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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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Tip Toe Through the Tulips: The “New” New (Old) Way to Market Legal Services


English: Cultivations of Tulips in South Holla...

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                                                                             Jerome Kowalski

                                                                             Kowalski & Associates

                                                                             June, 2011

 

 Open market auction exchanges for legal service?

           On a recent breathtaking spring evening, I sat on the rocker on my front porch sipping my iced tea and just took in the beauty of the setting sun. I looked across the small dazzling colorful expanse of lawn and took pleasure in the blooming of the various perennials. I took special delight in the array of tall tulips that marked the boundary between lawn and shrubs.  My thoughts turned to the tulip auctions of Holland.

Holland, the world’s largest producer of tulip bulbs long ago established a unique auction method to sell millions of tulip bulbs each year.  Hundreds of commercial buyers sit in an auditorium with large pallets of different types of tulips passing on a ramp at the front of the auditorium a series of large electronic circular dials are displayed above the passing pallets. As the pallets pass each circular dial the dial announces a high offering price and the dial then begins to rotate with lowering offering rates for the bulbs, until one of the buyers presses a button and the bulbs are then automatically sold to that buyer.  It’s a rather phenomenal display (which you can see here) and a clever centuries old practice which obviously yields maximum pricing, as opposed to typical auctions, in which prices are bid up from a low base, instead of being bid down, from an artificially high price.

Naturally the thought occurred to me why can’t there be an open market auction exchange for legal services. Perhaps an Ebay for lawyers and consumers of legal service.

In fact, there are such auction exchanges, hosted right here on the Internet: http://www.shpoonkle.com/ , www.bidyourcase.com  and arguably, www.quora.com. The UK has its own version at http://www.comparelegalcosts.com/  .

As the Wall Street Journal noted, Shpoonkle attracted a great deal of buzz and debate.  Shpoonkle, whose motto is “Justice You Can Afford,” also attracted the attention of the ABA Journal. Shpoonkle is very simple, lawyers register for free membership, the site verifies the lawyer’s bar admission; clients register for equally free membership. Shpoonkle monetizes its site through advertising.  Clients are then entitled to describe their need for legal services – the facts and circumstances of their particular case or matter – which is then posted on line and Shpoonkle registered lawyers then quite literally bid on the case. Bidding is open and transparent.  The client reviews the bids, reviews the lawyer’s qualifications and then selects a lawyer.  The lowest bidder does not automatically win the engagement.  At the conclusion of the engagement, the client is asked to rate the lower’s performance on a scale of 1 – 10 and is also asked to post comments about the lawyer. These ratings and comments are then available for review by any prospective client.

Bidyourcase.com does not differ in any material way from Shpoonkle. Membership and registration are free. Ratings are based on a five star system and client comments about particular lawyers are also posted.  Bidyourcase does seem to reserve the right to charge registration fees in the future.

Both services are consumer oriented and the focus at both sites is currently on lower end price sensitive work.  But there is no reason why these auction exchanges, still in their infancy, cannot ratchet up with time and be an open market auction exchange for serious corporate commercial work. Both sites have no constraints with respect to the type of bid offered by lawyers: hourly billing, fixed fee or any value or alternative fee arrangement.

Quora differs in that it is a question and answer forum.  Frequent questions asked on Quora are for recommendations of lawyers for particular types of legal work and requests for lawyers to offer their services on particular services. Questions are also posed about particular legal questions and lawyers have the opportunity to “strut their stuff” by posting erudite thoughtful responses on complex legal issues, including links to their own blogs.  Quora has attracted a fair degree of higher end consumers of legal services and large law firms and law firm partners.  But, Quora does not host an open market auction exchange per se.

Are open market auction exchanges for legal services going to be the wave of the future?  There is every reason to believe that it may very well will be.  In fact, currently, corporate clients are routinely conducting private auctions through Requests for Proposals processes.

Public open market auction exchanges for serious corporate legal work may be quite inevitable.  After all we’ve gotten accustomed to large corporate clients announce that it will engage in convergence programs or that they will.  Certainly, issues of confidentiality and the preservation of client confidences and secrets must be safeguarded.  But, we would not find it unusual for a bank to announce that it is accepting RFP’s for mortgage foreclosure work or that a major consumer products company announce that it is seeking bids from law firms to handle its trademark compliance and registration work.

We are seeing more legal work commoditized and more corporate consumers engaging counsel through corporate purchasing departments.  Purchasing agents would surely welcome the idea of a public open market auction exchange.

Until then, I’ll just continue to admire the tulips.

[Update: On August 2, 2011 The Wall Street Journal reported that some large corporations, such as GlaxoSmithKline PLC, eBay Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are actively engaged in reverse auction
programs to procure legal services.  The Journal reports: “The ways it works is that potential law firms vying for business participate, at once, in an online chat room where they can anonymously submit their lowest bid for a contract with a client. As lower bids from competing lawyers come in, firms can choose to submit an even more discounted bid or drop out of the running completely.”  The Journal goes on to report that corporations are realizing savings of 15% to 40% when using this process.]

© Jerome Kowalski, June, 2011.  All rights reserved.

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