Networking Strategies for Introverted Lawyers

Lawyerist readers are familiar with the mantra for building a law practice: networking, networking, networking. But there are lawyers out there who, despite their keen legal minds, are just painfully shy. For these lawyers, the idea of “working the room” at a cocktail party or calling someone that they hardly know to arrange a coffee or lunch meeting is not just undesirable, it actually could make them break into a cold sweat.

The risks of isolation

The introverted lawyer is not just at risk of being unable to develop a referral network that will generate business. In representing lawyers in discipline matters, I often see lawyers who are very isolated from other lawyers, whether it is by virtue of office location (working from home, renting an inexpensive office in a suburban office park, working in a rural area), a strong independence streak (“I will prove I can do this myself”), or, sometimes, not knowing how to get started networking. For some lawyers, isolation leads to bigger problems, such as not having colleagues to turn to when tough questions arise on files or not having anyone around to notice that the lawyer is showing signs of depression. It is troubling in a discipline case to represent a lawyer who cannot identify one or two friends with whom the lawyer has shared his or her problems and know the lawyer well enough to testify as a character witness.

Get in the game

Introverted lawyers should approach networking in ways that will minimize confrontation. For starters, become a joiner. Sign up for one or two bar committees, social organizations, or nonprofit boards that will have regular meetings. Small nonprofits, in particular, are eager to have lawyers serve on their boards. Through these meetings, over time, you will get to know your fellow participants and they will have the opportunity to get to know you.

These relationships may lead to a coffee or lunch date but it is not critical. You should find appropriate times—before meetings, during breaks, walking to the parking lot afterwards—to slip your elevator speech into the conversation. After you’ve served a two or three-year term, move on to another activity. Yes, this is a long-term strategy. But really, all networking is a long-term strategy and you will likely make deeper connections with people who actually work with you on projects than you would just by drinking a lot of coffee.

Go on-line

Introverts should also take the opportunity to participate in on-line discussion groups. Ask anyone who is active in a listserv and they will tell you that they get to know the personalities of their fellow participants just by reading their posts. More importantly, they develop trust in their colleagues and refer business to them. This is where an introverted lawyer can shine because often your strengths lie in deliberation and thoughtfulness (as opposed to your extroverted cousins, like me, who think while speaking, which occasionally has unintended consequences).

If your local bar association does not have an on-line discussion group or listserv, consider joining the ABA. No, it is not likely to generate referrals. Networking, however, is a skill. Like all skills, it needs to be practiced. After you get the hang of participating, perhaps you can be the one to introduce a listserv to your local bar.

Lastly, look for situations in which you can develop one-on-one relationships without the cold calling. Sign up for a mentoring program, for example. You put your name in, they contact you. Offer to visit or take meals to members of your religious community when they are ill. Join a book group. Just try to form relationships with people in environments that are suited to your personality.

Introversion is a personality type, not a disability. Everyone needs to play to their strengths, networking included.

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Dark Alley Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?Running a successful law practice is all about getting clients. One way is by building a referral network, a frequent topic on Lawyerist. Another way is by advertising, such as in the yellow pages.

As traditional advertising methods wane, lawyers are getting excited by new methods of attracting clients through the internet. All those potential clients out there, yearning to find the lawyer of their dreams — all they need is a little encouragement. A little channelling. A system of connecting clients with lawyers. And lawyers will be eager to pay to have pre-screened clients sent their way – as long as they do not violate any ethics rules.

The general ethics rule is that a lawyer can not pay someone for referring a particular client or case. In fact, not only is a lawyer prohibited from paying but in most jurisdictions a lawyer cannot give “anything of valueâ€� to someone who recommends a lawyer’s services. No tickets to the Superbowl, no bottles of single-malt, not even a Starbucks gift card.

So unseemly. As draconian as that sounds, the practice of law has actually come a long way in its attitudes about advertising. Old school lawyers abhorred advertising as beneath the dignity of the profession. When SCOTUS declared in Bates v. Arizona (1977) that lawyers had a First Amendment right to advertise, then yellow pages ads, billboards, television commercials, local newspaper ads, little league jerseys, etc., all became fair game. None of these traditional advertising methods violates any rules on paying for clients because the advertisement is not targeted at a particular person with a specific legal problem. The fee is paid to the advertiser regardless of whether anyone ever reads the ad or contacts the lawyer. In short, the connection between the payment for the ad and the contact with a prospective client is attenuated at best.

Click here. Pay-per-click advertising, such as Google Adwords, presents a slightly more difficult question. In its simplest form, with Adwords an advertiser (such as a lawyer)  targets the words that consumers might search for using Google (e.g. “ethics lawyerâ€�). When someone searches using those words, the lawyer’s 4-line advertisement may show up above or to the right of the search results. The lawyer does not pay for the ad to appear but does pay when someone clicks on the lawyer’s ad and then is whisked away to the lawyer’s website.

So, the lawyer pays for clicks. Sounds pretty close to paying for each referral. But Google has no idea whether the clicker needs legal services, is just curious, or is bored at the office. Nor does Google guarantee a certain number of clicks or that the clickers will actually turn into paying clients. In the end, it looks more like targeted advertising than paying for clients.

Total Trouble? Several websites take targeting one step further and actually try to connect individual lawyers with individual clients. These on-line referral services, like Legal Match and Total Attorneys, invite prospective clients to submit information about their legal issues and then make that information available to lawyers who practice in the client’s geographical area. The lawyers pay for having access to these referrals.

Each service tries to avoid the ban on paying for referrals in its own way. With Legal Match, prospective client (PC) inquiries are routed to lawyer subscribers based on the lawyer’s practice area and location. The lawyer pays a flat subscription fee for the service. Presumably there are serveral lawyers for each location and practice area, so multiple lawyers are likely competing to respond to the same PCs (if there was only one lawyer, that would seem a lot more like paying for referrals). Several jurisdictions permit this type of service — Legal Match provides links to several ethics opinions.

Total Attorneys comes even closer to the line. Their referral program promises “geographical exclusivity� (only one attorney per practice area in a specific location) and “pay for performance� (the lawyer pays when Total Attorneys “produces results,� not a flat fee). The “performance� the lawyer pays for appears to be tied to new client contacts, not actual agreements to represent clients. Their scheme offended at least one gadfly who allegedly filed complaints against Total Attorneys lawyers in 47 jurisdictions for violating the rule against paying for referrals.  So far, it appears that the complaints in about a half-dozen of those jurisdictions have been dismissed, with Connecticut being the most recent. Whether we will ever find out the dispositions of the other 40+ complaints remains to be seen.

A final oddity in this area is that many states’ ethics rules allow nonprofits, such as bar associations, to operate referral services which charge attorneys directly for taking cases referred to them or require the lawyers to share the fees they receive with the bar association. Apparently, when a nonprofit is paid for a referral, it’s a public service; when anyone else receives a payment, it’s a pox upon the public interest.

As technology continues to change our lives, lawyer advertising will likely continue to change as well. If you’re thinking of being the first on your block to try a new method of attracting clients through the internet, make sure you are buying advertising, not clients.

lawyeristlab banner Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client? is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

Related posts:

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Running a successful law practice is all about getting clients. One way is by building a referral network, a frequent topic on Lawyerist. Another way is by advertising, such as in the yellow pages.

As traditional advertising methods wane, lawyers are getting excited by new methods of attracting clients through the internet. All those potential clients out there, yearning to find the lawyer of their dreams — all they need is a little encouragement. A little channelling. A system of connecting clients with lawyers. And lawyers will be eager to pay to have pre-screened clients sent their way – as long as they do not violate any ethics rules.

The general ethics rule is that a lawyer can not pay someone for referring a particular client or case. In fact, not only is a lawyer prohibited from paying but in most jurisdictions a lawyer cannot give “anything of value” to someone who recommends a lawyer’s services. No tickets to the Superbowl, no bottles of single-malt, not even a Starbucks gift card.

So unseemly. As draconian as that sounds, the practice of law has actually come a long way in its attitudes about advertising. Old school lawyers abhorred advertising as beneath the dignity of the profession. When SCOTUS declared in Bates v. Arizona (1977) that lawyers had a First Amendment right to advertise, then yellow pages ads, billboards, television commercials, local newspaper ads, little league jerseys, etc., all became fair game. None of these traditional advertising methods violates any rules on paying for clients because the advertisement is not targeted at a particular person with a specific legal problem. The fee is paid to the advertiser regardless of whether anyone ever reads the ad or contacts the lawyer. In short, the connection between the payment for the ad and the contact with a prospective client is attenuated at best.

Click here. Pay-per-click advertising, such as Google Adwords, presents a slightly more difficult question. In its simplest form, with Adwords an advertiser (such as a lawyer)  targets the words that consumers might search for using Google (e.g. “ethics lawyer”). When someone searches using those words, the lawyer’s 4-line advertisement may show up above or to the right of the search results. The lawyer does not pay for the ad to appear but does pay when someone clicks on the lawyer’s ad and then is whisked away to the lawyer’s website.

So, the lawyer pays for clicks. Sounds pretty close to paying for each referral. But Google has no idea whether the clicker needs legal services, is just curious, or is bored at the office. Nor does Google guarantee a certain number of clicks or that the clickers will actually turn into paying clients. In the end, it looks more like targeted advertising than paying for clients.

Total Trouble? Several websites take targeting one step further and actually try to connect individual lawyers with individual clients. These on-line referral services, like Legal Match and Total Attorneys, invite prospective clients to submit information about their legal issues and then make that information available to lawyers who practice in the client’s geographical area. The lawyers pay for having access to these referrals.

Each service tries to avoid the ban on paying for referrals in its own way. With Legal Match, prospective client (PC) inquiries are routed to lawyer subscribers based on the lawyer’s practice area and location. The lawyer pays a flat subscription fee for the service. Presumably there are serveral lawyers for each location and practice area, so multiple lawyers are likely competing to respond to the same PCs (if there was only one lawyer, that would seem a lot more like paying for referrals). Several jurisdictions permit this type of service — Legal Match provides links to several ethics opinions.

Total Attorneys comes even closer to the line. Their referral program promises “geographical exclusivity” (only one attorney per practice area in a specific location) and “pay for performance” (the lawyer pays when Total Attorneys “produces results,” not a flat fee). The “performance” the lawyer pays for appears to be tied to new client contacts, not actual agreements to represent clients. Their scheme offended at least one gadfly who allegedly filed complaints against Total Attorneys lawyers in 47 jurisdictions for violating the rule against paying for referrals.  So far, it appears that the complaints in about a half-dozen of those jurisdictions have been dismissed, with Connecticut being the most recent. Whether we will ever find out the dispositions of the other 40+ complaints remains to be seen.

A final oddity in this area is that many states’ ethics rules allow nonprofits, such as bar associations, to operate referral services which charge attorneys directly for taking cases referred to them or require the lawyers to share the fees they receive with the bar association. Apparently, when a nonprofit is paid for a referral, it’s a public service; when anyone else receives a payment, it’s a pox upon the public interest.

As technology continues to change our lives, lawyer advertising will likely continue to change as well. If you’re thinking of being the first on your block to try a new method of attracting clients through the internet, make sure you are buying advertising, not clients.

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client? was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Stop Bashing BigLaw

Slingshot 280x30011 Stop Bashing BigLawAs I surf around the blawgosphere, I have noticed that it seems to be in vogue for solo and small firm attorneys to take potshots at large law firms. If one read only the solo blawgs, it would seem all large law firms are lumbering, inefficient, selfish behemoths, so knocked off balance by this recession that they are about to keel over and smash their marble conference room tables. Then all the solo munchkins would come out of their hiding places in brightly colored garb, sing songs of freedom, and sign up all of the large firms’  former clients.

I am a solo and if large law firms crash, I am going to end up covered in dust.

There is a healthy tension between large law firms (“biglaw�) and solo or small firms (collectively, the “smalls�). Yes, biglaw has a reputation for some qualities that give the law a bad name — high fees, leveraging associates to increase partner salaries, huge billable hour requirements, and lousy work / life balance, to name a few of the popular gripes. But biglaw suits some lawyers. Some lawyers would rather practice law full-time than be a part-time bookkeeper, part-time techie, part-time human resources manager, and occasional lawyer. There are practice areas that are best learned in large firms and major transactions and litigation that a lawyer is only likely to touch in a large firm.

The smalls, in contrast, love to tout their personalized attention to clients, reasonable fees, individual autonomy, and great work / life balance. But not all smalls are good at bringing together the myriad of skills it takes to run a law practice. Most smalls practice some form of “retail� law: criminal, family, personal injury, workers comp, small business, real estate. Often the clients are high maintenance and the income stream equally unstable.

Both types of law firms serve the public. The fee structure of a large law firm makes those firms unreachable for most individual clients; these folks need smalls. A large company with millions of dollars on the line looks for a brand name, the vetting of associates and partners, and the ability to quickly put together a team of lawyers to tackle major litigation or a huge transaction. It is not an accident that there are thousands of small firms and that there are big firms with over a thousand lawyers.

But we need each other. Biglaw needs smalls because the bigger they are, the more conflicts they have. Biglaw’s corporate clients are managed by people — who get divorced, have too much to drink before driving home, get into accidents, etc. Many of those matters need to be referred out. Smart lawyers refer clients to good lawyers they know who are reasonably priced and will treat the client well — like smalls. Biglaw attorneys also need mediators and arbitrators, and smalls are less likely to be conflicted out than neutrals at other large law firms.

Smalls need biglaw, too. Smalls simply do not have the brand recognition that biglaw has; smalls are constantly marketing and looking for referrals.  Biglaw attorneys are a great source of referrals for smalls. Also, when a case comes in that is to big for a small to handle, the small firm needs to bring in some muscle. Obscure questions may arise in a client’s case that need special expertise that can be found only at a large firm. Relationships with biglaw are a two-way street.

If all that is not enough, remember that when you serve on a bar committee and need to have a meeting, biglaw will often host and spring for lunch. We all need to eat, so stop bashing biglaw.

lawyeristlab banner Stop Bashing BigLaw

Stop Bashing BigLaw is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

Related posts:

Notes from a Twitter curmudgeon

twitter logo 125x29111 Notes from a Twitter curmudgeonTo my own surprise, I’ve been using Twitter lately (“tweeting,� for those in the know).  I say surprise because I really still don’t understand what all the fuss is about. But there’s an awful lot of fuss and I hate to be the last one to show up at a party. Since Sam encouraged people last week to use Twitter, I thought I’d share how I’m using Twitter so that maybe others will be persuaded to give it a try as well.

Although many people put personal, clever, and/or random thoughts on Twitter, I find I have too many of my own random thoughts to focus on anyone else’s. I also don’t have the time or inclination to tweet repeatedly during the day.  Instead, I tweet on topics relevant to my practice, which is focussed on all aspects of legal ethics, law firm disputes, attorney-client privilege, and related topics.  So when I get wind of a new ethics decision, a proposed rule, or the like, I tweet it with a link to a document if possible. For example, a recent tweet:

SCOTUS granted cert on Q of appealability of orders to disclose atty-client privileged info.http://www.timesurl.at/93cb64

Because a tweet is limited to 140 characters, it’s important to use one of the URL-shortening services such as TimesURL or TinyURL!

Posting to Twitter has become an easy way for me to comment on information that comes across my desk without having to compose a complete blog entry (if I want to be a little more self-serving, I can tweet a link to my blog posts to try to increase traffic to Lawyerist). Over time, my Twitter page becomes full of short, helpful tips or links to documents that lawyers can use in their practice. I have even gone back to my own Twitter page to find a link to an article. By periodically deleting some of the posts that are indecipherable to others (such as my replies to other people’s tweets), my Twitter page remains substantive. I am trying to provide worthwhile content to the people who follow me.

I am a Twitter neophyte — as of this writing I had a mere 50 followers.  Most of the people who have chosen to follow me are not from Minnesota, so it seems unlikely that Twitter will be a source of business or referrals, at least in the near term. But it’s fun to be a part of the latest internet experiment, notwithstanding my curmudgeonly attitude.

You can follow me at www.twitter.com/Ethics_Maven. If you don’t like it, it’s just another click to stop following.

lawyeristlab banner Notes from a Twitter curmudgeon

Notes from a Twitter curmudgeon is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

Related posts:

Collecting fees in difficult economic times

managing accounts with glasses11 Collecting fees in difficult economic timesWith the stock market gyrating and the economy sinking, many lawyers are already starting to see clients fall behind on paying their bills.  Here are a few ideas for managing fee collection through troubling times:

Comfort clients

First of all, and to put the strategies below in context, make contact with your clients, particularly the ones who have typically paid their fees. Everyone’s nervous about the economy; you are one of their trusted professionals. Call them. See how they’re doing. Find out if there is anything you can do for them. Give them your ear. Don’t bill them for the call.

Send statements

Now is not the time to let invoices sit around unsent.  Yes, your clients maybe hurting financially, but they need to know what the status of their bill with you is. A big surprise later certainly won’t help.  If the clients have many bills, you need to make sure you’re figured into the mix. If clients don’t see a bill from you, they may think they don’t owe you anything or that your bill can wait a couple of months.

Review receivables

Take a look at your clients who are more than 90 days behind on their payments. With a down economy, some of the clients who have not been paying never will. Take a look at those clients’ cases and determine whether there are any you would be better off withdrawing from.

You need to find the files that have no pending discovery or trial deadlines, venued in state court rather than federal court (because you may not be allowed to withdraw from federal court because of unpaid fees), and may require a lot of uncompensated work if you don’t make some tough decisions. Make sure you’ve asked for payment first.

For clients who are less than 90 days behind, call or write them.  Don’t ignore their overdue bills and don’t threaten them either. Just remind them that you’ve done good work for them and that you need to be paid. If you ask for a partial payment or a payment plan, they may appreciate your flexibility and you might get some money that would otherwise have gone to their other creditors.

Require retainers

If you sometimes begin a representation without an advance retainer, start requiring one, and if you currently get retainers, set the initial retainer higher. By making better use of advance retainers, you are reducing your risk of nonpayment in the future, which may help balance out the slow payments by some of your current clients.

Line up liens

In many states, a lawyer can assert an attorney’s lien against a client’s property that was the subject of the lawyer’s representation, which can be an effective way to ensure collection of a lawyer’s fee. But a lawyer can lose his or her right to the lien by not following the technical requirements regarding notice and filing.

In Minnesota, for example, an notice of intent to claim an attorney’s lien on a client’s real property must be filed within 120 days of the last work the lawyer performed on behalf of the client. If the notice is not filed on time, the right to claim a lien is lost.

Avoid Animosity

When dealing with clients who aren’t paying, remember that a fee dispute with a client that escalates may leave you with a conflict of interest. Lawyers cannot sue a current client over fees. Stress over a client’s nonpayment has led more than one lawyer to do or say things that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.

If you believe that an existing client owns property that could be used as security for your fee, treat any request for a security agreement as a business transaction and follow the ethical rules (ABA model rule 1.8(a)), especially giving the client an opportunity to consult independent counsel about the transaction.  The same goes for converting an hourly fee agreement into a contingent fee arrangement or asking a client to sign a confession of judgement.

lawyeristlab banner Collecting fees in difficult economic times

Collecting fees in difficult economic times is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

Related posts: