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June 16, 2010

Marketing by the Checklist

If you've come to this post expecting a checklist of criteria by which to evaluate your current marketing efforts or implement a new marketing initiative, then you've come to the wrong place.  Those kinds of checklists (especially a task list) are useful to be sure, because they make it easier to delegate marketing to a subordinate or assistant so that it doesn't go by the wayside when your schedule picks up.  But today, I'm addressing another category of checklist:  the kind that lawyers use, or at least should use, that outline the steps or procedures involved in handling the substance of a case.

If the "checklist" concept sounds familiar to you, it's because it's the focal point of Anul Gawande's book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, which has been the subject of many-a-recent blog post.  I recently finished the book myself and was convinced by Gawande's thesis:  that the "humble" checklist can minimize error in carrying out complex tasks by helping with memory recall and setting out the minimum necessary steps in a process.  Moreover, by committing routine procedures to a hard and fast list, a checklist frees up professionals to devote more time to the kinds of judgment calls that they always have to make, whether there's a list in place or not.

Gawande draws on examples from medicine, engineering and aviation to demonstrate how checklists can minimize error.  In the medical profession for example, a study showed that by using a checklist for placing a central line (comprised of seemingly mundane tasks like wearing a mask or body-draping a patient), the  the ten-day infection rate was reduced from 11% to zero.  But you can probably imagine situations in your own practice where a checklist - such as the essential elements of a personal injury complaint to a list of documents required to file a bankruptcy petition - could also help avoid error and eliminate the risk of dismissal of a case.

OK.  So you're convinced of the importance of checklists.  But what's that got to do with marketing?  Plenty.  Consider these potential ways to use checklists to market your practice educate your clients and keep your firm at the forefront of their mind.  Here are some ideas:

1.  Create a task-oriented checklist of all of the steps involved in a particular type of proceeding -- for example, a typical divorce dispute.  Post the checklist on your website or blog, or publish it online as a mini-ebook.  The checklist will help clients understand all of the steps involved in even a so-called simple divorce.  As a result, the list can help weed out prospects who aren't really serious about divorce, but nevertheless, eat up your time at a free consultation.  And where a client does hire you, a task-oriented checklist helps clients know what to expect, and also familiarizes them with the amount of work that their case may potentially entail - which can help reduce complaints about excessive fees down the line.

2.   Create a client "to do checklist" - for example, a list of documents that clients should bring to the first meeting or gather together for a bankruptcy filing or preparation of an estate plan.  A client to do checklist will help you to market your practice because it makes clients' lives easier.  Going through a bankruptcy or preparing an estate plan is stressful enough for busy clients; it's even more stressful if they need to keep providing additional information because they forgot to write down a particular item that is required.  Clients will appreciate a checklist that they can work from and they'll appreciate it even more if you offer it on your website and in both paper and computerized format, so that they don't have to keep calling for another copy if they lose the list.  Satisfied clients will provide positive testimonials, which if accurate and sincere, are one of the most effective ways to attract new clients.

3.  Create a post-engagement checklist for clients to use after you've finished the matter for which you were retained.  Even after you've finished a case for a client, there are still matters for which they are responsible, or that may trigger further legal action.  For example, even after an incorporation is complete, the client retains responsibility for filing annual reports and other documents to keep the corporation in good standing.  Creating a checklist of these post-representation matters will help the client avoid problems down the line.  And if you put the checklist on your law firm letterhead (or if you're feeling particularly ambitious, create a branded mobile app for a client to download a checklist on his or her phone), clients can always get in touch with you for follow up questions or problems.

For other matters - like a bankruptcy discharge or a divorce and child custody agreement - you'll want to create a checklist to help clients determine whether they need further assistance.  For example, after a bankruptcy, clients shouldn't be getting calls from creditors whose debts were already discharged - and if they do, they should call you.  Likewise, for divorce matters, a lawyer might identify a list of events - such as loss of a job or an ex-spouse's remarriage or relocation - that may trigger the filing of modification petitions.

Checklists are an ideal marketing tool:  they educate clients and enable lawyers to serve them more effectively.  Checklists aren't as flashy as a T.V. commercial or even a fancy website, but they're inexpensive and most of all, something that lawyers should be creating for their practices anyway.  So when you get around to making a list of the tools that you want to use to market your practice, be sure to include the humble checklist.
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.
March 30, 2009

Take a Look at the eBook to Market Your Practice

A couple of days ago, I came across an interesting piece from Portfolio.com about a deal between major publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and the online document document-archiving service Scribd that makes an increased number of best-sellers available for free as ebooks.  Though at first blush, giving away a core, revenue-generating product free seems crazy, publishing houses report that the freebies generate increased buzz and exposure on micro-blogging platforms and thus get the author's name and book title out to a wider circle. After reading this, I got to wondering why lawyers don't take a page from publishers and use and promote ebooks to gain greater exposure for their practices. Why indeed?

Turns out, some lawyers are already using ebooks as part of their marketing portfolio.  For example, consider Florida-based firm, Ricardo, Wasylik & Kaniuk, which released a 30-page ebook, The Consumer's Guide to Defending Florida Foreclosures.  The ebook helps consumers avoid the increasing number of sham "foreclosure prevention assistance centers" cropping up around that state which prey on consumer fears.  Plus, it's a way for the firm to demonstrate their expertise and provide useful information to the public. Finally, by requiring users to register for the ebook, the firm can build a mailing list.

Another Florida lawyer, Miami Criminal Defense attorney Brian Tannenbaum, devised his own innovative ebook concept.  Tannenbaum penned a 28-page ebook entitled The Truth About Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer.  Tannenbaum's book offers prospective clients straight-talking advice about what factors clients should consider in hiring a criminal defense lawyer and what clients can do to work with a criminal defense attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.  Tannenbaum's book gives his firm exposure and also educates clients about basics, such as: Be prepared to pay your lawyer!  My guess is that Tanenbaum's book deters those clients who don't realize that attorneys need to earn a living. 

Even more interesting, in order to generate exposure for his book, Tannenbaum asked A-list criminal defense attorney-bloggers like Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice and Mark Bennett of Defending People to review his ebook.  Thus, Tannenbaum set off a nice discussion about various approaches to criminal defense practice and in so doing, gained more visibility for his book.

If these examples have convinced you that an ebook may have marketing value for your firm, here are some ideas for getting started:

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