Law Firm Branding – The Danger Of Illusory Brands

Over the last ten years, we have witnessed advances in law practice technology, the expanding roles of paralegals, and the outsourcing of legal work. Yet despite all of these cost-cutting and time-saving advantages, many law firms, especially the large ones, remain struggling for their very survival.

Only a decade ago, law firms were enjoying remarkable levels of growth and prosperity. Firm coffers were full and firms were spending significant sums of money on promoting themselves in order to enter new markets and acquire premium business. Some firms even began experimenting with branding. In those days, branding was mostly viewed as just another form of advertising and promotion. In truth, firm leadership rarely understood the branding process or what the concept of branding was actually intended to accomplish. But it didn’t really matter, revenue was climbing and profitability remained strong. But what so many of these firms didn’t expect was that, in just a few years, our economy would be shaken by a deep and fierce recession, one which would shake the financial foundations of even the most profitable of firms.

For law firms, the recession that began in 2007 had, by 2010, penetrated the most sacred of realms- the proverbial benchmark of a firms standing and achievement- profits-per-partner. For many firms, especially mega-firms, the decline in law partner profits were reaching record lows and it wasn’t long until the legal landscape was littered with failed firms both large and small.

In trying to deflect further losses, firms began to lay off associates and staff in record number. But the problems went much deeper. There simply were too many lawyers and not enough premium work to go around. It was a clear case of overcapacity, and it was also clear it was not going to improve anytime soon.

More than twelve of the nation’s major law firms, with more than 1,000 partners between them, had completely failed in a span of about seven years. Against this background, law schools were still churning out thousands of eager law graduates every year. Highly trained young men and women who were starved for the chance to enter a profession that once held the promise of wealth, status and stability.

As partner profits dwindled, partner infighting grew rampant. Partner would compete against partner for the same piece of business. The collegial “team-driven” identity and “progressive culture” that firms spent millions of dollars promoting as their firm’s unique brand and culture had vanished as quickly as it was created. While financial times were tough, in truth many of the big firms had the resources to survive the downturn. Instead, partners with big books of business were choosing to take what they could and joined other firms- demoralizing those left behind.

To understand why this was happening, we must first remove ourselves from the specific context and internal politics of any one firm and consider the larger picture. The failure and decline of firms was not only a crisis of economics and overcapacity, it was also a crisis of character, identity, values and leadership. Sadly, the brand identity many of these firms pronounced as their own did not match up against the reality of who they actually were. In other words, for many firms, the brand identity they created was illusory- and illusory brands ultimately fracture in times of financial stress.

Ultimately, the branding process must also be a transformative process in search of the firms highest and most cherished values. It is, and must be, a process of reinvention at every level of the firm- especially its leadership. The transformative process is fundamental to building a true and enduring brand. Without it, firms run the risk of communicating an identity that does not represent them, and this is the danger, especially when the firm is tested against the stress of difficult times.

How this miscommunication of identity was allowed to happen varied widely from firm to firm. But generally speaking, while firm leadership was initially supportive of the branding process, in most cases these same partners were rarely willing to risk exposing the firm’s real problems in fear that it would expose their own.

While decline of law firm revenue was clearly attributable to both a bad economy and an oversupply of lawyers, from an internal perspective the firm’s inability to come together and develop effective measures to withstand these pressures could usually be traced directly back to the lack of partner leadership. A firm that proclaims to be something it is not- is inevitably doomed to failure. Say nothing of the psychic damage it causes at the collective level of the firm. It is no different then the psychological dynamics of the person who pretends to be someone he is not- ultimately it leads to confusion, frustration and eventually self-betrayal.

It’s easy to indulge in self-praise when economic times are good. Some partners might even attribute their success to all that clever branding they put into place years before. But, when the threat of financial crisis enters the picture, the same firm can quickly devolve into self-predatory behavior- a vicious cycle of fear and greed that inevitably turns into an “eat-or-be-eaten” culture- which for most firms marks the beginning of the end.

For any firm playing out its last inning, it is simply too late to rally the troops or reach for those so-called cherished values that were supposedly driving the firm’s success. In truth, when times got bad, these values were nowhere to be found, except on the firms website, magazine ads and brochures.

The point is that when a firm is actually driven by its cherished beliefs and core values, the firm will begin to live by them, especially in times of adversity. The firm will pull together and rally behind its leadership, and with clarity of purpose, each person will do what needs to be done to weather the storm. But when there exists a fundamental contradiction between what a firm says they are, and how they actually conduct themselves both internally and to the world- the vendors with whom they do business and the clients they represent- the firm will never reach its full potential. It will remain dysfunctional and it will risk joining that growing list of failed firms.

The financial collapse and deterioration of so many law firms in the past few years is a compelling testament to the importance of insisting on truth and integrity in the branding process.

In 2014, it is clear that business-as-usual in our profession is no longer a sustainable proposition. For this reason I am convinced that firms driven by fear and greed are firms destined to eventually self-destruct. That is because, no matter how much these firms try to brand, they will never be able to brand truthfully, and therefore they will never be able to compete against more progressive and enlightened firms- those that do not worship wealth and power, but rather cherish personal and professional fulfillment.

There is a choice for those who believe their firm is worth saving- reinvent yourself to reflect values that are truly worthy of cherishing, or risk devolving into something less than what you aspire to be and risk your firm’s heart and soul in the process.

Without Disruptive Innovation, Many IP Law Firms Destined to Meet Same Fate As Buggy Whip Makers

A possible upside to the recent economic downturn is that many previously accepted business models are being revealed as in need of substantial reinvention or even total elimination. The billable hour/leverage law firm model for legal services is one of these increasingly maligned business models, and is now appearing to be in danger of ending up in the dustbin of history. Specifically, even those who benefit handsomely from the billable hour, such as the Cravath firm’s many $800 per hour lawyers, now realize the fundamental irrationality of charging a client for time spent instead of value provided. This alone should signal that change is in the air.

Notwithstanding the growing conversation about the need for alternative client service models, I fear that the majority of IP law firms will either try to ignore the desire for change or will respond by offering only incremental modifications to their existing methods of providing legal services to their clients. As someone with considerable experience dealing with IP lawyers, I believe that, unfortunately, the conservative nature of most IP attorneys means that IP firms will likely lag behind in client service innovations. Thus, I am of the opinion that many prestigious and historically highly profitable IP law firms will in the foreseeable future cease to exist.

I reach this conclusion as a result of various salient experiences. In one of these, several years ago, I approached a managing partner of a well-known IP law firm with suggestions of how to decrease the number of attorney hours expended on client matters. At that time, the firm was beginning to experience considerable push back from clients about the cost of routine legal services. I noted to the managing partner that he could lower the cost non-substantive e.g., administrative client IP matters, by assigning such tasks to lower billing paralegals. His response to this idea: “If paralegals did the work, what would the 1st and 2nd year associates do?”

Of course, the central premise of the managing partner’s response was that in order to keep the gears of the firm’s billable hour/leverage partner model turning smoothly, he needed to keep the young associates busy billing by the hour. The existing paradigm of his law firm required that it keep hiring associates to increase partner leverage and ensure that they efficiently billed clients by the hour, with a significant portion of each associate’s billed time directly going into the partner’s pockets. Left out of this business model was whether the clients’ best interests were properly served by the model that best served the law firm’s partnership.

Clearly, this law firm was not well managed, which might serve as an excuse for the managing partner’s self-serving perspective on client IP legal services. However, my experience as a corporate buyer of IP legal services further revealed that that the billable hour/leverage partner business model was an arrangement that frequently ut the client–which was now me–after the law firm’s interests.

As an in-house counsel spending several $100K’s per year for legal services at a number of respected IP firms, I consistently felt that when I called outside counsel for assistance the first thought that popped into the lawyer’s mind was “So glad she called–I wonder how much work this call is going to lead to?” More often than not, I got the sense that my outside IP lawyers viewed my legal concerns as problems for them to solve on a per hour basis, not as issues that might affect the profits of the company for which I worked. The difference is subtle, but critical: the context of the former is lawyer as a service provider, whereas the latter is lawyer as a business partner.

Against these experiences, I was not surprised at what I heard recently when discussing my feelings about the billable hour/leverage model with a partner friend at one of the top IP specialty law firms in the US. This partner echoed my sentiments about the need for innovation in IP client services. However, she also indicated that most of her firm’s partners do not recognize that there is a problem with the way they currently provide IP legal services to their clients. As she told it, many of her more senior partners have been living well on the billable hour/leverage model, so they currently see little need to modify their behavior. My partner friend nonetheless realizes that her law firm is critically ill and is likely to soon experience something akin to sudden cardiac arrest. Sadly, she is not a member of her law firm’s management and, since there is no upper level recognition that change is needed, it would serve little purpose for her to raise her concerns to those partners who could effect change (and would probably not be politically expedient for her to do so).

The failure of these currently well-compensated IP law firm partners to recognize the shifting winds of their client’s acceptance of their billing practices–the fundamental basis of their law firm’s business model–mirrors the response of entrenched interests throughout history to innovations that did not mesh with their existing business model paradigm. Moreover, the inability of many IP law firms to recognize the climate for change leads me to believe that many of these venerated law firms will soon meet the fate of buggy whip manufacturers if they do not innovate in the manner by which they provide legal services to their clients.

Playing out this analogy, buggy whip manufacturers met their demise because they thought they were in the buggy whip business when they were actually in the transportation business. When buggy whips became obsolete, so did these formerly prosperous manufacturers. Notably, buggy whip manufacturers possessed the ability to change and thrive in the new world of the automobile. They already held strong business relationships with the buggy manufacturers that became the first automobile companies. They also employed skilled craftsmen who could have turned their efforts to making leather seat covers or other aspects of the automobile. These buggy whip manufacturers needed only to accept that they needed to ride the wave of innovation occurring at that time and reinvent themselves as suppliers to automobile manufacturers instead of buggy makers.

Like buggy whip manufacturers, I believe that many lawyers have become so entrenched in the law firm business that they have effectively forgotten that they are first legal services providers. As people charged with ensuring the continued vitality of the business, law firm lawyers often become primarily fee generators in that the fees are obtained from billing clients by the hour for legal services. Care and feeding of the law firm and its partners by ensuring constant creation of billable hours therefore often takes precedence over the legal needs of clients. Also analogous to buggy whip manufactures, IP lawyers working in law firms have the ability to change to prevent obsolescence. Indeed, these lawyers possess the requisite skills to continue practicing their craft outside of the existing paradigm of the law firm. Still further akin to buggy whip manufacturers, lawyers also have the existing relationships with customers i.e., clients, which gives them a valuable head start over newcomers who wish to enter the IP legal service arena using innovative, but unfamiliar, client service models.

Using the well-known picture of obsolescence presented by buggy whip manufacturers more than 100 years ago, I believe that IP lawyers who recognize that they must embrace innovation in the way they provide IP legal services to clients will be poised for success when their clients decide that the time for change has arrived. On the other hand, lawyers who believe they are in the IP law firm business will invariably be left behind when innovations in client service enter the marketplace that render the law firm business model obsolete.

IP lawyers should not expect that they will be able to predict when their clients will demand change. As with the customers of buggy whip manufacturers, law firm clients will not serve their IP counsel with notice warning prior to taking their business to lawyers who provide them with innovative, and more client-centric, service models. To the contrary, when clients are finally presented with acceptable alternatives, they will naturally migrate to the innovation that best meets their business needs. The result will be that one day, these currently successful IP lawyers will likely wake up to realize that they are losing their clients in droves to lawyers who succeeded in developing and introducing an innovative client service model to the world. And, as most lawyers will tell you, once a client is gone, they are likely gone forever.

Not only will clients fail to announce that they intend to leave their law firm before they do so, they also will not tell their lawyers how you can serve them better. Why should they–they are not in the business of providing legal services. Accordingly, mutually beneficial client service innovations must be generated by and because of lawyer action. But, because of their inherently conservative nature, I believe that many IP lawyers may fail to realize that innovation is critical until it is too late to preserve their client base.

Some might contend that complaints about the billable hour model have abounded for many years, but no major changes have occurred to date, thus indicating that most clients may be all bluster and no action. While it is certainly true that clients exerted no real pressure on lawyers for change in the past, circumstances are markedly different today than before. Disruptive innovation is rocketing through society, and many formerly solid business models, such as newspapers and recorded music, are now teetering on the cusp of demise as a result.

The signals are there that law IP firms that rely on the billable hour/leverage model appear poised to experience significant stress from clients and critics in the near future. Those relying on this model for their livelihood would be well-served to look for innovative ways to address this changing environment. In short, those who think that the billable hour/leverage law firm model will escape the transformative business innovations of the current era are merely “whistling past the graveyard.” IP law firms, as well as other types of law firms, must innovate now and innovate big or I fear they will suffer the fate of the buggy whip makers.

Starting a Law Firm – What’s in a Name?

When I started my law firm I was confronted with many choices. What kind of law will I practice? Where will I practice? Who do I want for clients? What kind of fees will I charge? It wasn’t until I actually got into the planning stages of the law firm that I began to see these questions as more big picture, firm philosophy type of questions. These type of questions may never be fully answered because they are not static.

One big picture question that is static and that can have a profound effect on the success of your firm is its name. What’s in a name? A lot if you think about it. Think about your own name for starters. What if you had been named something different? What if you were a boy and had been given a girls name? What if you were born in a particular religion and were given a name not associated with that religion? Have you ever been to a place where for some reason your name was looked down upon? These same types of feelings can be encountered with your law firm name.

The great thing about starting a law firm is that you get to think about this and plan ahead. If you are starting a law firm and are reading this article, you are probably either fairly young, fairly technologically proficient, or both. If you are, then you can probably see that the face and structure of the practice of law are shifting gradually beneath everyone’s feet. Competition is fierce, and image is everything. And guess what, one of the first things people will learn about you, something they will probably use to form an opinion about you before they even meet you, is your firm name.

When naming your law firm there are some things you should think about to make sure you are maximizing that first impression. First, don’t use your name. Second, it should be easy to remember. And finally, it should make people feel and think the way you want them to feel and think about your law firm. Although this may seem easy, when you actually try to do it, I think you’ll find it is a pretty tough exercise.

Some you are probably thinking, “why not use your name? Everyone else does.” That is precisely why. Although people have different goals, if you are starting a law firm, one of those goals is probably to make money practicing law. You make money by having people sign up for your services. People sign up for your services when they know who you are. Why blend in with everyone else when you can set yourself apart? Not only does not using your name allow you to present an image in prospective client’s minds, it allows you to build the brand you want. A great example of this is Valorem Law Group. If you look at their website a central theme is discarding the billable hour to provide clients value for what they are being paid. If you don’t already know, valorem is latin for value (loosely). Do you see the jump start you can get on the competition with a good name?

Second, easy to remember. This is practical for obvious reasons. If people refer your services to friends or colleagues, what is easier to remember, Valorem Law Group or Smith, Sands, Zaremba, Charles, Flippy and Jagermeister? Make your name easy to remember and you make it easier to get business – a key when starting a law firm.

Finally, the brand. When you start your own law firm you start out as the brand. At all times you are promoting your practice, you are what your practice stands for. But before anyone knows what you are all about, you can start them down the right track with a great name that represents the firm philosophy. A strong, powerful, confident name can make the difference in someone choosing to call you. It can also mask your size. “The law firm of Joe Shmoe” implies that you are a small firm. Like it or not many people associate small firm size with poor performance or cheap services. Look bigger than you are immediately by having a firm name that connotes structure, organization, and numbers.

Civil Rights and the Lawyers Who Defend Them

A San Antonio civil rights lawyer advocates on behalf of their clients whose rights have been infringed upon. This infringement can come from public officials, such as police officers, employers or any individual. A good civil right lawyer in San Antonio is well versed in Texas civil law and is willing to address a wrong done to their client.

When we say “civil rights,” we are actually talking about the basic rights ensured by the constitution. These rights belong to every American citizen and give everyone the right to practice religion, speak freely, own a gun, and to live without discrimination based on race, gender, or religion. When a person feels they have had their rights breached, they can seek the help of a San Antonio attorney.

The history of our rights is a long, and sometimes unpleasant one. Over the course of that history, countless numbers of people from all racial groups have given their lives to fight for these freedoms. Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are just a few historical figures who drastically progressed the lives of the people from their generations.

Texas state laws and the codes of San Antonio are directly influenced by the regulations of the constitution, and any San Antonio civil rights case should be handled by a lawyer who understands the limitations of all of the state and federal laws. Some of the best attorneys will be very passionate about protecting the rights of all citizens.

A civil rights lawyer should have a legal education in this particular area of law. Their experience should be noted and their cases are well documented. Using online sources to check credentials and review the lawyer’s resume helps the client understand better the caliber of the attorney and their potential to be a good advocate.

Varying Video for Effective Law Firm Web Marketing

Video is becoming increasingly important to law firm web marketing. Website and YouTube video can help law firms with website stickiness, improve professionalism, optimize their law firm SEO and leverage social media marketing to carry their message to both their existing clients and prospective clients. Let’s consider a few YouTube statistics. YouTube, owned by Google since 2006, boasts some truly amazing metrics. For example, as of this writing, YouTube’s website states that it attracts over 800 billion unique users visits each month and over 3 billion hours of video are watched each month. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and in 2011 YouTube had more than 1 trillion views or around 140 views for every person on Earth. Clearly web video is attracting and retaining a large following.

How can you optimize your law firm marketing content for YouTube? Strength is represented in numbers and variety. Once you have created a page (or space) on your law firm website, you should also create a YouTube channel. Optimize your channel for your target prospects and make sure your description and tags incorporate the long tail keywords germane to your target audience. Leverage your law firm logo and branding to make your YouTube channel look professional and current. Then, populate both your channel and your law firm website with compelling content across multiple video mediums. For example, you can use PowerPoint Vlogs, talking head recordings (using video from your own laptop), Skype recorded videos, professionally shot and edited videos and recorded webinars. There are pros and cons with each of these videos relating to your law firm web marketing.

  • PowerPoint Vlogs:These are fast and easy to create and post. You will achieve better results if your slide deck has been created by a graphic artist. Vlogs are typically a more casual type of video, and can be used to rapidly convey changes in a specific industry.
  • Recorded Webinars: Webinars can be recorded and posted to your law firm website or YouTube. Shorter is usually better, as patience can wear thin for even an interesting, albeit lengthy webinar recording. Webinars offer the advantage of looking and sounding “professional”, though quality can vary based on the vagaries of the internet throughput and recording devices used on the day of the webinar.
  • Talking Head Recordings:Quality varies on the recording device used and the professionalism and experience of the speaker. For example, using a built in high def camera can work well with some laptops, I usually suggest multiple practice sessions across several devices, to compare and contrast the resulting video. Make sure your background looks professional, an office background, if not cluttered, often looks best. You can also record in an empty courtroom, or on a quiet weekend, in front of a court house. This can be done with a computer or other digital recording device.
  • Skype Recorded Videos:Skype interviews are often easier for the speaker because they are responding to “interview” questions and don’t need to be as rehearsed when compared to Vlogs or talking head videos. Interviewers can utilize on camera or off camera (split screen) technologies. Skype does not offer recording capabilities, a third party software solution must be used.
  • Professional Videographer Videos:There are two types of these videos, those which feature or include live speakers, and those which use photos or images which convey your value proposition. The former might include a message from the managing partner or other attorneys, the latter might include images of your offices and other related law firm materials, or images pertaining to your target market.

Once you’ve added videos to your YouTube channel and website, leverage these for your social media marketing campaigns. Post, Tweet, Pin, Like, Link, Blog and Vlog your content. Push your video out to your market using LinkedIn, Facebook, Tiwtter, Google, YouTube, Pinterest, Blogs, etc. Make sure your website links and call to action are prominently noted on both your channel and each video. Vary your video and vary your content for optimum efficacy. Educational videos typically work best. One of the fastest growing areas of YouTube relates to “How To” videos. Whether you’re discussing how to how to aggressively defend lawsuits, how to mitigate liability or how to ensure driver safety, video is a great way to reach your target markets.

Remember, all of your content does not need to specifically relate to law, as long as it is professional and interesting and results in quality traffic and interaction with your target market. Note that your content will vary drastically based on your practice. For example, attorneys specializing in family law will have a different approach, look and feel than those practicing corporate litigation. Your video content should “speak” to the audience you are targeting. And when in doubt, you can create your own informal focus group, sending your video links to trusted clients, friends and colleagues for their candid feedback. If your law firm has yet to begin your video law firm web marketing initiative, there is no time like the present. If you have already begun, remember to vary your video, your content and your web marketing distribution for optimum results.