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Starting Your Own Networking Function

We all receive solications to join networking groups for a monthly breakfast or lunch, where we pay an annual fee for the opportunity to deliver our elevator speech to a roomful of "prospective clients."  The problem is, generally the room is not filled with folks who may become your clients one day.  They're sale people, for the most part, who are much more interested in getting your business than offereing theirs.  The concept, though, a monthly networking meeting, has promise.  My suggestion is to investigate what your law school classmates are doing now.  Find ones in different practice areas, reach out to them and propose a monthly breakfast or lunch to socialize.  Think 6 to 12 attorneys at a local restauarant where you can make a reservation, set aside an hour or two, and talk about your respective practices.  You decide where and when and who attends.  You create, in effect, your own BNI group, with no annual fee, no harassing salespeople, and you start with something in common -your joint experience at the same law school at the same time.  As more folks hear about it and want to join, maybe you start a second meeting time.  It's an opportunity for you to network on your terms. 

By: Francisco Ramos Jr

Marketing Tips -Linkedin

Most of us have Linkedin accounts, but most of us are not particularly active on the site.  What I've found helpful is to took through my contacts who live in Miami, where I live and practice, find attorneys with complimentary practice areas, and ask them to breakfast or lunch.  Sometimes its attorneys I know through voluntary bar associations or cases I've had.  Sometimes, it's attorneys I've never met, but their Linkedin profile suggests to me we have something in common and may make a good networking connection.  My experience has been positive, meeting new people on a one-to-one setting, getting to know each other and laying the foundation for an ongoing business and personal relationship.  Linkedin serves other purposes, but consider using it to ensure, as the book says, to never eat alone. 

By: Francisco Ramos Jr

Loving Networking

In their recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled "Learn to Love Networking," Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki state that networking is a necessity.  They cite research where networking not only leads to more business opportunities, it also improves the quality of one's work and job satisfaction.  To change one's attitude toward networking, the authors recommend that we (1) shift our focus from it being a chore to it being an opprotunity for learning and discovery; (2) identify common interests with those we meet, and work on common tasks with them through organizations; (3)  think about what you have to offer to others, including your gratitude; and (4) and find a higher purposes, whether it's supporting your firm or helping your clients.  By changing one's attitude toward networking, one can find it not only palatable, but truly enjoyable. 

By: Francisco Ramos Jr

Marketing Tips - Handwritten Notes

The best investment you can make in your associates is to buy them personalized stationary and ask them to write at least one personal note a week.  It could be to someone they met at a conference or reception.  It could be to a colleague they haven't spoken to in a while.  It could be to congratulate a friend for a new bar position or trial victory.  The idea is that handwritten notes are rarely received and when they are, they make an impact.  An e-mail is not the same.  We get too many e-mails.  Hand written notes are different.  They're personal.  They took time to compose.  They say you thought enough of the person to take out stationary to write a letter and send it to them.  If you want your associates to make peronal connections and build personal relationships, encourage them to get into the habit of writing hand written notes and provide them with the stationary to do so. 

By: Francisco Ramos Jr

Facebook for Lawyers

 I recently attended a talk by Brian Tannebaum, author of the Practice (which you should buy for your associates) who referred to Facebook as the forum for small talk for lawyers.  I have many attorney friends and their personalities came through on their posts.  For example, if you're my friend, you know I brag about my boys (too much), comment on jazz (not enough) and critique movies (usually spot on).  When you see me at an event, you feel like you already know me because we have already had the small talk online, even though we may never had an actual conversation about my interests.  Those self revelations go a long way in bringing us lawyers closer together, building relationships and having the "conversations" that we may only have a few times a year at cocktail receptiions and conferences.  As lawyers, I encourage you to reveal yourself a bit on Facebook and avoid the law firm posts about recent victories and just be the person you are.  Brian also mentioned he never "likes" law firm pages, because they're little more than firm PR, that reveals little about the individuals that form that firm.  If you're looking to monetize Facebook, appreciate it for what it is.  A place to share a little about yourself, have a conversation (always polite and respectful) and share in your friends adventures, triumphs and grief.  It's only through personal relationships that we build ties that may turn into business.  The relationship always comes first though. 

By: Francisco Ramos Jr

Less is More

I’m back on the speaking circuit after a hiatus due to serving as the Program Chair for last summer’s FDCC Annual meeting.  And, that’s reminded me of a number of useful tips for preparing PowerPoint or Keynote presentations for use in those presentations.

 

1.         Less is More

 

You don’t need 25-50 slides.  Your audience is there to listen to you, not read your slides.  Slides illustrate.  Slides remind the audience (and you) where you are.  For a 30 minute presentation in November, we used seven slides, not counting the title slide – two were video clips.  For another program last month had four substantive slides for about 30 minutes allocated to two speakers.  At the Winter Meeting, the presentation I’m participating in currently has five “substantive” slides.

 

As Steve Jobs said:

 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” 

 

2.         Case and Policy Quotes Belong in the Paper, not the Slides

 

There are few things as deadly as trying to read 12-16 point type on a slide projected on a screen 50 feet away from the viewer.  Don’t quote the policy or cases in your slides.  It’s acceptable to post case citations – that can help the audience write them down, but quotes should be left in the written materials. 

 

3.         Write it Yourself; Don’t Have Your Assistant or Paralegal Write It

 

Too many of us delegate presentation writing to our assistants, a paralegal, or our firm’s marketing department.  Do it yourself.  If you don’t know how, learn.  PowerPoint is not that difficult (and your staff can take care of the more technical aspects after you write it), and Apple’s Keynote is even easier.  The problem with presentations drafted by others is they are not your presentation. They tend to be mechanical summaries of the paper.  They do not flow with your speaking style as well as they should. 

 

4.         Avoid Gratuitous Graphics.

 

Google initially achieved fame because it used a plain white screen, not the overly busy screen used by Yahoo and other long-vanquished competitors (anyone remember Alta Vista?).  Just because something is there, does not mean you have to use it. 

 

Microsoft has infected PowerPoint with a dozens of clip art illustrations, dozens of stock photos and the like.  Don’t use them simply because they are there.  Use illustrations and graphics to make a point.

 

5.         Test, Test, Test.

 

Test your presentation.  Don’t just test it in your office.  Test it where you’ll be giving the presentation on the equipment you will use.  Do you have video or audio?  Did you know there is more than one way to embed video and audio in a PowerPoint?  Did you know one of those ways doesn’t work when you move the presentation to a different computer?  Do you know whether your video is set to start on the slide transition, or whether it requires a second click? 

 

You are giving a presentation to share your knowledge and improve your professional reputation.  “Technical difficulties” during your speech defeat both goals. 

 

6.         Follow the Wisdom of the Military.

 

Several years ago an Army General became famous for banning PowerPoint in briefings in his command.  As one Marine General said, “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”    If you wish to read more, consider these articles:

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/am-i-right/201403/powerpoint-makes-you-stupid

 

http://www.pcworld.com/article/195081/powerpoint_makes_you_stupid_says_military_intel.html

 

7.         Stay on Time.

 

Finally, one tip that isn’t directly computer presentation related.  If you are given a specified time for your presentation, nail that time.  Don’t go over.  Don’t go appreciably under.  Don’t stuff 45 minutes of material into a 30 minute presentation so you have to talk at 300 words per minute.  If you want to be invited back by conference organizers, stay on time.  

How do you stay on time?  Rehearse.  Time yourself.  Write your presentation so you can invisibly modify the depth of your discussion on the fly.  

New Years Resolution - Your Reputation Matters

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions in the traditional sense.  I simply won’t live up to them.  However, the advent of a new year provides an opportunity to look at opportunities you may not have taken advantage of in the past.

 

Do you have more work than you and your colleagues can do?  I doubt it. 

 

So, how do you get more work?  It’s very simple.  Be the person the client is thinking of when something happens that causes them to decide they need to hire counsel.  And, be the person that the client can justify choosing when discussing the retention with management.

 

There are lots of ways to reach that goal.  First and foremost is good lawyering.  The rest of this post, however, is going to focus on improving your professional reputation with clients, opponents and the courts:

  • Do they know who you are?
  • Is your word good?
  • Do you fight tenaciously but fairly?
  • Are you sensitive to their needs and interests?
  • Have you developed a verifiable expertise?

 

Most of us tell our witnesses to always assume that they are being observed by jurors or prospective jurors when they are within walking distance of the courthouse.  The same rule applies to us – we must assume we are being observed by clients, other attorneys, including opposing counsel, and judges in everything we do as lawyers.  It only takes one bad experience, or one misunderstanding, to turn a client, another lawyer or a judge against you. 

 

A now retired judge in one of the jurisdictions in which I practice was notorious for deciding cases based upon initial impressions of the lawyers and parties.  The side where the lawyer, or sometimes, the client, was perceived as a (ahem) “jerk” was very likely to lose.  While I doubt the judge’s mental formulation was “Who’s the _______?” it certainly appeared that way. 

 

Lawyers engage in reputation-harming conduct both consciously and unconsciously.  The conscious is easy to avoid – no matter what the temptation, don’t lie, don’t cover things up, don’t disregard instructions and don’t practice in areas for which you are unqualified without educating yourself first (at your expense, not the client’s). 

 

Avoiding unconscious reputation-harming conduct requires more effort, but it’s readily achievable.  First, don’t make a representation you can’t support and abide by.  “I don’t know” or “I’m not certain and need to make some inquiries” are better responses than optimistic guesses.  Better yet, anticipate the questions, make the inquires and be prepared for questions.

 

Second, avoid cuteness and dirty tricks.  If it sounds too clever, it probably is. 

 

Third, do you understand what your client really needs?  What does “victory” look like from the client’s perspective?  Does your client need regular reporting even if nothing is happening?  What are the consequences of exceeding a budget?  Do they need to be alerted to possibilities before there is bad news?  Are there bigger picture business considerations for the client that can be affected by how a matter is handled, such that how the matter is handled is more important than its ultimate outcome? 

 

Finally, verifiable expertise.  Do you belong to organizations, whether the FDCC or others, which have admissions standards that serve as a form of verification?  Do you write or speak on the topic, such that other lawyers or clients may cite or forward your publications or presentations?  Have you sought specialty certification from your state bar, if it is available?  Do other lawyers turn to you for advice?  If your answer to each of these questions is “no,” you can’t build that expertise overnight, but you can start this year.  The lowest barrier to entry is to write something.  Legal publications, whether from your local bar association or national legal and professional organizations are always in need of written content.  Remember a submission may be rejected, not because it is poorly written, but because it doesn’t fit the needs of the particular publication to which it was submitted.  Try someplace else.  If all else fails, do what I’m doing now – turn your publication into a series of short blog posts and submit it, either on the FDCC blog, if you’re a member, on your firm’s blog, if it has one, or on another blog that accepts outside submissions; many do. 

 

Take the first step towards building your reputation.  It’s the best professional New Year’s Resolution you can make.  

Sleep on It

We’ve all dealt with opponents, and occasionally clients, who suffer from Keyboard Jerk Syndrome.  While they are often charming, personable and reasonable in face to face interaction, put them behind a keyboard and they lose that charm, that reasonableness and become difficult, confrontational and accusatory. 

 

It’s easy and quite emotionally satisfying to reply in kind, sending the e-mail equivalent of the universal road rage hand gesture.  It’s also a really bad idea.  E-mail encourages immediate responses.  It also is more casual and conversational in tone.  But, like the letters our predecessors sent, it lives a long time. 

 

So, how do you deal with Keyboard Jerk Syndrome without succumbing to it yourself? 

 

1.         It the message you received makes you mad, don’t write when you’re mad.  Wait.  My rule of thumb is to wait until the next day.  There is no rule of court, statute, or other requirement that everything be responded to immediately.  Take your time, because what you are drafting could well end up as an Exhibit to a motion, or even a trial exhibit. 

 

2.         If you have an emotional need to draft the “Jane, you ignorant slut” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viYuzuJom1k) response leave the address and cc fields blank.  That way you won’t send it by accident.  Once you’ve vented, delete it.  Or, at a minimum leave it for the next day – you’ll be more calm and it won’t look very good. 

 

3.         Ask yourself, “Do I want a judge or jury to read this e-mail?” 

 

Stay calm.  It pays huge dividends.  

Insert Your Name Here and Share Your Expertise

Any Federation Member can contribute to this blog.  It’s easy and it’s a wonderful opportunity to increase your visibility. 

Studies indicate that professional visibility is a critical component of marketing and that writing is an excellent way to increase professional visibility.  No travel is necessary.  It can be done in your “spare” time, and it exposes you to people you’ve never met.

“But I have nothing to say.”  Hogwash.  How much time do you spend training and mentoring the less experienced lawyers in your firm?  Take one or two topics you discuss with those lawyers and turn them into a blog post.  Is there a recent case or procedural development in your state or practice area?  There are more subjects for discussion than any of us have time to write about.

“But, I’m not a tech person.”  Neither am I.  I’m a 57 year old lawyer with eye-rolling teenaged children.   Write something.  Then log into the website on the member side and select “Member Services” at the right end of the menu bar.  A row of tabs will appear.  The fifth one from the left (today) is “Submit a Blog Entry”  Give it a title.  Tell us whether it is Practice Tips (like this) or Substantive Law.  Paste the content into the big content window. Press the add entry button.  You’re done.  The FDCC staff will review it for appropriateness, and will then put it in a queue to be posted.  

New Years Resolutions for Associates: Part 3: Building Your Community

As a new lawyer, I found marketing utterly mystifying.  How was I supposed to approach a complete stranger, usually much older than me, and ask them to entrust me with their legal work?  The answer is you don’t.  Cold calling is not a viable strategy.

 

Instead, build your network, one person at a time. The people who will be sending you business in 10 to 20 years are your peers today.  To that end, consider the following:

 

1.         Everyone counts.  Your assistant, your receptionist, the person who cuts your hair, your neighbor, the parents of your children’s classmates.  You never know when that person will end up in a position where they can influence who gets legal work, even if they do not presently work in an industry you are targeting.  A good way to develop this skill is to assess how you treat the staff in your firm – do you treat them the same way you treat the senior partner?  If not, you should.  Do not be blinded by hierarchy. 

 

2.         Show genuine interest in people as individuals, don’t hustle them.  It will take time, but if they get to know you and trust you, good things may follow.  If they don’t know you or trust you, nothing will follow.  Buy and read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (http://amzn.to/1B1vZRg).  It’s culturally dated, but still relevant today. 

 

3.         Stay on their radar.  Several years ago my firm switched to electronic holiday cards.  I hate them, and some of my colleagues feel similarly and simply don’t bother to send them anymore, but I still do.  And, every year I get back anywhere from 10 to 30 e-mails thanking me and checking in – work may not follow, but at least they are thinking of me.  If they are not thinking of me, I’ll never get work from them.  Staying on the contact’s radar means more than holiday cards.  If you see a case or article that would interest them, shoot them a copy with a personal note.  Do it individually, not to a string of bcc’s. 

 

4.         Build and maintain your contact list.  Whether it’s Outlook, a paper Rolodex, or enterprise CRM software, make it a habit the first time you cross someone’s path to enter and save their contact information.  Use that information with restraint and don’t be a pest while you stay visible. 

 

5.         Do something non-law related in your community.  You’ll feel better, and you’ll meet great long term contacts.  Whether its related to your children, a social or political cause, a participatory sports or outdoor activity, a church, the Chamber of Commerce, or otherwise, go spend time with people who share your interests but are not necessarily lawyers.  In short, get a life.  It will give you something to talk about with clients and prospective clients.

 

6.         Become active in a legal or insurance industry organization.  Whether it’s your local Bar Association or a national one, all these organizations are run by volunteers.  There are never enough volunteers to accomplish all the organization’s goals.  Don’t ask for a glory job at the outset; volunteer to do the most thankless job in the organization, do it well, and the prominent roles and the professional stature that accompanies them, will follow in short order. 

 

7.         Never burn your bridges.  No matter how unpleasant an interaction, stick to the high road, remain civil and professional, and don’t alienate the other person.  For all you know, some years from now, you may be addressing them as “Your Honor.”  Or, that person may be the new General Counsel or Vice President of Claims of a major client.  

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