I was asked today by a colleague and friend, “What innovative things are you doing there?” (at my firm). My first reaction was to feel a little shame … and guilt. We’re not rolling out any new software, or launching any new programs. I have a proposal in to redo our website with some forward thinking features, and I have a Facebook page ready to launch as soon as I get the green light. Nothing really “innovative” there. And then I thought, “Well, what is innovative?” To tell you the truth, I don’t know what “innovative” is, and I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that our lawyers are busy, and our clients are happy. All things being equal, clients hire attorneys they know, like and trust. It’s been like this for the 12 years I’ve been in legal marketing, and I’m sure it was like that before I joined my first firm, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. I believe what has changed is within the “knowing” and “liking” parts of the equation. I do not think the “trusting” part has changed much. So how has a client getting to know an attorney changed?

  • We know that general counsel are turning more and more to Google for legal research and due diligence.
  • We know that general counsel no longer depend solely on referrals from trusted colleagues, current counsel and Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Law firms have more direct control in how we position the firm and the attorneys via our blogs, attorney profiles, SEO, etc.
  • Advertising, while not dead, has certainly morphed away from magazine placements, to targeted online placements.
  • By-lined articles and newsletters, while not dead, have given way to blog posts and e-zines.
  • Monthly breakfast briefings have given way to webinars.

So how has a client getting to “like” an attorney changed?

  • Through blogging, expanded LinkedIn profiles, Twitter and inviting clients into your “personal” space, via Facebook, for instance. These online tools and applications open up an attorney’s personal interests to the client in a non-aggressive manner. It allows for the sharing of content that includes both professional (a news article), and personal (you’re off to see a favorite band play, or you just received your iPhone4). Clients get to discover and uncover commonalities, through such subtleties as the Groups you join via LinkedIn, which might not be revealed any other way.

I have two stories here from Facebook. Both interactions took someone from my “external” circle of “friends,” and brought them closer:

  • I have a colleague in Florida whom I have yet to meet in person. Through a Facebook note, I realized that she (Vivian) is married to her high school sweetheart, Darl. Well, my grandmother’s name is Vivienne Darl. What a coincidence. That coincidence drew us into a deeper personal conversation, which has allowed us to uncover more commonalities, heightening our level of knowing, liking and trusting one another.
  • I’m working on my family tree and have one ancestor, William Jay Doyle, traced back to Philadelphia in the 18th Century. Unfortunately, there are two William Doyles living in Phillie at that time, and I am having a hard time confirming which one is mine. I noticed a colleague, whom I had met at a recent LMA Conference, and then “friended” on Facebook, changed her town to Doylestown, PA. I recounted my story. Low and behold, she did a little digging, and her town was founded by a William Doyle. Is it MY William Doyle … I’m not sure, but it’s a great lead! Once again, how would that information EVER be uncovered, other than by chance of a status update? As for me and my “pal,” well, Doylestown, and a visit to her farm and family, are definitely on my list of future vacation spots with my family.

Through all of the changes in technology we’ve experienced in the past few years, what hasn’t changed is the “trust” factor. We might get introduced, researched and “found” via “innovative” technologies, but, when it comes down to it, trust is built when we “log-off and meet-up.” Sometimes this is via a phone call, but, at some point, it has to come down to “face-time.” Lawyers must continue to get in front of clients to solidify relationships that have been introduced and developed via technology (either the phone, email or Internet/social networking). I think a lot of firms, in the name of “saving travel costs” are sacrificing in-person client development to the detriment of building and strengthening relationships. So, what is my firm doing that’s innovative these days? We’re getting out of the office and spending the day with our clients. We’re getting on planes and visiting our clients in their business headquarters. We’re taking our CLE seminars in-house. We’re walking the halls, and we’re shaking hands. It might not seem innovative, but, really, what is?