How Law Firms Can Leverage Their Relationships With Alumni (Including Those Not Leaving of Their Own Accord) and Why It Matters
A. Challenges of the New Economy
In 2009, more people were laid off by more firms than had been reported for all previous years combined.1 Letting attorneys go in significant numbers is not something large law firms have had a great deal of experience with until recently. Standard practice in most large law firms had been to retain attorneys until a partnership decision was made. These firms did so in part because they feared the reputational stigma attached to firing one of their own; as one blog explains, the “vast majority” of prospective lawyers “turned up their noses at firms…[that] laid people off.”2
How quickly times have changed. Despite the novelty of big firms having to let their attorneys go, it still comes as a surprise how poorly some large law firms have handled the process of layoffs over the past year. To be fair, firms made these decisions under great stress and uncertainty, when the risk of total firm collapse existed and in fact happened to some, which certainly influenced the choices they made. Many firms insist that they have only let attorneys go for performance rather than economic reasons, even when it strains credulity. It is difficult to believe that a firm suddenly realized, all at once, that dozens of its attorneys had sub-par performance, particularly when some of those lawyers were recently made junior partners, or when those attorneys were in their first or starting their second year of practice.
Most analysts (and other attorneys in private conversation) recognize that these lawyers would never be let go in a stronger economy as long as they made money for employers. To their credit, some firms forced to make layoffs have stated this explicitly and expressed regret at having to say goodbye to respected colleagues. Even at firms that have been up front about the economic necessity of layoffs, however, stories abound of attorneys being given almost no notice, little or no severance, and no assistance in securing a new position. Departing associates have told of working closely with a partner for years, only to receive an email message in farewell. In a few cases, attorneys have been shut out of the firm’s computer system while they were being given the news, and others have been immediately escorted out of the building with their personal items forwarded separately by messenger. Such jarring departures, while common in investment banking and internet start-ups, had been unheard of for members of the bar in good standing whose only misdeed was that they were caught in a down legal economy.
Certainly, not all firms have handled things so poorly. Indeed, some have worked to create a “soft landing” for their attorneys who have been laid off. These efforts have typically included providing career counseling and outplacement services, offering appropriate severance packages, making office space available, and keeping attorneys’ phone lines and email accounts active.
By far, the most helpful — and loyalty engendering– thing a firm can do for its former attorneys is to make calls on their behalf and provide contacts who are knowledgeable about opportunities for the individual now looking. In the past, once it was decided that a senior associate was not going to be made partner, almost all large firms made an effort to place the individual in a position with a client or somewhere one of the firm’s partners was well known. While some individual attorneys have asked for and received this type of help in the past year, the courtesy has not been extended as a matter of practice to attorneys told that they no longer have a position with their firm.
There is of course no public data on which firms did what in the process of letting go of attorneys, so it is impossible to calculate how things were handled by the field as a whole. Nevertheless, it remains clear that in the face of hard times and increasing financial pressures, it is in a firm’s interest to avoid unnecessarily aggressive, and arguably self defeating, approaches to downsizing their workforce.
B. The Business Rationale: Why It Matters
As one large firm associate noted in early 2009,
I remember back in 2003, one of my colleagues was laid off from our firm, and they provided him with six months’ salary and hired a professional career consultant/placement agent to help him land safely.…This firm did all the right things, including telling him that it was purely for economic reasons and not performance related. The rewards to the firm were obvious — he joined the in-house legal team of a Fortune 50 corporation, and still looks back fondly at our former firm despite being laid off.3
The absence of far-sighted strategies on the part of some large firms in letting attorneys go exists, of course, in large part because firms are under pressure to save money—the driving force behind the layoffs in the first place. Economic conditions have changed drastically since 2003 — firms no longer feel flush, there is no reassurance that business will increase in the near future, and fewer Fortune 50 corporations are hiring.
It seems that, in their rush to adapt to changing economic conditions, decision makers at some firms may have lost their long-term perspective. In some cases, administrators in charge of marketing and business development have made the case internally for substantive severance packages in order to maintain goodwill among departing attorneys only to be turned down by managing partners or others on the management committee.
The question remains at what cost firms make these decisions. Eventually the downturn will end. Law firm alumni will find jobs somewhere, very possibly with potential clients, and firms will get back into hiring mode. Consequently, it makes economic sense for firms to handle layoffs sensitively and to do as much as they can for outgoing employees in the midst of tough economic times.
When firms insist on claiming performance issues and treat their former employees so poorly, it not only poisons the relationship with the individual but also can quickly ruin the firm’s reputation with that individual’s former colleagues, clients, and fellow alumni. These procedures and processes — or the lack thereof — also mean that a firm assumes the risk of driving away future candidates and causing prospective clients to question the firm’s judgment, placing its future in jeopardy. It is difficult to see a rationale for some of the problematic things firms have done.
Accounting firms and management consulting firms have for many years invested in maintaining good relations with their former employees. They have, of course, not done so out of the goodness of their hearts but rather because it has proven to be good business. Through measures such as developing alumni networks to keep in touch and developing programs that attract alumni to remain engaged with their former employers, these companies regularly develop future business contacts and promote loyalty and goodwill that can help attract top candidates and clients in the future. The business argument that has persuaded business leaders across industries to maintain good relationships with their former employees follows.
First, attorneys already have a lifetime affiliation with a firm for which they have worked because the firm is always on their resume. When asked, as will be the case in almost any new position, alumni will of course speak more highly of the firm if their departure is handled well. The reverse is also true.
Second, the market will improve at some point, and firms will again compete for talent. It is much less expensive to rehire people who have already been trained by the firm than to invest the huge sums that firms have traditionally put into their recruiting programs or paying recruiters to hire laterals. Alienated former employees will not want to return and, even if they do, are not likely to perform at their best. In addition, any negative information about a firm will impact future law student candidates who often listen closely to the experience their school’s alumni have had with a firm. These recruiting circles are small.
Third, especially in a tough economy, it is critical to leverage relationships for business development. A firm has no way of knowing where its former attorneys will end up; and, if they happen to land in a large potential client’s office, their opinion of the firm matters a great deal. Conversely, if attorneys retain a positive view of their experience there, the firm could have much to gain.
Law firms have an opportunity to learn from corporate America and recognize that it is always good business to create a web of connections and to invest in developing positive relationships among people. Over the past year, only a limited number of law firms have seemed to understand that it is in their interest to help their attorneys land well.
C. What: Programming For Big Impact With Little Dollars
The lack of foresight many firms have demonstrated in how they let attorneys go is not only due to pressure to save money but is also explained in part by the legal field’s record of lagging behind other industries in developing and leveraging alumni networks. Some law firms have taken the lead in developing such programs in recent years, but making the case for a law firm to develop procedures to maintain goodwill with their attorneys on their departure and going forward will likely be an uphill climb in the current economy. Virtually all businesses are concerned about how to do more with less, so law firm leaders are likely to question what can be done when most are already having to make budget cuts.
Even though law firms lack the infrastructure that other industries have created, measures to maintain good alumni relations do not need to be cost-intensive. At their core, successful networks are a combination of strong communications, networking, and follow-up. As other industries have learned, such programming is all about relationships; and, while it may be nice to have money to support them, hosting receptions and other costly events is not the only option.
In fact, inviting alumni to a law firm social event may not be the most effective route to maintaining good relations with attorneys who have been asked to leave. In one example, associates who had been laid off received their firm’s alumni end-of-the-year newsletter, which included an invitation to the firm’s holiday party. To its credit, the firm was making clear it considered these former employees to be just like other alumni of the firm, but several of the laid-off attorneys expressed incredulity that the firm that fired them now wanted to celebrate the end of the year with them. Further, the firm seemed to lack sensitivity when the letter it sent went on to tout how successful the firm had been that year — one in which it also laid off 55 attorneys, all of whom were receiving this news.4
Other kinds of interaction could prove to be both more productive as well as less expensive than formal events. Particularly when administrators within a firm have seen their responsibilities expand because fewer people are left to do the work, the measures a firm is most likely to adopt are those that will not require much additional work. A few lowcost examples of steps to maintain good relations with law firm alumni follow.
First, the loyalty-engendering practice mentioned above — of partners giving departing attorneys contact information for those who are knowledgeable about the individual’s field and making calls on an attorney’s behalf — costs nothing but a little time. Particularly since it has now become standard practice solely to confirm dates of employment, law firms willing to reach out on an individual’s behalf, give candid recommendations, or at the very least provide an objective reason for the departure, will stand out among their competitors.
Second, a firm can piggyback the steps it takes to develop alumni networks onto other initiatives already being undertaken. These can include incorporating alumni into client seminars and events, offering discounted continuing legal education (CLE) programs to keep bar memberships current, and inviting alumni to program events already planned as part of women’s or diversity initiatives or of particular practice areas.
Third, a firm can inexpensively create an alumni directory, keeping email addresses and other contact information updated so that individual alumni can reach out independently to one another. Maintaining such a directory provides a fair-value exchange for the firm, which gets up-to-date employment information and business leads.
Fourth, disseminating job postings has been a low-cost item that many attorneys have appreciated in firms that have begun this practice. The firm’s clients are often happy to have applications from alumni, and posting positions of which a firm’s individual attorneys are aware helps build their personal networks as well.
Finally, in headier economic times a number of firms developed a component of their websites specifically dedicated to alumni of the firm, but creating a firm-specific alumni group on Linked In and Facebook can achieve similar results at lower cost. Content is typically driven by determining what information alumni want, which has included career programs (webinars, conference calls, or in-person) and allowing alumni to opt in to different newsletters that practice areas put out with practice/industry-related news.
The future hiring model for large law firms remains up in the air, and the rise in the use of contract attorneys may change these equations so that law firms make money without modifying the way they let their attorneys go. The return on investing in continuing relationships will be great for firms that still want to compete for top talent and loyal clients.
For those firms that want to compete but might have handled layoffs in ways that were less than productive last year, future success will largely depend upon senior management creating a culture that recognizes the value of strong relationships and leverages opportunities to maintain them.
1 “The Year in Law Firm Layoffs – 2009,” LawShucks. According to the blog LawShucks and as cited in the ABA Journal on January 8, 2010, 4,633 lawyers were laid off at 138 large firms.
3 Anonymous posting to Above The Law, February 5, 2009.
4 As posted on Above The Law, December 8, 2009.
© 2007-2010 Neville Career Consulting, LLC
Posted by: Kate Neville
Kate Neville, Esq., a Harvard Law graduate, is founder of Neville Career Consulting, LLC, which provides guidance to attorneys considering a job change or career transition, whether within the practice of law or to another field.She began her career practicing law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and as an in-house attorney for New York City government before shifting to positions in management consulting and policy analysis. After serving as an advisor in Georgetown Law’s Office of Career Services, Kate decided to use her experience to help practicing attorneys identify the full…
Attorneys who have been laid off or who cannot find a job after graduation have plenty of reasons to be disappointed and resentful–they have invested a great deal of money, time and effort to get where they are professionally. It is important to remember, though, that these feelings are not uncommon to lawyers who are actually in the sought-after big-firm jobs. Indeed, stories of unhappy attorneys at large firms are nothing new; they continue to drive traffic to numerous blogs and websites, such as Above The Law, which has covered in detail the panic attacks, ulcers, and other stress-related issues of which large firm attorneys often complain.
When economic times are booming, attorneys typically have gotten jobs at large firms almost exclusively based on their law school, their first year grades, and their ability to play well with others over the course of a summer. Rather than the result of thoughtful consideration whether they are a good fit for a big firm, many new attorneys accept these jobs as the path of least resistance. And while some love their experience at large firms, the hiring decisions often result in a mismatch as a significant percentage of these lawyers routinely become miserable after they begin to work there on a full-time basis.
Among those considered the lucky ones — both new and experienced attorneys who have large firm jobs — a not uncommon thread continues to be, “The idea that I might still be doing what I’m doing now for another ten years is frightening to me…I’m so bored, and when I look at the life more senior people lead, I do not want that in my future.”
A considerable number of large firm attorneys who feel this way nevertheless spend several years mulling over their situation before taking any action to address it. This inertia is often based in part because many seasoned lawyers have never looked for a job before — they went from college to law school and then were recruited by firms — and are not sure what else to do. And, of course, the firm salary has made it easier to defer making a move.
The current economy has changed that calculus. For many attorneys at large firms, the current market is accelerating the timeline of their departure, albeit to a time they would rarely choose independently. Rather than lament the loss of the pre-recession system, however, it would be nice if some constructive changes could come from the current pain. As businesses, large firms might adjust their hiring practices to become more effective. As institutions, law schools could help students learn the skills necessary to succeed at a firm, such as interacting with clients, working as part of a team, and business development. As individuals, attorneys who have been laid off or are unable to secure a law firm job can hopefully take advantage of an opportunity to investigate the range of their professional options and determine which might prove to be a good fit, now and in the longer-term.
The pain unemployed lawyers are feeling should of course not be minimized. It is difficult to consider being laid off a “blessing in disguise” under any circumstances, and particularly not when recent graduates bear significant debt and questions about how those loans can be paid off by people without jobs remain unresolved. Similarly, as fewer options are available at the moment for more senior attorneys who have been laid off, they have to focus on how to pay mortgages and college tuitions, and often on how long their savings can support them.
For a substantial number of lawyers, the real challenge to getting out of their current situation and moving ahead remains taking charge of their careers to learn about their options and make knowledgeable career decisions. For better or worse, this is rarely something attorneys at large firms do. Many lawyers who always wanted to practice law get frustrated with large firm life and take the first offer they get to leave, sometimes becoming dissatisfied all over again. Other attorneys who went to law school to “keep their options open” remain unsure after years of practice what those options are or how to pursue them.
Now is the time to find out.
For attorneys having difficulty finding a job, it pays to keep in mind the following as they move forward with their searches:
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THE ECONOMY
Because of the recession, being laid off or graduating without a job is no longer the black mark that it may have once been. It is fairly obvious that law firms — even those who continue to claim that their layoffs are performance-based — would never have fired these attorneys in a better economy. Similarly, a decision to rescind offers to new graduates has nothing to do with the performance of those individuals.
CAST A BROAD NET
It is in a lawyer’s interest to cast a broad net when looking at potential options. Whether expanding the search to include non-legal and quasi-legal positions or different geographic areas, being flexible increases the chances of landing a job. One job does not have to dictate the rest of a career. Further, many people report that some of their best work experiences proved to be in jobs that they never thought they would take when they first heard about them. For example, an attorney who initially scoffed at compliance as “checking off boxes” eventually accepted a job as a compliance officer only to discover that the management and policy issues inherent in ensuring compliance within the company were quite compelling. She ultimately found her work there much more satisfying than her large firm position litigating multi-million dollar cases.
IMPROVE INTERVIEWING SKILLS
In bullish markets, many lawyers have gotten good jobs without ever needing strong interviewing skills, but in the current market, those skills have become critical. Since many talented professionals are now in the market for jobs they otherwise would not have pursued, lawyers cannot assume they are attractive candidates by virtue of their credentials or intelligence. They need to make the case for themselves — why they are genuinely interested in a position and how their skills and experience make them a good fit.
Another important difference from flusher times is that headhunters no longer routinely call with a range of opportunities. Instead, sitting behind a computer and applying for postings has become the most common method of job searching — and that is where many attorneys are most comfortable. It turns out that this strategy rarely works, however, because most jobs are never posted. The vast majority — most statistics cited say over 80 percent–of jobs are gotten through networking, which is not necessarily a skill most lawyers have. While it is possible to do quite well in law school without interacting with other people, much less having to make a good impression on them, learning to network is key to success in a job search and as a professional.
The importance of networking in a job search complicates things for many attorneys who have been laid off or searching for some time. Being upset at your current situation can cloud your judgment, and it is critical to remember that pouring out your heart or taking out your frustration on people who are in a position to help you professionally is a self-defeating strategy if ever there was one.
DEVELOP A ROUTINE
It can be helpful to treat a job search as a job in and of itself — ideally, a job with good hours: 9 to 5 with a break for lunch. Even if those hours are not feasible given the need to bring in some income, developing a routine is important. While something can fall into a strong networker’s lap at any time, six months proves to be a good case scenario, and many searches take significantly longer. Use this window of time productively rather than procrastinate and get stuck.
Kate Neville, Esq., a Harvard Law graduate, is founder of Neville Career Consulting, LLC, which provides guidance to attorneys considering a job change or career transition, whether within the practice of law or to another field.She began her career practicing law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and as an in-house attorney for New York City government before shifting to positions in management consulting and policy analysis. After serving as an advisor in Georgetown Law’s Office of Career Services, Kate decided to use her experience to help practicing attorneys identify the full…
Business of Law Guest Blogger Sarah Johnson of PDI Global discusses Three Keys to Increased Client Retention
Client retention is one of the top issues facing law firms today. Yet, for many firms, client retention is an uncoordinated and inconsistent effort. As a result, they lose both clients and revenue.
But smart firms know that retaining clients is critically important, especially in today’s highly competitive environment. Smart firms are placing a high priority on the three key elements of client retention: providing exceptional client service, adding value and being proactive.
Providing exceptional client service
Clients hire a firm because they expect great service. But clients remain with a firm because they receive exceptional client service. (Hint: This goes way beyond just providing the project deliverable on time or returning client calls and e-mails.)
To provide exceptional service, you need to fully understand client expectations. Because these are subjective, they will be different for every client. So start by directly asking clients what they expect in terms of deadlines, service quality, project outcomes, progress reports, communication and other factors. Then continually evaluate how well you’re meeting those expectations.
Exceptional client service doesn’t stop with the partners. Firm leaders should communicate client expectations down throughout the firm so everyone involved with the client knows what’s expected and works to deliver that.
Your clients need to feel they receive the maximum amount of value for the money they spend with your firm. But as professionals who live by the billable hour, we often start and stop the clock every time we pick up the phone or respond to an e-mail. This can lead us to equate the level of service we provide with the amount of time we spend on a client.
But clients define service not by how much time you spend on them but by how much you show that you’re invested in advancing their long-term success. Depending on the individual or company, this can mean different things. Some ways to show value might include:
- Introducing them to other professionals who can help them solve a business problem or challenge,
- Spending an hour to educate them on how to do their job better, or [gasp]
- Giving them a free assessment or advice.
Remember that the client is ultimately the one that defines the value, so start by asking them what that means to them and then make sure you follow through.
Clients don’t know what they don’t know. They’re looking to you as their trusted advisor to tell them what they need to know about matters that affect them and what steps they might take to achieve their objectives.
Oftentimes we expend a lot of time and energy when we are courting a potential client to show them what we will do for them, only to forget about our promises once they have signed with us. Proactively bringing ideas to your clients will not only help you retain them and add value to the relationship, but it may also help you generate additional opportunities for business. So what are ways you can be proactive?
- Share articles, blogs, videos or podcasts of interest that will expand their knowledge.
- Schedule regular meetings to discuss their business (not your services) to better understand what they might need in the coming year and then help them achieve that.
- Bring them ideas that will help them succeed, even if it’s not one of your services.
- Do you have a new or innovative approach to a common issue they might face? Share it with them.
- Have you completed an industry survey recently? Schedule a meeting to share it with them.
If you aren’t doing this but your competitors are, clients may begin to question their relationship with you. Therefore, whether it’s through one-on-one conversations, a newsletter, a blog or some other media or forum, make sure you’re proactively providing ideas and information to your clients.
Building a loyal client base
Practicing exceptional client service won’t just help you retain your clients. It will also help you uncover new opportunities to generate revenue from them. By giving clients what they want and working to advance their success, you’ll secure your client relationships, win client loyalty and boost your success, too.
© 2010 PDI Global Inc. All rights reserved.
Sarah Johnson is the Director of Marketing Consulting Services for PDI Global and a marketing consultant to law firms. A highly accomplished marketing professional with a passion for success, Sarah excels in advising CPA, law and other professional service firms on ways to realize more of their profit potential. She is especially adept at identifying growth opportunities, formulating business development strategies, maximizing human capital and working with clients to meet the challenges involved in implementing change. www.pdiglobal.com
Not surprisingly, the whole world pretty much hates BP now. And more and more people are lashing out against the oil conglomerate with attacks. Some are vicious advocacy campaigns that include pocket-hurting measures like boycotts. Others are vicious satirical jabs at a company whose reputation is being destroyed, piece by piece, day by day.
Here is the funniest attack I’ve seen. From the Upright Citizens Brigade, it’s a spoof of how BP would try to handle a boardroom coffee spill. (There is one instance of NSFW language at the end.)
And coming in at a close second is the fake BP public relations Twitter feed. If you’re not familiar, many companies use the social media site Twitter to inform the public of their latest news and offerings. And someone has created a satirical @BPGlobalPR account that sends out frequent humorous updates laced with acerbic cynicism for how BP is handling this mess. Often accompanied by the sarcastic “#bpcares” disclaimer, the account advocates charity causes such as offering ”free bpcares” t-shirts that you can purchase for $25. (You can read more about @BPGlobalPR here and here.)
Here are the cleverest updates from the account so far:
SPOILER ALERT: The leak stops eventually, everyone forgets about it and we all buy another vacation home. #cantwait
Found driftwood that looks like Jesus crying oil. Not sure what it means but we’re charging 20 bucks to see it. #bpcares
If we’re being accused of being criminals, we want to be tried by a jury of our peers — wealthy execs who don’t give a damn. #fairisfair
I’ve gotta say, at night the gulf really doesn’t look that bad. #bpcares
OMG This isss ridciulsus. playing a drinking gamee where we drink a shot everytme we seeee an oily birdddd!!! LOL! so wasted!!11 #pbcares
They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we’re not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH
A bird just stole my sandwich! You deserve everything you get, nature!!! #bpcares
If Top Kill doesn’t work, we’re just gonna toss a giant “Get Well Soon” card into the gulf and hope for the best. #bpcares
Just wrapped up a meeting with the EPA. Terry kept farting out loud at all the right moments. Not sure how he does it, but it’s SO FUNNY!
Funny, no one has thanked us for seasons 3-15 of Treme yet. #bpcares
The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct. #bpcares
Catastrophe is a strong word, let’s all agree to call it a whoopsie daisy.
Beverly Hillbillies marathon on TBS – now THESE guys knew what to do with an oil leak!
Not only are we dropping a top hat on the oil spill, we’re going to throw in a cane and monocle as well. Keeping it classy.
Reprinted with permission from the Risk Management Monitor. Copyright 2010 Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. All rights reserved.
Guest Blogger Paramjit L. Mahli of of SCG Legal PR Network provides some helpful guidelines on crisis PR management techniques.
What will your firm do in the face of an unexpected emergency? Crisis communication plans provide an organizational framework of who will be responsible for which specific task, when and if a crisis should occur.
The most challenging part of any crisis, whether it is natural or man-made is the reaction of the management. Not only do they have to be prepared to respond quickly but respond with the right response. Failure to do so will only lead to spin, not communication, which in turn doesn’t mitigate damages but rather causes embarrassment, humiliation, prolonged visibility, and often, unnecessary litigation for the business.
Crises can range from product recalls, an accident in a mine, food contamination, passengers’ movement on airline restricted during poor weather, a hacker stealing credit card information, environmental breaches, class action law suits, sexual harassment, or activisms which effect commerce everyday throughout the world. More often than not, crisis occur when least expected. The Institute of Crisis Management defines a crisis as “ Any problem or disruption that triggers negative stakeholder reactions that could impact the organization’s financial strength and ability to do what it does”.
Executives understand that a solid, strong reputation of their company is tied with bottom-line earnings. Businesses with good reputations are seen as providing their customers with more value and therefore are able to charge premium prices for their products and services. Anything that diminishes this value is of consequence.
Frequently, attorneys whether they are inside or external counsel find themselves in the thick of the crisis, uniquely situated between management and external counsel, and/or other stakeholders with strong interests and involvement in the crisis. By understanding the role of the media, learning how to work effectively with the press, advising clients of the importance of having some sort of crisis plan in place, law firms and attorneys are able to provide additional value to their clients and importantly are setting themselves apart from their competition.
Having a crisis communication plan where both sides: attorneys and public relations firms and/or consultants, not only work cohesively together but understand their respective roles is imperative when client’s/organizations reputations are at stake. Oftentimes, regardless of the legal implications of the crisis, perceptions generated with the public can be helpful or detrimental to the client’s economic health.
When no plans are in place, and a crisis occurs, improvising and flying by the seat of one’s trousers will not minimize damage but rather increase it. A plan that identifies clearly who is responsible for which tasks will impose order, structure and direction rather than having to put out firestorms without having any strategy in place.
Crisis communication plans at their very basic are templates. They provide an organizational framework of who will be responsible for which specific task, when and if a crisis should occur. Without a plan, the left hand won’t know what the right hand is doing particularly when the press is knocking on your door. It should outline in detail operational procedures. This includes contact systems; a point person who is coordinating with press and spokesperson (usually the primary attorney, depending on the nature of the crisis) back up spokesperson, and reporters who cover the beat. It will also include how and what to communicate to any other organization, stakeholder or community that has a specific interest and is impacted by the crisis.
It’s important to note, that these templates must be fluid. Each crisis will be different with different stakeholders and so adjustments to the plans will be necessary as these are living organisms. However, all of the plans at their very basic level will need the following:
- Determine who is part of the crisis communication management team. This will include all key individuals and roles assigned to them. All the individuals must have contact details of all the team members.
- Designated spokesperson with the press. This is the individual who will be the face of organization to the public. Typically there is a fair amount of dialogue between attorneys and spokespersons. The Spokesperson, usually has had a fair amount of media training, or comes from a journalism background.
- Assign individual/public relations agency to be responsible for all needs and queries of the press. This persons/agency’s job is to ensure that all press requests are handled in a timely manner.
- The legal counsel, spokesperson should have a current media list of reporters who cover your client’s beat.
- Maintain a media log. This should have details of all press that has contacted the organization, what information was sent, when they are expected to get back to you. If there is more than one individual on the coordination team, be clear on which tasks were delegated to whom?
- The public relations agency should make sure the spokesperson or any other individuals assigned to that role should not talk to external sources until they have and understand all the facts. Otherwise, mistakes will be made, which in turn create negative perceptions.
- Communicate key messages for all your audiences in a consistent manner, whether they are within the organization or external audiences. The messages must address questions and concerns in language that different stakeholders understand. The tendency is to be objective and use legal language, both of these will work to your disadvantage, the public wants to hear and sense that you understand the gravity and depth of the circumstances.
- Depending how long the crisis is the public relations agency/consultants should coordinate a regular timetable to meet reporters, keeping them abreast of any latest developments.
- Maintaining several back up plans, point personal, and other details relating to the particular crisis is a must.
- Finally, all crisis circumstances whether they are business related or natural disasters need a human face. That means, regardless of how well prepared the organization/client is, it is critical to connect and relate to all the key stakeholders impacted by the situation.
Finally, a good crisis communication plan helps to mitigate and reduce the potential for damage. It is a blueprint for when unexpected events and disasters strike, providing structure for the flow of important information to be communicated to all the key players. Benjamin Franklin summed it up very well, “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”
Paramjit L Mahli is with award winning SCG Legal PR Network. She is a former journalist who has worked with CNN Business News, Canadian Broadcast Corporation and Journal of Commerce. Comprised of small and large firms throughout the USA, SCG Legal PR Network connects legal experts with reporters nationally and internationally. Ms. Mahli is a contributor to Legal Broadcast Network and writes frequently for Technolawyer. She also trains and gives CLEs regularly on media relations and public relations.
What Corporate America Can Learn from America’s Greatest Spy. Corporate Data Security Quick Reminders.
Since the 1990’s the information explosion has drastically increased the ability to share information and also the ability to steal information. Former FBI undercover operative Eric O’Neill is widely credited with bringing down America’s most notorious spy, Robert Phillip Hanssen. At Inside Counsel’s Super Conference, Eric gave the first day’s Keynote address where he outlined how Corporation’s can learn some lessons from the Hanssen case.
As an undercover surveillance specialist, O’Neill was trained to watch, profile and follow people. In 2001, O’Neill was approached by his superiors to investigate special agent Robert Hanssen. O’Neill was assigned as a direct report of Hanssen’s and on his first day of work, Hanssen introduced O’Neill to “Hanssen’s Law.” “Hanssen’s law” was that the spy is always where he has access to the information that he knows he can use to do the most damage and get the most money.
In the corporate setting , O’Neill outlined a few obvious and not so obvious ways that industrial spies obtain proprietary corporate information:
Corporate Dumpster Diving: Picking up information that is cast off (i.e. trash at home or work.) Most larger organizations have thorough data destruction policies and employ data destruction vendors. But things can go very wrong if procedures are not faithfully followed or if vendors are not fully vetted and monitored. There needs to be corporate awareness that data security is everyone’s daily concern.
Security industry analyst Steve Hunt, who heads up Hunt Business Intelligence, believes too many people think that data security is just an IT issue. “There are so many physical security aspects to data protection it ought to never be considered merely an IT security issue,” Hunt said in an article written for CSO On-Line. With all the focus on protecting electronic data, many organizations forget about paper data and the physical protection of electronic data.
Hunt recently did a corporate dumpster dive in a major U.S. City and found all sorts of things that would be in violation of most companies’ data destruction policies. The dive turned up cancelled checks with the bank account owner’s social security number written on top. The bank account numbers, balances for the political fundraising account of “a certain prominent politician in the area.” Hunt also found the personal financial statement of a very wealthy individual, including the person’s name, home address, real estate owned and values of the properties, several of the individual’s bank account numbers, social security number and date of birth. Hunt’s experiment even yielded a whole laptop with a tag on the back that says “Property of [another financial institution]”. Steve’s adventure took all of three minutes and he astutely advises companies to do their own dumpster diving tests to monitor how their company’s data destruction policies are actually functioning.
Corporate Charity: Information that is ‘castoff’ can include old computers donated to charity. O’Neill detailed situations where companies purchased all the old computers of their competitor from a charity who supposedly cleaned off all pertinent information and the purchaser ended up obtaining valuable business information from their competitor’s donated computers. If making a charitable donation of your used electronic equipment, is what your organization chooses to do, it may make sense to do the data cleaning in house prior to physically surrendering your old equipment, so you can control the data cleaning process.
Corporate Posers / Impostors: Corporate spies often attempt to gain access by relying on people’s willingness to help out, the awkwardness of questioning strangers, and the excitement of receiving free stuff. Corporate spies know these human tendencies and use them to their full advantage. According to O’Neill, a hacker could be posing as ‘Joe from IT’ sending you an email or phone call requesting your password. If you’re busy or distracted, this just may work.
“Hi, I’m the rep from Cisco and I’m here to see Nancy.” Chris Nickerson, founder of Lares, a Colorado-based security consultancy, recently pulled off a successful social engineering exercise for a client by wearing a $4 Cisco shirt that he got at a thrift store (Read: Anatomy of a Hack).
Criminals will often take weeks or months getting to know a place before even coming in the door, according to O’Neill. Posing as a client or service technician is one of many possibilities. Knowing the right thing to say, who to ask for, and having confidence are often all it takes for an unauthorized person to gain access to a facility, according to Nickerson.
Other old stand-bys according to O’Neill are: “Can you hold the door for me? I don’t have my key/access card on me.”. An another version would be “Can you hold the door for me?” while carrying a box of “paper for a printer” using both hands. How many people at your organization would turn away a HVAC person on an emergency call after normal business hours? Would the air conditioner / heater actually be serviced? Or would bugs be planted, phones be tapped, pictures be taken? Would computer drives be duplicated, papers photocopied, or data altered?
Another ruse is Flash Drives distributed at conferences or left in strategic locations. Flash drives left unattended in a parking lot, public bathroom or elevator of a targeted company may be a part of a sophisticated social engineering attack. These drives may be seeded with a trojan horse set to automatically run as soon as the drive is inserted and quietly steal your personal or company information in the background. This happened in an actual attack against the U.S. Pentagon!
Take Away: Closely check the background and reputation of any data destruction vendors. Verify that the data is actually destroyed in a non-usable format, and monitor closely that your corporate record destruction procedures are being faithfully followed. Remember the simple and obvious ways that corporate spies can try to gain your trust and gain access to vital information. Be wary of free give away computer devices or cast off computer items that can be inserted into your computer.
Eric M. O’Neill is the founding partner of the Georgetown Group, where he specializes in counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations, security risk assessments, investigations into economic espionage, internal investigations, and background investigations. Eric served as an undercover operative for the F.B.I., where he conducted national security field operations against terrorists and foreign intelligence agents. His role in the investigation and capture of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the most notorious spy in United States history, became the subject of Universal Studio’s , movie Breach , released to critical acclaim in 2007.
Solo practitioners and attorneys from small law firms often resist public relations. They cite not having enough time, a lack of understanding of its role, or the dearth of resources, to make public relations part of their business development plans. Coupled with stereotypes of the press, such as reporters only going to the big law firms or only wanting the drama and not the facts, it’s no surprise that media relations is relegated to the bottom of business development activities, particularly if the firm has already achieved some “visibility” that did not result in new clients.
The reality is that public relations is an indispensable part of business development strategy for every firm, regardless of size. Getting quoted in news stories, both in targeted industry publications and mainstream media, is one of the most cost-effective ways of securing exposure. A good public relations plan serves several purposes: it builds reputation and visibility, allows firms, practice areas and solo practitioners to become known, liked and trusted in their target market, and finally—and most importantly— helps to bring more business.
Before embarking on a public relations plan, you must ensure that all of the firm’s marketing communications materials, such as blogs, Web sites, newsletters and e-zines, address the “What’s in it for me question for prospects and that differentiation is clear. The next step is to target the industry publications and media outlets that your target market reads.
Whether you’re a firm that is working with public relations consultants or implementing the plan with internal resources, or you’re a solo practitioner implementing it on your own, the following considerations will make your media relations plan a lot more focused and effective.
Who are my clients? What do they read? Do they read online publications? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide your choices of the publications to target, whether they are local dailies, weeklies, magazines or trade/professional journals. While being quoted in The New York Times is prestigious, it’s meaningless if your target market doesn’t read that publication. There are attorneys who want media exposure for personal reasons, but often this is in direct conflict with the targeted media relations campaign.
- Conduct an audit of your expertise. What areas of expertise do you have that are frequently the focus of news stories? This will help you identify reporters who cover your area of expertise and build relationships with them. Reporters are constantly on the lookout for attorneys who can simplify legislation; knowing who covers your area of expertise will help position you as a source. For example, if your area of expertise is workplace discrimination in the financial services industry, getting to know reporters who cover this beat is key.
- Know what reporters have been covering in your areas of expertise. There is nothing worse than pitching a story that has already been covered. Not only is it embarrassing, but it also demonstrates to the reporter that you or your public relations team has not done the homework. It is a sure way of lessening your credibility with that reporter.
- Don’t overlook changes or emerging trends in your practice area. These offer golden opportunities to be quoted or to provide commentary. Once you have built those relationships, you can send reporters a quick e-mail or call them, alerting them to possible stories.
- Too often opportunities on the Op-Ed pages are overlooked Writing an Op-Ed piece is a good way of getting to know the editor and bringing to light an issue that is affecting your target market. Letters published in Op-Ed pages can result in story ideas for reporters.
- Depending on your targeted publication, you can pitch Q&As and stories on pitfalls to avoid, such as the top ten mistakes to avoid when friends become partners in business ventures or top ten mistakes to avoid when negotiating a severance package. Even if your story submissions are overlooked, every couple of months, with the permission of the reporter, continue to send him story ideas. Reporters/producers/guest bookers all keep background information on topics that they cover.
- Don’t overlook the importance of becoming a resource for the reporter; this is where you provide background information. While you may not be quoted immediately, opportunities will continue to come your way. Reporters tend to have long memories; they know who is a valuable and trustworthy source. The busier they are, the more premium they place on their sources. Becoming a resource goes a long way toward building relationships with reporters.
- Consider inviting reporters to any Continuing Legal Education training/seminars that the firm may be offering. By extending the invitation, make certain that the seminar is in an area that the reporter is interested in.
- Monitor editorial calendars regularly. Many publications have their calendar online. An editorial calendar is a valuable tool for gauging what a publication plans to cover throughout the year, and helps you avoid missed opportunities. It gives attorneys and law firms plenty of time to remind reporters that they are available to be quoted and provides time to craft and submit story ideas.
- Know when to say no to the press. Reporters may be focusing on stories that will be detrimental to your target market. In such circumstances, it is prudent to give reporters a couple of other sources from whom they can obtain a quote. Whether or not an attorney wants to be quoted in such a story, it is still imperative to return the phone call in a timely manner.
- Becoming known as an expert in one or more areas is only part of the equation; the other part is leveraging these opportunities successfully into other marketing activities. Articles, columns and/or bylines written by attorneys can be sent to prospects, strategic alliances and clients with the view of providing value, rather than circulating them with the intent of getting the attorney known.
Finally, it is absolutely imperative to recognize and understand that building credibility and visibility does not happen overnight and rarely does it reap immediate results. It may take a nanosecond to destroy a reputation, but to build one takes work, effort and commitment from all the decision makers in the firm. However, with a sustained campaign working in conjunction with other marketing activities, public relations will reap huge dividends.
Paramjit L Mahli is with award winning SCG Legal PR Network. She is a former journalist who has worked with CNN Business News, Canadian Broadcast Corporation and Journal of Commerce. Comprised of small and large firms throughout the USA, SCG Legal PR Network connects legal experts with reporters nationally and internationally. Ms. Mahli is a contributor to Legal Broadcast Network and writes frequently for Technolawyer. She also trains and gives CLEs regularly on media relations and public relations. www.scglegalprnetwork.com
In-house attorneys have always been generalists but now, more than ever, as layoffs have hit in-house law departments hard, they must act like ER doctors conducting triage when the ambulance gets in. They have to quickly identify the problem, establish priorities, determine what they can handle themselves, and whether they will require the services of a specialist or outside counsel. So how do articles written by lawyers enter into the mix of helping in-house counsel determine what’s a “Code Blue”?
A Descriptive Headline Helps the Article be Found
From the start, the article’s title sets the tone. Well-read articles have descriptive headlines that also include the relevant industries and jurisdictions involved. Cute headlines may be fun, but in-house counsel aren’t looking for fun in legal articles. If the targeted reader can’t quickly figure out what the article is about, the article won’t get read and the author and his or her law firm won’t reap the benefits. .
In search-engine terms, the title of your article is the most interesting element. The search engine assumes that the title contains all the important words that define the topic of the piece, and thus weights words appearing there most heavily. When writing a title, think about search terms readers will use when looking for articles on the same topic as yours.
Descriptive Headlines Part Two– Sometimes Less Is More
Many legal writers have caught wind that the article title is important to search engines and accordingly try to cram every conceivable keyword into the title. This results in a long, unreadable, and often boring title. Titles should include terms such as “healthcare,” “labor,” and “bankruptcy” for articles that address those issues. For federal cases, mentioning the circuit and district is often important, but it’s rarely necessary to include “the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia” in the title. The word on the street is that Google will display approximately 65-70 characters of a title tag in a search result and will index additional characters in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The lesson is don’t blow the first 65 characters of your article’s title on text that does not tell your reader what the article is about and why it is important.
Also, many firms and article syndication services tweet article headlines to drum up more interest. With Twitter you have 140 characters max. Newsletter, journal publishers, and article syndication services have strict title character limits. It’s been said that your title is the face of your writing. If you don’t want a stranger to take a scalpel to your face without your input, be forewarned.
Effective Articles Help the Reader Quickly Assess the Situation
Effective articles succinctly identify the key issues early on in the text. If it’s a new healthcare regulation, does it impact all healthcare organizations or just hospices? Is it just in Illinois or nationwide? Let the reader know what the issue is from the start, then explain why it is important, who is impacted, and what jurisdictions are involved.
Many article-publishing services and law firm Web sites only include short teasers of the article’s content in areas highly accessible to search engines, meaning either the full text is in a less searchable format like PDF or the bulk of the text is behind a password- protected section of the Web site. In addition, many legal writers writing about a local issue bury the jurisdiction at the end of the article hoping that they will draw in more readers. Your readers will be unhappy if they have to log on or wait for a PDF to open only to find out the article only addresses one far-flung jurisdiction. If you want to draw in national readers, why not also include a succinct blurb on the regulations in a few large states like Texas, New York, and California? Your single-state article addresses a broader audience and is more likely to be passed on to other interested readers.
Help Your Reader Make the Sale
Most legal writers include government statistics and tales of multimillion verdicts to draw in the reader. Law departments have to adhere to their budgets, so if they want additional resources (e.g., outside counsel) or resources beyond what is typically budgeted, (e.g.,. high-priced counsel, panel counsel, and local counsel), the assistant counsel must seek permission from the General Counsel,, The General Counsel, in turn, may need authorization from the CEO and/or may need to
make his or her case to the Board. Your statistics and case references can be a great start in helping inside counsel make their case. Your articles may also assist CEOs, CFOs, and Board members who do their own research on pertinent legal issues so they can ask informed questions of their General Counsel and form their own opinion of the gravity of particular regulations or litigation issues.
Present Solutions, Not Just Headaches
Whenever possible, don’t just identify problems, try to offer
potential solutions or postulate possible outcomes. Establish your credibility by demonstrating your expertise. Simply identifying problems leaves your reader with that “Oh no—now what do I do?” feeling. Offering ideas on how to solve those problems leaves the reader with the “I have a problem and maybe this law firm can help me” feeling.
Jennifer Schaller is Managing Director of the National Law Review, an online magazine and database resource for in-house counsel and other professionals. Jennifer started her legal career at Aon Corporation and has also worked at CNA Financial and Smith Amundsen LLC. Jennifer can be reached at 708-357-3317.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of In the Loop, the Legal Marketing Association Midwest Chapter newsletter, originally published 5/21/2010.
© 2010 Legal Marketing Association — Midwest Chapter
Business of Law Guest Blogger Jeffrey Morgan from Moiré Marketing Partners makes some interesting observations for the law firm world.
Recruiting lateral partners is one the most important ways that a firm may increase their gross revenue, profits per partner, revenue per attorney all while adding value and importance to the firm. Recruiting a “high profile” lateral partner should be treated with equal importance as landing a new client or getting additional business from an existing client.
I recently attended a meeting of the Los Angeles Legal Marketing Association (LA LMA) where members of The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) were also invited. I was really surprised when I observed marketing and recruiting professionals from the same firm greeting each other as if they barely knew one another! Almost as fascinating was watching where everyone sat and interacted with each other at the luncheon. By and large recruiters tended to gravitate to each other while marketers exchanged hugs and greetings and sat together at their tables. Rarely did the two groups mix or mingle.
The excellent panel was stressing the need and importance for recruiters and marketers to work together as a team in the lateral recruiting process. They then asked for a show of hands to see how many marketing professionals actually took part in the process of recruiting laterals; few hands were raised. When the same question was asked of the recruiters the results were similar. (Kudos to the smaller firms in attendance where marketers and recruiters seemed to have a better working relationship.) It was clear that there is a separation between marketers and recruiters and according to the panel this dynamic needs to change.
As marketing and communication specialists, most agencies tell law firms and accounting firms that when they write marketing materials they need to write for a scanning reader. The two exceptions to this rule are when you are responding to an RFP and when you are writing a pitch to attract a lateral recruit. When you’re developing these business critical documents you can count on them being read word for word and being reviewed with great scrutiny.
The recruitment of a lateral has to be as important as landing a piece of business, maybe more so, this is why marketers and recruiters need to collaborate better to attract important lateral partners to the firm. Marketers know how to develop collateral materials that will appeal to a recruit’s emotions getting them to listen to your firm’s message; recruiters have the vital information laterals are looking for that will demonstrate that this move is going to pay off for them in the long run. Most senior laterals are not looking to jump around, they want to find a home where they can grow their practice and know that they will be respected and given the support and business platform they need to succeed.
There are many reasons why good lawyers and accountants leave good firms: mergers, conflicts, changes in culture, however if your initial recruiting materials are not as convincing and as attractive to a lateral as another firm’s, you may never make it on to that recruit’s short list.
As with all important choices like this, the final selection is going to be based on the relationships that the lateral has or develops at the firm while interviewing. And, no one knows how to sell you firm as the “firm of choice” better than the firm’s marketing professionals. So recruiters please welcome the assistance of the marketing team in your lateral recruiting efforts, and marketers understand that recruiting is just as fine of an art as bringing in new business. Once both departments improve the lines of communications everyone will benefit, particularly your firm.
Full Text available at: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/marketers-recruiters-recipe-success
Today’s National Law Review Guest Blogger Jeff Roberts of Moiré Marketing Partners explains Why Information Architecture Is The Most Important Part of Designing a Website:
You just bought a parcel of land and are planning to build a brand new home, your dream home. Would you start building this home without an architecture or floor plan? I would hope not. And the same goes for building a website.
Blueprints are to a house, like sitemaps and wireframes are to a website. Information architecture requires a significant amount of hours of research and discovery long before the designer touches the canvas with their interactive tools. Eliminating this step will create a website that is not targeted to any research or your audience, a site that’s not user-friendly and lacks strategy. At Moiré, we believe design without strategy is just art. This results in project scope-creep, missed deadlines and unhappy clients! Full Text: