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Growing Your Law Practice Productively: A Twelve Step Program for Curing Social Media Addiction


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Jerome Kowalski

Kowalski & Associates

November, 2011

                                                                            

Confession:  I am a fan and a believer of the commercial vitality of social media. But  then again, I suppose I also enjoy a fine wine from time, an occasional trip to a gambling casino, a social liaison and an occasional cigar.  But the vice is that any of these pastimes can easily turn into addictions. I say this bearing in mind part of the American Psychiatric Association’s definition (DSM- IV) of addiction:  “Repeated use resulting in failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home.” The trick of course is that all of life’s pleasures are enjoyed best when used in moderation.

The issue came up a month or so ago when I was visiting with a client’s executive committee which was taking its first cut at budgeting and calculating partner compensation for the coming year.  As we went through the partnership rolls, we came to a mid-level partner, whom I shall, for purposes of this piece call Bob, because that’s his name.  Ken, the firm’s managing partner, quietly
rolled his chair back from the conference table and said simply “Bob is a real problem.”  “How so?” I asked. “Well,” Ken said, Bob is a fine lawyer who came up through the ranks. He is talented, smart,
a team player and is a tireless worker.  He is an important service partner in our banking group.  But in the last couple of years, his billable hours have gone way down and the department head tells me that he has plenty of work for Bob to do that he just doesn’t get to.  But, by the same token, Bob is starting to bring in some revenues.  He’s brought in almost $750,000 in quality work from some fine clients, which is nice, given the fact that two years ago, he brought in zero.  But that year, he billed close to 2,000 hours and this past year he billed less than 800 hours.  Yet, he is always in the office  and seems to be constantly busy.  But he also billed 1,500 hours to ‘client development.’  He’s also managed to get his name in the papers commenting as an expert on recent developments in banking law and he’s been having greater success in getting his name out there than the head of the department and we have a paid PR flack whose mission is to get the chairman’s name out there.  While I’ve complemented him on his growing business and fame, he just doesn’t want to listen when I tell him that client development is critical, but he is losing sight of the fact that the actual legal work needs to be done.”  I suggested that I spend a little time with Bob and see of I could get a handle on what his game plan is.

So I moseyed down the hall later that day and popped in on Bob.  A handsome straight laced 38 year old Ivy League law school graduate, Bob was pecking anxiously away at his keyboard, using two computer screens, staring intensely at both. He took no notice of my arrival. I finally harrumphed and said “Bob! I was in the neighborhood and thought I would stop by.”  No response, as Bob continued to feverishly peck away. I repeated myself a bit louder and got the same reaction.  I then came around his desk, tugged at his elbow and again repeated myself.

Bob greeted me pleasantly, but surely very distracted. He then said:

What a day!  I got to work at the crack of dawn.  I checked my Twitter feed and then re-tweeted a bunch of stuff.  I checked LinkedIn for updates and then for discussions in which I am articipating. I  responded to some comments in discussions in which I am participating and some new discussions. I checked all of the on line trade and business papers for items of interest and Tweeted those. I  checked my RSS feed and then my Google Reader. I Tweeted items of interest. I checked my Facebook pages – personal and business and responded where appropriate.  I then checked Google+ and commented where appropriate. I then checked QuoraReddit and StumbledUpon.  I again commented and Tweeted where appropriate.  I wrote a great blog post about the Volker Rule.   I  published the blog post to various LinkedIn groups, I Tweeted the post, uploaded it to JD Supra, posted it to Google+, Reddit, Digg and  Stumbledupon.  I  responded to various new comments in LinkedIn as they appeared during the course of the day.  I published my post to Lexology.  I then logged on to Legalonramp and posted there. I checked Facebook and Google+ again. I responded to comments posted on my blog.  I have three calls that I need to return from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg.  And, as you can see, it’s now 5:00 PM and time to start doing some work.  But I’m too tired.   On the plus side, I have 2,615 followers on Twitter, 457 connections on LinkedIn, I belong to 30 LinkedIn groups, I have 650 friends on Facebook, 350 people in my Google+ circles, and when I add all of these up, together with  the aggregators I posted to, I have gotten my name in front of well over 10,000,000 professionals and business people around the world. And I think I did a pretty good job at my blog post so there are 10,000,000 or so people who I would hope that I have some demonstrated expertise in this growing field of law.”

    I quickly did the math and concluded that Bob was probably right on the mark in terms of the number of people whom he was exposed to that day.  I asked him what the results have been in
terms of his own professional advancement. He said, “well two years ago, I was just a service partner, which was nice, but really didn’t give me a lot of job security.  Last year, I brought in about three quarters of a million of new quality work, all of which I can trace to my social media activities.  Based on the stuff I have in the pipeline, I expect to double that next year.  That is my job security.”

Bob was of course right. But, I pulled out my trusty DSM-IV manual and quickly diagnosed Bob as a social media addict.  The more social media in which he partook, the he needed to produce his required level of dopamines.

         Clearly, Bob needed a Twelve Step program. And so, this is what I recommended to Bob and Ken:

 

  1.       Bob had to admit that he was powerless over social media. His life had become unmanageable.

        2.      Bob also needed to admit that only a power greater than him (I suggested Ken) could restore him to sanity.

        3.      Bob also had to make a decision to turn the management of his professional life over to the management of his department head, and his firm’ marketing department who would give him needed control over his addiction and his practice.

         4.      He also needed to make a searching inventory of the various social media he was using and eliminate those that yielded poor or no results.  Did he really get some business from Facebook or Google+?  Was his Twitter account bringing traffic to his blog?

         5.      Admitting to himself and others where he had just gone too far in his social media addiction.

         6.      He had to be ready to remove all of his shortcomings.  Among other things, Ken was right, somebody had to actually to do the legal work and Bob’s talents in this area were not being put to their highest and best use.

         7.      Bob also had to ask Ken, his department head, his marketing director and his partners help him rid himself of his shortcomings.

          8.      Make a list of all of those who had to pick up the work that Bob should have been handling.

          9.      Make amends to all of those who had to pick up Bob’s slack, by not only pitching in more but in continuing to grow a quality practice for the benefit of the ultimate higher authority:  The Law Firm.

          10.  Continue to take a personal inventory of the most effective social media outlets that served Bob, his practice and the firm best.

          11.  Through careful thoughtfulness improve his conscious and productive contact with his colleagues.

          12.  Having had a spiritual awakening through these steps, it was Bob’s mission to carry this message to other social media addicts and to practice these principles in all of his affairs.

Bob really did have an awakening. He continued to build his practice. His social media activities are still a part f his life, but don’t control his life.  And his practice continues to grow productively. And, I expect he will be treated well by his firm’s compensation committee.

As for you, how many hours a week do you spend blogging and otherwise engaging in social media?

 

© Jerome Kowalski, November, 2011.  All Rights Reserved.

 Jerry Kowalski, who provides consulting services to law firms, is also a dynamic (and often humorous) speaker on topics of interest to the profession and can be reached at jkowalski@kowalskiassociates.com .

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Blog, blog, blog: Take advantage of the fact that 27% of in-house lawyers use blogs as their most important tool in researching and identifying outside lawyers to hire.


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Recently, a  deputy general counsel for the Association of Corporate Counsel, reported at a conference about a corporation that chose to conduct a “beauty contest” for a particular engagement by independently identifying the top five lawyers in the country who had the expertise to handle the matter.  Of the group invited to make presentations, most were New York based.  The client selected a Kentucky firm, since its rates were 25% lower than its East Coast competitors. James  Merklinger of the ACC, who conveyed the anecdote, explained  “In this day and age of technology, it doesn’t really matter where you are, so there’s no reason to pay top dollar if you can find someone who’s considered just as capable.”

Neat story with obvious lessons.

But the astute reader should be thinking about a different question:  How in the hell did the client find a lawyer in Kentucky, of all places, with the precise expertise it needed?  A better question you should be asking is: Instead of your chasing around looking for new clients and business opportunities, attending de rigueur lunches, golf outings, industry specific conferences (where you are competing with a score or more of lawyers looking for the same work) is there some efficient way, other than late night TV ads,  for you to have clients look for you, instead of your looking for them?

The fellow from Kentucky figured out how to do this.

ALM Legal Intelligence Group, in association with the Zeugheiser Group released early this week the result of a survey it recently conducted which will lead you to obvious conclusions:  27% of in-house lawyers used blogs posted by lawyers on relevant topics as the “most important” tool in researching for outside counsel for a particular engagement.  Another interesting statistic: only 96 of the AmLaw 200 firms used blogs.

So I assume that each lawyer takes pride in his or her specialized expertise in a subset of his or her broader generic practice area.  So for example, you are a litigator with relatively unique expertise in nuclear reactor construction disputes involving concrete.  Likely, your firm’s web site will have you listed as part of its litigation group or part of its construction group.  A Google search made by a prospective client for lawyers with that unique expertise (expertise in nuclear reactor construction disputes) will never find you doing a web search.

Don’t believe me? Try it yourself.  Identify a specific area in your practice for which you have specialized and conduct a search a lawyer with that expertise. The heavy odds are you will be shocked not to find your name popping up. So, how are the 27% of in-house lawyers who rely on blogs as their most “important tool” in searching for outside counsel going to find you?

Lesson 1: create and maintain a blog (don’t know how? Skip the call to your IT department and just go to Google or a similar search engine and type in this question: How do I create a blog? Or ask your kids or grandkids).  Lesson 2: put postings of interest  and of substance on your blog, and please, don’t  make them boring or make them look like they were written by a second year law student writing an analysis of a case.  Short, interesting, substantive, informative is part of the solution (Example this is a recent development that you should know about [please, please, no case citations and no procedural history, nobody cares]).  Lesson 3: Post regularly (I suggest once a week). Lesson 4:  use the key terms of your special expertise (such as nuclear reactor construction disputes involving concrete and use those terms in different combinations often.  Lesson 5: circulate a very short, sweet and enticing email among your clients and prospective clients very briefly advising the reader that you’ve just written a piece about the subject and include a link to your posting .  Keep adding to your email list new prospective clients. I previously addressed this issue, if you forgot, click this link.  Lesson 6: Sign up to www.jdsupra.com , a novel, robust, easy to use, and extremely effective web site signing up is free, the modest price of an upgrade is well worth it). JDsupra.com circulates your blog entry to tens of thousands of lawyers.  When posting on jdsupra, be sure to include your firm’s logo and a link to your web site and your firm’s web site.  (there is some chace you may need some small amount of assistance from either your marketing director or IT specialist, if you can’t figure out how to insert the web site or blog links,  but once a template is created, it can be used by you regularly.  Lesson 7:   Register with Lexology (www.lexology.com ), a portal for thousands of lawyers particularly in house corporate lawyers and which is co – sponsored by the ACC .  Lesson 8: Include a link to your posting on Linked In and the relevant groups to which you belong (there are 1,500,000 lawyers on Linked In, thousands of groups dealing with nuclear reactors and construction, which have too many millions of members for me to count), as we previously recommended. Chances are that if you are reading this, you just saw how this all works.

As you go through these exercises, consider the tools available and that are actually being used by clients to stay in touch with new developments and trends in their industries.  The most common and easiest to use is Google Reader.  Google Reader will provide you with real time access to new information posted on the Internet in areas specified by the user.  The user defines the terms of the areas in which he or she has an interest.  Your client and potential are using this tool regularly and you should as well.  Thus, you will not have to wait for any of this information to crawl to your attention through your reliance on traditional media, print or electronic.  You will not only be ahead of the curve, but when the client asks for your views on a cutting edge issue he or she may have read about on the web using these tools and with which you will likely not have acquired any information unless you are using the same tools, you will in fact be able to respond on an informed basis.  More significantly, you may actually place yourself ahead of the curve and be able to take the initiative in commencing a dialogue on such an issue with a client or potential client.  Google offers a simple training video on how to use this tool at http://www.google.com/reader/view/?utm_campaign=en&utm_source=en-ha-ww-ww-bk&utm_medium=ha&utm_term=google+reader#welcome-page

The net critical point:  The more often you use the terms associated with your area of expertise and the more times people link up to your web site, the more often your name and area of expertise will show up when one of those 27% of corporate counsel are looking for somebody who needs the very special skills you have.  Or, when an ACC member or other in house corporate lawyer calls a colleague and asks if he or she knows somebody with expertise in nuclear reactor construction disputes, hopefully he or she will say check out so and so. I’ve read his or her blog and he or she seems to know what they are talking about.

A useful guide in getting started can also be found at http://associatesmind.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/new-legal-blogger-guide.pdf

Succesful marketers are also familiar with a basic maxim, namely, most often to successfully get new business, you need to ask a client to retain you.  Thus, frequently conclude your blog with some version of  “”I (or our firm) am (or is) happy to discuss our availability and our experience in this area of the law.  Feel free to review our web site at ____  and contact me at _________.  I would also be happy to provide you with a representative list of transactions (or cases we have handled in this area.”

And then keep a pile of new matter intake forms piled on your desk as the phone rings off the hook.

In accordance with my own advice above, feel free to contact me at jkowalski@kowalkiassociates or at 212 832 9070, Extension 310, to discuss the assistance I may be able to provide you and your firm in connection with marketing your services.

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