The media - legal, business and general - are already having a ball discussing the "perfect storm" of a downturn which is or will soon enough slow work in law firms.
For instance, Nathan Koppel at the WALL STREET JOURNAL Law Blog predicts that, given the scary economy with all its uncertainty, "firms are likely to become more ruthless" about chopping attorneys, including partners, who aren't performing as they should be.
Nothing is more satisfying than anticipating highly-paid, highly specialized professionals being cut loose in a marketplace which can not easily absorb them. Even more fun is hoping that this coverage about possible layoffs will scare the dickens out of those highly paid, highly specialized associates and partners at BigLaw.
But, what the media are anticipating won't happen across the board. Some firms, ranging from Valorem to Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson, have already adopted business models which can help them thrive in tough times. Valorem, for instance, became a New Barbarian in its approach to cases and alternative billing. Created by expats from BigLaw, Helleland has built an atypical organizational culture that allows it be be unusually responsive to clients. And every survey in the legal profession indicates responsiveness is what clients want. That even trumps price.
In addition, in this digital age, even those law firms which have been sitting back fat and relatively complacent can put in motion some low-cost, high-reach, fast-acting strategies to scout for new business in disruptive ways. The Internet provides a just-in-time marketing and actual selling tool - at least for players who understand online communications.
Here are some recommendations for growing business even in downturns:
- Target atypical market segments. If the usual suspects are BigBiz, then hunt among mid- and small-size firms. And the reverse is just as true. BigBiz, also hurting during a downturn, is open to doing things differently with different vendors. This can be effective because those folks are stunned to hear from you. They will pay attention to your initial pitch. I know. When I offered BigBiz strategies to Everyman retailers and professional services firms, they were eager to hear what I could do for them. The challenge here is to pre-qualify those who afford our prices. For little fish I offered a custom-made fee schedule but learned not to go lower than that. The gain from this experience is that we learn more from atypical clients because we're forced out of our comfort zone.
- Flood the plane with very narrow niche blogs. That allows you to precisely communicate with those needing specialized services. This is low cost in money but consumes plenty of sweat equity. The reach can be increased exponentially by copying, pasting and emailing the post with a riveting headline and the appearance of a custom-made transmittal note to prospects, current clients, the media, and other influentials. Given the way buzz is created on the Web, you don't need a lot of individual response. All you need is one person, organization or site to pick up your post. And how that happens is a crap shoot. That's exactly why smart bloggers post a lot of content. Something will stick [The Heath Brothers understanding of sticky ideas and content in "Made to Stick."]
- Create a sophisticated, insightful, slightly out-of-the-box publication such as Jones Day PRACTICE PERSPECTIVES: PRODUCT LIABILITY & TORT LITIGATION. It's overseen by Jones Day Pittsburgh partner defense attorney Mickey Pohl. It comes out quarterly, is targeted at those with the decision-making authority to purchase legal services, and anticipates emerging legal issues. In past editions, there were analyses of how public nuisance could be applied beyond lead paint and how to reduce the risk in nanotechnology. I know this communications vehicle is influential because my plaintiff clients read it - closely.
- Write, publish and distribute an e-book that has provocative insights about a very narrow topic. That doesn't require the heavy lifting of a long book. securing an agent/publisher and worrying about how your book is being distributed into book stores and libraries. You are in charge. The book can be as short as 20 or 30 pages. Since content is written to be conversational, putting it together is no longer formidable. Have your marketing or desktop publishing staff lay out the copy. Get it copyrighted for $45 at the Library of Congress. Put the final in the form of a PDF file. And distribute free to all appropriate constituencies. Promote its existence through your and other digital sites. Also, issue a media release, both through the wires and manually through copy, paste and email. Immediately start thinking about your next e-book. This is a fantastic way to create the image of being a player.
- Get invitations - here your e-book can help you open doors - to give keynote speeches to groups where you can prospect for business. Forget prestige. This is all about efficiently hunting for new lines of business.
- Participate in a hands-on manner in political campaigns. Like blogging, this is time-intensive, but it's a bullet-proof way to learn how prospects think and operate and to make new contacts.
- Get on boards. Non-profits save a bundle by recruiting high-powered professionals for their boards. Your network will be greatly expanded. Don't miss meetings.
- The surest way into someone's pocket in through their ego. In your communications, feature prospects, clients, and influentials in a way that's mutually beneficial. This could be an interview, case study, commentary or hard news. Make sure you make this worth their time by heavily promoting and distributing it. Suggest ways to their marketing/public relations staff how they can use this piece for their own promotional purposes. This has become my number-one new-business development tool.
- Launch a buzz-generating pro-bono outreach that isn't vulgar. For instance, your firm might assist Brad Pitt, who could run for mayor of New Orleans, with the legal issues associated with re-building the city. Remember, not all good deeds are configured equally well to create the key value-added of a spiritual dimension in our work. As Taylor Clark explains in "Starbucks: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture," it wasn't only the experience aspect or third place notion that catapulted this brand to global fame. Its founder Howard Schultz was a dynamite salesman. And Schultz knew that spirituality was going mainstream. He embedded in the brand a spiritual dimension.
These strategies work to get us in where we haven't been and to make us more attractive to current clients and others on our network. A old print girl, I still don't give up on the old-economy ways of going after business. They are totally ineffective but it takes us a while to move on from what used to be predictably successful. Another insight: Marketing is everything. it really is.