We’ve got trouble. Right here in River City

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According to the Wall Steet Journal, there’s a lot less suing going on these days. “Fewer than two in 1,000 people. . . filed tort lawsuits in 2015,” down significantly from 20 years ago.

Why? You know the drill: higher costs, caps on damages, changing jury sentiment against “frivolous” claims, carriers taking a hard line, and the list goes on.

Alternative legal services (paralegals, mediation document prep services, legal plans, etc.) and self-help measures are also thinning the herd. The latest? You can now use a chatbot to get answers to a variety of legal questions and help (advice, sample letters) in fighting parking tickets.

On top of this, more firms offer “low cost” legal services, educating the public to not pay “retail”.

Should we panic? Yes. If panicking is what you need to do to wake up and smell the coffee. Otherwise, no. There may be less business overall, but there is (and always will be) more than enough for you.

But you may need to make some changes. It’s not your father’s profession anymore.

  • Consider changing practice areas. If you handle tort litigation, consider refocusing on business litigation. Or at least adding this to your menu of services. Also consider “emerging” practice areas like “Drone Law”. (I mentioned this the other day, not realizing it’s not “coming” it’s already here, according to the email I got later in the day offering a CLE class on the subject.)
  • Don’t expand your practice areas in order to compete with multi-practice-area firms, in fact, don’t compete at all. Specialize. Be the best you can be in fewer practice areas. Clients prefer specialists, remember?
  • Target the high end of the market and charge higher fees to clients who are willing and able to pay them. Of course you’ll also need to up your game and offer more value and premium services.
  • Target niche markets and dominate them. Become the best known and most highly regarded lawyer or firm in smaller markets. Leverage word of mouth and “influencer” marketing and take the lion’s share of the business.
  • Make marketing an even bigger priority. Pick a handful of strategies and get good at them.

On the latter point, you’re in luck. Many lawyers still don’t get it. Some don’t believe they need to do any marketing at all. You should find them easy to beat. But don’t get complacent. There’s a new crop of young attorneys coming up who do understand the need for and power of marketing, and they’re eager to take business from you.

But don’t get complacent. There’s a new crop of young attorneys coming up who do understand the need for marketing and they’re eager to take business from you.

So basically, do what you should have been doing all along. Narrow your focus, develop your skills, offer more value, and hustle.

There’s plenty of work out there. Go get it.

Good marketing comes down to getting good at the fundamentals

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What to do when your practice area dries up?

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This just in: Divorce in U.S. Plunges to 35-Year Low. If you’re a divorce lawyer, what do you do?

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Put down your coloring book, let go of your blankie, and come out of your safe space. Everything is going to be okay.

First, markets ebb and flow. This year might be bad, next year the trend could turn.

Second, no matter what’s going on in the overall divorce “marketplace,” unless and until divorce is outlawed, there will always be enough business available to keep you busy. In fact, there should be enough business available to make you rich.

The same goes for other practice areas.

So don’t worry about “the market”. Just worry about yourself.

It’s like the old joke about you and a friend getting lost in the woods and a bear starts chasing you. You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun your friend.

But don’t ignore what’s going on in the market or get complacent. In order to run faster than the other lawyers and stay ahead of the bears, you must continually work to

  • Improve your core lawyering skills
  • Improve your other skills, e.g., writing, speaking, networking, sales, etc.
  • Attract better clients (e.g., more affluent, more “at risk,” better connected, etc.)
  • Run a profitable practice (e.g., manage overhead, hire good employees, improve operations)
  • Look for new target markets
  • Expand and improve your marketing

Do these things no matter what’s going on in the marketplace and you’ll be golden.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t believe everything you read in the news.

Make sure your marketing plan is up to date

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You don’t dress like a lawyer–does it matter?

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So Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirts and hoodies every day. Same color, too. He says it’s easier that way because he doesn’t have to take any time deciding what to wear. I admire his efficiency but why not wear a blue suit, white shirt, and red necktie every day?

Why dress like a teenager who doesn’t care about how he looks or what people think? Why not hire someone to choose his clothing for him?

Because he’s a billionaire and he can do whatever he wants. Because he owns the stock and nobody refuses to do business with him. And because he’s in tech, not law.

Yeah, he’s in an industry where dressing casually and being quirky is cool and dressing in traditional business attire isn’t. If you’re a billionaire you can do the same thing. Otherwise, you probably need to dress like a lawyer.

Your client’s expect you to “look the part”. If you don’t, if you vary from their image of what a lawyer is “supposed” to look like, they get nervous and may doubt you and your abilities. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s the way it is.

So men, you need the suit and tie. Women need to wear appropriate business attire.

Lawyers shouldn’t have tattoos showing. Men shouldn’t wear earrings. Or long hair. Or purple hair. Women can wear earrings and have long hair but not purple hair.

What if you handle entertainment law? That’s different isn’t it? Maybe. You can probably get away with dressing casually but you won’t be laughed at if you dress like a lawyer. (I wonder what Zuckerberg’s lawyers wear?)

Yes there are exceptions. An office in Beverly Hills is different than an office in Omaha. Seeing a long time client on a Saturday is different than meeting a prospective client on Monday morning.

But you get my point. Optics are important.

We see politicians on the campaign trail today and many of the men remove their neckties and wear blue jeans. I’m sure it’s because they want to look like a regular guy. That’s okay if they’re at a picnic or riding a tractor; otherwise, I think they need to look the part they are auditioning for (even if they’re not a lawyer).

Yes, I know it’s not the 1950s. And yes, I’m old fashioned. But so are voters. And clients. And judges. And other lawyers who might not send you referrals if you wear gray t-shirts and hoodies every day.

Get more referrals from lawyers and other professionals. Here’s how

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Your clients think you’re getting rich at their expense

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Your clients have no idea how expensive it is to run a law practice. Is it any wonder that some clients shake their heads at $400 an hour? Can you understand why a $10,000 retainer might be incomprehensible to someone who earns $40,000 a year?

How do we get clients to understand that we’re not getting rich at their expense?

Should you tell your clients how much you actually earn? No. It’s none of their business.

Besides, you want your clients to think that you earn a very good living.  Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who is struggling to pay their rent.

But perhaps you could help your clients to understand that running a law practice is expensive, and that what you bill out in no way approximates what you take home.

One way to do that would be to take new clients on a tour of your office. Show them how many desks and chairs there are. Show them your conference room and library. Point out the computers and copy machines and other equipment. Introduce the people who work for you and describe their function.

You might also want to explain, perhaps in a letter in their “new client welcome kit,” what you and your staff will be doing for them. You might point out that at any one time, there are at least three people working on their case. You could also provide a soup-to-nuts description of the major steps you take to do what you do.

Let them know how you investigate a case, conduct research, prepare pleadings and motions and discovery, and get ready for trial. Mention something about the costs you incur on a typical case. If your work is handled on contingency, remind them that while you are good at what you do and selective about the cases you accept, there is no guarantee that you will win every case and if you don’t, you will get paid nothing.

In your newsletter, talk about the things you do to hold down costs. Talk about how the forms and templates you have developed over the years allow you to save your clients money, for example. Let them see that while you don’t cut corners, you don’t spend money unnecessarily.

At the same time, unless your clients are wealthy, don’t talk about your new Mercedes, your lavish vacation, or expensive new toys. Don’t “dress down” — you’re expected to do well — but don’t give clients cause to believe that you are indeed getting rich at their expense.

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Lawyers make the worst clients

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Just as most doctors will tell you that doctors make the worst patients, I think most lawyers would say the same thing about our species.

It’s because we know how things are supposed to work. And it’s because of ego. We’re not comfortable letting someone else call the shots.

And so we routinely handle our own legal affairs, often to our detriment. Nowhere is this detriment more apparent than when we have a dispute with another lawyer.

A lawyer friend contacted me the other day and told me about one of his clients, another lawyer, who has become the proverbial client from hell.

She isn’t happy with anything and blames him for things outside of his control. She wants what she wants and steadfastly refuses to compromise, despite his many attempts to accommodate her. At first, he wanted to save the client. Now, he just wants to save himself.

How bad is it? She’s reported him for imagined ethical violations and is threatening to file a criminal complaint.

As I say, the client from hell.

He asked for my take on it. Naturally, I suggested he turn it over to another lawyer. Not just because of the ethical and criminal risks, but because the whole thing is making him miserable.

“You’re too close to the situation and she will continue to push your buttons,” I said.

If he’s lucky, she will get a lawyer, too. Then the two lawyers can negotiate without the animus or emotion that has gripped this situation. It will cost him, but can you put a price on your sanity?

I’ve met lawyers who swear they will never again have a lawyer for a client. What say you? Have you represented any lawyers who made you wish you hadn’t?

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If The Three Stooges managed your law firm

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“Moe, Larry the Cheese!”

If that puts a smile on your face and brings back memories of your silliness-obsessed youth, welcome to my world. If you don’t get the reference, I’ll meet you in Niagara Falls.

I confess, as a kid, I loved The Three Stooges. What can I say, they made me laugh. They still do. I might just watch me some Stooges on YouTube after I finish this.

My wife doesn’t share this opinion, although she did see the Stooges movie that came out a few years ago and didn’t hate it. I think very few woman like The Stooges, and that’s okay. I’m not crazy about shoes.

Anyway, I’ve written before about what might happen if your Mom managed your law firm, and if my cat was in charge, and a few other critters, and I got to thinking, what would it be like if The Stooges managed your firm.

For starters, you’d have to increase the amount of liability insurance you carry, because God knows something is going to happen to one of your clients who runs late or doesn’t want to pay their bill. You also need a first aid kit in every lawyer’s office.

But despite their penchant for hitting and falling down and putting heads in a vise, you’ve got to admit that The Boys were hard workers. They might not have been very good at hanging wall paper or fixing the plumbing in the upstairs bathroom, but this wasn’t for lack of effort.

They wanted to please the boss. The customer was always right. Service with a smile, yessir.

So if they were in charge of your firm, they would insist that you put your clients first. Unless they were bad. If they are bad, all bets are off. The bad guys always get clobbered.

More than anything, if The Stooges ran your firm, every day would be an adventure. You would never know what might happen, you just know that before the day is out, someone will have their face slapped and their eyes gouged, and someone will be laughing.

And that’s my point.

There isn’t enough laughter in the law business. It’s much too serious.

Yeah, we deal with serious matters, and no, you can’t go telling your clients jokes all the time, but can we all lighten up a bit and have some fun?

You don’t agree? Pick two.

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Marketing metrics for attorneys

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When it comes to marketing, I don’t obsess over the numbers. But I don’t ignore them, either. Neither should you.

Tracking numbers allows you to see trends in the growth of your practice. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Tracking also allows you to test new ideas and make better decisions about where to spend your time and money. If something isn’t working, you can take steps to fix it. Or abandon it in favor of something else. If something is working, you can look for ways to make it work better.

Every practice is different, of course, but here are the types of marketing metrics you should consider tracking:

  • Traffic to your website(s)–unique visitors, page views, bounce rate,
  • Traffic sources (social, search, keywords, page referrers)
  • Email subscribers-new, total
  • Leads–inquiries, requests for consultation, questions
  • New clients (quantity, fees, source)
  • Source of new clients (ads, referrals, website, individuals)
  • Revenue–first time clients, repeat clients, total
  • Revenue–compared to previous month/quarter/year
  • Revenue per practice area, service
  • Expenses–overhead, variable (e.g., advertising, etc.)
  • Net profit (after draw)
  • Retention–how many clients return/hire you for something else
  • Referrals–quantity, source (from clients, from lawyers, from others)

Some things you track daily. Some weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Some you look at once in awhile.

You probably don’t need to track all of these. You also don’t need to get into the minutia of things like open rates and click through rates. I know I don’t.

I mostly pay attention to two things: the number of new subscribers to my email list and monthly revenue. As long as both are growing, I know I’m doing okay.

How about you? Which of these metrics do you track? What else do you track and why?

Marketing online for attorneys: go here

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Why people don’t trust lawyers

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Why is it that so many people don’t trust lawyers? Unless they’ve been burned by a lawyer before, or know someone who has, I think it comes down to how we are portrayed in the media, movies, and TV. And let’s not forget all of those lawyer jokes.

And yet I think most people who meet us for the first time are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. They will assume that we can be trusted, because it’s too difficult to assume that we cannot. They come to us with a problem and they want to believe that they can trust us to help them.

But their trust can evaporate in an instant.

The smallest misstep can trip us up. A little white lie, missing a deadline by a day or two, a bill that comes in for a few dollars more than expected.

For many clients, one screw up, one broken promise, or even one exaggeration is all it takes.

I thought about this over the weekend when I was looking at a book on Amazon. A five-star review said something like, ” . . .although it took some time to read. . .” and then praised the book. But the book was only 26 pages. Seeing that, I knew the review was phony. The author had purchased the review.

That’s cheating. And against Amazon’s terms of service. If the author did that, what else is he dishonest about? Why should I trust his information or advice?

So I didn’t “buy” the book, even though it was free.

One strike and he was out.

Learn how to build trust

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Career day for fourth graders

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Did you attend your child’s third or fourth grade class for career day? Do you remember explaining what a lawyer does and making it as interesting as possible? Tough to do when you’re competing with Joey’s dad who is a professional magician, but you did it.

You explained what you did, who you helped, and why it is important. You helped some future lawyers see that being a lawyer is cool.

If you had to do it again (or for the first time), what would you say?

Think it through and write it down, or record it. This is a valuable exercise, even if you don’t have any kids.

It can help you explain what you do to prospective clients and referral sources. It can also help you create content for your website, articles, and presentations.

You don’t necessarily have to write at a fourth grade level, but keep it simple enough that your ideal clients can follow.

Here are some ideas to prime your mental pump:

  • What kinds of clients do you represent? What kinds of problems do you handle? Give some examples of real clients you have helped.
  • What’s the first thing you do when a new client comes to you? What do you do after that?
  • Do you charge by the hour? Flat fees? Why? How is this better for your clients?
  • Why did you become a lawyer? What do you want to accomplish in your career? Do you have any role models?
  • What’s the best way to find a good lawyer in your field? What questions should someone ask?
  • What’s the hardest part of your job? What’s the worst case or client you have had?
  • What are you most proud of about your work? What do you like best about what you do?
  • How is your practice different from others in your field? What do you do that other lawyers don’t do, or what do you do better?
  • Who would make a good referral for you? If someone knows someone like that, what should they do to refer them?
  • What questions do prospective clients and new clients typically ask you? How do you answer them?

Take one of these and write a few paragraphs. It won’t take you more than a few minutes and you can start using it immediately. And, if you run into a fourth grade class and are asked to speak, you’ll be ready.

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The biggest mistake lawyers make with online marketing

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Last week I referenced an article about “lethal mistakes” lawyers make with their online marketing. I agreed with some of the mistakes, disagreed with some, and was mystified by the absence of others.

I asked what you thought was missing, and by your responses, you showed me that you are paying attention.

Your list of mistakes included things like

  • The absence of fresh content
  • Too much about “the firm” and not enough about the client/visitor and his problems
  •  No call to action (telling visitors what to do)
  • Too impersonal, formal, unapproachable

Correctamundo.

You get it.

Why weren’t these in the article?

I don’t know.

Anyway, before I reveal to you the number one lethal mistake lawyers make with their website, I want to mention another article about lawyers’ websites that provided some alarming, but not surprising, statistics:

According to this article

  • Nearly 40% of small law firms don’t have websites
  • 70% don’t have a call to action on their home page
  • 97% of law firm websites fail to deliver any kind of personalized content
  • Only 35% have been updated in the last three years
  • 68% don’t have an email address on their home page [see my comments below]
  • 27% don’t have a phone number on their home page
  • Only one-third are optimized for mobile devices

The last issue is especially noteworthy in view of Google’s recent announcement about penalizing sites that aren’t mobile friendly.

The article also said that “only 14% of law firms send a triggered email to a visitor who submits a form online”. That number is skewed, I am sure, because most law firm sites don’t even have a form that allows visitors to email them.

Your site needs a contact form, so visitors who aren’t ready to call you can communicate with you by email. Posting your email is good, but using a form is better. It makes it easier for visitors to contact you, and that means more will (and that’s a good thing, yo.). A form can also reduce spam and allow you to direct visitors to supply information you will need when you reply.

That form should send an automated reply so people will immediately know “message received” and what will happen next. Without this, visitors are likely to keep looking.

Okay, now for the biggest mistake.

Your emails to me mentioned it. So you know it’s important. I’m not sure if you realize how important, however.

The biggest mistake is not having a form for visitors to subscribe to your email list or newsletter.

You need a form and you need to tell people to subscribe. Tell them on every page. And give them reasons why they should. Tell them how they will benefit by filling out your form. What will they get, learn, or avoid?

Why is it so important to get people to subscribe? Because most people who visit your website for the first time

(a) aren’t ready to hire you,
(b) aren’t ready to contact you to ask questions or schedule an appointment, and
(c) aren’t likely to return to your website.

First time visitors are gathering information, about the law and procedure and their options, and about lawyers who can help them.

News flash: yours isn’t the only website they visit.

If you don’t capture their name and email on the first visit, and use that to stay in touch with them, the odds are you will never hear from them again.

Which means you’re losing business. A lot more than you may realize.

When visitors subscribe to your email list, you can continue to send them information, remind them about the solutions you offer, and show them why they should choose you instead of any other lawyer. You can continue to sell yourself and your services.

Six days, six weeks, or six months from now, you can continue having that conversation and convert more people into paying clients.

Even if they’re not ready to hire you, even if they never hire you, they can send you referrals and traffic and promote your events and share your content and help you build your email list further.

But none of that will occur if you don’t know who they are.

Without a list, you can’t stay in touch with visitors, earn their trust, seek their feedback, ask for their testimonials, invite them to your seminars, tell them about updates to your site, or do anything else to build a relationship with them.

And that’s why building a list is numero uno.

Your website’s content is critically important. But if that’s all you focus on, you’re asking your site to do too much.

You could take away my blog, my social media accounts, remove any mention of me from search engines, and cancel anything else I do to promote my products and services, and I would survive because I would still have my list.

Building a list is the most important thing a lawyer can do to market their practice, and most lawyers don’t do it.

Learn how to build your list and market your practice online.

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