Google recently enhanced their search results with an element called authorship in search.  It is a cool feature that can really make your blog posts stand out in search results, yet it is underutilized by the majority of law bloggers out there.    Essentially, it links your content to your Google profile.  I know what you are thinking – no one uses Google+.  Yes, that may be true, but this feature goes beyond Google+ (in my opinion).  The addition of your name and picture to your content in the search engine results page (SERPs) alone justifies using this feature.

Here is an example borrowed from Google.

Law Blog Authorship SEP

If you want to see it in action, click here and see how my picture appears for the content I have created.

Adding your headshot is very easy – two simple steps:

First, create a Google+ Profile.  (you need to upload a high quality headshot and fill out some basic profile information).

Second, go to plus.google.com/authorship, sign up with your email and click on the verification link they send you.  The only potential issue here is that you must use an email with a domain name that matches the domain name for your content (for example, for content on blog.rfpattorney.com, I must use an email such as name@rfpattorney.com).  Since a lot of law blogs are hosted outside of firm websites, and thus, don’t have matching domain names, I foresee this as a problem for many law bloggers.  However, you can also link your content by adding a tiny bit of code to your website.  See here for more info (option #2).  Don’t worry if you don’t have tech expertise, WordPress offers some plug-ins (search plugins for Google authorship).

Once you get it up and running, your picture will soon appear along with your content.  Benefits include:

  1. Makes your content stand out from the rest in search results – I always gravitate to images over text.  Plus it serves to validate your content.
  2. Get more followers on Google+ and it can increase engagement on the platform (engagement is always good)
  3. The author link that appears can lead your readers to discover your other content.
  4. You can see analytics for your content in search (see here for more info).

Law Firm Facebook PagesIn my last post, I highlighted a few of the ways that Facebook’s appeal for law firms (via pages) has decreased.  In particular, I stated that “Facebook has reduced the visibility of posts in the timelines of page followers.”  Essentially, if you work hard to gain followers, they don’t necessarily receive all your posts, despite “liking” your page and choosing to receive your updates.  Instead, you must now pay to “promote” posts to more of your followers.  Facebook claims it is to “prevent spam.”

Well, it appears that people took notice.  Mark Cuban – tech billionaire, outspoken owner of the Mavericks, and always entertaining Shark Tank shark – was definitely not pleased with these changes.  In this ReadWrite article, it was reported that Cuban says he is fed up with Facebook and will take his business elsewhere.  Apparently, Facebook was requesting that the Mavericks Facebook page pay $3,000 to reach 1 million of the people that already liked the page.   And it is not just the Mavericks that he is moving away from Facebook, it is 70 companies in his portfolio.   They aren’t leaving Facebook entirely, just moving focus to Twitter, Tumblr and Myspace.  Yes, that Myspace.

Today, perhaps in response to this type of criticism, Facebook announced more changes to pages.  First, it launched a new section that allows members to view more updates from the Pages they follow.   This is called the “Pages feed,” (click for an example if logged into FB) and is essentially a Pages-only filter for the News Feed.  Thus, if you so desire, you can view more content from the pages you follow.  Hopefully, this will allow all the law firms out there that worked hard to build Facebook followers to get their content out there and engage (remember, the goal is engagement, not just content pushing).

Second, Facebook is experimenting with a new comment format for pages.  Instead of a chronological list of comments, this new format pushes the most popular comments to the top.  According to a Facebook spokesperson, “the most engaging comments appear higher up.”   This is a very welcome change, in my humble opinion, as it should help lawyers and law firms identify important comments, push down the noise, and engage with those who are most interested in what they are sharing.

I think both these changes are good for engagement on Facebook.  However, who knows what changes tomorrow will bring….

facebook v. LinkedIn in the legal marketThis weekend, I was reading a great post by Kevin O’Keefe over at Lexblog about the growth and innovation at LinkedIn (see here).   He points out that LinkedIn “is up to 187 million members and adding new members at the rate of 2 per second.”  Those are impressive numbers.  This growth made me think about the LinkedIn user experience for lawyers versus the Facebook user experience.

On one hand, LinkedIn is doing things right.  Lately it just feels more engaging.  I am sharing and commenting more.  I am discovering useful content.  I am connecting with relevant people at a faster rate.  The user experience works well (although obviously not perfect).  They have also added a number of great features lately, which have increased engagement.  Examples include:

  1. The addition of endorsements – a simple quick way to endorse someone.  (see here for a nice summary for lawyers by Nancy Myrland)
  2. Revamped company (think law firm) pages –  (see here for a summary).  To me, the key feature here is that company pages now appear on LinkedIn mobile and iPad apps.
  3. The ability to follow LinkedIn designated thought leaders and influencers.  (see here for summary).  This feature is limited now, but I suspect that legal industry and marketing movers and shakers will eventually be added to the list of thought leaders you can follow.

On the other hand, the user experience for lawyers on Facebook just seems to be getting worse.  Facebook has made some detrimental (in my opinion) changes lately, including:

  1. In an attempt to raise advertising revenues, Facebook has reduced the visibility of posts in the timelines of page followers.  As some users have reported, this resulted in a dramatic decrease in interaction. Even people who liked, shared and comment routinely are no longer seeing content, unless the page agrees to promote ($$$) the post.
  2. Pushing promoted and sponsored stories into your timeline.  For one thing, it is now harder for good content to get noticed amid this new noise.  For another, good content can be confused with paid content – which could decrease engagement.  I know I skip over items I perceive as paid.
  3. Changing their landing strategy so first-time visitors to law firm pages automatically head to the wall, instead of the helpful (and “Like Us”) welcome screens.

So, if you are a lawyer using LinkedIn, keep it up.  The engagement and ability to forge meaningful relationships is only going to increase.  If you don’t use it regularly, or haven’t signed up, you should seriously spend some time getting up to speed.  If you are using Facebook, you may want to examine your efforts, and whether they would be better spent on LinkedIn.

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Survey re Legal RFPs“It’s no secret that corporate legal departments have embraced the use of RFPs and other competitive bidding mechanisms to identify, vet and engage outside counsel,” according to a recent survey conducted by LexisNexis®.  The intent of the survey was to get a snapshot across law firms and determine the level of request for proposal (RFP) activity and corresponding efforts by law firms to respond.  The survey was conducted from July 23 to August 3, 2012 and used responses from 213 law firms.

In reviewing the results, I think two things are clear:

  1. the use of RFPs as a tool for selecting outside counsel continues to increase
  2. significant process improvements are needed, on both the outside and inside counsel sides of the RFP process

Here are a few highlights from the report and my thoughts:

42 percent of respondents saw an increase in RFP activity at their firms over the past 12 months.

This tracks what we have been seeing in the marketplace over the past couple years.  As a senior director at LexisNexis stated “the survey findings fall in line with a trend in recent years for corporations to seek formal proposals from firms.”

A surprising number of survey respondents simply do not know the level of RFP activity underway at their firms.

To me, this is a real problem.  I have discussed this issue with business development managers at several firms – the problem is that the RFPs come in all shapes and sizes (some paper, some electronic) and are sent directly to lawyers, who often fail to inform the rest of the firm of the RFP and their response.  What we need is a better, centralized system for receiving RFPs and managing responses.  This is where cloud software becomes crucial.

46 percent of RFP responses can be handled with fewer than 20 hours of effort, but 7 percent of RFP responses topped out at 40+ hours per response.  On a yearly basis, a total of 1,175 hours per year are spent on responses at smaller firms.  At the largest firms 4,800 hours!

These stats are staggering.  At the largest firms, they essentially have 2.3 full-time employees working on RFP responses.  At small firms – one half of a full time employee.  As anyone that has worked at a small firm would know, that kind of overhead can be cost prohibitive.  The solution – streamlined and concise RFPs.  Moving away from 100+ page responses and getting proposals more targeted and more relevant.  Utilizing a platform for instantly generated proposals and archiving of past responses for quick reference.  And large firms shouldn’t have an advantage because they can throw more hours at a response.  Limit the length.  Limit the waste.

Only a modest 58 percent of responses verified they bother to track wins and losses.

Put another way – 42 percent have no idea what the result was from their past RFPs.   In light of the time spent (see above), this is shocking.  What we need is an easy way to both track responses and receive feedback directly from inside counsel on all RFPs, regardless of outcome.  Tracking results is a key way to measure ROI.

At RFPattorney, we are working hard to solve these problems with our cloud RFP software.  Click to learn more.

A summary of the report can be found here.

Responding to a Request for Proposal / RFPWhen it comes to request for proposal responses, length does not equal quality. Let me say that again.  Just because you write a long proposal doesn’t mean you have a better proposal.  Indeed, our cloud RFP software limits the number of questions and the lengths of responses.  We are that committed to streamlining and improving the process.  One particular section of responses that always falls victim to this problem is the experience section.  Always.  Attorneys love to list each and every case  or deal they have handled.  While this will showcase that you have extensive experience generally as a lawyer, the goal of an RFP is to obtain the specific matter at issue.  To that end, I have three tips to follow when responding to a request for proposal.

1)     Pick only the best representative matters.  And make them stand out.  Don’t let them get lost in a laundry list.  Read the RFP, determine the true nature of the matter at issue and then spend some time with your experience list.  Find the best matches and discuss them.   By keeping the focus on these cases, you will not only keep the inside counsel’s attention, you will also show them that you value their time.   Remember, a RFP response may be the first piece of your work product a potential client sees – don’t miss the opportunity to impress.

2)     Connect the dots.  Seriously, it may not be obvious why a particular matter is relevant.  Explain this for the potential client.  If your case summary sounds like a Lexis headnote, you have done something wrong.  Help the reader see why the past matter shows why you are right for this matter.

3)     Explain how you achieved the end result in each matter.  This is your opportunity to stand out.  Don’t just say “we won.”  Show how you won.  What was unique about your strategy.  What ways did you manage costs, communicate better, leverage technology. How will you use this experience to succeed in the potential matter.  Make clients visualize you handling their matter – and you will likely get that matter.

Inside and Outside Counsel ThoughtsI had the honor last week of guest posting over at Christopher Hill’s wonderful construction law blog, Construction Law Musings, where I shared my thoughts on my recent move from law firm to in-house practice and how my views of the inside / outside counsel relationship have evolved.  Hopefully my insights will be helpful.  You can view my post here.

 

 

Many business development folks, legal marketers, and bloggers often write about how to make and secure new contacts and leads.  However, a lead does not equal a new client.  You must bring that client all the way through the sales funnel before you can call your efforts successful.  You must decide which clients/leads are worth the most focus.

Thus, a common question that lawyers ask is, “How do I prioritize my contacts?”  First, you need to create categories for these contacts – A, B, C – and, depending on the number of contacts you have in your pipeline, begin reviewing your list of contacts and divide them according to opportunity.  I recommend no more than 5-10 in your “A” or top priority category. These are the ones you will focus most of your attention on developing.  Keep in mind that spreading your efforts too wide will not yield the best results. Now, I can hear you asking, “how do I know which ones have the greatest opportunity?” Here are some questions to ask about each contact to determine what kind of opportunities exists and what category they should be placed in:

  • How deep is your relationship with this contact? Is this someone that will take your call? If not, move them down on the list and revisit another time.
  • What is their involvement in the decision making process? How much work are they able to directly purchase? Are they an influencer in the organization?
  • Do you know their legal needs? If not, how can you get this information? (research tools? Meaningful questions?)
  • How profitable is their work? And can it support your rates?
  • Who is your competition, both real and perceived? Are they handling these matters in-house? Or are they handled by another firm?

By asking these questions regarding each of your contacts, you should be able to extract the ones with legitimate business opportunities and develop an action plan for each of your contacts in the “A” category.

In regards to the B and C contacts, keep looking for opportunities to stay in front of them and watch for possible touch points. Work with your legal assistant or utilize Outlook calendaring to schedule quarterly touch points with contacts on your B list and semi-annual touches with your C list contacts. Keep in mind that this is a fluid system and as you explore opportunities with your contacts they may move around on your priority list.

Remember – people hire people they like and this business is all about relationships, so be genuine and authentic and always look for ways to add value.

 

Legal Technology Websites and Startups in Last PlaceAs anyone in legal technology knows, launching a successful website or app is hard.  Very hard.  But apparently, it ranks as the hardest, according to TechCrunch, a leading blog on technology, websites, and startups.  Yesterday, TechCrunch posted an article – “Getting Rich By The Numbers, A CrunchBased How-To” – wherein the author analyzed data from CrunchBase to determine how various categories of tech companies / startups have fared.  If you are unfamiliar, CrunchBase is a database of technology company, people, and investors.  Now, the results are far from scientific and even note a survivor bias (those startups that fail are likely not in the database), but it’s definitely an interesting analysis.

The author looked at the following data for 19 different categories of tech companies: # started, # funded, amount of money raised, Techcrunch coverage, acquisitions and IPOs.  Let me first say that I think there are many more metrics relevant to determining the success or failure of a company.  Further, it only analyzed companies in CrunchBase.   Nonetheless, as someone that founded a legal technology company, and very closely follows the industry, I am not surprised by these results.  The legal category  had 306 companies started with 23 funded, 2 acquisitions, and and 0 IPOs.  (LegalZoom recently filed for an IPO).  ”Dire statistics.”  Indeed.

However, these results got me thinking about legal technology all day.  I just don’t think they paint an accurate picture of our industry.  Here is why:

1)  We are not playing the same game.  Lawyers are subject to ethics rules that aren’t in most other industries.  If you have the latest and greatest idea for a picture sharing app or restaurant discovery service, you can hack together a website in no time and go.  Not true for lawyers.  Rules govern referrals, solicitation, confidentiality, privilege, etc., etc.  Add on top the fact that ethics rules are continually changing to keep up with new technology (or not).  It simply takes more planning, more research, and more time to get a compliant legal app out there.

2)  It takes an intimate knowledge of the legal industry.  You need to know first-hand how the industry functions, how work is done, how business is developed, how lawyers think, etc.  Launching a legal startup with little or no experience practicing law can make success very difficult.  On the other hand, it is hard for lawyers to leave a successful practice to focus on a website or app.  Maybe call it a lack of founders, but it could be leading to less companies and lower success.

3)  Some of the most useful legal websites and apps are not “legal” at all.  Examples include WordPress, LinkedIn, DropBox, Evernote.  Indeed, these non-legal apps are changing the legal industry and the way law is practiced.

4)  Despite fewer players, there are, in fact, many great companies doing tremendous things in the legal space.  A few examples include Lexblog re legal publishing, several law practice management platforms,  fastcase re legal research, Avvo re ratings, LawPivot re questions and answers.  Quality over quantity, and I am excited about what these companies are doing and where they are going.

As a closing thought, if anything, I think this data shows that there is tremendous opportunity in legal technology, and we have just started to scratch the surface on where innovators can take the legal industry.

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The death of word of mouth referrals for lawyers and law firmsIf you read the title of this post and thought – “that’s crazy” – well, you were right.  Word of mouth referrals are one of the best ways to develop business as a lawyer – always have been, always will be.  They are certainly not dead.  Many attorneys I know rely on it as their sole (and lucrative) source of new clients.  But I wasn’t trying to mislead you.  I do believe that traditional word of mouth referrals are dying.  And by traditional I mean the following scenario:

Client A asks Client B for the name of a good lawyer.  Client A receives the referral and contact information from Client B – perhaps with a summary of the prior work done.  Client A then calls up that lawyer, meets with the lawyer, and if satisfied, engages that lawyer.

Enter the Internet.   This is no longer how the referral scenario plays out.  What happens now is what I will call “word of mouth+” (I didn’t steal that from Google, I swear).  What I mean by word of mouth+ is the following scenario:

Client A asks Client B for the name of a good lawyer.  Client A receives the referral and contact information from Client B – perhaps with a summary of the prior work done.  Client A then pulls out the nearest laptop, iPad or phone and fires up Google, Bing, or if a rebel, Duck Duck Go.  Client A enters the name and browses the results.  Likely a firm page or bio.  But more likely a LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, or blog – social media and online networks generally perform better in search.  They review all of this information and then make the decision.  In fact, the referral may be sent as a v-card or a link, which has an even greater chance of further digital review.

Google is simply too readily accessible to put blind trust in a referral.   We search for everything – and with it built right into every smart phone, tablet, etc. – we search immediately.  There is a certain degree of trust placed in search engines.  If you are referred, you will be Googled or Binged (is this a word yet??).

So the question in the word of mouth+ era is what do clients find when they search for you online.  Ideally they will find articles, case studies, blog posts, and other substantive content that showcases your expertise.  If someone says you are the greatest trusts and estates lawyer in the world, but you are a ghost online, that referral might end before a phone call is ever placed.    The referral has already been made, and clients want to call – don’t give them a reason not to by not having a presence online.  Don’t have a robust web presence?  Our legal network can help.

Moving lessons for social media and business development for lawyersRecently, my wife and I moved from Indianapolis to the Detroit area.  We moved for a variety if reasons, but it happened fairly quickly and mostly under the radar from our friends and colleagues.  Thus, when everything was finalized and we had to make it public, there were some difficult (and sad) discussions with our closest Indy friends.  But we intentionally kept the big news off of our social media.  No Facebook posts about the move, no Pinterest pins of new houses, no LinkedIn updates re jobs.

WHY…?

Because we wanted to be sure to tell a certain group of people face-to-face, whether at dinner, over a beer, or just stopping by.  Once we were confident we had told everyone personally, only then did we post away to social media.   Sure, Facebook is wonderful for getting the news out to everyone, but it lacks a certain something that may never translate to the digital world.

So, what’s the lesson for legal marketing and lawyers using social media?  There are some communications that should always be made personally.  Use social media – post, tweet, blog, etc. – and use it often.  But, it shouldn’t replace what you are doing now, or what has worked in the past – it should supplement it.  Face-to-face works.  And it is meaningful.   You still need to pick up the phone and schedule a lunch, or get together for a ball game.

Now, what messages should be sent via social media and what should be conveyed personally?  That is your call as a lawyer, but social media posts can be a slippery slope.  Perhaps a new case comes out that will directly impact a client’s business.  If you post it or blog about it, they may well read it.  But sitting down with them and explaining the ruling, how it will impact them, and listening to their concerns will mean much, much more.  Remember, social media is a tool, but one of many that you can use as a lawyer.

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