Monthly Archives: April 2010

Get your site right

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and mid-sized law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs.  Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

What is usually the first thing people usually do when they want to find information about a firm? They go to the firm website. When potential clients visit your website, they will decide in seconds whether or not they like what they see. Think of your website as your online law office. You want to keep it clean, want to make a good impression and want visitors to remember it, right? Right.

Here are a few suggestions to consider when reviewing, revamping or recreating your website.

Incorporate Something “Sticky”

A “sticky” idea is something that site visitors will remember, something that will “stick” in their memory after they leave your website. It doesn’t have to be something flashy or obnoxious, but it should be something that adds uniqueness to your site. You could use interesting pictures from past cases, video testimonials or offer a “Legal Tip of the Month.” The “sticky” possibilities are endless, so choose one that fits with your firm.

Broadcast Your Own News

Telling visitors the latest news about firm happenings is a way to show not only your credibility but also that you are active online. Consider adding links to new articles or audio files of recent interviews on your homepage. With social media the way it is, having up-to-date, ever-changing information is EXPECTED. In addition to a “newsroom” page, you can sync your blog or Twitter account with your site so that each new post or “tweet” automatically appears in a live feed. Don’t be afraid to show you are social media-savvy. These outside networks will certainly help direct more attention your way.

Don’t Overdo It

A website that is too busy or difficult to navigate can deter potential clients from calling your firm. There’s a reason people say less is more, so make it easy for site visitors by following some basic guidelines: 1) keep your layout simple and navigation bar consistent on each subpage so visitors can retrace their steps, 2) keep the scroll to a minimum so visitors can see information all on one page, 3) do NOT go overboard on hyperlinks as this can “lose” people.

Job Search Strategies: A hit of hope

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

I thought I would give you a little hit of hope to allay any end-of-week slump you may be in. The New York Times on Sunday ran a small item with real numbers showing that the job market is improving. While unemployment remained at 9.7 percent in March, there was a 19 percent increase in job postings in 10 of 12 industry categories over March of last year.

While I have not heard of any new landings by attorney friends and colleagues this week or last week for that matter, some people have been to initial interviews and second interviews for job openings with very large numbers of applicants. I deduce (I hope correctly) that there are more openings coming down the pipeline so they are lining up more job candidates.

One friend received a call back for a financial government job and we are hoping she’ll land it. Another got not one, but two interviews for two different positions with a state agency in Chicago. And a colleague who has chosen to switch fields into teaching got an interview for a high school teaching job and then a request for a second interview.

At the same time that we are struggling with this scarce jobs situation, there is another encouraging statistic: Some Baby Boomers are retiring and more of them will do so in the next few years, freeing up more jobs. And, as companies begin doing better they will need more workers again, and that will include more legal professionals.

Some or all of these factors may result in more job offers, but it is a good sign that the interviews are taking place. As the author and work-force consultant Tamara Erickson says in the article, “Cheer up, the real possibility of finding a job that you’ll like is increasing every day.” Amen.

Get a life!

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

When you are in transition, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Job searching, networking, hand shaking— it can get pretty exhausting.  You have to remember, however, that you are not just a job searching machine, you’re a person.

Now that summer is, slowly, making its way to Chicago you should take some time to enjoy it.  Why?  Why not?  Many of us believe that the moment we take time for ourselves, we miss opportunities.

If you are exhausted from job searching, you probably won’t do too well in an interview anyway.  If you are beyond frustrated, all of the jobs you see will begin to blur in your mind.

I am reading a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles.  This is a book geared towards people who are looking for jobs and changing careers, and I highly recommend that you check it out.  Richard says the first thing you should do after you lose your job is sleep.  Sleep!  I think this is sound advice.  Think about how much more productive you are after you’ve caught up on sleep.  How will you be revved up for the job search if you are a zombie?   Get in a solid eight hours before you spend the day writing cover letters and fixing up your resume.  Trust me, you won’t regret taking that time to let your body and mind heal.

Job searching can also take a toll on your mood.  If you have special people in your life it is ultra important that you take time for yourself.  Think of how your spouse will feel if you snap at her because you didn’t get an interview this week.  The supportive people in your life surely want you to be kind to yourself.

If you are looking for fun things to do, without breaking the bank, you can find tons of free events in Chicago.  One I recommend is the Chicago Art Institute.  It’s free on Thursdays from 5 to 8 pm in the summertime.  If you are on Facebook, you can join a group called Free Things to do in Chicago and tap into tons of opportunities.  Check out Groupon, Metromix and City Search as well for more great ideas for inexpensive and fun things to do.  Don’t forget about the many free concerts and movies in the city parks.

Heck, you can always walk around the block to clear your mind.  If it’s a nice day, you can’t beat the fresh air.  If you’ve been sitting at a desk for four hours or more, it’s a clue that you may need a walk around the block.

When it comes down to it, you are in charge of your well-being.  A well-balanced person is a better employee, friend, parent, and spouse.  Your challenge this week is to go out and so something fun.  You deserve it!

Inside perspective: Partners, associates need ‘pre-marital’ counseling

Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.

Partners and associates at law firms need something akin to pre-marital counseling.  Like a real divorce, a “partner-associate divorce” is expensive when a nicely-compensated, highly-recruited associate leaves a firm.  Additionally, the friends (the in-house counsel) who’ve been “friends” with the “couple” suffer when, in the middle of working on a matter, the associate suddenly – poof – disappears into the Twilight Zone leaving in-house counsel with a new associate who has to get up to speed.   Consequently, both in-house counsel and law firm partners have an interest in the development and retention of law firm associates.  For what it’s worth, here’s my “pre-marital” advice to associates and partners as to how they can make their relationships work.

Associates who are successful at law firms are not only smart and good at what they do, but they also know how to build relationships with partners in their firms.  In order to build relationships, associates have to get out of their offices and talk to partners – – especially at the end of the day when partners are still in the office but generally more available.  Associates should talk to partners about their clients, their cases and matters, what the partners think about their work,  the stock market, that article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin …

A partner once asked me to talk to an associate who stayed in her office working during the firm’s holiday party.  Instead of coming across like a hard worker, she came across as anti-social.  As an associate, of course you want to be seen as industrious and hard-working.  But you also want to be seen as accessible and approachable.

In addition to building relationships, an associate needs to develop a reputation for being a go-to person.  I practice labor, employment, ethics and compliance law.  But if my general counsel asks me to start practicing astronomy law, I’ll be at the planetarium.  In other words, associates need to be willing to go the extra mile.  When handing out assignments, partners look for those associates who they know will always give just a little more thought and a little more effort and show a little more willingness to think outside the box than the other associate.

If you’re an associate who is seen as approachable and as a “go-to” person, you will get the plum assignments and be able to meet and exceed your billable requirement.  You will stay at your firm and I’ll be happy because, as you continue to work on my matters, you’ll need and take less getting up to speed and learning about my company.  You’ll get my work done faster thus billing me less. Presumably.

But it’s not all associates’ fault when partners and associates break up.  It takes two to make a partner-associate “marriage” work.   Associates are happiest when partners communicate.   I suggest partners remember what they were like eons ago when they graduated from law school.  You knew nothing.  Now you know everything.  But the associate knows nothing.  So take an extra 10 minutes and educate the associate and give some context.  And when the associate doesn’t get it, look him or her in the eye and explain how he or she has fallen short.

Don’t be passive-aggressive and wait until the performance review process to tell the associate that the memo they wrote 10 months ago was poor.  Instead, give real-time feedback.  The associate won’t be blind-sided and will know where they stand in the organization.  The associate will be happy. The partners will be happy and I, the client who is the most important party in this relationship, will definitely be happy.  It’s a good marriage all around.

Even in a recession, law firms spend a lot of money recruiting and hiring associates.  Sometimes partner-associate divorce is inevitable, but many times it’s avoidable with some effort and communication from both parties.

Q & A with one of our speakers

Attorney Christine Svenson, who will be a speaker at our Wednesday event, took some time to answer a few of our questions.

What do you hope people get out of what you have to say?

That hard work and dedication really do pay off, but be prepared for it to take years!  And never give up.

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone considering starting their own firm?

Be ready and willing to handle any case that walks in the door

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone going through a career transition?

Talk to as many people in your industry as possible…. and do it face to face, not by sending out e-mails or reading blogs.

Why is networking so important to lawyers facing job uncertainty?

Networking is important for EVERYBODY!  Because in this day in age, unless you graduated from Harvard Law School or the like, you are going to need something intangible to set you apart from the rest of the pack.  And that intangible is most likely knowing and being connected to a person of influence!

Job Search Strategies: your USP

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

This past week, a colleague and I were discussing her burgeoning estate planning practice and ways to increase her client base. We talked about who her target audience is and how to best market to that audience. Thought, research and analysis is required to get the answers to these questions, but your practice will thrive if you stick with developing your ideal client profile and determining the best ways to attract those clients.

With my friend, I thought back to concepts I successfully applied in my prior life as a marketer. I found myself talking to her about USP, her Unique Selling Proposition.

This concept dates back to the 1940s but is still as valid today as it was then. According to Wikipedia, the Unique Selling Proposition, a term invented by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company, is “a marketing concept that states that marketing campaigns make unique propositions to the customer and that this convinces them to switch brands.”

Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.” Obviously, it would be a violation of ethics rules to say that to our prospective clients, but we can differentiate ourselves through our skill set so that the clients perceive a specific benefit in hiring us, and not another lawyer.

“Today the term is applied to other fields to refer to any aspect of an object that differentiates it from similar objects.” So, you are saying to yourself, how does this apply to my law practice? The reality is you are selling yourself and you have to differentiate yourself from other lawyers. You have to attract your clients with a specific set of abilities and characteristics.

The large firms are a brand in themselves, they are known names and attract clients simply as a result of USPs that were developed years ago. Your solo or small law practice has to develop its own USP.

I believe in a small practice, success is achieved by specialization. That is, the more specialized you are the better your chances of appealing to clients with a particular issue that you have identified as your USP.

Even though my solo practice was very new before I moved to Miami, I had a  respectable flow of clients. Local attorneys referred clients to me because they knew that I was Hispanic and would relate well to Hispanic clients, (especially if they didn’t speak English well!), and that I would competently litigate real estate cases with which those attorneys were not prepared to deal. These referring attorneys related to me that clients specifically asked them if they knew of a Hispanic woman attorney they could recommend for their real estate issue.

From these referrals I realized that my USP was clear and it was working. You may think that you don’t have such a built-in USP, but you can certainly develop one. My estate planning friend has to focus her marketing efforts on a particular market segment. This could be single women, or same sex couples, or Baby Boomers, or athletes, etc. At the same time honing her expertise and attaining visible achievements in a particular facet estate planning that these types of clients will need.

Obviously, at the outset, for financial expediency you sometimes have to take cases that do not serve your particular selling proposition, but your steady focus on your particular USP plan will help you to succeed. Over the long run, this establishes a clear direction for the development of your practice.

Q & A with Barry Hyman

Barry Hyman, a Schiff Hardin partner, is the chair of the firm’s energy litigation client services group. His practice focuses on litigation, arbitration and mediation of disputes for energy industry clients. He has substantial experience in representing energy companies and public utilities in state and federal courts and arbitration proceedings.  He took some time to answer a few of our questions.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

Developing and implementing strategies to help client’s achieve their business objectives.

What makes a good lawyer?

Good judgment in helping clients navigate difficult and complex legal and business issues.

What is the biggest legal news right now, and what is its impact?

The impact of governmental regulation of environmental matters and enforcement actions on the energy industry.