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Are there lessons to be learned from the election that apply to how we engage with our clients?

With the election still fresh in our minds, and analyses coming from all sides, I questioned whether the candidates, in their attempts to influence behavior, used tools in interacting with the electorate that can make a material difference in how law firms interact with their clients.      

LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .  

Sincerity wins.

Whether a campaign stop, press conference, debate, words from surrogates or an ad, it was about communication as an art form.  Leaders who have the power to persuade use passion, excitement and realness to break through.   

In her article in Fast Company entitled “Leading Through The Power of Persuasion,”* Charlotte Beers, former CEO of the global ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, says that the best leaders influence and bring others on board by being genuine.  “[Y]ou have to be vulnerable, to show passion and belief in an unproven idea, and to risk failure by pursuing it . . . find a delivery style that allows you to communicate your conviction in a compelling, inescapable way.”

Passion and pathos, humor and wit, and imperfection are tools that persuade because they are genuine, authentic and disarming.  They create an emotional bond, remove the hard edges and give you permission to care.

Polls showed that relate-ability mattered.

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .   

“Clients don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.” 

This is a refrain often relayed by lawyers and law firm marketers who visit clients as part of a client feedback/retention program. 

We also hear “we hired them because they listened to us,” or “if we are all working late and the stress is on, I hope they are fun to be with.”

Clients assume their lawyers do good work and will get the best result they can.  Loyalty is about the work you do and the emotional bond you create. 

In sum:

  •   Realness can win over cool composure
  •  Put a premium on listening
  • √  Persuasion can be learned

 

*Adapted from her recent book, I’d Rather Be In Charge.

What can Bruce Springsteen teach us about great marketing?

“The Boss” gives us a communications lesson in how to reinforce an enduring brand.

LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .

The E Street Band has been Bruce Springsteen’s primary backing band since 1972.  From the beginning, dating back to their days in Asbury Park, NJ, they cared deeply about their fans and didn’t hesitate to show it.  They knew how to keep the emotional tie going to maintain their loyalty. 

In his Ad Age article “What Bruce Springsteen Can Teach You About Building a Brand That Lasts,” Steve Goldner reminds us that there are inevitable tests along the way that can impact your position in the marketplace.  They are sometimes “dramatic and unexpected, or, more often than not, banal . . . “  For Springsteen, the first was the death of Danny Federici in 2008 and the second, the recent death of Clarence Clemons.

How to manage this crisis?  How to bring everyone along to a new normal?

Springsteen knew that he had to accomplish several things at once — help the band heal, convey his commitment to his fans, and ensure the future of the band.  It had to be real and consistent with his core values.

What did he do? He created the moment.  Band intros were a signature event at every show.  Fans looked forward to them, counted on them, responded to them. “The Boss” used this time to directly address the void that was on their minds – “That’s right, we’re missing a few.  But the only thing I can guarantee you tonight is that if you’re here, and we’re here, they’re here.”

Mission accomplished.

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .

Dramatic changes are underway as founding partners and name partners retire or leave to launch or join boutique firms.  In some cases, firms are splitting into new entities due to differing philosophies about client service.

Perception is everything.  What are your clients hearing?  Who are they hearing it from?  What is their take-away?

Taking a lesson from “The Boss,” communicate with clients directly to solidify the value of your brand.    

For clients, the transition needs to be seamless and it is best if they hear about it from you – the commitment to quality and quality of the work will not change; the firm is healthy; they will not be affected by internal changes.  

If a recent or upcoming dramatic event has occurred/occurs at your firm, here are three steps to follow:


    √ Determine who will tell clients

    √ Know the story you will tell and tell it consistently

    √ Make it personal, heartfelt and reassuring.

 

Successful people approach work differently. Clients notice. Revenue follows.

Successful people are said to share the same behaviors and beliefs.  What are they and how can you use them to differentiate yourself, get noticed and improve client service?

LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .

You can shape how your clients perceive you.  Recommendations cited by author Jeff Haden in his article “Owners’ Manual, 9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People,” published by Inc.com, include the following:

  • You own your time.  Don’t allow it to own you.  It’s not about deadlines.  It’s about working quickly and effectively, creating unplanned free time to, again, work quickly and effectively.
  • Surround yourself with people you want around you.  With whom do you want to work?  What types of clients do you want?  What changes can you make so you can surround yourself with the people you want around you?
  • Your accomplishments are everything. Not your years of experience. What have you done for your clients?  What are the results?  “Remarkably successful people need only to describe what they have done.”
  • Paying your dues gets noticed. No one is ever too entitled to “roll up their sleeves, get dirty and do the grunt work.  No task is too menial.”
  • Anything a client will pay you to do is something you should do, as long as it is ethical and legal, of course. “Only do what you want to do and you might build an okay business.  Be willing to do what [clients] want you to do . . .”  and you will build a successful business.
  • Own failures.  We often use “I” to talk about successes and the economy, the market, the client to talk about failures.  Owning failure helps guarantee success next time.
  • The extra mile will differentiate you.  “The extra mile is filled with opportunities.”  Fortunately, it is not a very populated place.  “Be early.  Stay late.  Do the extra research.”  It will make you different.  Successful.  Profitable.

 

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .

Competence is a given.  Grit gets gratitude.  Go the extra mile.  Take purposeful steps to make an impression, set yourself apart, and earn client loyalty.  You will be noticed for dedication, control and leadership.

Three quick action items can get you started:

  • Take an honest inventory of what you currently do.  Identify areas where there is room for improvement.
  • Outline purposeful steps that you can take that others do not.
  • Be proactive.  Step forward and create opportunities.  Don’t wait to be asked.

 

 

Your client’s perception of your written work can impact revenue. It may reflect your client’s perception of your legal work.

In the June 19 Wall Street Journal online article “This Embarrasses You and I, Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter,” the author, Sue Shellenbarger, discusses the workplace implications for a “looseness with language [that] can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors.”

LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .

Does the younger generation’s writing style reflect a skills gap or a new norm? 

The intense and seemingly constant attention many bring to texting and social networking has given rise to a shockingly casual approach to grammar, writing and editing, contend authors, consultants, recruiters and human resources managers.

Grammar gaffes are at epidemic proportions. Donald Silver, CEO of Ft. Lauderdale communications firm, Boardroom Communications, confesses that he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each grammatical offense.  “I am losing the battle,” he says.

Bryan A. Garner, attorney, lexicographer, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and president of LawProse, requires all job applicants at his consulting firm, even those who move boxes, to pass spelling and grammar tests before he will hire them.  He requires employees to have at least two others copy-edit and make corrections to their work before it goes out.

At a recent meeting of the Metro Philadelphia chapter of the LMA, a leading recruiter of law firm talent shared that her firm gives writing tests to attorneys (some of their law firm clients do as well) before moving them to the next step in the recruitment process.

Is there a fix?

Should managers step in and correct mistakes?  Should firms implement training programs?  Should they screen more effectively?  Is it about lack of skill?  Or, is it generational and about a new normal?

The article states that at firms where most employees are in their 20s and 30s, these questions do not come up.  “Sincerity and clarity expressed in ‘140 characters and sound bytes’ are seen as hallmarks of good communication―not the king’s grammar.”  And those are the people, they say, who will succeed.

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .

It’s all about the client.  It is always about the client.

Do the old rules still apply for law firms?

We are paid to walk in our clients’ shoes.  We are frequently measured on language, paid on language, hired for our skill with language.  In part, the practice of law is about language.

What do clients want to see from their law firms? 

    • Accuracy
    • Attention to detail
    • Due diligence/standard of care 
    • Anticipating and exceeding expectations 
    • Respect that our time is their dollar

 

If we agree that the rules still apply, then it becomes quite simple.  Use the same high standards across the board, at all levels, whether communication is internal or external, client-directed or non-client-directed.  Treat all communications as if they are attorney work product because you and your firm can be judged by your most important audience by what you say and how you say it. 

If this is an issue for you, how do you get started?

  • √  Develop a set of standards
  • √  Come up with a system for checking and proofing work
  • √  Create a consequence for continued inaccuracies

 

Keeping meetings smart can enhance productivity.

The decision of whom to invite to a meeting is often a function of culture and custom. However, for Steve Jobs, known for running great meetings, it was about “quality thinking.” A smart attendee list equated to productivity. Productivity equates to dollars.


LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .

In his article “What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs,” written for Entrepreneur in April, 2012, author Ken Segall discusses Steve Jobs’s practice of “keeping meetings small and made up of smart people.”

For Jobs, the premise was basic – “Everyone in the room should be there for a reason . . . Either you’re critical to the meeting or you’re not.  It’s nothing personal, just business.”  Small and simple were assets that lead to higher quality work.  They are foundational for getting to clarity, creativity and competitive advantage, in morale and productivity.

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .

The principles we apply when preparing for a beauty contest or prospective client meeting are applicable to internal meetings.  There is value and utility in keeping them lean and mean, following the basic construct that focused teams produce great results.

So, if you are looking to reinvent your meetings and kick start something new, here are three recommendations:

  • √   Reconsider regularly scheduled meetings.  Hold meetings when only a meeting will do
  • √   Include only those who are essential and insist on participation
  • √   Set a limited, focused agenda with a designated, hard stop