Studies show that it takes just milliseconds to form an initial impression about another person. Silent signals of nonverbal communication are sent and received before the first words between two people are ever spoken. The facial expressions people make and how they walk, stand, sit and even hold their heads can influence other peoples’ perceptions about their trustworthiness, competence, confidence and more. For attorneys especially, sending the right nonverbal cues is important. It can help ensure good first impressions — and consequently positive outcomes — when meeting with new clients, interviewing with partners at hiring firms or when stepping in front of juries.
Everyone who meets another person brings their own backgrounds, unconscious prejudices and stereotypes to that meeting, and snap judgements about another person are often made based on these factors. Even things out of a person’s control, such as physical features, can engender an initial judgement about the person’s trustworthiness, honesty or another personality characteristic.
For example, research has shown that faces that have more distance between the eyes and eyebrows are judged to be more trustworthy than faces with more narrow distances between the two features. People who are more baby-faced get higher marks for honesty. And a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, found that even eye color can affect how people are perceived. People with brown eyes were deemed to be more trustworthy than those with blue eyes — but not because of the eye color itself. Rather, it’s because of facial features that are typically more characteristic of people with brown eyes, such as a rounder and broader chin, a broader mouth and larger eyes, the study said.
While you can’t alter the features of your face or control every impression people may have of you, you can overcome challenges to making a positive impression by being aware of how you might come across to others, and by altering your body language to turn people’s snap decisions from negative to positive.
Consider the following tips from nonverbal communications experts:
As leadership guru Peter F. Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Learn to communicate what isn’t being said using positive nonverbal cues.
Most law firms update or redesign their website every three to five years, with good reason. In a similar way that fashion evolves, website design is certainly subjected to trends. From the earliest websites, which often had dozens of links and tags along with endless text, to the phase when every website seemed to have nothing but videos, to the tablet style design that is so popular now, website layouts or styles can indicate how old the site is. Though some users may not be entirely turned off by a dated-looking site, it’s a good bet that many potential clients will be quick to leave a site that is old in design and/or content.
Many law firms feel that updating their website is a never-ending ordeal. In other words, it can feel like just when you’ve finally got it looking and working the way you want, it’s time to redesign your site. Rest assured, a website redesign for your law firm does not need to be a perpetual thorn in your side. However, to ensure the timeliness of completion, it’s smart to follow these five “laws” when planning the redesign process.
Your redesign will take as long as you allow it to take. For example, if you set a goal of having it done in three months, expect it to be delivered to you in three months, even if the designer or firm could have it completed sooner. Provide your designer with a deadline that is sooner than you need the project completed.
Action Item: To meet your completion goal, set micro-goals to have specific design features or functionality complete.
The early drafts you receive back from your designer may not match your vision. Programming doesn’t always translate from the initial design and you may need to try something else. Things won’t necessarily be smooth sailing. However, if you keep perspective and realize it’s natural for some obstacles to arise, you’ll be in the best position to roll with the punches of your law firm’s website redesign.
Action Item: Plan for your redesign by putting thought and energy into the legwork before you turn the project over to a designer. Provide your designer with sample sites you like and a list of what aspects of these sites you like as well as what you’d want to avoid. Determine color schemes and prepare your text ahead of time. The better prepared you are with deadlines and micro-goals, the smoother the process will be.
Because there tend to be hiccups in design projects, add more than just “wiggle room” on your deadline for having the redesign completed. Avoid announcing a specific date of your redesign as design projects often run late.
Action Item: To keep your designer on track, request a detailed timeline for the project. To keep your law firm on track, make sure that your internal decision-making operations are streamlined. Too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen will lead to delays.
Be mindful not to waste time splitting hairs over incredibly insignificant items; this will only delay your website launch. Rely on your designer or programmer to use their expertise and make decisions for the lesser items.
Action item: To avoid wasting valuable time scrutinizing every aspect of your redesign, remember that you don’t want to copy someone else. Look for ways your design concept differentiates you from the others. Likewise, limit the time spent on selecting certain features and refuse to exceed the allotted time.
By looking at analytics from your current site, you can see where your visitors are spending time on your site.
Action Item: If the overwhelming amount of time spent is on your attorney bios, use most of your time and energy making sure those bios are perfect. Consider streamlining or archiving content that gets little traction.
A website redesign is an undertaking for any law firm, but by following the five “laws,” it can be a fairly painless process.
According to Altman Weil’s most recent Law Firms in Transition Survey, only six percent of partners are highly confident that their firms are prepared to adapt to changes in the legal marketplace. Six percent! That’s down significantly from 2011, when 24 percent of partners believed their firms could manage change successfully.
Why the lack of faith? It seems that, on the whole, law firms aren’t innovating at the rate they should be. It’s business as usual, which doesn’t cut it when the market is one major disruption away from a complete overhaul. What’s more, partners know that their firms need to step up their game, but on average, they aren’t doing anything about it. Perhaps the lack of action is due to fear lingering from the 2009 downturn, or maybe it’s just uncertainty about where to begin. Regardless of the reasons, this problem needs to be addressed.
You can’t snap your fingers and make massive change happen overnight, but there is one area where you can make improvements almost immediately: your marketing and business development strategy. Making minor upgrades here can be less daunting and produce results relatively quickly. If you make just one or two changes in your firm this year, consider focusing on your marketing efforts for maximum impact.
For inspiration, check out our three big takeaways from the 2018 Law Firms in Transition Survey:
Although non-traditional firms and law-focused tech companies have shaken up the market, many law firms are more similar than they are different. So, why should a client choose your firm over another one? That’s a question you must answer if you want to grow in a rapidly changing market. The survey points out several areas where you can differentiate yourself from the competition, including your practice offering, client relationship management and your geographic area. According to the survey, most clients are interested in firm efficiency and value for cost. Once you figure out how your firm is different (or how it can become different), that differentiation should be the foundation of your marketing and business development strategy.
When asked why their firm hasn’t kept up with the times, nearly 70 percent of respondents said it’s because partners resist change. Change will happen whether partners are ready for it or not, and it’s best to be prepared before a major crisis happens. Not everyone in the firm will have this sense of urgency, but firm innovators should move forward even without total support. Some people will never be completely on board with new ways of doing things. Others, however, will learn to adapt once they see that innovation brings results. All it takes is a few people to get the ball rolling.
There’s no doubt that market disruption will make some traditional marketing strategies and business practices obsolete. That can be a scary thought, but take comfort in the fact that these losses only serve to make room for new opportunities – and embracing these opportunities will make your firm stronger. A transition period is the perfect time to develop new marketing tactics, become a thought leader in a burgeoning practice area or experiment with technology. Challenge your firm to keep up with marketing trends, and don’t be afraid to try something new and fail. Change is hard, but the only way to deal with it is to dive in.
It’s been estimated that more than 80% of jobs are filled as the result of networking. Moreover, because more than 95% of professionals say that face-to-face interactions are vital to maintain long-term business relationships, it’s clear networking for attorneys isn’t optional.
But the term “networking” is broad, even by its definition, which is: “the exchange of information or services among individual groups or institutions; specifically, the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Since the goal of networking lies in cultivating relationships, it’s prudent to implement the following suggestions to build relationships through specific actions while networking.
Too often, attorneys view attendance at networking events as a bit of a crapshoot. They attend many events, hoping something will yield results. That’s not an effective way to market yourself, and it’s not an efficient way to network. Instead, identify two or three organizations to focus your efforts on and assess the ROI after six months or a year. If you don’t have time to research countless organizations, consider engaging help from a marketing agency for lawyers, which will identify key conferences and events, and create a strategic networking calendar that will be effective and efficient.
The number one referral source for many attorneys is other attorneys. However, that doesn’t mean attorneys should focus all networking efforts on building relationships with their legal peers. You never know the potential value of a non-attorney connection, until you forget it.
Beyond keeping your elevator pitch brief, you want to explain your practice, expertise and value to clients in a way that will be memorable. It’s safe to say if you describe yourself as a business litigator specializing in working with small to mid-sized businesses, people may not remember what you do the next day, let alone ten minutes later. Be specific in explaining how you help others and, ideally, use an example to illustrate who you work with and how you work with them.
Networking events are not the place to be a wallflower. If you’re not proactively seeking to meet others, you’ll wind up reacting to those who approach you. And if showing up with a colleague allows you to feel more comfortable, do it, but be careful to not just talk to that person all evening.
Networking events are the perfect place to remember that you’ve got two ears, and just one mouth, so using them proportionately is beneficial as it will result in active listening. Just because the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have an obvious need for your services, they may in the future or could be an introduction to someone that does. If you’re too focused on immediate business, you may miss an opportunity for work down the road.
Building relationships requires trust, and to ensure those you meet and connect with recognize that you value them, be sure to commit their name to memory. Often, the easiest way to do this is through reiterating their name upon introduction, and before you part ways.
To make the most out of your networking efforts, turn your focus away from any social lubricants such as alcohol or food. You’re there first and foremost to build relationships, so spend at least the early part of the event maximizing your outreach before dining or heading to the bar.
For those who you forge a legitimate connection with, take a few moments before you leave the event to touch base again. A simple exchange of business cards or a handshake can go a long way towards reinforcing the fact that you enjoyed the conversation and truly would like the relationship to continue.
If you didn’t get to say goodbye at the event, send a follow-up email acknowledging that you enjoyed meeting and talking with them. It can be very impactful to also send along a helpful article, recent blog, etc., that is pertinent to a discussion you had.
By following these nine best practices for maximizing your time and building relationships at networking events, you’ll ensure that you are using your time wisely and laying the foundation for continuing success.
This year’s Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in New Orleans was held during an important event in the city’s history – its tri-centennial birthday. The city was buzzing. Hundreds of legal marketers came together to tackle many of the reoccurring challenges law firms of all sizes are facing in today’s ever-evolving landscape, and the Big Easy did not disappoint. As a first-time attendee, I left with many valuable takeaways from the sessions, but one presentation that stood out was Catherine Sanderson’s keynote on The Science of Happiness. Her presentation hit home for those in the legal industry, where happiness levels are reported at very low numbers.
Why should we care about happiness? For many people, understanding how to achieve “happiness” is misunderstood, and for some, it is completely unknown and might seem unattainable. Catherine reminded us that we need to care about achieving happiness because it makes us less hostile, more helpful and much more productive in our personal and professional lives. Being happy leads to a healthier existence, the ability to recover from surgery more quickly and even leads to a longer life. All great reasons why we need happier lawyers, right?
But what we think makes us happy actually doesn’t – and there’s science to back it up. According to Sanderson, some of the things we are doing to be happy aren’t the right things. There’s an overwhelming belief that more money will bring us happiness, but the reality is that there is no evidence that it does. When you have more money, get a raise, etc., you adjust to the new level of wealth. Sanderson points out that we acclimate to whatever we have and end up still wanting more.
Big life events also seem to bring us happiness, but they don’t actually. For example, working for that promotion and achieving it brings momentary happiness, but with it also comes high stress and a lot of pressure, reverting us right back to lower happiness levels. That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for a promotion, but we shouldn’t base our happiness on this one life event.
So, what does empirical data say does make us happy? Data suggests that specific behaviors we engage in make us happy, including:
Sanderson expands on this, stating that three components of someone’s personality contribute to happier individuals: extroversion (how outgoing and social a person is), high self-esteem (which helps overcome negative experiences) and optimism (the ability to look at things in a positive light, which is impactful in life success no matters one’s circumstance).
Sanderson also shares that three components of relationships make us happy: being around happy people (which raises our own happiness), having close friends and family, and having meaningful conversations.
Our propensity for having high self-esteem or being naturally extroverted (which can lead to higher rates of happiness), is 50% genetic, meaning we have no control over it. The good news is that the other 50% is entirely in our control. The ability to adapt, which Sanderson explained is what we do when we obtain more money and adapt to that lifestyle and then our happiness subsequently drops back down, is key to adapting to bad events, too. The ability to adapt to bad events or circumstances, while still having optimism, allows us to find happiness much easier.
How can we translate the science of happiness into our everyday workplace and become happier? Sanderson shared 10 tactics that we can follow, which are all backed by science:
The cliché that you never get a second chance to make a first impression is spot on when it comes to your law firm’s website. Your website will undoubtedly serve as your law firm’s introduction to prospects searching online. With this in mind, it’s vital to have an engaging homepage; however, you should spend equally as much time on your firm’s “About” page (“About” being interchangeable with page titles such as “Meet the Firm,” “Our Firm” and “Meet the Team”).
Consider that your firm’s “About” page is the second most frequently visited page on most law firm websites. It’s where visitors will assess your qualifications and expertise, read about your victories and aim to learn more about the firm before engaging its services. Indeed, your law firm’s “About” page has the power to help you develop new business or, conversely, steer potential clients to a competing firm.
With so much riding on the content of the “About” page, it’s incredibly important that this page accurately reflects your firm and your attorneys’ capabilities. Here are three ways to make sure your “About” page stands out:
The importance of having an engaging website cannot be underscored enough. This means that your entire website — not just your homepage — must be visually appealing. Consider that our brains process images tens of thousands of times faster than words. In this case, truly, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, a page full of text isn’t going to excite or encourage your visitors to keep reading. On the other hand, when it comes to images, a little goes a long way. Your “About” page shouldn’t be overwhelmingly busy with loads of graphics, either. Likewise, avoid glaring colors or hard to read fonts.
Your “About” page should also be comforting. By comforting, we mean include a group photo of your firm and/or photos of your office. High resolution, professional images should be used, and they shouldn’t be of your lawyers in any threatening or intimidating poses. Even if you’re as tenacious as a bulldog in negotiations or a courtroom, potential clients want to get to know you through your website. In other words, a menacing stare you might use to cross-examine a witness in a jury trial is not necessarily the first impression you want people you’ve never met to form of you. Photos of the firm will particularly help new clients or visitors feel like they have a connection to you before you have your first meeting.
An aesthetically appealing “About” page needs to be supported by quality content, relaying the firm’s particular areas of practice, notable wins, unique niches and experience. Experience will include everything from education to previous work in different practice areas, to ongoing education, association memberships, leadership roles, charitable endeavors/pro bono work and specific case results. You don’t need to write each attorney’s life story for your team page, but it’s important to touch on any specialties, highlight key victories and demonstrate unique skill sets.
When drafting your “About” page, highlight what differentiates you from other firms. For example, if your firm has a long, interesting history, capitalize on the fact that you are an established firm that has been in operation for years and emphasize your areas of specialization. Remember too, that diversity appeals to many potential clients, so be sure to showcase the diverse makeup of your firm’s attorneys and support staff. Likewise, be sure to include pro bono efforts that convey your firm’s commitment to the community. The “About” page should also list any awards you’ve received to demonstrate the firm’s successes and expertise.
Your visitors need to be able to reach you, and in this day and age, many people would often rather initiate a conversation electronically as opposed to making a phone call. Make it easy for visitors to email the firm. Many firms choose not to have email addresses listed on their sites, as it can invite spam. This is completely understandable and often even recommended. However, there should be a readily available means of emailing the firm, even if the email isn’t spelled out. Enabling captcha should prevent an abundance of spam or, alternatively, use a contact form that can send messages directly to the firm.
In addition, make sure that your “About” page has a clear, easy-to-navigate directory for your office locations and for individual attorney bios (if this isn’t already captured in your main bio section). In that same vein, make it easy for visitors to learn more about specific practice areas by linking to those pages within the “About” page. This will not only allow for visitors to easily access your work in environmental litigation, for example, but also, by making it easy for your visitors to navigate your website, they are more likely to spend more time reading through all of your content.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve looked at your law firm’s “About” page, it’s time to evaluate its efficacy. Review the page and look for updates to be made in terms of new awards, case victories, leadership roles, etc. Look for ways to say the same thing in fewer words, so the page isn’t just a repetition of your home page or bio pages. Finally, ask others who you trust for their feedback and impression of the page, and incorporate changes as needed. After all, this could be your only chance to make a good impression on a potential client.
There’s no disputing that having a strong social media presence is an absolute necessity as part of your overall law firm marketing strategy. For attorneys, one of the most useful social media channels is LinkedIn. With its focus on the professional aspects of our lives, as opposed to the personal, à la Instagram or even Facebook; LinkedIn empowers attorneys to extend their marketing reach in myriad ways.
From original published works to the sharing of valuable information, such as new laws, groundbreaking precedent, or unusual legal findings, LinkedIn provides a great way to keep in touch with your contacts through education. But LinkedIn provides law firms with far more opportunities that often get overlooked. In this case, I’m talking about developing new business through LinkedIn.
That’s right, the opportunities within LinkedIn aren’t just limited to keeping in touch with those you already know. On the contrary, LinkedIn provides attorneys and law firms limitless opportunities to actively develop new business.
So, how can law firms maximize business development opportunities through LinkedIn? Here’s a look at four ways to grow your legal practice using this social media channel.
Start with a Strategy
Just like you’d plan your legal strategy, you’ll want to spend time on your strategy for using LinkedIn as a business development tool. Assuming your intent is to develop new business, you’ll work backwards from that.
With developing new business as your overarching objective, you’ll next need to break that down into concrete actions to take to accomplish these goals. For example, you may further refine to something like, “generate three new leads in the next six months,” or “arrange four new business lunches per quarter.”
From there, you’ll be in a better position to look at what action you’ll need to take each week, month or quarter in order to achieve your goal. This may require that you create additional sub-goals, such as “publish one new article per week,” or “spend two hours each week researching individuals working in the _______ industry,” or “spend one hour each week researching and sharing news stories that would be useful to my target market.”
Serve as a Source of Information
When you freely give away useful information to others, you’re helping them. As an attorney, the act of giving away your expertise for free may sound counterintuitive, as providing counsel/advice to others is, frankly, your job. However, there is a wealth of knowledge that you undoubtedly have that can be shared quickly, easily and without having any significant impact on your bottom line.
For example, when it comes to writing articles, it could be something as simple as breaking down otherwise incomprehensible legal jargon into digestible bits of information for readers. You may be able to draft a short article that explains a new tax law in plain English. Or you may be able to provide others with a checklist of steps they should take before filing a trademark. There are countless topics that you can address in informative articles, how-to sheets, tip sheets, or explanations of current events that could be helpful to your network.
If you can offer this type of information at no cost to others, you’ll begin to be viewed as a resource, rather than just a connection. A resource is by definition “a source of supply or support.” That’s what you should aim to become on LinkedIn, as offering support is integral to developing all relationships.
Review Your Past Posts and Revise Your Future Posts Based on Data Analysis
LinkedIn provides users with outstanding data analysis tools. Review your readership analytics to see who is interested in what you are sharing and what topics are most popular. This way, you can continue doing what is striking a chord with others and/or refine your planned posts if some topics aren’t as popular. Remember, you want to be a resource, supplying information that your readers want.
Nurture Your Relationships, Both Old and New
All relationships, whether personal or professional are at least a little bit like houseplants, in that if you don’t nurture them, they will die of neglect. To avoid letting relationships you worked hard to build in the past wither, continue to foster them. This can be achieved through direct messages, by commenting on items that others share, reading and “liking” articles others have written, or even just taking a moment to send that “Congratulations on X years at ABC Company.” It’s important when setting out to develop new business that you don’t leave existing relationships to wilt away. After all, referrals from existing connections are often the best opportunity to develop new business.
New relationships as well obviously need nurturing. But you want to make sure that the time you invest in a new relationship is for a relationship that you actually want to have. There are plenty of people with loads of “connections” on LinkedIn, but who have very few true professional relationships. So, when you’re attempting to develop new business as a lawyer on LinkedIn, be deliberate about the relationships you’re trying to forge. Quality over quantity is a smart adage to stick to when it comes to hitting that “connect” button. And don’t forget that while the first step is making a “connection,” people do business with those they have relationships with, so you need to treat connections as the valuable relationships they either already are, or are on their way to becoming.
Business development will be a lifelong endeavor for attorneys, so it’s smart to maximize every opportunity you have to cultivate relationships. LinkedIn provides an outstanding platform for you to reach your business development goals, whether you’re in a solo practice, boutique firm or even within an international firm.
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.
There are lots of lessons to be learned from baseball — even lessons about law firm public relations. Baseball and public relations have more in common than you might think. Baseball players and public relations professionals both know how to perform under pressure and the baseball diamond is the perfect road map for a foolproof public relations campaign. If you need to hit your next campaign out of the park, look no further than America’s favorite pastime for inspiration.
The Pitch. In baseball, the game is centered around the pitch. Same with public relations. Without it, you have nothing. Your pitch is anything that people should know about: a large verdict or settlement, a major lawsuit, an impressive new hire or anything else that’s newsworthy. The trick is knowing what your audience will care about — or at least knowing how to make them care. Your pitch is what launches you to first base and eventually all the way home.
First Base. Once you have your pitch, you’re ready to go to first base. Swing at your pitch and send it out to targeted media outlets with a press release. (In this analogy you’re playing for both teams, but work with me here.) A well-written press release is an important step in getting media coverage, but you’re still pretty far from home plate. Once you’ve made it to first base, it’s up to you to keep running.
Second Base. Steal second by leveraging the press release that got you to first. Don’t wait for journalists to report on your news — you have plenty of owned media channels where you can share it yourself. Your press releases should always go on your blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, at the very least. If it’s particularly big news you can find even more places to share it, such as sending an e-alert to your email list. Even if the media hasn’t reported your news (yet), make sure the important people — your clients and followers — know about it.
Third Base. Slide into third by repurposing your news. Once everyone has seen your release in its original form, it’s time to do something else with it. The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. Take the content you already have and turn it into something else: an article, a whitepaper, a video, a blog post, a presentation … the possibilities are endless. Now, you have fresh content that you can share with reporters, add to your website and post on your social media channels. Repeat as necessary.
Head for Home. Before you get ready to run for home plate and score that big media placement, you have to prepare yourself. Get some media training to refine your talking points and get comfortable speaking with reporters. Remember, you’re an expert in your practice area — make sure you come across that way!
Safe! Make it all the way home by following up with reporters, responding to inquiries and tracking your efforts. With a solid pitch, diligence and follow-through, you’ll be rewarded with your own trophies: media placements. And like any athlete, practice makes perfect. Building a successful public relations strategy comes from years of consistent efforts. Winning one game is good, but winning the series is better.