer unless you’re okay with going extinct.

8 Ways to Be Great in Law, Leadership & Legal Marketing

The inaugural Legal Marketing Association Southwest Region Conference underscored the need for law firms to become more effective, efficient and energized marketers. Speakers offered 8 ways for law firm professionals to be Great in Law, Leadership & Legal Marketing. Learn more below.

Read the LMA Southwest Region Conference recap.

Watch the LMA Southwest Region Conference recap.

8 Ways to be great in law, leadership & legal marketing

 

Law Firm Succession Planning: 6 Steps All Firms Need to Take Now

According to a recent report by ALM Intelligence, at least one-third of all law firms have no succession plan in place for firm leadership or for client team leaders, putting the future of even large firms in peril. If there is no plan in place as the older partners retire, the firm is sure to find itself in trouble.

So why aren’t all law firms giving as much thought to their own future success as they do for their clients’ future wellbeing? According to the same study, many law firms haven’t formulated their plans because they are having a hard time identifying successors. Conversely, younger attorneys cited resistance from senior partners as the reason for the lack of planning. So where in the middle can the millennial attorneys in a firm find common ground with the older partners?

Interestingly, this common ground can come in the way of creating that succession plan together. Input from the future firm leaders (generally millennials), coupled with the years of experience from the senior partners (generally those 55 and older), can be blended together to create a smart succession plan that addresses the needs of multiple generations of firm leaders.

How do you create a succession plan for your firm?  Start by taking these 6 important steps.

  • Analyze Relationships & Data – Start by laying out a clear picture of client relationships, revenue, and potential threats should the primary partner retire.  From there, look at the next generation of firm leaders to begin identifying who will take the reins of those accounts when the primary partner is no longer at the helm. Identify and examine all significant client relationships similarly.
  • Determine Your Overarching Goals – Determine the long-term goals of the firm before deciding who will be responsible for seeing that those goals are met. Agree on what is best for the firm before nailing down who the specific people are who will see that the firm’s best interests remain paramount to all else.
  • Appoint the Next Leaders – Only after clarifying the firm’s goals should management focus on who should lead the firm to success in the future.
  • Appoint the Next Leaders – It can’t be emphasized enough just how important it is to make sure your clients are kept abreast of your plans for their future.  Avoiding discussion of succession planning with clients is dangerous, and undermines the integrity of the relationship.  Be honest about eventual transition, so there is ample time to confirm that the future partner and the client work well together.
  • Create Transition/Compensation Plans – Determine how partners will transition out of the firm from a financial standpoint.  Will you use a decreasing compensation plan or other retirement plans to help partners who are transitioning out of the firm?
  • Make Succession Planning an Ongoing Priority – Succession planning needs to be a part of every law firm’s business model.  After all, the goal is likely to keep the firm thriving for years to come.  Eventually the millennials will become the firm’s experienced elders, and will need to be planning their own transition. Creating a plan now, that can be adapted for future years, increases your chances of thriving for generations to come.

For other insights revealed through this report, click here.

Berbay Goes on Art Muse LA Tour

Berbay’s most recent Cultural Camaraderie program took in three contemporary art galleries and the exciting new LA Arts District. This outing enlisted the aid of Art Muse Los Angeles with our artist guides Lindsay Preston Zappas, founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles (CARLA) and Sarah Jones of Sarah Jones Art. These amazing women led us to several interesting and off-the-beaten path art galleries in Los Angeles.

The first stop was to Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. Presenting the first solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist Julia Haft-Candell entitled the infinite; the exhibit displayed an in-depth exploration of the artist’s recent wall reliefs and ceramic sculpture which we found both beautiful and striking.

Next, our tour took us to the Los Angeles Arts District and one of the largest complexes there, Hauser & Wirth. With exhibits of the provocative and influential work of acclaimed LA-based artist Paul McCarthy and Polish artist, Monika Sosnowska. whose exhibit displays Polish architecture in sculptural installations created from industrial materials and objects. We were mesmerized by the entire complex.

Our day ended with an early dinner at Manuela. All in all, it was a fun, thought-provoking and stimulating day.

Launched in 2016, Berbay’s Cultural Camaraderie focuses on exploring the vibrant culture that is Los Angeles as a stimulus for innovative thinking and creativity as well as enjoying time together. Prior outings have included visits to The Gamble House, the Hollyhock House, and the Broad Museum to name a few.

Law Firm Marketing: How Twitter’s Expanded Character Limit Can Benefit Law Firms

With roughly 330 million active users, Twitter remains a powerful social media channel for lawyers and law firms to utilize as part of their overall law firm marketing strategy. However, many law firms fail to leverage this highly influential marketing tool to their maximum benefit. That may change however, as Twitter recently doubled its character limit from 140 to 280.

Why the Increased Character Count Matters to Law Firms

Following a trial in which the character count for tweets was increased from 140 to 280, the results were favorable enough to compel Twitter to increase the limit for most users. One reason? Those who tweeted longer posts experienced greater engagement.

In fact, according to a blog post by Twitter Product Manager Aliza Rosen, “people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter. People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall.”

This should come as good news to law firms, which more than most professions, depend upon being able to articulate exactly what they want to convey. This of course, proved challenging with the previous 140 character limit. So, with more room to say what you want, if you’re not using Twitter for your law firm marketing efforts, it’s time to ask yourself why.

Here’s a reminder of the benefits that law firms can reap from using Twitter.

  • Connect with the media on a direct level
  • Distribute news articles regarding cases you’re working on
  • Educate your audience about your practice area
  • Network with other attorneys in the same practice areas for potential co-counsel opportunities
  • Publicize your victories (press releases, awards, large verdicts or settlements)
  • Reach potential clients
  • Share firm news (new hires, firm milestones, new offices, etc.)

Since there is no need to worry about abandoning a tweet because you just can’t condense it enough, or fear that your message may be misinterpreted because you had to abbreviate so many words, there’s never been a better time for law firms to begin tweeting or reengaging with your audience through Twitter.

Business Development for Litigators: 6 Tips to Create Successful Rainmakers

As marketers working with litigators to help build their business, we often hear pushback to the tune of: “I’m too busy.” “The work is already coming in.” “If I focus on a niche, I’ll lose other business.” All of which may be true but isn’t going to be a sustainable approach to obtaining more clients in the long-term.

We recognize that litigators are in a distinctive position when it comes to business development. Unlike their transactional counterparts, there isn’t a natural flow of work coming in the door, and it can be tough to identify a prospective client list, i.e. people who might be sued. Of course there are exceptions to this – litigators working with large corporate clients that have ongoing litigation – but for the boutique litigation firm or litigator within a full-service law firm, the strategies for lead generation are going to be different.

Craig Brown, a Law Firm Business Development Consultant with LawVision and a former litigator, recently spoke on “Business Development for Litigators” at the Legal Marketing Association Western Region Continuing Marketing Education Conference. He examined key tactics that are effective in creating successful rainmakers:

 

  1. Build relationships with clients for future work before the litigation ends. When you are in the middle of a case, constantly be thinking, “What’s the next step?” How can you turn the contacts involved in the litigation into referral sources? How can you uncover other needs they may have?The critical part to emphasize is during litigation. The litigation process typically isn’t fun and clients want to move on once it’s over. You want to further the relationship while the client is in front of you.
  2. Network within your firm to generate business. Litigation work often stems from the firm’s deal work. A firm has a transactional client who gets in trouble, and the work segues to the litigation department; therefore, you need to network within your firm much more than attorneys in other practice areas do.
  3. Nurture relationships with lawyers who don’t do what you do and market your reputation. Boutique litigation firms are frequently known for being the hired gun and much of the incoming work is reputation-based, so it’s critical that firms brand themselves in their market’s mind. You have to build relationships so that lawyers or other referral sources are aware of your expertise and keep you top-of-mind. In turn, boutique litigators need to be cognizant of prospective clients that don’t immediately need your litigation skills and be seen as a resource by making referrals or taking other reciprocal actions, e.g., making introductions to other professionals until a litigation need arises.
  4. Market a specialization to more easily open the door to new business. Litigators are generally academically curious and relish applying their expertise to a range of different industries. Your positioning may be, “Give me the facts and I can litigate it.” This works when the work is already in the door but in terms of marketing, it’s all about focus and litigators are often resistant to this idea. To strike a balance, consider creating niche practices for business development outreach. Identify a set time period to really focus on one or two industries and become the go-to litigator for those industries. Focusing marketing in these areas does not preclude taking work outside of these areas, and is much more effective than trying to be all things for all people.
  5. Leverage your personality traits to develop long-term referral relationships. There are a number of litigators who become legends at their firm – a lawyer who naturally brings in a lot of work because they have an outsized personality, or are a true networker and “people person.” A young litigator may come on board and think, “I have to act like that lawyer,” but you’re destined for failure if you’re not the same personality type. You’ll be much more successful if you recognize your own strengths and leverage them. Prospective clients and referral sources will value your expertise and authenticity whether you’re the life of the party or more of an introvert.
  6. Turn awareness activities into relationship activities. The majority of litigators are already doing some sort of marketing – writing, speaking, member of an industry organization – and these are considered awareness or credibility activities that make people aware of you. These are one-to-many-type activities and often lawyers, particularly litigators, want to rely solely on their brand, then sit back and wait until people come to them.  Work occasionally does come in that way. Someone will read an article and say, “This lawyer is definitely the most knowledgeable person on this topic; let’s hire her when we have that issue.” But more often, business comes in because there’s a relationship – you already know someone with the issue or someone trusts you and recommends you.

    The idea is to turn awareness activities into relationship activities. If you’re writing an article, for example, turn this into a relationship activity by simply reaching out to a prospective client or referral source, and say, “I’m writing this article, I’d appreciate your input” or “Can I quote you?” You can start building a relationship before you’ve even published the article. Use awareness activities as a tool to further relationships with those you want to obtain business or referrals from.

Whether you’re a legal marketer, firm administrator or litigator trying to generate new leads, recognize that marketing a litigation practice may look different than other practice areas. By applying the above tips, litigators can intentionally build key relationships and become outstanding rainmakers.

 

Read Berbay’s LMA Continuing Marketing Education Conference recap “8 Keys to Riding the Wave of Change” here.

Watch the conference webinar recap here.

View the infographic here.

8 Keys to Riding the Wave of Change

Competition with peer firms, alternatives to law firms, emphasis on diversity, and more, are forcing legal marketers to evolve their thinking and take a leadership role to drive effective outcomes. The recent LMA West Region Continuing Marketing Education conference “Nexus of Change” focused on three fundamental areas: a macro view of the changing industry; how changes are impacting legal marketers; and managing ourselves as individuals so we can adapt to these changes. Within this were eight key takeaways to riding the wave of change.

Read the LMA West CME Recap.

Watch the LMA West CME Recap.

Riding the Wave of Change

 

Berbay Marketing & PR