shutterstock 84730207 300x196 Why I Closed the Boston Expert Witness Group: A Post MortemI have closed a chapter in my business life, and it’s time I ensure that everyone who wants to know about it knows.

In January, I made the decision to close the Boston Expert Witness Group after over two years since I had my initial vision for the business.

Though I was making money and helping my clients with a genuine need, I ultimately realized that I was not creating the kind of business that I wanted to create.

Along the way, I learned (at least) six hugely important lessons about entrepreneurship, which I want to share with anyone who cares to read them. For each, I will explain how learning this lesson directly impacted my business and my decision to move on.

But before I get there, let me back up just a few meters in case you don’t know what I have been doing in this business.

About the Boston Expert Witness Group

The Boston Expert Witness Group offered the expertise of a premium group of high-integrity medical expert witnesses. We went to work on a variety of cases that all had a common thread of requiring medical expertise to explain material facts that were the subject of litigation.

We worked on personal injury cases, insurance defense cases, medical malpractice cases, and even some patent litigation. We gave expertise from both plaintiff and defendant standpoints. We worked on cases throughout the United States.

By the end of my running the business, we were revenue positive, and even a little profitable. We contributed essential expertise to our clients’ cases and in some situations were able to do so early enough to prevent litigation from happening in the first instance.

The Group worked with some of the leading boutique firms in Boston, as well as a handful of solo practitioners. We handled some very interesting cases and also some pretty typical ones.

Ultimately, we struggled with finding a product-market fit that could stand on the business’s core values: integrity, efficiency, and legal innovation. The lessons I learned explain why.

Lesson I: Put Markets First, not Ideas

I come up with a lot of interesting ideas. None but maybe two of them have ever been marketable… maybe. These are not good odds.

Contrast the process of starting with ideas to find markets with the process of starting with a market need to develop a business idea. When you start with market need, you know that as long as you can build a product or service that addresses it and connect with enough customers, you will have a business.

The Boston Expert Witness Group started as an idea in search of a market. Though I found the market late in the life of the business, it didn’t look anything like a market that would support a business built on our core values.

Most attorneys I worked with were not in the interest of using my business to find a vetted expert. Rather, they simply wanted a list of people who they could show to the firm’s partner handling the litigation.

The chance that a prospect was going to return to the business to hire our expert was minimal, yet we did not get paid until that happened.

Because our business put a lot of work into vetting experts before adding them to our database, we ended up doing a lot of work for free. That turned out not to be a good business model (obviously).

Catering to the market of attorneys who wanted lists to bring to their partners, we would have had to:

  1. lower our cost to build and maintain a database of expert witnesses;
  2. lower the quality of our referrals;
  3. charge for our lists; and/or
  4. support the business with another source of revenue.

These turned out to be approaches that were unmarketable, lacked innovative character, did not lead to improvements in the efficiency of law practice, and put our database at risk of containing experts who lacked integrity. These were not acceptable options.

Lesson II: Have a Sales Plan from the Beginning

Prior to starting the Boston Expert Witness Group, I had no sales experience. About a month after turning my idea into a full-time job, I began to realize I would have to learn to sell the services of medical experts or perish.

I embarked on a year of the best sales training I believe money can buy, which is Sandler Training. I got good at setting expectations, digging for pain, and talking about money and decision-making processes. But when I began to calculate just how much time I would have to spend selling our particular products to the prospects we were encountering, I realized I would have to spend most of my waking moments engaged in sales.

It left very little time for me to plan how my business was going to operate and to do what I had to do to support myself while the business still lacked sufficient revenue to pay me a decent salary.

Perhaps I could have hired others to fill either the sales or other functions, but when I thought of doing that, I ran into my next problem…

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I recently finished reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography, Steve Jobs What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Attracting A List Talent, in Two Childhood Maxims.

I was late to the party on doing so, I realize, but I’m glad I did get through the book because I feel like I knew the guy and had the opportunity to learn from his successes as well as his mistakes.

One (of many) obsessions Jobs appeared to have had was an absolute insistence on only hiring A-list players. Anyone he met was either on the A-team or a “bozo”; their work was either “insanely great” or “absolute shit.” (His words.)

Though I’m not as black-and-white of a thinker, I understand the notion.

It has been clear to me for a long time that companies, especially those in super-competitive markets, succeed by making massively innovative leaps and selling the fruits of vision and hard work to excited customers. Only a team of top talent can accomplish this.

What has been harder for me to understand is what it takes to actually attract talent from the top tier of the talent pool.

As someone who runs a business attracting top medical experts and motivating them to take on unusual work outside of their routine practices, this is of great concern to me.

After reading Steve Jobs, I realize the answer has existed in two maxims I have always heard since I was old enough to remember the sensation of hearing itself. Jobs embodied those maxims and put them to use as the fuel in his wildly successful approach to innovation.

So, what are these maxims I have been hearing since childhood and how do they apply to this challenge?

Maxim I: “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

Simply put, you are not going to attract top talent unless you behave with a commitment to your cause that tells of its importance.

Simple rhetoric may get you an initial conversation with someone who can help you, but the luster of your words will quickly fade when their gloss is eroded by the challenges time brings.

Another way of saying this is that you have to have your own skin in the game.

When I read Steve Jobs, I understood that the power of Jobs’s leadership came from his actions. There are so many ways people have described Jobs, and there have been many critiques of his leadership style. But one thing that no one said of Jobs is that he led with words alone.

What people saw in Jobs was a commitment to his vision in the way he acted.

This display of actions was so powerful and motivating that it allowed people to look past his sometimes supremely nasty way of treating his subordinates.

Maxim II: “Lead By Example”

As leaders, we are responsible for conceptualizing a vision and then communicating that to those who we want to motivate in the effort of achieving it.

We have to routinely take time to communicate the vision. Very few people who work for the leader will be able to grasp the vision without this.

If that weren’t the case, those people would be out leading the way themselves.

One way we can set an example is with our work ethic. If we show that we are truly committed to our vision with our time and energy, our employees and contractors will catch on. They will be inspired to do the same with their own commitment.

This was a pervading theme in Steve Jobs. When Jobs demanded his Macintosh team work “90 hours a week and lov[e] it,” he led by example.

His employees could criticize his lack of appreciation for their effort (he often told them their work was “shit”), but they could not say he was too demanding.

Instead, they understood that Jobs was leading a team of like-minded individuals, all equally committed to his artistic brand of innovation.

medical dem 286x300 Leveraging the Cutting Edge of Medical Demonstrative Evidence to Win More Personal Injury and MedMal Cases
Medical Demonstrative Evidence

I am very excited to announce that, in conjunction with the Boston Expert Witness Group, I will be facilitating a webinar on leveraging medical demonstrative evidence, along with radiologist, and radiology expert witness, Dr. Marc Glickstein.

Drawing on his own experience as a seasoned radiologist, expert witness, and medical demonstrative evidence consultant, Dr. Glickstein will reveal what medical demonstrative evidence can be, how an expert can pave the way for its admissibility, and how it can carry the day in litigation.

The webinar will cover:

  • How medical demonstrative evidence can help your expert fulfill the role of effectively teaching a jury the facts and the medicine that are at the heart of your cases.
  • What radiological demonstrative evidence is, what it looks like, and why you should be using it to advocate for your clients and persuade juries.
  • How to recognize when medical demonstrative evidence can significantly impact your chance of winning personal injury and medical malpractice claims, whether you represent a plaintiff or a defendant.
  • The biggest challenges to admissibility of medical demonstrative evidence, and how you and your expert witness can work together to get medical illustrations into the jury room.
  • Why you don’t want to try personal injury and medical malpractice cases without powerful demonstrative aids and the experts who can authenticate them, whether your case is destined for trial or settlement.

For a full description of the webinar, and the registration form, see this post, or click the button below.

View Webinar Information
Click to view a full description of the webinar and to register.

I have often written about how, as lawyers, we might reinvent aspects of our craft to make more effective, profitable, modern law practices.

And, though my written comments on this broad subject have been varied in their focus, I have spent a lot of time working on just one aspect of this subject: making complex expert opinion evidence more accessible to litigators.

Missing Opportunities to Make the Most of Expert Opinions

Not long into my professional journey as a lawyer, I started to see places where the right expert opinion evidence was:

  • Missing from a case entirely,
  • Misused or misunderstood by one or more attorneys, the judge, or the jury,
  • Kept from a jury because the wrong expert was hired to convey it, or
  • Inadequately or ineffectively conveyed to the fact-finder

The first time I ever saw this in court, I was still a law student, and an expert had filed a report in a child welfare case which the petitioner’s attorney summarized as:

[T]ending to show that the subject child’s mother might suffer from a personality disorder, biologically based mental health disorder, depression, or other mental health problem.

The lawyer based her summary on the expert’s having administered a battery of 140 questions to the subject child’s mother. The opportunity to shed any real light on the mother’s mental health status had been missed.

The Two-Fold Problem of Effectively Leveraging Expertise in Litigation

As I practiced, I saw that this was not an uncommon occurrence. I started to look into how lawyers typically hired expert witnesses and realized there were two problems:

  1. The decision of who to contact for an expert opinion was based on the lawyer’s necessarily limited understanding of the field of expertise, and
  2. The options of whom to contact and ultimately hire were limited to the lawyer’s necessarily finite network of experts.

Admittedly, these were both less problematic in niche practices where lawyers face the same kinds of cases again and again, and work with a stable of expertise they have themselves developed over years of refining their craft.

But in so many practices, where lawyers are jacks of all trades, the problems increasingly make litigation unnecessarily challenging.

For example, solo and small firm personal injury lawyers, general practices, and insurance defense firms often run up against these issues, and they can struggle to put together winning case strategies.

How to Align with a Winning Case Strategy

I was recently retained as a consultant on the defense of a high profile case involving a complicated personal injury.

I was able to add value by developing an expert opinion strategy in collaboration with a medical consultant whose job it was to identify the medical issues and the fields of expertise of physicians who address those issues.

In the end, we determined that the case required related experts from complementary fields who would work as a team to develop the evidence. I delivered an approach for retaining the experts that would yield the most effective and consistent evidence while preserving the professional integrity of both resulting opinions.

By front-loading the expert selection process with medical expertise, the defense attorney and I were able to take the case to a dramatically stronger evidentiary stance.

The takeaway: when a case involves complex medical evidence, we do our clients a service by bringing in an interdisciplinary medical-legal consultancy who can highlight evidentiary issues.

My firm, the Boston Expert Witness Group, provides the kind of consulting that can help in those kinds of challenging situations.

boston law firm biglaw profit margins 198x300 Law Firm Profit Margins for Boston BigLaw: Some Surprises
Boston BigLaw Law Firm Profit Margins

One would have to be delusional to expect that reports on BigLaw profit would be anything but bleak.

So, when I picked my most recent copy of the Boston Business Journal out of the mailbox in my office on Friday, I hardly gave the front page article on the legal industry a second look.

But later, as I hunkered down to read what I expected would be mere numerical verification of something every lawyer knows, I was struck by some key data that were missing but which could be extrapolated from the report.

The article, New Reality Sinks in for Law Firms, by Boston Business Journal’s Lisa van der Pool, offered the usual metrics on BigLaw health — annual revenue, and profit per partner — for three of Boston’s leading BigLaw firms.

What were missing were data on the overall profit for each firm, and thus, what I assert are actually the most interesting data of all: margins.

Why Care About Profit Margins

If you know that each law firm is making a profit per partner, and that number seems large, why care about profit margins?

The reason is simple. The BBJ article dealt with some of the world’s preeminent law firms. This means it was assessing:

  • The demand for some of the best and brightest minds in the entire legal industry.
  • The premium some of the world’s most successful clients are willing to pay to get the most prestigious legal representation available.
  • The profit-making capability of some of the world’s leading brands in the industry.

Now, in essence, I am talking about the same thing in all three points, above. But it is important to look at the question of profit from these perspectives because it says something fundamental about the legal industry: how lucrative is law, as a business, at its pinnacle.

Getting to Profit Margin

Note, the numbers displayed in this analysis are actually an expression of markup, not margin. See below.

Summarizing a recent report from Citigroup and Hildebrandt Consulting, van der Pool offered the following metrics:

Firm Revenue Profit per Partner
2012 figures, reported in millions.
Goodwin Procter  $715  $1.5
WilmerHale  $1100  $1.5
Holland & Knight  $598  $0.95

To convert this information into profit per firm, and then, in turn, profit margin, I needed one additional metric for each of these firms: number of partners.

So, I searched the websites of each of the firms listed, and returned the number of partners. Armed with those numbers, I was able to determine firm profit by multiplying the profit per partner by the number of partners per firm.

I was then able to subtract profit from revenue to derive the cost to each firm to provide its services.

Finally, was able to divide revenue by cost to get the profit margins. These numbers represent the amount each firm was able to mark up the services it provided to its clients. Here are the numbers:

Firm Revenue Profit per Partner Partners1 Profit Cost Profit Margin
2012 figures. Dollar amounts are reported in millions.
1 The number of partners was determined by a February 2013 search, and as such, may be slightly different from the 2012 figure.
Goodwin Procter  $715  $1.5  324  $486  $229.5  311 %
WilmerHale  $1100  $1.5  308  $462  $638  172 %
Holland & Knight  $598  $0.95  618  $587.1  $10.9  5,486 %

Let me note that something seems off about the Holland & Knight number of partners, which is over double the number of partners at WilmerHale, even though they have loosely the same number of attorneys overall. Because my ability to determine profit was based on multiplying the number of partners by the profit per partner, this made a huge difference in my calculation of their margin.

But that aside, even if we look at the numbers of Goodwin and Wilmer alone, here is a visualization of the data:

Boston BigLaw Profit and Cost 2012 Morris Singer1 300x225 Law Firm Profit Margins for Boston BigLaw: Some Surprises
Boston BigLaw Profit and Expenses (2012)
Boston BigLaw Margin 2012 Morris Singer 300x225 Law Firm Profit Margins for Boston BigLaw: Some Surprises
Boston BigLaw Profit Margin (2012)

Based on that, we can reach a few conclusions:

  • Though Wilmer looks bigger and healthier according to the data van der Pool reported, once we factor in the number of partners, we see that Goodwin is actually doing a better job capturing profit from the services they provide.
  • Despite an economic context that van der Pool described as “modest,” and “slow,” there are still healthy margins at all three of the firms she covered.

For more information, see the original article at the Boston Business Journal [subscription required].

Update: Yelena Tsvaygenbaum, a transactional attorney in Boston tipped me off that I had made two missteps in my analysis. For starters, by dividing revenue by cost, I derived markup, not margin. It’s a silly mistake, I confess. But, it does not diminish my analysis of the profitability of law.

To provide the most accurate figure of markup, I would also need to subtract 1 (or 100%) from my numbers. I did not mention this because I felt it would be obvious. But, for the purpose of providing a technically complete analysis, I will do so here.

The revised table should look like this:

Firm Revenue Profit per Partner Partners1 Profit Cost Markup Profit Margin
2012 figures. Dollar amounts are reported in millions.
1 The number of partners was determined by a February 2013 search, and as such, may be slightly different from the 2012 figure.
Goodwin Procter  $715  $1.5  324  $486  $229.5  211 % 67 %
WilmerHale  $1100  $1.5  308  $462  $638  72 %  42 %
Holland & Knight  $598  $0.95  618  $587.1  $10.9  5,386 %  98 %
split test your attorney website 225x300 How Making Assumptions About Your Prospective Clients is Costing You Serious Business
Split test your website to find out what your prospective clients respond to.

As a litigator, I was trained to never ask a question I did not already know the answer to. I also learned not to make assumptions.

Nevertheless, I see countless litigators, and other attorneys, who are making these mistakes when it comes to their website content and look.

In a typical situation, a lawyer purchases a website and content without doing any split testing to see whether that site and that content is effective at winning prospects.

Usually, the lawyer will say, “I like blue,” or “I like these sites from my competitors.” In some cases, the lawyer will say, “use this photograph of me,” or “write [XYZ] about my practice.”

But there is very little use of any measurement to determine whether these decisions result in a site that is effective at converting more prospects into paying clients.

In other industries, major players have become obsessive about this. Questions arise as to whether more prospects convert when they see a green button or a red button, whether an image on the left is more effective than one on the right, and other seemingly minute details.

These details matter.

How to Know What Works and What Does Not

Part of the problem in approaching these questions is it may seem to the lawyer paying for the site that there is no way to know the answers.

Those lawyers who are determined to do an investigation often approach it the wrong way.

Take, for example, the lawyer who typically does no advertising. Starting two months ago, however, that lawyer decided to run an ad in a major publication.

Business has been soaring. By all accounts, more business seemed to start coming through the doors within a week of starting the ad campaign.

Was the ad effective?

The truth is, it is impossible to say from that information. One could draw the conclusion that the timing indicates a successful ad campaign.

But what if there is an external factor motivating the demand for the lawyer’s services?

One option would be to compare the demand with that for the lawyer’s competitors.

But even that does not account for all external factors. For example, even if the now-advertising lawyer is doing markedly better than her peers, there is no indication that the surge in demand did not flow from other business development efforts.

The Benefit of Split Testing

The only way to truly isolate the effect of one marketing decision or business development effort from myriad external factors is to do a split test.

What is a split test?

In short, a split test is what you do when you split your audience in half. One half gets one ad, or one message, or one version of your website. The other half gets another.

You run both versions at the same time to similar but separate groups. And, you gather information on which group responds more positively.

It may not be easy to do with print ads, and may be impossible in some other media.

But, it is extremely easy to do on the web. And, when you finish split testing a page of your website, you will know which version generates more business.

Wouldn’t you like to give yourself a raise?

Split Testing Isn’t Just for Nerds

If you think this is too theoretical, or too difficult, or too… anything, think again. Here’s why:

Split testing is powerful stuff. It was, for example, a game changer in both of the last two elections. Daryl Lang wrote about this in Breaking Copy, where he noted that Barack Obama’s split tests resulted in an additional $60 million in donations!

For the fascinating article of how this worked, including screen captures of various versions the Obama campaign tested, see this article.

While I doubt you’ll optimize your site to do an additional $60 million in business, it is safe to say you are probably missing out on opportunities if you don’t question what your prospective clients want to see from you.

Without asking the questions by doing a split test, you’re really just guessing.

And that means, when it comes to generating new business, you may not even know your full potential.

UPDATE: To make it easier for attorneys to do their own split testing, I’ve put together a module for those who are running their sites on Drupal, and want to use Google Content Experiments for split testing. Though it’s not going to take you from start to finish, I hope it is a help to those who do their own websites and want a little help getting started.

If you have any questions about how split testing can work to increase conversions for your law practice, I invite you to be in touch.

Historically lawyers have not marketed their services through print advertising. We have often relied instead on softer business development tactics, such as networking events, word-of-mouth, referrals, and flat-out luck in order to capture new business.

But in some areas of practice, it may be shortsighted to swear off advertising as significant source of business development. This is especially so when considering new possibilities that are enabled by combining traditional print advertising with other business development practices.

 Ten fundamental considerations for lawyers developing a print advertising plan for business development
Attorney Advertising / A Bad Example. With apologies to the firm who used it. Courtesy Berkman Center.

Of course, the effectiveness of print advertising depends in large part on how it’s executed. A large picture of an attorney in the power pose next to his or her phone number is not going to be enough to generate very much business in any but a select few practice areas.

But if you are curious whether print advertising could become a crucial part of your business development plan, you are going to have to consider ten aspects of your advertising campaign in order to give yourself the best shot at a successful outcome. They are:

1. Audience

When considering a publication in which to place your advertisement, it is important to think about the audience you want to reach. Cost aside, putting your ad in the Boston Globe may seem appealing because it is a prestigious publication. But if you are trying to reach a more sophisticated business audience, there may be a more appropriate trade publication. Similarly, if your desired clientel is non-anglophone, you may consider a publication printed in the language your clients speak and read. (Just make sure to design your advertisement in the publication’s language.)

2. Circulation

The more people who read the publication in which you advertise, the better off you are, right? Not necessarily. In fact, circulation is one of the largest factors that goes into calculating the price a publisher can demand for ad space. You may be better off with a smaller circulation because it meets your budget and allows you to develop your business over a longer period of time.

Additionally, if your desired clientel are only a small sliver of the circulation, you are paying to reach people who will never bring you business.

Lastly, before you advertise with a publication, take a look at how and where they distribute. Ask yourself:

  • Do they have “honor boxes” in neighborhoods that meet your target demographic?
  • Do they employ people who actively sell the publication to commuters?
  • Is the publication available in stores your target demographic frequents? If so, how is it displayed?
  • Does the publication offer subscriptions and delivery?

3. Size

If you can afford a full-page ad, you may want to consider it. But advertising in print is not as simple as picking the largest ad you can afford. For example, if you can only afford an ad taking up 1/16th of a page, your message may go completely unnoticed. Or, it could be buried among more prominent competitors. In such a situation, buying the ad could be a complete waste of money.

4. Color

Some publications offer you the ability to advertise in color or in black-and-white. It may be true that color ads are more noticeable. But, if the majority of the paper includes color ads, you may actually stand out with black-and-white. And, if you are given the option, black-and-white is always cheaper.

5. Length of campaign

How long will you run your ad? Though I have not performed an exhaustive study of the subject, I have my doubts that running an ad only once will have a significant effect. This is especially so if you purchase a smaller ad toward the back of the publication. To generate continual top-of-mind awareness on a budget, you should consider running a smaller ad over a longer period of time. Most publications will offer you a discount if you commit to running a campaign for longer periods of time.

6. Frequency of campaign

If you are looking for a way to maximize the size of the ad you can afford to purchase, and commit to a long campaign, but are running your advertising efforts on a limited budget, one thing you could consider is decreasing the frequency of your campaign. In other words, if a weekly publication offers you a quarter-page ad at a price you can only afford twice each month, you could run your campaign for half the time (and run out of money), or run your ad in every other issue.

7. Frequency of publication

I recently looked at the price of ad space in two area publications, one publishing daily, and another publishing weekly. Although the daily publication had more affordable ad space and a larger readership, to take advantage of the space, I would have to have run my ads daily. That’s because the day after my ad were to run, there would be another issue in the hands of my audience. With the weekly publication, however, paying the price once means my ad can be seen all week long. Choose carefully.

8. Position

Be sure to ask any ad reps where in the publication your ad will run. If they tell you its in the back of the publication, negotiate on the price. Remember that many people do not read periodicals cover-to-cover. At least one area daily notes that its publication is designed to be read in its entirety during the length of an average Bostonian’s commute. Even so, the back of the publication contains very different content from the front. Where in the publication is your target clientel likely to spend their time? News? Business? Arts? Sports? Something else?

9. Call to action

What do you ask of the person reading your ad? That they pick up the phone? That they visit your website? That they scan your QR code?

Do not look at how other attorneys are running their ads; bad examples are myriad. Instead, think about something you can actually get your target clientel to do that very day.

For example, you could ask that they visit your website, where you offer a free informational product they can download by providing their name and contact information. So long as you are fully transparent about what you are doing, capturing a lead this way and following up by telephone is probably as close to actively prospecting as attorneys can get, within the requirements of Mass. R. Prof. Conduct 7.3(d). (See Comment 4 for details on why this should be okay.)

10. Urgency

You must give your target a reason to take action today. Otherwise, they will forget about you. While this could mean scaring them with the gravity of their legal situation (NOT recommended, but I have seen it done), you could also offer an incentive for them to follow up with you promptly. This usually means offering a discount or an add-on service.

* * *

I’ve done my best to give a broad overview of what to consider when putting together a plan for a print advertising campaign. The bottom line is that there is a lot of complexity in the decisions you will have to make when putting together your plan.

If advertising doesn’t seem to be working for you, it may not be that print advertising is a mistake altogether; rather, you may have to adjust some of the choices you made along the way. Give yourself a budget for your efforts, and experiment over time. When a prospective client reaches out to you or comes by your office, close the loop. Gather information about how they found out about you. That way, you can make informed decisions about how you are spending your money on business development.

What has your experience been using print advertising to bring business into your practice? Have you considered these ten variables in your plan? Others?

This free event will take place on February 4, 2013 at the Boston Bar Association

For more information on “How to Create a Selling System in your Law Firm and Grow Your Practice with Jason Hartz of Sandler Training” a free talk at the Boston Bar Association on February 4 at 1 p.m..

Lawyers are some of the market’s most educated salespeople.

How’s that for a controversial claim? A mere five years ago, putting lawyers and salespeople in the same sentence would have been a disparagement to the profession. Nowadays, it’s stating the obvious. Or at least it should be.

As lawyers, we need to sell our services the same as other professionals. Yes, there are ethical limitations — as there should be. And yes, our approach must be different than the door-to-door folks or telemarketers. Very different, in fact.

But one thing is for certain: if we do not know how to sign clients, we do not have much business in law. That’s because the market now makes decisions on retaining legal representation just like it does for other service providers.

 How to Create a Selling System in your Law Firm and Grow Your Practice with Jason Hartz of Sandler Training
Jason Hartz, Sandler Training. Brought to you by the Boston Expert Witness Group

I am passionate about that point.

So much so, in fact, that I am bringing Jason Hartz, a local expert on selling professional services and a sales trainer with Sandler Training, into the Boston Bar Association next month to teach lawyers some incredible selling secrets, including:

  • How to create a selling system for a law practice,
  • How to avoid becoming an unpaid legal consultant, and
  • How to grow a law firm through referrals.

The event is free, thanks to the sponsorship of the Boston Expert Witness Group.

Space is extremely limited. If you are a Boston-area solo or small-firm lawyer, you do not want to miss out on this free event.

 How to turn your 3L job search into an opportunity to help others, and find work in the process

After my third year of law school I began my job hunt. It was a disaster.

Not surprisingly, one of the things that contributed to its depressing pace was the fact that I started it too late — one month after finishing the bar exam, to be exact. Another: I had not focused on developing my networking skills during law school.

But despite these and the many other self-attributed reasons for my difficulty, I realized after I found my first job, as a public defender, that part of the problem was the lack of jobs on the market. From what I hear, things are not much better these days.

If you are looking for a job, you may find that the lack of jobs has two distinct negative effects on your search. They are:

  1. Even if you are doing everything textbook-right in your job search, there just may not be any jobs available in your network to someone with your qualifications (no matter what they are).
  2. People who would otherwise help you end up on the defensive when you bring up the fact that you are looking for work.

Insofar as the first of these is concerned, there is not much to do but keep your head up, keep looking, and continually find ways to remind yourself and others of your value.

Here is the good news: the second of these is actually completely surmountable. I will tell you how in just a moment. But first, let me explain what I mean.

The lack of jobs puts your network on the defensive when you announce you are looking for work

If you came up to me and told me you were graduating without a job, my heart would bleed for you.

If I liked you at all, your needs would really trouble me. I would remember my own moments of career uncertainty. And I would feel powerless because, despite being a professional problem solver, there would probably be nothing I could do to help you.

At the risk of generalizing: good lawyers are empathic. We are impassioned by the needs of others. And when we know we cannot help you, it feels terrible. To preserve our happiness, we may become defensive when you mention your need for a job.

I experienced this myself when I was searching. Established lawyers with whom I had built rapport would sour at the mention of my employment situation. Looking back, I am sure it upset them; there was nothing they could do for me. I am certain I cut myself off from opportunities by not anticipating this reaction.

If you are finding yourself in the same situation, what can you do?

Rebrand yourself as a service provider and stop acting like you need others to get you a job (even if you do)

Start looking for ways to add value to the relationships you have with those you meet. Focus on making contacts, and on how you can help those contacts with their work. You may find, if you do this, that there are opportunities to monetize some of the relationships you form.

It may not be a job in the strictest sense. But what you may find is an opportunity to support yourself and be relevant within the legal industry, even when full-time white-shoe jobs are impossible to come by.

After I left the public defender’s office, I did this. The results contrasted starkly against those I achieved during my post-law school job search.

I saw what a difference it made to be looking for help from attorneys when the help I sought was not a connection to a job, but a connection to mutually beneficial business opportunities.

Suddenly, I had a place in the conversation, and a reason to attend all kinds of business networking events other than those for the unemployed lawyer. And I had an agenda once I arrived at them.

I had offers from professionals looking to mentor me. I even had offers from a few knowledgable attorneys who wanted to help me learn the ropes of various substantive areas of practice. Within a few months, I had added over one hundred people into my network.

Soon, I was in a position to hire others for small tasks within the business I was creating. I even had an opportunity to hire another lawyer, albiet on a very part-time basis. And I found new business for other attorneys in my network.

I was working on the other side of the job shortage problem — trying to create new jobs, rather than seeking one of the scant few (if any) that presently exists. And lots of people suddenly wanted to help me do that.

So my advice (which I concede I have the bad habit of providing without solicitation) is to make yourself a resource to others, and not a burden. I don’t say this from an insensitive place; merely from a counterintuitive one. Focus on helping others. You might be surprised where you end up.

 How misunderstanding one key nuance in social media could be hurting your bottom line

I want to address one of the most polarizing topics in today’s business world. You either love it, or you hate it; it is either your panacea, or the bane of your existence; but it is rarely anything in between. The topic is social media.

Now before you scoff, telling me that there are myriad more important or more weighty issues in our world — the economy, business ethics, regulation, to name a few — remember, I did not say “one of the most important.” I said, “one of the most polarizing.” And you have got to admit, this is a plausible claim.

Another category for social media might be “one of the most misunderstood” topics of our time. Let me explain.

People who hate social media fall into two camps — those who know very little about what it actually is, and those who know all about it on a technical level, but are using it for the wrong purpose.

Those who love it — they either get it, or they fail to grasp other important activities in the marketplace.

The rift seems to come from the fact that some people claim that social media has replaced traditional selling techniques. Take this excerpt from yesterday’s Harvard Business Review blog post, in which Phillip Delves Broughton calls business owners out for just that issue:

You often hear nowadays that the old ways of selling are being replaced. That the availability of information online has made it more important for sellers to be transparent, to team up with their customers rather than to outwit them. All the magic of old-school salespeople is being replaced by talk of click-through rates and win-win partnerships. The danger is that if you fall for all this, . . . [y]our faith in technology will eventually [be the death of your business].

The thing is that social media isn’t any more about selling than prospecting is. Both create opportunities to sell. Neither one of them is actually sales.

If you think that typing away at your blog and tweeting all day long will replace your need to sell your services, you will be out of business just as soon as you run out of money. The same goes for most prospecting activities. Unless you are selling a good or service that can be closed over the telephone or after a panel discussion or webinar, you will not make a sale without scheduling an appointment and getting in front of your prospects.

In my daily life, I run a business connecting Massachusetts litigators with local expert witnesses and consultants. I have embraced social media. Most recently, I opened our business blog and redid our LinkedIn page. But I will not be tricked into thinking that social media is going to close deals.

What it does do is create an opportunity to connect with our prospects and clients, and to bring value to the table. As Broughton noted in HBR, “Good salespeople have always been good partners to their customers. They know that if their customers succeed, they will succeed.” If I can help clients succeed by engaging them through social media, I have done good work.

But connecting on social media does not alleviate the need I have to sell. If I thought that it did, I would be without clients, and my livelihood would suffer.

What have your experiences been with using social media? Do you agree or disagree with categorizing social media as a prospecting activity, rather than a selling activity? Why?