All Our Practice Tips
Lawyers and Pricing – Part 1
♫ Zoom Zoom Zoom ♫
A Capoeira song performed by Jibril Serapis Bey.
When it comes to legal services, it seems that many law firms see price as the sole basis for competition. However from a marketing perspective, price is but one of seven criteria that make up the ‘marketing mix’ for services. Since legal services are ‘intangible economic goods’ lawyers have to sell the perceived benefits of their services and see how they match up against the needs of the clients. All other things being equal, clients evaluate services on price. But this assumes that you are delivering commodity-like services that are largely indistinguishable from those offered by the competition.
If you can distinguish your services from the competition and come closer to meeting the discerned needs of the client as compared to the competition, you are now engaged in a differentiation marketing strategy. This is based on Michael Porter’s work at Harvard Business School.
From this matrix, you can see that there are two major determinants of how you market your practice. The first is whether you appeal to a large target market or a smaller one. The second criteria is whether you choose to compete on price or on differentiating or distinguishing your services from the competition. The focused differentiation strategy seeks to market niche legal services to a target market. There is another factor at work here. Distinguishable legal services have a higher margin as compared to cost-focused strategies.
As you start to think about how to distinguish your services from those of the competition you move from thinking about the ‘reference value’ of your services (your price compared to the price of competing services) to the ‘differentiated value’ of your services (how the quality and method of delivery of your services compare to the competition).
When you start thinking of how this is done in other markets, for example in the automobile market, you see that autos can take you (and others) and transport them to new locations – that is their function and on this level they are commodities. Every auto sold does this. What distinguishes one auto to another can be neatly summed up in the phrase used by Mazda: “Zoom Zoom”….
In subsequent columns we will explore each of the 7 components in the service marketing mix and what they mean for lawyers.
–David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.
Start the Year Off Right
♫ All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true… I was made for you
Oh yeah, well it’s true… that
I was made for you…♫
Lyrics and music by Phillip John Hanseroth, recorded by Brandi Carlile.
The beginning of September is always the start of the new year for me. Perhaps it was so many years spent in school and the inevitable association with the start of the newly-minted school year. Perhaps it is coming back from a summer vacation refreshed and invigorated and with new energy for projects. Perhaps it is because I have been talking to many people who have plans for when they get back in September in terms of branding and setting a new strong strategic direction for their firm.
Either way, I believe that September is a wonderful time to refocus, regroup and decide the future direction of your practice. What changes would you like to see? Over time law firms can lose their focus on their core services – what do they do best. They can also lose touch with their core values and their strategic direction as they take on new files and clients that pull them in new directions. September is a perfect time to sit back with your colleagues and think about where the firm is going. Do you wish it to explore new opportunities? Or are you being pulled into areas that no longer represent the reasons you formed the firm in the first place? What is gnawing on you about the firm? What would you like to change from both a firm-wide and personal perspective? Start a list..and have your colleagues do the same – and arrange a time (on a weekend) to hone in on all this and come to a consensus on where all of you would like to go.
Come together and discuss the firm..its direction, focus, what makes it special and distinct – and what should be the future direction of the firm. What is your story? Have you been drawn away from the clients, activities and associations that drew all of you together in the first place? What is your marketing focus for the next while? What would you like to change regarding the management of the firm? What about technology? Have you fallen a bit behind in this area and need to incorporate plans for upgrades and new ways of doing things? Are there categories in the finance area that you would like to tighten up, such as the collection of old accounts receivable and the tightening up of credit extended to clients? How about looking at your budget and seeing if the expenses in the group “we have always been paying this” should be looked at again if for no other reason to see if there are other vendors who might be less-expensive?
Personally I think one of the important measures is whether you have remained a ‘client-focused firm’. My late colleague and friend Milt Zwicker’s acid test was whether what was done in the firm provided value to the clients - or not. If not he would change or modify the policy or procedure so that it benefitted clients as much as possible.
I think focusing on the story of the firm and how it carries you into the future is also important. This is the culture, the invisible bond that draws all of you together and forms the backbone of the belief system of the firm. Organizations can change their culture and focus, but the story is the glue that connects the past with the future and tells why you are where you are. It is important to connect with the story of the firm, since after all, the firm was made for you to be able to provide value and meaning to your clients.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.
What Is on Your Bucket List?
♫ Get on your boots and visit the North Pole
Try every sport until you score a goal
Follow the path of a butterfly
Go to Ground Zero and do nothing but cry
We don’t know how much time left we got left in this world
This beautiful world…♫
Lyrics and music by Nelly Furtado, Rodney Roy Jerkins, Rodney Jerkins, recorded by Nelly Furtado.
Having just returned from my summer vacation, I came across an article on Lifehack.org that struck a resonate chord deep within me. The article is entitled: The Ultimate Bucket List: 60 Things You Should Do Before You Die. Perhaps it was the all-too tragic death of Robin Williams. Perhaps it was my visit to Ground Zero this summer. Perhaps it was just the sense that life is passing by all too quickly. I do know that I wished I had written this article as I think that Thomas Mondel has done an excellent job and he should be justifiably proud of what he has crafted.
What is on the list of things that he has compiled? Here is just a sampling:
Forgive the people who treated you poorly. Thomas states that there is nothing more refreshing than to sincerely forgive someone. Just forgive then and move on – it gets rid of the anger and it frees up your mind.
Be curious about people. Thomas observes that the people who are interested in others are the most interesting people themselves. Learn to listen and learn something new from everyone you meet.
Swim Naked. In the best case this is under the crystal clear sky. Yahoo!
Email one of your heroes and Meet up with one of your heroes. Try to reach out to the people who you value or you feel inspired by. As Thomas notes, how awesome would it be if your hero actually responds?
Witness the birth of a child. I totally agree with Thomas – it is kinda magical! Thank you Lauren for being my magical moment!
I hope you read the entire article by clicking here. The time to start on our own bucket list is now…we never know how much time we have left.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver BC.
A Practice Tips Vacation Break
David Bilinsky and I are going to take our own advice about work-life balance, and will thus be taking a short summer break from our Practice Tips posts.
We will return in mid-August with our usual musings each Thursday.
Wishing all our readers a safe and happy summer.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
Your Wireless Dead-Spots Can Actually Get a Life
Do you have wireless dead zones in your office or home where your signal weakens or even drops? Well, good news is on the way. You can breathe immediate new life into your Wi-Fi coverage with a wireless range extender.
They come in various shapes and forms. Some plug into your electrical outlets and use your internal electrical wiring to carry signal, while others simply plug-in to your wall outlet, and connect wirelessly in a snap to your router.
We have had a difficult corner where our wireless signal has nearly always been compromised. The product I chose to solve our problem was the D-Llnk DAP 1320 wireless range extender.
By locating the wireless extender strategically in a location where signal was strong, we were able to carry the signal around an L-shaped corner, and presto voilà, problem solved, with three healthy bars now showing on my iPad’s wireless signal indicator.
By far, the DAP 1320 is the best reviewed product it its category for its ease of installation and superior performance.
About the size of an old iPhone 4 charger, set-up on the DAP 1320 couldn’t be simpler. To get started, you simply press a button on the wireless range extender, then press another button on your router, and the 1320 essentially does the rest.
As a final step, quickly configure the 1320 via your web browser to set your new wireless network name and password, and you are done.
At a cost of $39.95 it is pretty hard to argue with. Once installed, the expanded netwoprk hub will appear as a discrete network when you are searching for available WiFi signals.
Choose the extended network you have named, enter your password and you will be up and running.
So today’s tip is: Breath life into your wireless network – use a wireless range extender to inject new vigour and strength into your Wi-i-Fi networks.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
A Time to Relax
♫ So go on, indulge yourself,
that’s right, kick off your shoes, put your feet up,
lean back and just enjoy the melodies.
After all, music soothes even the savage beasts. ♫
Lyrics and Music by Dexter Holland, recorded by Offspring.
There is a time to work …and there is a time to kick back and take it easy.
We happen to be in that magical time between Canada Day and Independence Day for our cousins down south.
So our post this week is – seize the moment and take the time …to relax…to detune…to enjoy the company of friends and family.
Turn off the office. Leave the smartphone on the desk.. take a deep breath….and feel the tension easing away.
The work will be there …what is important is to get away ..mentally, physically……realize that the summer lies ahead…and to make time to spend that time with those near and dear to you.
Life is not something that can be banked or rewound. We have to live it going forward. We can’t go back and rebuild bridges that have been burnt.
Take the time.. enjoy your friends and family …relish the fact of being alive and being with those who are near and dear to you.
Most of all cherish those close to you. Lean back and just enjoy…
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.
Golden Moment: Handling Client Complaints
♫ Through the fire and the flames we carry on! ♫
Lyrics and music by: Herman Li, ZP Theart, Sam Totman, Vadim Pruzhaniov, recorded by Dragonforce.
Jo DeMars, of NetNeutrals (www.netneutrals.com) spoke at the 2014 Online Dispute Resolution Forum at Hastings College of Law at the University of California in San Francisco. This post is based on her most excellent presentation on Wednesday June 25, 2014. While her comments were presented in the context of resolving disputes that arise in e-commerce, her advice applies to virtually any consumer complaint, including client complaints regarding legal services.
She stated that most, if not all, people who have a complaint regarding a product or services are looking for five ‘psychological currencies’ from the provider. These are:
- They want a chance to tell their story;
- They are looking for a reasonable explanation of what went wrong;
- They are looking for assurance that their complaint will be dealt with;
- They wish to be thanked for their business; and
- They hope to receive an apology.
Her advice is that any provider should not hesitate to offer as many of these psychological currencies to people who are unhappy with your services. Why? Simply, it costs much more money to attract a new client vs. the cost to keep an existing client.
She explained that people who are feeling caught in this process typically go thru the same process: First they Feel; then Think, and lastly they Do/Behave.
She stated that when clients are feeling strong emotions, they are incapable of hearing you. You need to take care of the emotions before you can take care of the problem.
Accordingly she advises keeping calm. At the outset, your tone is everything and sets the stage for all that follows. Anger defusion is job #1. Once that is taken care of then the client is moving into a mindset where they can start dealing with the issues at hand.
She stated that many individuals or businesses hesitate in offering an apology. Jo stated that they should take time to master the Art of the apology:
- Clearly and completely acknowledge the problem
- Offer an effective explanation
Be honest with your clients and in particular, offer an honest apology to the client for how things transpired and the effect that this has had on them. Just hearing that a person or organization truly regrets what has happened to someone is a powerful message to help resolve a client complaint.
She also stated that it is important for the person or organization to tell the appropriate story. There are several components to this:
- own the problem,
- find allies if possible,
- take responsibility for making it right,
- follow thru, and
- tell the final chapter.
Her final advice was taken from firefighters: Run thru the flames – not away from them. It is easier and better to run to the problem thru to the other side than to run away from them.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver (written in San Francisco), BC.
Knowledge Management – Tips for Small Law Firms
I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat on Monday about knowledge management with Canada’s reigning Information Diva, Connie Crosby.
The video of our discussion is embedded below:
The focus of our conversation was how Canada’s smaller law firms can utilize current knowledge management approaches to better identify, organize and access their own, valuable knowledge inventories – their precedents, checklists, document templates, research memos, and other key data.
Connie is principal of Crosby Group Consulting, a Toronto-based firm, specializing in knowledge management, information management, social media and library management. She is a law librarian, Slaw contributor, law blogging pioneer and leader in the knowledge management field in Canada’s legal community.
While we had a good discussion about the nuts and bolts of developing and using knowledge management infrastructure, I think the key takeaways from my talk with Connie were about the importance of developing a simple system, in consultation with all users, to ensure maximum functionality, comprehensiveness, and of the utmost importance, buy-in by all.
Here is my summary of Connie Crosby’s tips for small law firms on getting started with knowledge management:
- Start out with a “knowledge audit.” Canvas all lawyers and staff in your firm for the precedents, legal research, templates and other documents they use that should be in the firm’s digital knowledge library. Also seek their input on the kind of system you should be developing and the features they would like your new knowledge infrastructure to have.
- Ask firm members about the workarounds they have developed, in the absence of a formalized system. Those workarounds could give you excellent clues about the kind of system that would best suit your firm.
- Keep the communications going with your end-users throughout the process of collection, compiling and organizing your firm’s key documents. Consult with users at key milestones in developing and implementing your new system to make sure you are headed in the right direction for them.
- After collecting your key templates and documents, review them to see if they can be improved upon, with a goal that only your best and most reliable documents will ultimately be found in your knowledge library. Discard duplicates and outdated precedents, and enjoy a digital spring cleaning of all those old and unnecessary documents that clutter up your current templates and precedent folders.
- Protect client confidentiality by removing client names and identifying information from all templates, research memos and other documents that will reside in your knowledge library.
- While database-based knowledge management systems are currently the state of the art and provide numerous benefits, there is no need to envision implementing a system that is beyond your firm’s means or technical ability to to create. Instead, when getting started, consider a Windows folder-based system for organizing and accessing the documents in your knowledge library. Get there faster by leveraging the existing technologies and skill sets that are already abundantly available in your firm.
- Organize documents into easily understood main folders and sub-folders. Consider grouping by practice area, office function, or other obvious categorization, so that your system structure will be easy to follow and require minimal training.
- Keep it simple. If you will be using a folder-based system for organizing and storing your knowledge, don’t overdo it with overly-complex sub-folder structures that may ultimately complicate and impede user access to needed documents – and potentially undermine users’ willingness to work within your new system.
- Develop a standardized naming convention for documents that will be in your knowledge library. Use plain-English in your naming conventions. If abbreviations are to be used, ensure they are easily understood. For example, if you are collecting templates for your employment law practice, create a main Employment Law folder, a pleadings sub-folder, and name your documents by type and point of difference, eg “Statement of Claim-harassment,” or “StatemtClaim-harass.”
- Ensure that updating your documents library regularly with all new and revised documents becomes part of your firm’s ordinary workflow. It should become standard practice that when a new template or research memorandum is completed in your office, it is added to your documents library upon completion.
- Save all templates in read-only format, so that they cannot be accidentally overwritten.
- Consider change management strategies, particularly for those who may be resisting or having difficulty adapting to your new knowledge management system. Users who do not wish to buy-in will develop their own, parallel knowledge management systems. That is probably not a good thing. Find a way to adapt your system to your real users’ preferences.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect. Knowledge management is a rapidly-emerging discipline, and the “gold standard” has not yet been achieved, anywhere. Rather than waiting for knowledge nirvana before acting, develop a system that meets your needs, improves your firm’s nimbleness in managing documents, and establishes best practices, simply by ensuring your staff and lawyers will always have ready access to your firm’s most current, complete and accurate templates and documents.
Many thanks to Connie for taking the time to provide us all with so much of her valuable expertise about knowledge management, today and in the future. These are great insights for law firms, both small and not-so-small.
So let’s start managing our knowledge.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
The ‘Law Office Backyard Retreat’ Report
After much planning, and at least one eyeball fixed at all times on weather reports foreshadowing thunder, lightning, rain (and lions tigers and bears, oh my!) our Wise Law Office Backyard Retreat finally enjoyed its inaugural debut last Sunday.
I expect to have several SlawTips posts in the weeks ahead on the actual topics we discussed and the action plan that continues to emerge.
For today, I’m going to focus on the agenda, which is reproduced below.
WISE LAW OFFICE BACKYARD RETREAT AGENDA - June 8, 2014
11:00am – 11:15am - Introduction and objectives for the day (Garry)
11:15am – 11:30am - Review key insights from pre-meetings (Sandra)
11:30am – 12:30pm - Firm mission: Defining our promise to clients and our promise to ourselves
12:30pm – 1:30pm Lunch
1:30pm – 2:30pm - The business of law is the hardest part of law - Garry
2:30pm – 2:45pm – Starting out as Lawyers: What we didn’t know before we started and what we’ve learned so far – Associate Lawyers
2:45pm – 3:00pm - Legal assisting/clerking: Challenges and Opportunities in a small firm (Assistants/Law Clerk)
3:00 – 3:30 Group discussion on efficiencies including:
- retainer replenishment procedures
- delegating in a more specific manner
- how to handle referrals
- holding bi-weekly meetings for a period of 15 minutes on Mondays
- protocols regarding our authority to communicate with clients and OC
- ways to improve through continuing education, CPD
3:15pm – 3:30pm - Marketing and advertising
- creative ways to market the firm at the front end including: use of social media, use of networking, blog posts, updated website
3:30pm – 4:30pm - Action plan (Garry and Sandra)
4:30pm – 4:45pm - Recap and next steps (Garry and Sandra)
As you will note, we covered quite a bit of territory. Everyone in the firm had an opportunity to present on at least one topic, and I think it probably added to the day that we were able to hear from each of our lawyers and staff members.
Sandra Bekhor, a consultant who works with law firms on practice development, marketing and branding (and who is my significant other) joined us for the day. She had gotten the ball rolling earlier in the week by conducting pre-meetings with everyone in our office to learn their perspectives on our firm identity, strengths, opportunities and challenges.
Her report at the beginning of the day recapped the views she heard, and that helped set the tone for the day. We were gratified to see that, collectively, we were all pretty much on the same page. That makes planning – and working together – a whole lot easier.
We didn’t make it through the entire agenda, and have agreed to do our remaining topics in later sessions next week.
All in all, it was a very successful day. It was a good thing, too, that I had an overstock of hoodies and sweatshirts available, for use by all as it got a bit chilly during the day.
And…. as far as Tips go, I can give you my 100% warranty on this – a small office retreat is a very good thing to do. It brings the group together outside the office, allows the time to talk about important issues that just can’t be covered during the ordinary work day, and gives everyone a chance to get to know each other (and their boss’s cooking ) a little bit better.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
Main Street..or Wal*Mart? Is It Time to Rethink Your Marketing Mix?
♫ These are the people of Walmart
Through mark downs, roll backs, and shopping carts
These are the people of Walmart
Where we save money and shop smart only at Walmart…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Jessica Frech.
They teach you in business school to carefully evaluate your ‘marketing mix”. When it comes to a law firm’s marketing mix, the discussion is typically centred around the 7 P’s of law firm service marketing:
- Physical Evidence
What is unique in North America is that there is a law firm – Axess Law – that has taken a bold step into rethinking the traditional marketing mix for a law firm.
Here is their contact info from their website for one of their offices:
What are their products? They state:
Whether you are looking for a real estate lawyer, an estates lawyer, a family lawyer, a notary public to notarize or commission your documents or a business lawyer to draft your business agreements, we can help you.
What is their promotion? This is from their website:
Axess Law has highly experienced, trained and dedicated lawyers and legal representatives on staff similar to what you would expect to find at any other law firm. Unlike other firms, our approach to law is refreshingly different. We believe that law should be accessible to all, should be available at times that suit you and at prices that make sense. ‘Law Made Easy’ is not just our trademarked slogan – it is the philosophy that guides our everyday business.
Their place is obviously just inside a Walmart store..with convenient hours and free parking.
Their prices are aimed at the Walmart shopper: They advertise the lowest legal fees in Ontario for home purchases (guaranteed! they say) and $99 personal wills.
Judging by their website, their physical evidence reflects their style: Simple, clean and uncomplicated. One major difference is that you won’t find the traditional listing of the lawyers in the firm with their stuffy bios. Their website is strictly focused on the consumer of their services.
Who are the people who deliver these services? They state: “Dynamic challenges. Amazing people. Your career starts here.” Their website is an active listing of the people that they are looking for to join them: …with the Law Clerk position listed first, then Client Service Associate and at the end, Lawyer.
What about their processes? Their motto is “Law Made Easy“.
This is one dynamic firm. They have obviously thought through their approach to the market and they are taking a different direction from most, if not all, of the law firms in North America today. These are the people – and the lawyers – of Walmart.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.