Robert Ambrogi did me a kindness by including me in his post, The Year of Women in Legal Tech.

I’ve been working in legal technology before it was even a thing.

Over the past 20 years, the field of legal digital marketing has taken off and become a legitimate business need.

A legal digital marketer as a young woman

As the legal world has become more competitive, the need to keep pace the business world requires law firms to have strong digital marketing talent.

The business of law

To put myself through law school, I worked weekends at large law firm handling every job imaginable: filing, moving offices, answering phones, researching, and delivering mail along with lunch.

Plus, during one spring break, I spent the entire week dinking around on Prodigy–I was fascinated. I know I’m dating myself but it gives you a sense where the industry was when I was in law school.

While I was studying for the bar and waiting on my results, I helped the firm to build their first electronic filing system. I wasn’t yet a programmer but worked closely with the developer to design the system. I soon realized I needed to learn code so I wouldn’t get the wool pulled over my eyes.

It was also during this time was when I learned to run a business and realized that I preferred the “business of law” rather than the practice of law.

E-discovery, chat rooms and server rooms

After passing the bar, I practiced family law then expanded into plaintiffs law. Leaps in technology saw the advent of using technology to perform discovery and document production. I was also considering the impact of the ethics rules on AOL chat rooms.

Then life veered again when I moved directly into technology. Cloistered in a server room, I developed training and marketing material for an e-commerce site. Mostly, I remember how cold the room was and that no one had any pens or pencils at their desk. Why would they–I was surrounded by programmers.

Graphic, digital and web design

At that time, few people knew how to use PhotoShop, Illustrator or PowerPoint, which made me more marketable.

Lured back into law to work as a graphics designer, I worked at a white shoe firm. Not only handling their graphics, I designed their intranet and built their web site. The developer hired to build the site disagreed with the design and refused to build it. So I learned how to code and built it myself, winning a nice award in the process.

Project management, social media and online advertising

Websites, microsites, blogs, online advertising, social media are just the front-end of the projects that I’ve managed. Yes, graphics are a part of the project but the most enjoyable part of my job is the intricacy of navigating through the multiple systems that drive the sites.

Like embroidery, websites are beautifully patterned images made from thousands of multicolored strands of code. The front is beautiful. The back-end; well, I strive for neatness.

I enjoy my job immensely and think I have the best of several worlds: the law, technology and marketing.

Who would have imagined I would have ended up here?

Thanks again, Robert, and kudos to all women who work in legal.

Perhaps I’m one of the lucky few that has always had a good relationship with the Marketing Department. Although I am the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am also a member of the Legal Marketing Association, and I find value in both. I have leveraged the relationships built by the Marketing teams to advance my own ideas and projects, and have partnered with Marketing when they need resources and research to advance their own processes and projects. It just makes sense, and there is a mutual benefit for all when there is a trust and partnership between the two groups. After all, we are on the same team, and we can do more together than we can individually.

This is why I am amazed when I see dysfunction between these two departments. And when I have run across firms where the relationships between the two groups exist, it usually comes from the following issues:

  1. Money
  2. Credit
  3. People
When I was still a newbie in the law firm environment, I made an effort to determine how the individual components of a large law firm administration functioned. I saw the power of interaction with the Partners that the Marketing team had versus the Library’s operation which tended to be more service oriented and low-keyed. Both serve important functions, but the “attitude” of each group was different. Although Marketing had influence and the ear of the partners, the Library held the power of the purse strings, products, and relationships with the vendors that provide those products. Marketing had their MBAs, and the Library had their JDs/MLIS’. Marketing was a three-year revolving door of talent, and the Library had members that did orientation when the Managing Partner was a first-year Associate. The two departments have their different structures, but again, played for the same team.
Where I’ve seen the divisions between the two come to a head when it comes to money, is typically the Marketing Department needs a resource, and wants the Library to pay for it. In a good environment, this means that the two heads of the departments meet and work out a plan to evaluate, test, and determine what the correct product is that solves the problems faced by the Marketing team (and by proxy, the firm.) In a bad situation, the Library determines that they will not work with Marketing because the library staff will not be the ones using the product. Or, Marketing goes out and buys the product without working with the Library, and then sends the Library the invoice. These two latter situations are more common than they should be, and completely unnecessary if there is a good relationship between the groups. When it comes to money, I have a very over-simplistic approach that I take. First – It’s not my money, it’s the partnership’s. As long as the powers-that-be approve this, it’s fine. It doesn’t affect the money I take home at the end or the month, it affects the money that the partners take home at the end of the month. Second, I make sure that these types of increases to my budget are made apparent to those that monitor my budget, and I show where it was approved by those powers-that-be. If the money hawks are concerned…  I point them to those that approved it, but also point out that the expense was something that will help leverage our firm for the future and (hopefully) bring in new clients and revenue. We’re all on the same team, so don’t throw your team-mate under the bus.
When it comes to credit, this is where feelings tend to get hurt, and power trumps cooperation. The typical story is that the Library conducts research and analysis for a Marketing Business Development or Client Development project. The work is compiled and sent to Marketing, and then it is restructured (sometimes) and sent to the Partner for action. When the project is successful, Marketing gets the credit, and the library gets ignored. Again, when the two groups work cooperatively, this happens less. However, I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when it comes to credit, the last person to handle it, tends to get the credit. This happens when reports are turned over to Accounting to add in “the numbers,” or IT to add in the tech specifications, and with Marketing when it comes to analysis and action items. The best way to solve this situation is to have a conversation with the other department to make sure that the value your team put in is made clear to the other department, and when appropriate, to the partners that use the final product. It is also important to have a thick skin and sometimes understand that, while what you did was very important, credit doesn’t always come back as you would like. It’s okay. Put it down for your “wins” list in your annual evaluation and take credit for it then. If you’re running Marketing, make an effort to credit the Library when appropriate. 
This brings me to the people part of the process. Leaders that deem their value by the size of their departments are not leaders at all. (Insert [in]appropriate joke here.) 
Librarians are visionaries. We tend to see trends before others and position ourselves to handle those trends. I’ve written many posts before where I argued that giving the “Information” title to the computer networking department was probably the biggest defeat in the Library world. We were the leaders when it came to information technology, we were the leaders when it came to knowledge management, we were the leaders when it came to competitive intelligence. We’ve been in the forefront of artificial intelligence and analytics. Unfortunately, we also tend to start these programs, and watch them be pulled out of our departments and sent to others, or spun off and created in a different department altogether. I am perfectly okay with that (well… mostly okay with that.) What I don’t appreciate is when the Library creates a successful group, typically these days, a Competitive or Business Intelligence group, and then the Marketing department comes along and snags it away from us with the perception that this should have never been in the Library in the first place, and that it belongs in Marketing. If that is true, then why did it have to originate in the Library to begin with? Why didn’t it begin in Marketing? The biggest reason is that the Library has the external relationships with the vendors and industry to build these departments. If there comes a time when it makes sense to spin them off and move them, then it’s a blessing for the department that takes it over. Unfortunately, it tends to become a turf war where the acquiring department somehow belittles the Library for taking this on in the first place. That is such a silly concept an doesn’t have to happen when there is a good relationship between the departments. I mentioned earlier that Librarians should not throw their team-mates under the bus. That also goes for other department leaders that leverage the Library’s work to make themselves look better, or increase the size of their departments. Quite frankly, if you grab a group from within the Library to make your own, you should increase the Library Director’s bonus to include a recruitment stipend.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:
ALL PROBLEMS ARE COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS!!!

If you work for the same law firm, you are on the same team. You don’t have to like each other, but you cannot be successful as a firm if you are undermining each other, or you are so sensitive that you think other leaders are out to get you. Administrative departments of law firms are the grease that makes the organization run smoothly. Find ways to talk to one another. Understand the strategic goals of the firm. Fix problems that the firm is facing (the firm’s problems, not your department’s problems.) And, realize that when you look good, we all look good. We are all allies here. Let’s act like it.
  


Following on up on my great experience this past week in Austin, TX at the Annual Legal Marketing Association Conference, I thought I would share my thoughts from a few weeks ago when I had a conversation with someone who is thinking of
getting into legal marketing.  She’s had
a vibrant career in other industries and thought legal marketing seemed appealing
as a former lawyer and consultant. We chatted for a while and she asked me if the lawyers
respected me. I said yes, I believe that at my firm the lawyers do honestly
respect the marketing and business development folk. Then she asked me if I was
treated like a second class citizen as a result of being a non-lawyer or a
non-practising lawyer. Before I could answer, she asked if I was treated the
same, better or worse than associates.  I
paused to think and then replied – think of legal marketers as you would your
gardener.  You want them to show up
consistently, do a good job, cut the lawn, trim the hedges, maybe plant a new
flower or two and when the summer rolls around, help you with a vegetable
garden.  Their job is to alleviate your
burden of work, particularly if you know nothing about gardening and you
entrust to them the curb appeal of your house and entrance way or the calm
composure of your backyard. You are happy to pay them a nice wage, market value or above
for the work they do.  You want your gardener to be happy so he or she keeps coming back
consistently and you don’t have to retrain a new gardener on what colour mulch
you prefer or which flowers make you sneeze. But you also don’t want them to
complain to you about their career satisfaction or growth in the industry.
Those topics make you tune out mostly because if you wanted to talk about the
trials and tribulations of gardening you likely would have been a
gardener.   

Associates on the other hand, are like your teenage children,
they can be difficult and/or demanding, they require training and attention but being a teen is a right of passage
and you want to see them through the challenging stage of life. You are
invested, you’ve introduced them to you friends (clients), you’ve nurtured and
educated them.   When they complain about
career prospects or job satisfaction, you listen intently.  You’ve been in their shoes and agree or
disagree you know they hold the keys to the future (of your firm and your
profession).   One is not better that the other – you treat your gardener and your teenagers differently. 

My analogy was further upheld at a Toronto LMA luncheon entitled
“Saving Lawyers’ Time and Winning New Business”, where it was
established that  the role of the
marketer/business development person is to make the lives of the partner easier
so he/she can focus on their strengths.

And so, that is why I am gardener, I have been entrusted with
keep the lawn green, the fruits and vegetables growing and the flowers blooming.  And as the warm spring sun pours through my office window, I can tell you it is not a bad gig
at all. 
Next week, I will share some more of my thoughts around legal marketing and my post LMA annual conference take-aways.

 


Last week the Twitterverse and other content spaces were abuzz (or atweet?), with commentary on the story from Bloomberg Law on how Law Firm Librarians Feel Underused and Underpaid.  Many in the sector agreed or felt that it was a wake up call of some kind.  The article was based on a survey compiled by Bloomberg Law for the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), the librarians who took part in the survey were polled in person, and others later, over email. Most interestingly to me, was a quote from Bloomberg Law President David Perla “Librarians are saying, ‘We can help a firm anticipate what a client is going to need. We can be ahead of the client.” It reminded me specifically of another Bloomberg Law article from earlier in the summer on Why Law Firms Need to Change their Marketing Priorities. In that article it’s the marketing departments at law firms that are over burdened and understaffed.  One legal marketer who was interviewed suggested “[legal marketers] often don’t have enough time to focus on the most fundamental tasks in business development, such as helping lawyers to increase satisfaction for current clients, plan sales advances or follow up consistently.”  If librarians should be proactive to get noticed, and the business development people need help increasing satisfaction for current clients, isn’t a blended Library/BD person or department the perfect client service marriage?  A one plus one equals two kind of equation?

We have heard again and again in client satisfaction surveys within the legal community that the number one driver for outside counsel selection is a firm who knows and understands a client’s business. I blogged about that here some months ago; the evolution of CI is from Competitor to Client Intelligence.  There is also an assumption among clients that we “all know, what we each know” within a firm. That is to say, that law firms provide knowledgeable, efficient and most of all, anticipatory client service, as Perla suggests.  There is no doubt that Bloomberg Law has a pulse on the legal market – they are in the business of knowing what firms need, and filling that resource void. But they can’t do it alone.

Librarians feel underused and Marketing/BD professionals in firms are drowning in the volume of work and expectations from their lawyer clients.  From my perspective, there is a broader issue of collaboration by law firm management groups at play here.  Each department has their mandate, and each is tentative about stepping outside of their world either for fear of repercussion or lack-of- getting-credit-angst.  I’ve worked with and reported into several different administrative groups in my time at law firms.  And I can tell you that almost all non-lawyers in firms feel underused, it is not just a Librarian thing.  The fact that we are described by the negative “non” prefix is the case in point.   A commentary that several others in the industry have waxed poetic about before and I don’t need to rehash those discussions. Instead, I offer a solution – a rallying point for the non lawyers who are reading this blog.

Let’s work together, truly collaborate and check the egos and credit ratings at the door.  Ultimately, we all want to succeed in our professions and in our roles within firms. For the marketing people amongst us, that means looking outside of our departments and realizing that there are other smart savvy people within our firms who can help to manage the work load by implementing technology tools, researching in anticipation of client needs or increasing the current awareness portfolio. For Librarians it means thinking about information in a commercial way, for example, how can a legislative change impact clients or increase firm revenue and it is about getting out of the library to chat people up and find out what is keeping them up at night and then matching those anxieties with resources.  For all non lawyers, it necessitates a brushing up on soft skills, especially communication, leadership and negotiation skills.  David Maiser, in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, says “We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life. We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it.  Figuring it out is not too difficult.  What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations.”  Collaboration at the highest level – integrated technology platforms, cross departmental response and readiness teams, mutual respect and assistance, is not easy, but we know it’s an imperative, the two Bloomberg Law articles alone demonstrate the ease of the equation.  True collaboration will make firms coordinated, efficient, balanced and competitive and you’d be hard pressed to find a client who is not willing the pay full rates for a firm like that.

If you’ve seen any concert festival posters over the past few years, you’ll notice that the bigger the band is, the bigger the font is. As I was thumbing through some of my reading yesterday, I saw an article on “Top 10 font size shockers from the Coachella 2015 lineup.” Some bands were given inappropriate font sizes based on their current popularity (at least according to the author.) Font is power!! Imagine if font size and font type were given out to these bands? Imagine the horror of being a 9 point Comic Sans font! Oh the humanity!!

As usual, I just couldn’t let this stay as a typography and music collaboration. So I got to thinking how law firms could market their representations using a little Coachella type marketing poster. I went to the Create a Lineup site, and created my own power legal festival. I’m wondering if a law firm annual report could have a few of these printed up as centerfold posters??

Part 2 of the The Legal Intelligencer’s ongoing series on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence came out on May 13th.  The author, Gina Passarelli, makes a few points that, well, let’s just say I have a different perspective on. 

Let’s start with the firms that were interviewed for this article.  They are AMLAW100 firms with resources and budgets (personnel and otherwise) not found in the vast majority of firms.  Their experiences and opinions are not the norm for the legal industry.  I have found the norm for most firms to be a collaborative process between Marketing and Research Services (aka the Library).  This allows for the use of staff in multiple capacities without incurring the additional personnel cost of a dedicated CI analyst.

This also allows the Marketing Department to take advantage of the unique skills and internal knowledge of the research professionals. These professionals are skilled at finding information efficiently, analyzing it to meet the attorneys needs and packaging it for their consumption.  Despite the implications of the gentleman quoted from Duane Morris,  researchers (aka librarians) are not as a rule “faithful compilers of phone books.”  Merely handing off reams of information (otherwise known as Data Dumps) are not a work product that attorneys have the time or inclination to review in any context, be it legal research or CI.  This understanding of not only what attorneys need to see but how they want to see it adds to the value of the research professional in conducting CI.

It is no accident that many excellent CI professionals have a background and/or training as a librarian. I found it striking how uninformed the author appeared to be regarding the involvement of law librarians in the Competitive Intelligence analysis process.  The inclusion of sweeping stereotypical statements such as “[Librarians] gather the info and the marketing team makes it presentable” and the implications of a Chief Marketing Officer that the Library produces academic studies are not accurate depictions of how this works in the Legal Industry.

Here are three prominent examples of CI professionals missed by Ms. Passarelli:

  • Zena Applebaum, who was quoted prominently in the first article of this series, is not only the Director of Competitive Intelligence for Bennett Jones but is also the award-winning Chair-Elect of the Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association.  Not to mention the excellent post she wrote on CI on Thursday.
  • Jan Rivers, who wrote an article on CI for the National Law Journal, is the Director of Information Resource Services at Dorsey and Whitney LLP and is a well-known CI professional.  
  • Emily Cunningham Rushing, Competitive Intelligence Manager at Haynes and Boone, LLP, has her Masters in Library and Information Science and is also a well-known CI professional

The list above does not include the many other talented research professionals acting in the same capacity for their firm.  In my previous post on the first article of this series, I pointed out that there are over 300 librarians in law firms nationwide currently practicing the art of of CI.  This does not include the members of the CI Division of the Special Libraries Association or the law firm members of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.  Full disclosure here:  I have been a law librarian for almost 25 years and have been practicing CI for 20 of those years. 

The information presented above shows the skills that librarians have in their toolbox .  Of course, this doesn’t mean that every librarian will make a good CI professional or that only librarians can be CI professionals.  However, when looking for someone with the requisite skills for this type of task, the Library (or Research Services) is a good place to start.  By using these atypical examples and statements, Ms. Passarelli paints a misleading picture of how to operate a successful Competitive Intelligence operation.  I guess my question really is…why weren’t mid-size firms that are more representative of the industry (and, yes, as a result rely more on librarians) consulted as part of this article?  They aren’t hard to find.

While the east coast is buried in another snowstorm, I am in sunny Naples, Florida today to speak at the Marketing Partner Forum. Full disclosure: It was a bit chilly, so I had to stop and buy a light jacket to handle the temps that fell into the 50’s and will dip into the 40’s tonight, so I won’t be surfing these waves.

All kidding aside, I enjoy coming to these conferences mainly because it exposes me to people, ideas, and practices that are outside of my normal routine. In return, I expose the attendees and fellow presenters with ideas and practices that are outside of their normal routine. So it is a mutual benefit (at least I think so.)

Today I am speaking on the concepts of data found inside and outside of firms that help develop Business Development/Business Intelligence/Competitive Intelligence programs. It’s something that I’ve been talking about for nearly ten years, and you’d think that I’d run out of things to say or learn. However, it is usually quite the opposite. In crowds like I’ll face this afternoon, there will be folks that will seriously question my ideas. There will be people that have failed where others have succeeded, and there will be people that succeeded where everyone else has failed. It is a somewhat cathartic process for both the speakers and the audience.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately, and will discuss in the talk today, is the idea of telling others to stop thinking of what we do as educating the attorneys about business development, or client risk exposures, or industry trends, and start thinking of ways to instruct the attorneys to make money off of the information placed in front of him or her. I imagine that this is not a new concept to Marketing and Biz Dev folks, but I think there is room to grow in creating a process where everyone along the assembly line of BD/BI/CI understands what the end goals are of the process, and what role they play in actually creating a chance to bring in new revenue into the firm.

Too much of the time, we think of presenting the information in a way to educate the attorney. We throw out the phrase “actionable intelligence” when we present the information, but are we limiting the actual meaning of that phase to merely educating the attorney rather than directing the attorney? Have we become some type of quasi-CLE provider? Perhaps we could rename our group to Continuing Business Education, or Continuing Client Education, and be honest in what we are actually doing.

When you are discussing a business opportunity with an attorney, be prepared to answer the following question: “How do we monetize this idea?”

If that is what we are attempting to do with BD/BI/CI, then that needs to be known throughout the whole process. Every step along the way, from concept, to research, to engineering, to technology application, to analysis, to final product… how will this drive business and bring more money in the door? When you move it away from education and into revenue generation, it can help identify what is and what is not business driving concepts.

I look forward to the audience blowing holes in my ideas this afternoon. At least I can then walk away with an idea for a follow up blog post.

“Business Development Coaching for Lawyers (“BDCL”) leverages a proprietary coaching structure that optimizes solutions-based tactics intended to catapult your practice to the next level. We partner with you, our clients, in pursuit of shared goals and strategic alliances. Simply put, our services at BDCL exceed the expectations of legal leaders who recognize the value of purposeful investments in human capital as a means of preparing and aligning people and systems in pursuit of growth.” 

Say what?

Why does corporate America speak this way? What is the origin of this weird language?

Maybe it began in George Orwell’s classic political and science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, set in a future dystopian society where ideas explore the concept of humans coping, or more accurately, the inability to effectively cope with, technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity’s spiritual evolution. The fictional language of that society, “Newspeak”, attempts to influence thought via how we express our language.

Written during the Cold War, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak commentary on the human race and a warning against the dangerous probabilities of communism. 

Today in 2012, after the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, Nineteen Eighty-Four is now a haunting reflection of mass media, data mining, and its consequences. 
One consequence is a modern language whose quality is lamentable, one that overflows with pretention and euphemism– all of which contributes to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. While Orwell’s Newspeak was fictional, our modern day language is all too real.

When hearing the jargon we’ve adopted that is so prolific in business, I cringe. Yet, it is easy enough to slip into the temptation to use hackneyed phrases and clichés and it is  frequently too great to overcome. 

Admittedly, I have unintentionally violated my own conviction using phrases that are vacuous and just plain embarrassing. Groping with an insecure, or more accurately, an insincere moment wanting to appear “important,” I’ve mumbled something about “shifting paradigms” a time or two and then winced at my infraction. Fortunately, no one noticed because they were deeply sheltered under their own overarching concepts taking shape out-of-the-box to drive initiatives. I’m just saying…

Challenging the current business lexicon while my contemporaries seemingly embraced the new language has been a solitary journey until recently. After attending a writing workshop entitled “Avoid Meaningless Clichés,” I realized that maybe I wasn’t so alone after all. 

Finally, someone else was spotlighting this dilemma. The presenter emphasized that when writing, every word must be chosen judicially and applied intentionally. “It is not enough to write so that you can be understood; you must write so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Yes, yes, yes,” I wanted to shout! Elated, I Google searched, hungry for more evidence that there was a in fact, a tribe emerging who longed for straight talk.

Then in an issue of Entrepreneur magazine, Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing further emphasized the impact that language can have on business and dubbed the term “buzzspeak” in her article Big think, small movement. 

She asks, “Are nonsensical and annoying words sucking the soul of your business?” Napoletano contends that buzzwords are an excuse to talk around what we really mean to say and that to use them is lazy and disrespectful to our audience. She asks that we respect our audience enough to tell it to them straight.

As law firm marketers, we know clients are hungry for solutions to problems; they want them fixed quickly. So skip the buzzwords and don’t give them any “bandwidth” (another one of my favorite words). Listen instead of talking their ear off.

Napoletano cites four useful tips when communicating:

Simplicity: If you want them to buy what you’re selling, don’t make them learn a new language or feel inadequate when they don’t understand what you’re selling. They will shut down and buy from someone else. Don’t we see this every day when trying to convey our message to lawyers? Lawyers generally hate marketing jargon.

Brilliance: True brilliance reveals itself in what you offer to your clients. Your solution makes THEM look brilliant. You don’t need buzzwords to make you look brilliant.

Time: Your solution should save them time whenever possible; don’t waste it, just get to the point.

Usability: Respect your audience by offering easy-to-use solutions that make sense for how they operate. Asking them to change their day-to-day routine won’t get you the yeses you crave.

Avoid these overused phrases whenever possible: Bandwidth, gravitas, bottom line, kicking the can down the road, drill down, on boarding, core competencies, value-added proposition, low-hanging fruit, going forward, take it to the next level, at the end of the day, and any other annoying phrases you hear every day, sometimes multiple times.

Finally, the folks at FightTheBull.com, and authors of the book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, have developed a piece of software called Bullfighter that scans your writing for BS. I’m not kidding. 

The software measures three things: Bull Composite Index (BCI), which is your total score on a scale of 1 -10; Bull Index (BI), the number of jargon and corporate speak terms you use on a scale of 1-100; and the Flesch Reading Level (FRL), the “grade reading level” on a scale of 1-100. 
For all three scores, higher numbers are better. I’m definitely going to buy Bullfighter to test my own writing 
It’s the least I can do to support the straight talk revolution and put my money where my mouth is.

Editor’s Note: Susan Baldwin is a guest blogger and legal marketing manager at a top AmLaw 100 law firm.

Image [cc] worddraw

Without exception, whenever I have seen a General Counsel (GC) asked about law firm email newsletters, I have witnessed the exact same response: Immediate Anger. I witnessed this recently at the COLPM Futures Conference. When the email newsletter subject came up with a panel of GCs, the angry responses ran the gamut of:

  • Delete, delete, delete.
  • These are on subjects I don’t care about.
  • I receive a flood of them whenever my company gets sued. Nice try.
  • The subject lines are meaningless to me. Why would I open these?

So these newsletters are not worthless. Calling them worthless would be too kind. Instead they are relationship poison. So why do firms send them?

In defense of legal marketers, I believe this is not their doing. Having been in that role in the past, I know that partners insist on the current approach. To highlight the frustration – partners insist on subject lines that violate every reasonable marketing standard. Subject lines are 50% of the reason someone opens an email. They need to be short, relevant and attention-getting. A lengthy and technically accurate sentence in a subject line is therefore plainly a bad idea. But partners insist on this approach because they think clients will be impressed with their legal acumen and command of the English language.

The message is clear from clients: Stop sending these. Yes, they would find short, targeted (as in sent to the right type of client and lawyer), actionable, valuable legal updates from their firms to be useful. However, the current crop of quasi-law review emails they get have negative value.

Lawyers: You hired marketing professionals – let them do their jobs. Your clients will obviously appreciate it.

When I saw this tweet from Jason Wilson about the Legal Marketing Associations Technology conference hashtag #LMATech being hijacked, I had a pretty good idea who a couple of the folks were that were doing the hijacking. If any of you ever follow the discussion of Social Media, Marketing and Law Firms, there are those on the Marketing side… and there are those on the “I Call BS” side. Needless to say, they don’t get along very well.

Whenever you have a conference, and you promote a hashtag on Twitter to promote the conference, you take a risk of someone coming in and using that hashtag for unintended reasons. Usually when we talk about “hijacking” hashtags, you think about what happened to MacDonald’s earlier this year. That is a case where people put up false testimonies to embarrass the organization running the hashtag campaign. In the #LMATech situation, that’s not really what happened. Instead, you have a different type of hashtag situation that looks very similar to having a heckler (or hecklers) in the audience. Think of Micheal Richards’ meltdown during his stand-up routine back in 2006. I think that some on the Marketer side are coming close to taking the meltdown approach… one which feels good now, but when reviewed by the public will not put them in the best of light. (By the way, Michael Richards hasn’t done any live shows since his meltdown, and he talks about it with Jerry Seinfeld.)

The hashtag hecklers on the other hand, aren’t exactly coming to this with clean hands either. They are not doing anything illegal in their heckling, and in fact, they feel as though they are actually giving the LMATech conference a dissenting view from what is being tweeted from the conference. Ken, from Popehat, lays out a number of arguments about the risks that LMA takes when opening up a hashtag, and that he and others are simply dissenters voicing their honest opinion about what they think about what’s coming out of the LMATech conference. However, it is heckling, and not just dissent that is being voiced by those calling BS on the LMA. It’s pretty clear that the dissent is out to discredit the message and the messengers, and when it becomes personal like that, it takes on a mudslinging effect that suddenly gets very nasty. It gives those of us outside the argument something that amounts to entertainment, but not really anything of real value comes out of these types of arguments.

Here’s my advice to LMA on how to handle the situation. First, accept the fact that there are those out there that simply don’t believe in the message you are giving. Don’t take it personally, every organization that puts on a conference and promotes a message will have its dissenters. Second, if I wasn’t surprised that this happened, then you shouldn’t have been caught off guard either. Next time, have a better plan in place on how to address a situation like this. You’re Marketing people, after all, you handle bad press all the time, it’s just that this time, it’s directed at you and not your firm. Third, either ignore the heckling, appease the hecklers, or put the ball in the heckler’s court. Invite one or more of them to a conference to speak to the group and have them tell you, as a professional, and an adult, to lay out all the issues that they have with what you are preaching. It seems that at least one person is willing to talk to the group.

Hecklers are going to continue to be out there, telling you that you are awful. Granted, you would think that respected lawyers would find more adult ways to discuss the topic, but I don’t see that happening. The worst thing you can do is overreact. If you watch the interview with Michael Richards, he admits that he completely screwed up the situation by overreacting. Go check out the video (around the 14:00 mark) and listen to how taking something too personally has eaten away at Richards. Take his advice, acknowledge that there are those that are going to heckle you, let it roll off your back, and then go home and work on your material some more.