Posted by: johnocunningham | November 25, 2015

Law Firms Can Cut Costs and Invest to Serve Clients Better

Law firms are reportedly cutting costs to be more competitive as sophisticated clients increasingly shop for value.

As reported in a recent American Lawyer Media article, firms are particularly doing the following:

  • Reducing and standardizing the size of individual offices
  • Eliminating or reducing legal libraries
  • Increasing attorney to staff ratios
  • Investing in technology for document management and storage (among other things)

It is also well established that firms can become more competitive in client development by through “smart” investments in the following:

  • Investing in training so that employees are more productive
  • Investing in process improvement and project management to improve quality, speed and cost-efficiency
  • Investing in systems to produce better information about client origination, development, retention, and defection
  • Investing in content that can be posted and propagated for free online through strategic use of social media and the Internet
Posted by: johnocunningham | November 16, 2015

Eroding Client Loyalty: Five Tips to Stop It

Professional consulting firm Altman Weil recently published a paper by Ward Bower, entitled “What Keeps Managing Partners Awake?”

The paper asserts, based on numerous interviews performed by the firm, that law firm managing partners are seeing the emergence of a new prototypical kind of client in recent years – one that switches firms readily, rarely uses one firm for all work, and does not always tell a law firm when a switch is made.

With new kinds of competitors in abundance (including competition from growing corporate in-house staff) this paper highlights that it is more important than ever to establish regular communications with your best clients, developing a bond with more than one contact so that a professional relationship with a corporate client can be maintained in the event of shifting personnel or duties.

You can’t erase the phenomenon of professional service shopping by increasingly savvy clients, but you can greatly improve your chances of keeping a client by following these tips:

  1. Communicate regularly with the client, not asking for business every time you talk to them, but just reminding them that you are thinking of them and would like to help them in any way you can, referring them to problem solvers other than yourself if needed.
  2. Ask for feedback on how you are doing and what you can do better. Corporate client representatives repeatedly have told me that they favor firms and lawyers that ask for feedback, and they are much more inclined to stay with professionals who do. They also are more inclined to give those professionals reasonable notice of a prospective change in the relationship or a developing problem.
  3. Learn how the client’s industry and business works – it is the number one thing clients want their lawyers to do better.
  4. Visit your key client contacts at least once a year in person without billing them for the time. If every time they see you or talk to you, the meter is running, then they won’t want to visit.
  5. Develop a relationship with your client. I am not talking about a billable relationship, nor an unprofessional one. I am talking about a personal but professional one.  A very successful head of North America operations for a global law firm once told me that the key to client development is relationship development. A well-developed relationship expands on a foundation of trust, and no trust means no sale. So work on expanding the base of trust between you and your key clients by investing in non-billable time with them if you want to keep them.

This is my 35th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of October 2015, I have chosen to highlight three blog posts:

  1. A post by Vanessa Schaefer of Clockwork Design Group entitled, “Is Buying Syndicated Content Worth the Price?”
  2. A post on the Cordell Parvin blog entitled, “Marketing: What Are You Doing to Help Your Contacts Be More Successful?”
  3. A post by Stephen Fairley on the Rainmaker Blog entitled: “21 Inbound Strategies to Grow Your Law Firm.”

I particularly like Stephen Fairley’s post because it offers 21 useable tips for attracting clients and growing revenue through “inbound” marketing, which is a form of marketing designed to pull people into your professional space (often through delivery of content that they value). One of the most interesting statistics he cites is on blogging: “Businesses that blog receive 77 percent more traffic and 98 percent more links to their site than those who do not.” Sounds like a good reason to get blogging or to at least get a professional to work with you on creating blog posts.

Another post on my list by Vanessa Schaefer points out that it is hard to be perceived as a “thought leader” if you are posting syndicated content that is recycled everywhere. She also astutely points out that Google’s search algorithms are capable of detecting recycled content, and they will downgrade it accordingly for SEO purposes. Thus, the creation of original content that is valued by readers is absolutely priceless.

Finally, I love the post by Cordell Parvin, which encourages professional service providers to ask themselves the question: “What can I do off the clock that would help my client and his/her company?” I have heard this approach referred to in some circles as “servant marketing.” When I have interviewed CEOs of small companies, many have told me that this kind of non-billable “servant” focus on helping a client by introducing them to key contacts or helping them achieve a personal goal is an absolute winning strategy for relationship building. C-suiters at larger companies may have built out their critical networks already, but those at fledgling enterprises are much more likely to value highly some off-the-clock introductions, advice or general assistance.


Posted by: johnocunningham | October 29, 2015

ROI: Content Marketing vs. Advertising

I noticed in one of my Google-alerts a story about law firm advertising budgets exploding over the last seven years (story at

This development is shaping up just as other commercial enterprises are shifting their marketing dollars to social media and content marketing rather than continuing to invest in increasingly fragmented traditional advertising markets. (See e.g., “This Week in Content Marketing“).

While there are all kinds of research and analyses on the ROI of content marketing and advertising (see, for example, “The Reach, Engagement and ROI of Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising“) the crux of the decision on where to spend dollars is all about what you are willing to do, what it will cost you, who you will reach, and what impact you will have on them.

There is no question that consumers trust advertising less and less over time, and advertising has become mostly about increasing “top of mind” brand awareness.

Unfortunately, in a professional services field, brand awareness alone is not going to get you very far. Furthermore, in the practice of law, the vast majority of corporate clients choose an individual provider more than they choose a brand (although they may “qualify” an individual service provider, in part, based on the institutional acceptance of the brand).

Thus, a practice group or an individual practitioner at a recognized brand name law firm will do better to invest in lower-cost, effective content marketing that resonates with clients rather than slick and expensive advertising.

Of course, if your content is just another stale newsletter full of boilerplate regurgitations of new regulations or statutes that you are slow to deliver, then it will not stand out from the clutter any more than another tombstone ad in a trade magazine for lawyers.

But if you develop content that shows a little of your personality, while being quick and easy to read, informative, and useful, then there is a good chance that a sizeable portion of your target audience will save, share or comment favorably on that content. Some will even bookmark the content and call you when the need arises for your demonstrated expertise.

My own surveys of sophisticated corporate clients indicate that they will not hire you solely because of your content, but they will take notice of you and sometimes begin the process of “qualifying” you as a potential service provider as a result of your demonstrated ability to communicate essential information about a topic of concern to their business or industry.


Posted by: johnocunningham | October 22, 2015

Do Clients Really Hire the Lawyer and Not the Firm?

I was browsing through my news feeds today and noticed a short article on “Lawyers, Law Firms and Sophisticated Buyers” penned by Mark Cohen, the CEO of LegalMosaic, a legal consulting practice.

What caught my attention is the idea that big name lawyers might be hired by sophisticated consumers, regardless of the firm in which they reside. Indeed, many sophisticated buyers of legal services have told me (and many public audiences) that they “hire the lawyer and not the firm.”

I get the notion that the article posits about many consumers wanting to hire the expert, but not the expensive baggage that comes with expertise at a big firm.

But I wonder how many sophisticated buyers have the fortitude to “hire the lawyer and not the firm” when there is no downtown address on the letterhead, but there is a “bet the company” risk to the matter for which the lawyer is hired.

As a General Counsel, I certainly put some faith in legal experts outside of large firms, but I always scrutinized those providers closely, and had to feel certain that they were the very best choice I could make. I also had more appetite for risk than my legal peers.

As of now, it is my perception that most sophisticated buyers at public companies or large institutions still want their board of directors and other higher-ups to recognize the stable of lawyers behind  the lawyer of choice, just in case things go south and the lawyer of choice does not quite perform as expected.

The perception is that you will never get fired for hiring the lawyer at a “brand name” firm, but you could get fired for hiring the right lawyer at a small firm who just happens to lose a case or deliver less than stellar transactional results, regardless of fault.

Part of the power of a brand, is the perception of safety it delivers.

One thing is for sure, however. As the author observed: “The business of law is changing quickly. A harsh light is being cast on the utility and necessity of the traditional law firm structure. After all, clients hire lawyers, not law firms.” Over time, that will mean more changes ahead for law firms, especially as clients get bolder.

Posted by: johnocunningham | October 12, 2015

Communications: Protecting Law Firm and Client Data

A recent ABA Journal article noted that “insiders are stealing data without law firms even realizing it.”

Internal communications about the importance of client data, the steps necessary to secure it, and the importance of everyone policing it are more critical than ever.

One headline about a firm’s catastrophic breach of security through insider theft could be disastrous to that firm’s reputation.

Putting together data forensics teams, enabling IT professionals to detect data transfers in real time, and communicating the importance of preserving client and firm data can all go a long way toward preventing or limiting any breach.

If you don’t talk about the possibility of a catastrophic event, then you can’t develop a system to stop it, or enroll your people in prevention efforts through better communication and monitoring.


This is my 34th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of September 2015, I have chosen to highlight three blog posts:

  1. A post by Cordell Parvin on the Cordell Parvin blog, entitled “Your Career: What Really Matters Is What You Do With It.” I love this post because it is all about what is really going to matter at the end of a life well lived.  Sometimes, we get so busy keeping score with revenue and profitability that we forget why we ever set out on a given career path. This post puts it all into perspective, and I particularly love the quote from C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of your self less often.”
  2. A post by Mandy Edwards on the ME Marketing Services blog, entitled “35 Marketing Tips to Get or Keep Your Business Going.” As Mandy often does on her blog, she presents in this post a nice checklist of simple but practical, and often fun things that anyone can do to turn up the dial on revenue.
  3. A post by Patrick Johansen on his Patrick on Pricing blog, entitled “The Importance of Intelligence” (as in “competitive intelligence”). Patrick offers a great breakdown on the elements of competitive intelligence and their relationship to competitive pricing. His “quick quotes” section at the end of the piece provides some good bulletin board material as well.

Those are my choices for the best blog posts in September on legal service and marketing. Please feel free to share with me your own thoughts on best blogs and best posts at any time.

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 30, 2015

Press Relations: Do’s and Don’ts

As we draw nearer to the 2016 election cycle, I can’t help but notice more of the usual silly gaffes by politicians in press interviews, reminding me how even public figures  in the limelight can make basic mistakes in dealing with the press.

With that in mind, here are just a handful of tips from my one-hour basic training class on press relations that can help anyone to perform better in interviews and cultivate good press relations:

  1. Prepare for the interview. A press interview is not just a conversation. It is usually a brief chance to say something pertinent and informative that will stick in the minds of reporters, viewers and/or readers. Being concise and memorable is not an accident. It is a result of preparation for the likely questions. For instance, President Ronald Reagan knew he was likely to be asked about his fitness for office when campaigning for re-election at age 73, and that is why he rehearsed a witty response to an inevitable question about his age, stating “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my [56 yr. old] opponent’s youth and inexperience.” For those speaking to reporters for print publications, it is also important to be prepared so that you don’t waste the reporter’s time or end up having the reporter terminate the interview early because he or she decided that you can’t get to the point fast enough.
  2. Don’t try to control a press encounter. In my experience as a reporter, too many sources who are learned professionals try to control the interview. They think they know best what questions you should ask, what you should write, and what the end product should look like. They have no idea how the press works. They don’t understand that an editor approves the story, the angle on the story and the final product (or not). They come off as amateurs trying to do dictation to their secretaries. Treat the reporter as a professional, and don’t try to do their job for them or talk down to them. Just answer the question that is asked. Also, you can ask to have your quotes read back to you (though that is not something busy reporters like to do) but you should never, ever ask to proof the story before it goes to print, as that is just not going to happen (unless you have a very unusual relationship with reporter and editor).
  3. Call the reporter well ahead of deadline. Another amateur move is to call a reporter five minutes before deadline to offer a quote or observation about a story. First of all, the reporter has probably written the story by then, and your call is not likely to be taken. But even if the reporter is hurriedly putting the finishing touches on the story, he or she is not likely to squeeze in your one quote they have time to get on the phone. The later you call, the less likely your observations are needed. The earlier you call, the more time the reporter will spend with you, and the more likely they will lean on you for key information in developing the story. So call early – not late.
  4. Don’t go “on the record” and then “off the record” repeatedly. This is another stunt that shows you are both unprepared and unpracticed in dealing with the press. If you want to offer some material “on background” to help the reporter understand the story (without being quoted) that is fine, but don’t do too much of that. The reporter needs sources willing to speak. If you are not willing, then refer them to someone who is. Understand also that you can say some things without attribution or with limited attribution. You could agree with a reporter that they can refer to a source as “a Boston employment attorney” if you want to speak to one sensitive issue in the story without your name being used. But basically, if you don’t want to be quoted, don’t bother calling back to talk about the story.
  5. Ask the reporter how you can help them (other than by just answering questions). They might need other sources who are knowledgeable about specific issues in the story – sources you might be able to introduce to them. They might need background information and you could recommend a basic text or primer. They might also need and will usually welcome input on future story ideas pertinent to their “beat.” For instance, a reporter covering legal news might like to have a source send periodic notes about topical stories developing in the legal world, whether or not they have anything to do with the source. Your credibility is especially enhanced and your input valued when you can offer helpful information on stories for which you will not be an expert commentator.

If you do a great job of helping a reporter, you will go in their black book with a five-star rating and you will get called again and again. If you are a pain in the butt, you will go in the book with one star, and a big “do not call” sign next to your name. Oh, and reporters share notes with other reporters – in some newsrooms they even have one collective source book. So treat the reporters like the professionals they are, and don’t lecture to them.

You can also get more press attention by participating in press searches for experts on various subjects. Check out, for example, the “HARO” organization, which stands for “help a reporter out” by going to


Posted by: johnocunningham | September 18, 2015

Ten Hilariously Misused Legal Terms

I was watching television the other night and noticed the use or misuse of several legal terms. It was amusing to see people doing “man in the street” interviews who were attempting to talk in “legalese” despite obviously not being lawyers.

Lawyers take a lot of criticism for speaking in the terms of the trade, yet so many people try to imitate them without success.

So here is my blog post on commonly misused legal terms with explanations of correct useage and origin:

  1. Moot point. When an issue is not determinative of an outcome, it is said to be a moot point. It is not a “mute” point, as so many people say, and it does not refer to something that is quiet or unspoken.
  2. Per se. This means literally “by itself” but in legal use may have other meanings, as in the case of negligence per se, which is a kind of “automatic” negligence when one violates a statute designed to protect the public. Hilariously, some people just seem to sprinkle their language with random “per se” references to sound lofty. It does not work. You don’t sound smart when you say “I’m not accusing him of lying per se, but just generally being untrustworthy.” Note to self: also avoid the confusion of “per se” and “pro se.”  Pro se is a term roughly translated as “for oneself” as in the case of someone who represents himself in court and is considered a “pro se” litigant. It is not appropriate to state: “I am not a doctor pro se, but I do have medical training.”
  3. Pro forma. I often hear someone say that something is just “pro forma” when referring to a document or an administrative act. The phrase can be literally translated as “for the sake of form” but that is not how it is used by professionals. Generally speaking, lawyers and accountants refer to “pro forma” statements as “forward looking” or “predictive” statements, such as “pro forma” financial statements, which are nothing more than projections based on assumptions. By the way, the phrase is not “per forma” either, though I have heard that too.
  4. Blue Sky. From time to time, I hear people say that “we can just blue sky this thing” as if to say, we can make it public or we can clarify it for public consumption. Sort of close, but not quite right. The phrase actually came from Judge Louis Brandeis in speaking about the purpose of disclosure laws related to securities (stocks and bonds). He said the purpose of the law was to make things as clear as the blue sky for investors. Thereafter, state securities laws (as opposed to federal) became known as “blue sky” laws, and that is the blue sky to which lawyers are generally referring in practice.
  5. Tortious. If someone’s conduct is negligent, destructive or defamatory, lawyers may refer to it as “tortious” conduct. I have heard people refer to this as “torturous” or “tortuous” in trying to sound legalistic. The word “tort” means twisted, and don’t ask me how it came to mean “legally culpable” but it did. Sorry, no relation to torture (unless you negligently or deliberately torture someone).
  6. Fiduciary. This can be a noun or adjective. A fiduciary is someone with a fiduciary obligation to another, such as an investment adviser who is a trustee and owes a trust beneficiary a fiduciary obligation to act in their best interests with the highest degree of diligence and caution. I once heard someone introduce his close friends as his “fiduciaries” and I have heard people refer to their “fiduciary” actions when they meant “responsible” actions. Again, close, but not quite.
  7. Due diligence. I have heard people say “let’s do diligence” on the this deal, or “it is no big deal, it is just due diligence.” I am not sure what they were trying to convey, but I am pretty sure they picked it up from lawyers. Attorneys use the term to describe the work necessary to protect a client being represented in a transaction. For instance, “we have to perform environmental testing on properties the client wants to purchase as part of our due diligence.”
  8. Due process. The phrase is not “do process” although I have heard people say that we need to “do process” on a transaction or a dispute resolution. Due process refers to the type of process in a trial or hearing that will guarantee fundamental fairness to the parties, and most importantly to the defendant or the accused in any controversy or proceeding.
  9. Hearsay. I think many people use this term interchangeably with the word “gossip” but it has a more technical meaning. Hearsay refers to “an out of court statement offered by a party as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the out of court statement.” There is a rule against using hearsay evidence not because it is gossip, but primarily because the person who allegedly made the out of court statement may not be available for confirmation or cross-examination regarding what they meant (or if they even said it). There are also more than two dozen exceptions to the hearsay rule, so hearsay is often admitted into evidence where there are sufficient indicators of its reliability and authenticity.
  10. Statute. There is a statute of limitations, but there is no “statue” of limitations.  Legal statutes are written laws passed by the legislature (as opposed to administrative regulations that have the force of law, but are passed by agencies empowered to act by legislatures). There no legal statues, except those erected in the town square pursuant to duly authorized and publicly funded actions.

If you work with lawyers, and want to understand their language and concepts, I offer courses in “decoding and demystification of law” (for legal marketers and other providers who must work regularly with the legal profession).

This is my 33rd post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of August 2015, I have chosen to highlight three blog posts:

  1. A post by Tom Kane on the Legal Marketing Blog, entitled “How to be Effective at Getting Referrals.” This post has some helpful links to other resources on the same subject and is short, practical and elegantly simple.
  2. A post by Danielle Diforio on the Clockwork Design Group blog, entitled “Website Redesign: How Much of Your Time Will It Take?” This post provides a nice breakdown of the time elements involved in doing a website redesign, including the all-important updating of written content.
  3. A post by Janet Stanton on the Adam Smith, Esq. blog, entitled “R&D for Law Firms: Can We Learn From Corporate America?” This post offers a meaty, detailed exploration of why law firms are not good at research, development and innovation, and it provides a practical prescription for how this can be improved. Law firms will need to take heed if they don’t want to lose more and more market share to alternative legal solution providers.


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