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6 Ways to Better Communicate with Clients

Clients hire lawyers for their legal expertise, but they stick with them because of their quality of service. A large part of that perceived quality depends on your ability to communicate effectively with clients. Communication is just as important as your “real” work. You could even argue that communication is more important because if you don’t understand your clients’ needs, you can’t represent them successfully.

Yet client communication doesn’t come easily for every lawyer, and even communication experts need to brush up on their techniques occasionally. Here are six helpful tips to give your communication methods a boost:

  1. Know who your clients are
    First, you have to understand who you’re communicating with — and many communication preferences are drawn on generational lines. Older clients might be used to traditional phone calls and snail mail, but younger clients prefer quicker, digital forms of communication. According to the Clio 2017 Legal Trends Report, nearly 20 percent of millennials expect to communicate with their lawyer through email or text messages. Having grown up with the instant gratification of the internet, clients in their 20s and 30s may expect to get a response from their lawyer within the hour or even minutes. You don’t have to respond instantly or be as tech-savvy as a millennial, but you can still adapt to their preferences with techniques like automatic “your message has been received” email replies or text message meeting reminders.
  2. Tell your clients what to expect
    A client facing a complicated legal matter will feel assured by regular contact from you. But being at their every beck and call is unrealistic (not to mention it can be expensive for them). Setting clear expectations about when and how you will stay in touch from the outset will help prevent clients from checking in more frequently than necessary, and clear your inbox of messages waiting for a response. At the end of every letter or phone call, tell clients when the two of you will connect again, or at least offer an estimate if you’re waiting to hear from a judge, an attorney or another party. Or, set up a standing weekly phone call to review any case developments. Clients will know the status of everything and you won’t feel as pressured to get back to clients ASAP.
  3. Take advantage of follow-up emails
    Follow-up emails are a great way to stay in touch with clients and keep a record of phone calls and meetings. No matter how much something is discussed verbally, it’s helpful to send a written note to ensure that both you and the client are on the same page. You can also use follow-up emails to provide links to relevant information and tell clients about any additional ideas or insights. Even when you don’t have anything new to share, a quick email of appreciation for your client’s time is a nice touch and can help set the groundwork for a long-term relationship.
  4. Send a good, old-fashioned note
    Sending a handwritten note to clients is an easy way to maintain your relationship with them and earn their business for life. Cards are a given at Christmas and New Year’s, but they can also be sent to clients at other important milestones, like a trial win, a successful negotiation or the anniversary of when you started working together. Or, pick one client each week to send a note as a token of appreciation for their business. Be sure to hand-sign each card rather than use a stamp or a general “from the firm” signature — personalizing the note makes it feel more genuine.
  5. Pick the best form of communication for the job
    Every form of communication has its pros and cons, and it’s important to know which one to use in every situation. Simple yes or no answers, quick updates and court appearance reminders can all be easily sent via email or text message (plus, sending this type of information via written communication helps prevent it from being forgotten). But if your message is detailed and could be misinterpreted in an email, it’s best to just pick up the phone. Phone calls also work best if your client needs to make a decision or provide input — it’s faster and more direct than an email back-and-forth.
  6. Find creative ways to stay in touch
    Don’t think you should only contact a client when you have news about their case. If you want to build real relationships with clients, find ways to communicate with them even when it’s not billable. Use your common interests to spark conversation — for example, if you and a client are both fans of the same football team, a win is a great excuse to send them a triumphant email. Ask about their work and families so you can send congratulatory notes about happy news, like a child’s graduation or a big development at their company.

Communication isn’t just a tool for sharing information; it’s a way to connect with your clients and provide them with the best service possible.

Berbay Looks into Infinity at The Broad

For Berbay’s latest Cultural Camaraderie outing, we visited The Broad, one of downtown Los Angeles’ newest contemporary art museums. The museum holds more than 2,000 works by artists, including Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Cindy Sherman.

In addition to the permanent collection, we also got to see a special exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Kusama is known for her large, colorful installations and her repetitive use of polka dots. “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” is the first time in almost 20 years that a significant body of her work has been brought to North America.  We were lucky to catch the exhibit at The Broad before it moved on to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

The exhibition included six rooms, and my personal favorite was one entitled “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity.” The installation consisted of a dark, mirrored room filled with glowing golden lanterns that seemed to go on forever. The piece was inspired by a Japanese ceremony where family members float paper lanterns on a river to guide spirits to their final resting place. I liked this room because I think it was representative of the exhibit as a whole and embodied the title, “Infinity Mirrors.”

We also enjoyed “Obliteration Room,” an entirely white room that was furnished to look like a living room. When we entered, museum staff gave us colorful, circular stickers that we could put anywhere. This was the only part of the exhibit that we could touch, and everyone liked that it was interactive. It was interesting to see where people put the stickers and to see the white room transform.

Kusama’s artwork is certainly thought provoking, and I hope to bring some of that creativity into my everyday life and work.

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 outside of the office. Prior outings have included visits to The Gamble House, Hollyhock House and The Arts District Los Angeles, to name a few.

The Broad    The Broad    The Broad

Facebook News Feed Changes: What Your Law Firm Needs to Know

In the coming months, Facebook has vowed to make sweeping changes to the content that appears in users’ feeds. Specifically, Zuckerberg said, in a post: “We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups. As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Facebook’s overarching goal is to encourage more active engagement from users. In other words, they want users commenting, connecting and participating, rather than idly scrolling or watching videos; they want to increase activity and mitigate passivity.

Facebook’s announcement that it would be redesigning the algorithms responsible for generating users’ feeds has been both lauded and criticized. Some are hailing it as a step in the right direction by many who believe that social media exploits potential vulnerabilities in human psychology. Others have been quick to point out downsides, including the Editor-in-Chief of San Francisco Chronicle, who opined that by revising algorithms, users will be less likely to see posts from businesses or publications that they intentionally chose to follow. In sum, your followers, who chose to follow your firm’s posts, may no longer see your posts at all, or may eventually have to go to a separate feed to read your posts. So, what does this mean for your firm’s social media marketing efforts?

These changes are liable to affect your marketing efforts; however, there are solutions to potential problems, as well.

  • Strong Content Is Imperative to Boost Shareability: More than ever, your posts need to spark interest and discussion to increase their shareability. Evergreen, generic posts are no longer going to cut it, if you want to remain in front of your followers. Instead, posts that promote interaction, that prompt comments, and even better, lead to shares, are going to be imperative. Does this mean you need to post controversial content?  Not necessarily, but it does mean that sharing news on social media that is likely to generate feedback is the name of the game.
  • Get More Involved in Groups: If your law firm is already a member of Facebook groups, it’s time to up your involvement and actively participate in them. If you haven’t joined any groups yet, it’s important that you do. There are countless groups to join, which you can locate by searching for keywords or topics. Make sure to be involved in your state and local bar associations, for starters.  It’s also advisable to join groups in your particular practice area, or groups that are focused on specific issues in which you are familiar. You may join groups for consumer rights if you’re a personal injury firm, or you may consider joining divorce support groups, if you practice family law. Spend the time to not only find the groups, but also to participate and ensure your presence remains strong on social media.
  • Potential Paid Advertising Opportunities: Facebook makes money on selling ads, plain and simple. So, paid advertising options will remain intact. If you’ve never run a Facebook ad, it may be time to start. If you’ve been advertising on Facebook, take time to assess its effectiveness and determine if you need to adjust how you’re targeting.

The changes to Facebook news feeds may seem like terrible news for businesses, but there is a silver lining to be found. There’s no need to post just for the sake of posting anymore, because chances are, nobody will see the post. For better or worse, the new algorithms will force you to up your posting game by delivering quality content. Take this opportunity to fine-tune your strategy for social media marketing to ensure your firm’s posts are truly valuable and useful for readers.

As business owners of all sizes and across all industries learn to roll with the punches of the new Facebook feed changes, take comfort in knowing that many law firms don’t bother to have a strong social media presence. So, as long as you take steps to increase interaction, and focus on providing helpful, interesting content that engages others, you’ll remain way ahead of your competition.

Five Ethical Guidelines for Lawyers on Social Media

Whether you’re a social media novice or a pro, you need to be aware of the ethical standards that lawyers are expected to meet … and not cross. These standards apply if you’re using social media as a marketing tool for your firm, of course, but can also apply to your own personal online activity. Navigating social media as an attorney can be tricky, but don’t let it scare you away – follow these five simple guidelines to ensure you’re using social media properly.

Treat your firm’s social profiles as advertising

The golden rule of lawyer social media ethics is “treat your social profiles as you would any other ad.” Just like your website is considered an advertisement, so are your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Avoid using promotional verbiage and follow the same guidelines across all online platforms. Although you may not think of a Facebook post as an advertisement, State Bar Associations sure do, and if you’re not up to date on the rules governing this area, you could find yourself in hot water.

Don’t make false statements

Many social media websites geared toward professionals (think LinkedIn) ask users to add their “specialties” or their “expertise” to their profiles. Most professionals don’t have to think twice about this, but lawyers need to be particularly careful about labeling themselves as experts. Several State Bar Associations, for example, have ruled that lawyers cannot call themselves specialists without literally being certified as a legal specialist. You may not always have control over the categories or labels that social media websites use to describe you, but when you do, consider leaving “expertise” sections blank or avoiding social media sites that include these categories.

Avoid improper solicitations

Social media marketing 101 says you should always include a “call to action” in your social media posts – something like “call me for a consultation.” But for lawyers it’s not so simple: statements like these may be considered solicitation. Any time you ask a potential client to contact you for legal advice, you risk veering into solicitation territory, even if it’s just a harmless tweet or a line at the end of a Facebook post. If you’re not sure if what you’re posting is a solicitation, it’s better to be on the safe side and rewrite it.

Keep confidential information private

It should go without saying that if you wouldn’t blab about a client in real life, you shouldn’t do it online either. It’s fine to post about case results, but never reference client names or any identifying details – stick to the facts only. You should also be cautious about geotagging posts or inadvertently sharing your location. Many social media platforms now automatically show your followers where you’re posting from, which might give too much away if you’re at a private location or out of town for a case, for example. Make sure to turn off automatic location sharing in your account settings.

Be careful who you friend

Friend requests aren’t always so friendly when you’re a lawyer. In general, it’s not a good idea to send friend requests to judges that you may appear before. Although public information on social media profiles is fair game in discovery, rules vary from state to state on whether lawyers can friend request people to gather evidence (check with your Bar Association on this one). You should also be cautious about friending anybody who you know is currently facing a legal issue or being represented by a lawyer — a friend request may be considered solicitation.

Legal Trends: Stand-Out Practice Areas, Marketing and Business Development Strategies to Watch

Bob Denney’s highly anticipated What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession is out, and even after three decades of tracking trends important to law firms, this year’s report still manages to contain some surprises. Some of the key findings include the rising trend in eSports and Gaming as an industry group/practice area, the hot field of Bitcoin, and the consistently steady practice area of Healthcare law – in spite of the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s an overview of other trends reported:

Practice Areas/Industry Groups

Immigration and Cybersecurity reign supreme along with Healthcare as practice areas identified as “Red Hot.” Financial Services, Food & Beverage, Elder Law, Sports (emphasis on contracts) and Real Estate & Construction are also practice areas which are considered prime areas for firms in today’s economic and political climate.  In California, environmental law is also making a mark, on account of increased regulatory activity.

Areas that appear to be cooling off for firms include Commercial Litigation along with Labor & Employment law.

Marketing & Business Development

The Department of Justice is predicted to begin enforcing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in the coming months, and law firm websites need to be in compliance, in order to avoid lawsuits and declining SEO performance.  As such, website design and development compliance must be a priority for all law firms.

The addition of sales professionals (particularly in the personal injury space) is tracking as a trend.  In some cases, non-lawyers used to develop new leads, are actually receiving formal sales training and coaching.  Though this is an interesting concept, it remains to be seen whether the addition of non-lawyer sales professionals to firms will be a lasting, or successful trend.

Other Trends to Watch in the Legal Field

  • Working remotely or from a virtual office is on the rise
  • Smaller offices are closing to save on overhead
  • Mergers continue to break records, with larger firms acquiring small to midsize firms in droves
  • Demand for lawyers and total number of lawyers in the country is expected to be unchanged, though first-year hiring is expected to rise in the coming months
  • Multidisciplinary practices are on the rise, with firms hiring non-legal professionals to integrate into the firm practice

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.

Why These Negative Reviews Are Actually Good for Your Firm

As a professional services firm, you will find that people are the cornerstone of your business. Your business goals aren’t as simple as selling a one-size-fits-all product. Every client’s needs, personality and perspectives are different — which means it’s inevitable that somewhere along the line, a client is going to be unhappy with your services. And now that online review sites have exploded in popularity, it’s likely that a displeased customer will take their complaints to the internet.

It’s tempting to simply delete negative reviews and bury your head in the sand, but you don’t have to live in fear of criticism. In fact, it’s been shown that a few less-than-positive reviews don’t hurt business, and they can be important in making your firm look genuine.

Negative reviews are also an opportunity to see where your firm can improve its service. Think of them as free market research. Look for patterns, and try to pull out the useful bits of information in each review. It seems great to have dozens of five-star reviews, but ultimately, glowing reviews don’t offer much guidance when it comes time to strategize or refocus. You have to face the bad reviews to get the positive ones.

If you’ve ever received one of the common reviews below, read between the lines and use it as an opportunity to examine your business practices. Instead of getting annoyed or defensive, take the negative in stride and leverage it.

“They weren’t responsive.” Staying in contact with clients while keeping their costs in check is a delicate balance. Oftentimes, people don’t need a long conversation or a meeting — they just want to know that their needs haven’t been forgotten. Do you need to make it easier for people to contact you? Should you add a phone number, a personal email address or a chat box to the contact page on your website? Do you need to set up automated emails telling clients their messages have been received? Or perhaps the problem lies in your own time management, and it would be helpful to hire more administrative staff or determine a more efficient way to tackle your inbox.

“It was expensive.” Like communication, sometimes the “high” price of your services is just a problem of perception. Do you need to be more upfront about your costs? Provide a rationale for your pricing? Send invoices more frequently? Maybe your prices are higher than your competitors’ and you need to do a better job advertising the superior quality of your services. If your costs truly have crept up, perhaps you can automate minor tasks to save your clients money. Examine your workflow and see if there is anything you can do more quickly or more cheaply without sacrificing quality.

“They didn’t get me the results I wanted.” This can be the hardest review to face but also the most critical to address. Are you overpromising in your marketing materials? Can you be clearer about the results clients should expect? Are you taking on business that isn’t truly in your wheelhouse, rather than referring clients to a colleague? When you sense that a client is growing unhappy because things aren’t going as expected, see if there’s anything you can do to right the ship. You may not be able to control every outcome, but being empathetic and suggesting a plan B (or C, or D) can go a long way.

“&*$% this company!” Sometimes, it’s not you — it’s the client. When you get an over-the-top, expletive-laden review, remind yourself that you don’t have to accept everyone’s business and this isn’t the type of client you want to work with in the future. In most cases, you were never going to please the reviewer, no matter how hard you worked. The good news is that if these reviews are few and far between, most potential clients know enough to write them off as flukes.

Berbay Marketing & PR