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May 12, 2010

Marketing Your Practice By Being a Type-A Lawyer

Many lawyers exhibit Type A personalities in the court-room or board-room:  highly competitive, ambitious, business-like and aggressive.  Yet when it comes to choosing the appropriate typography for the documents used in court or exchanged during transactions, these same lawyers are far more laid back, rarely searching for choices beyond the default Times-New Roman.

So how does lawyer typography relate to legal marketing, which after all, is the focus of this blog?   As I'll spell out below, one Helvetica character as a time, in the Internet Age, typography matters to lawyer marketing more than ever, largely because the web makes lawyers' writing so widely accessible.

I.  The Letter of The Law Is Everywhere 

In an Internet Age, lawyers' writings are available to all. These days, virtually every law firm has a website, and many have blogs which together comprise a large portion of lawyers' writing on the Internet.  These sites require careful typography choices to ensure that the site caters to its audience.  Thus, a site aimed at the elderly should employ large font on light backgrounds, while a site for younger folks might use an edgier look. 

But, bear in mind, typography issues aren't limited to on-line postings (and indeed, for websites and blogs, is not as critical because readers can, as a last resort, bypass the site through use of RSS feeds or email).   The more significant typography problems, in my mind, are those related to previously paper-based documents that are now rapidly making their way online.  For example, some law firms publish e-books to show their expertise in a particular subject matter and educate prospective clients.  Lawyers routinely make e-books available for download at their websites or post them at article archiving sites which means that the e-books are viewable by a far broader circle than their predecessors, the pamphlet, the law review article or the treatise.       

Likewise, a decade ago B.E.F. (before e-filing), lawyers submitted hard-copies of pleadings or briefs to the court.  Most of those hard copied documents lived out their existence in practical obscurity in courthouse file cabinets, unviewed by anyone besides the judge and the parties involved in the case.  Fast forward to today when anyone can search PACER or a state electronic filing system and find and download briefs and pleadings.  As with e-books, sites like JD Supra offer lawyers an SEO-charged location to upload work product for colleagues and potential clients to review.

The upshot of all this is that both the substance and style of lawyers' writing, is on display.  More importantly, readers' impression of the the latter can influence their opinion of the former.  For example, a reader who downloads a law firm e-book on Fighting Foreclosure that resembles a legal memo - single spaced, Times New Roman font on white paper - may assume that the e-book is written in complex legal-ese without bothering to take a closer look.  Alternatively, the reader might view the e-book as cheap-looking or homemade and wonder about the firm's financial stability, its availability of support staff or potentially, even its competence.   

Likewise, even the typography in briefs and memos tells a story to those who care to "read between the lines."  For starters, a lawyer's choice of typography for a brief can signal to others whether that lawyer is familiar with the rules of the jurisdiction, which often dictate font selection.  Others may wonder whether the lawyer still using a dated font like courier has actually practiced much in recent years.  Finally, some readers will simply feel annoyed or frustrated as they try to work their way through a fifty page memo on the complexities of securities law in font comfortably visible only under a magnifying glass.  

Granted, most of the concerns just described (with the exception of the one related to ability to follow rules) are based on leaping and most likely, inaccurate assumptions. Nevertheless, whether fair or not, the kinds of negative impressions that clients may glean from a lawyer's chosen typography can result in lost business.

On the flip side, however, smart typography choices can help lawyers market their practice.  Bold fonts and interesting layout make an e-book look so crisp and attractive that clients can't resist reading it.  A font that's compatible with other lawyers with whom you work shows that you know what you're doing.  And a unique typography style -- perhaps an unusual combination of readable and stylish fonts --  can serve as your brand, so that all who see the document  know that it's from your firm even before they flip to the signature page.

II.  A Font of Font Solutions

So how can lawyers pick the type of typography that's right for them?  For major products like e-books, engaging a professional to assist with design and typography choice is probably the best solution.  But hiring professional help may not be within your budget, nor is a designer a cost-effective approach for traditional documents like briefs or memos.

Fortunately, the web is a font of information on font selection.  Below are some resources to get you started:

1.  The beautifully designed Typography for Lawyers site offers the most detailed and comprehensive information on font choices for lawyers.  Plus, it includes examples of each font discussed, so you can see how they look in action.

2.  For transactional lawyers, Adams Drafting principal Ken Adams, describes his preferred choice of Calibri as a font for contract drafts here.

3.  The Seventh Circuit discusses federal court typography requirements and offers advice to lawyers on how to choose, as does this journal article, Painting With Print by Ruth Ann Robbins.

4.  Big Brand System explains different types of font and suggests ways to combine them.

5.  Here's a great infographic (kind of like a flowchart) from Julian Hansen that you can use to select the right font for your project.  (In fact, it's that chart that inspired this post).

Finally, if you're interested in a new font to spiff up a blog or website, Google just introduced a bunch of web fonts, free for download. 

III.  Conclusion

As I stated at the outset, many lawyers are already Type A personalities.  For that reason, it shouldn't be too difficult to convert them into Typography-A students as well, once lawyers wake up and realize how much the "letters of the law" matter to potential clients.




 
October 11, 2009

Marketing to the Do It Yourself-er

Years before I started blogging here at Nolo's Legal Marketing Blawg, I was an unabashed fan of Nolo for its pioneer work in providing legal resources to pro se litigants at a time when they had no other alternatives.  Flash forward three and a half decades, and though other self-help resources now exist, Nolo remains out in front both in the variety of offerings and more importantly, quality of material.   

What's more, the self-help trend is growing faster than ever -- and it's not just because the economic downturn is forcing folks to cut back.   Instead, the move towards self-help is at once driven by generational preferences and technological advancements.

Consider the evidence, like this recent press release about Generation Y's propensity for   taking charge of their own investments instead of relying on a financial manager, broker or other professional.  Gen Y'ers are playing a far more active role in overseeing their finances -- 31 percent are doing their own investment research compared to 12 percent of Boomers, and a full 50 percent are keeping track of their accounts compared to 30 percent of Boomers.  The trend isn't surprising -- after all, Gen Y'ers have grown up online and are accustomed to researching online.  For that reason, Gen Y'ers rated online research as the most important tool for investment information and they frequently use iPhones for stock quotes or to check investments.

Technology is also making self-help options more desirable for consumers. The Chicago Tribunehighlights the growing popularity of self-service Redbox kiosks for videos and self-check out at supermarkets.  Kiosk transactions are expected to surpass $775 billion this year, up from $607 billion in 2008, according to IHL Group, which tracks the self-service industry. It could hit $1.6 trillion by 2013.

So why do lawyers need to learn about DIY and self-help trends?  After all, don't self-help options reduce the need for lawyers?  Not necessarily.  In many instances, self-help products for consumers - like Nolo's books and forms - capture a market segment that either didn't want or couldn't afford to hire a lawyer.  In other words, many self-help options help clients who weren't going to hire lawyers anyway.

The 21st century version of self-help has evolved from the more traditional concept of doing it yourself to save money.  The modern day version of self-help is all about education and empowerment; today's self-help tools aren't intended to displace the need for professionals but rather to supplement the services that they provide.  

In the survey that I mentioned, for all the work that Gen Y'ers are doing in tracking their own investments and researching their portfolio, at the end of the day just 24 percent (compared with 11 percent of Boomers) are actually managing their own accounts.  That still leaves 75 percent of the Gen Y population as potential investment company clients.  And an investment professional's ability to cater to Gen Y's self-help urges -- through services like online research reports on market trends and internet connection to accounts--is what will make them appealing.  

That's why understanding the self-help trend is critical for lawyers.  Acting in a protectionist fashion and keeping information close to the vest for fear that clients won't "buy the cow if they can get the milk for free" won't generate more clients.  Instead, hoarding information will only drive clients to those lawyers who understand and respect their desire to educate themselves and play an active role in their case.

With that goal in mind, what features can you add to your practice to make you more attractive to the independently minded Gen Y'ers, not to mention the kiosk-patronizing consumers who've grown accustomed to the convenience of self service?  Consider the following ideas:

--Start a blog and pack it full of posts related to your practice, such as answering "frequently asked questions" that you hear all the time (will I lose my home in bankruptcy? Is it really a hassle to go through probate?) to explaining how you handle certain types of cases.  You could supplement the blog with a newsletter which is another way to feed information to clients.

--Write an ebook or special report that can help clients better understand or even solve a basic legal problem.  Ebooks and reports educate potential clients, which means that they may self-screen themselves if they learn from your materials that they don't have a case.

--Incorporate tools in your practice that makes it easy for clients to help themselves.  Add a client portal, where clients can log-in and check the status of your case.  Client portals aren't costly -- services like ZohoBasecamp or Clio offer portals and cost $50 per month or less. Plus, the portals will save you time by eliminating, or at least reducing calls from anxious clients seeking updates.

--Offer unbundled services virtually.  If you're interested in trying to capture more reluctant do-it-yourself clients, you might consider providing unbundled services exclusively on line.  Two companies, VLO Tech and Direct Law offer reasonably priced, turn-key systems for serving consumers online.  As a virtual lawyer, you'll provide legal advice and draft and review documents, but the client will still do much of the legwork, such as filing an incorporation with the Secretary of State or executing a will that you've drafted.  

By helping clients help themselves, you help yourself too.  Because when those self-help client need a full service lawyer, they'll turn to the ones who helped them when they didn't need to.

April 29, 2009

Updates on Previous Topics

As I did a few weeks back, here are a couple of updates to topics that I covered previously:

For Twitter, which I posted about here, there are two great blog posts on usage.  At Law21, Jordan Furlong focuses on Twitter as a business tool, while Steve Matthews of Stem Legal shares the most comprehensive list of dos and don'ts that I've seen to date.

Meanwhile, relevant to my earlier post on eBooks is a classic by marketing guru Trey Ryder explaining education-based marketing.  Since eBooks are a great example of education-based marketing, Ryder's post may give you added motivation to try an eBook campaign.
April 13, 2009

Updates on Posts

Since the world of Internet marketing and social media changes so rapidly, I've decided to offer routine updates on earlier posts so that you can stay current on the latest and greatest.  So without further fanfare, here's the first round-up:

1. Two weeks ago, I posted about how lawyers can use eBooks for marketing.  However, as Amanda Fazani points out at this April 6 post at BloggingTips.com, eBooks are also a great tool for building traffic to your blog, which in turn can generate business for your firm.  If you can't come up with topics, Fazani suggests several ideas, including:

  • Collect your 10 most popular posts and repackage with a little extra commentary.
  • Expand on the concept of your most popular blog post.
  • Create a directory of resources which are useful for your target audience.
  • Write an FAQ to answer popular questions from readers of your site.
Fazani also recommends using a Creative Commons license for your eBook so that you can retain some control over the way in which the book is redistributed by others. 

Also,  if you're looking for ways to broaden distribution of your eBook, consider the options for distributing articles discussed in this blog post at Stephen Fairley's Rainmaker Institute. Fairley explains that you should submit articles you've written to re-distribution sites like  Article Marketer, isnare.com, or SubmitYourArticle.com and there's no reason why you couldn't also submit portions of your eBook to gain further visibility.

2.  About six weeks ago, I posted here about
how lawyers are using Twitter.  Last week, Simon Chester asked that question of his readers at Canadian law blog Slaw.com and some of the responses are illuminating.  Also at Slaw.com, I learned that Jim Calloway, Practice Management Advisor of the Oklahoma Bar offers his own take on Twitter in this article,  Twitter: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly.

In the meantime, whether lawyers are using Twitter or not, there's no dispute that this social media tool is gaining traction.  According to this recent Mac World article:

Twitter traffic is up 700 percent over last year, and it's all thanks to the old-timers. That's according to the latest numbers from ComScore, which says Twitter drew almost 10 million visitors worldwide in February 2009. In the past two months alone, Twitter traffic has grown by 5 million worldwide visitors, while U.S. Twitter traffic accounted for 4 million visitors in February 2009 -- a 1000 percent jump over last year.
What's most interesting is that the average age for Twitter users is in the 25- to 54-year-old range, with the over-45 set comprising the bulk of users.  So if you're in that age category and previously considered other social media tools too childish, you may want to explore Twitter some more.