Vol. 83, No. 5, May 2010
A long time ago, in a place far away, I sat with 200 other first-year law students being welcomed on the first day by the Dean. At the time, I expected law school to be the logical extension of my undergraduate academic shelter from the real world. Eventually, I planned to become an environmental lawyer and save Mother Earth. However, the arrival of my newborn son soon contradicted those career expectations. To make ends meet that first year, I delivered more than 400 newspapers between 2 and 4 a.m., seven days a week. Unfortunately for me, the judge who taught my 8 a.m. evidence class did not consider that paper route an excuse for lack of adequate case preparation. Many lawyers today also face contradictions in their career expectations, frequently as a result of the evolution of our challenging legal environment.
Finding Your Needle in the Haystack of Opportunity
My first law clerk position came from a job notice stuck on a bulletin board. A friend of mine at the firm helped convince the hiring partner to meet with me. My interview technique was basically to say yes to any request the partner made, which later carried over to my role as a bag-carrying, document-crunching, litigation support person. Fast forward to our brave new legal world. The proven number-one method for both career and client development is still personal referrals.
In a recent survey of 1,474 lawyers by Leader Networks, 56 percent of respondents identified peer referrals or recommendations as the most effective method for finding new opportunities, followed by networking events (33 percent) and conferences and seminars (15 percent). However, today’s paradigm shift requires both traditional networking methods and the use of new techniques, such as social media. According to the same survey, 78 percent of the respondents reported that they are members of an online social network, a substantial increase from the 59 percent who reported such membership in 2008. Steve Matthews, founder of Stem Legal (experts in Web-based marketing for the legal industry), estimates there are now 563,000 lawyers with profiles on LinkedIn, up from 118,000 in 2008. My own LinkedIn group, Milwaukee Legal, has grown from an initial group of fewer than 50 lawyers when I first joined in 2009 to more than 150 lawyers currently.
Bleeding Edge or Leading Edge
Although technology has given lawyers new marketing opportunities, traditional principles of client and career development are still relevant. You must be visible to your target market, build credibility, get results, and provide extraordinary service. Allocating significant resources to a fancy Web site, for example, by itself may not do much for you. Without a strategy defining how your site will attract prospective clients, what value does it have? Your Web site should support and enhance your other promotional activities. Your other promotional activities should support and enhance your Web site. Use your site to make interesting information available to your target clients, making you and your firm top-of-mind when issues arise. Adding a legal blog (a blawg) to your site can be an effective method to increase your visibility to search engines like Yahoo and Google. Blawgs not only add new content to your site but also give your readers a way to subscribe to your content in their feed reader via your blawg’s RSS feed. You also can synchronize your blawg to your Facebook fan page and your Twitter account, exponentially increasing your exposure to potential clients.
Michael Moore, Lewis and Clark 1983, is a professional coach for lawyers and the founder of Moore’s Law, Milwaukee. He focuses in marketing, client development, and leadership coaching for attorneys at all levels of experience. Moore also advises law firms on strategic planning and resource optimization. He has more than 25 years’ experience in private practice, as a general counsel, in law firm management, and in legal recruiting. Visit www.moores-law.com.
Bridging the Generation Gap
George Orwell observed that
“[e]ach generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Currently, members of four generations are working in the legal profession. Despite their differences, these distinctly different generations must work together, communicate effectively, and find common values. The challenge for lawyers and their firms is to recognize generational differences, reconcile shared values, and learn techniques to achieve common goals.
- The “traditionalists” are the senior attorneys and leaders of many law firms. They have worked their way up the career ladder, view a job as a lifelong commitment, and usually have seen their hard efforts pay off.
- The “baby boomer” generation makes up the largest percentage of the overall workforce and is the first generation to include large numbers of women. Because of their large numbers, the baby boomers have always faced competition and therefore often are assertive, and they are becoming the new leaders. They value hard work, and face-to-face meetings are their preferred method of communication.
- “Generation X” came of age with a sense of both personal isolation and self-reliance. More than 50 percent of their parents’ marriages ended in divorce. The two-income family became common when they were growing up. The term “latchkey kids” became a new societal trend. Consequently, they draw a clear distinction between work and personal life. They will come to work and get the job done efficiently, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their home life. They prefer clear-cut goals and projects.
- Members of “Generation Y,” also called the “millenials,” were born after 1982. They are smart, with 24 percent of high school seniors taking AP examinations in 1996 compared to only 8 percent in 1984. They are diverse, with 36 percent being non-white or Latino compared to 32 percent of Gen Xers and only 24 percent of baby boomers. Technology has always played a central role in the lives of millenials, and so they can be both high-performance and high-maintenance. They embrace and expect both challenge and change in their jobs and their personal lives. They are frequently multitasking and will juggle receiving and sending email, talking with several friends, and checking Web sites, all from their latest hand-held gadget.
The generational challenge of working together, communicating effectively, and achieving common goals can sometimes be seen clearly in a law firm practice team. The traditionalists on the team are looking for handwritten notes and direct, specific requests for work that needs to be done. The boomers do not like to work independently, and they expect to have meetings at any time and any place, including last-minute scheduling day or night. Generation Xers do not want to hear about the project outside of work and don’t want to be called at home. And the millenials don’t want any meetings at all: they only communicate via voice mail and email.
With such different attitudes and preferences, is it any wonder the practice team might have trouble being effective, launching marketing activities, and getting new clients?
The Inevitability of Change
“It is not the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin’s thoughts echoed at a recent two-day conference, “Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual?” sponsored by the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. While there was general agreement that multiple models of law firm organization, compensation, and associate training structure will coexist, there were substantial differences of opinion on whether change in the legal industry will be slow, incremental change, firm by firm, or broader, more rapid change covering the entire profession. Many business clients are demanding alternative fee structures and moving work away from lawyers and firms who cannot adapt. Technology has helped virtual law firms emerge as lawyers join together to provide superior client service without the additional overhead cost and headaches of staff and physical offices. Many young lawyers, unable to find legal employment in these challenging economic times, have opened solo offices and are aggressively pursuing clients. Law firms of all sizes are evaluating mergers and acquisitions as potential strategic-growth options.
Lawyers are trained to value precedents and sometimes, unfortunately, underestimate the value of future trends. When our traditional systems still appear to be working, and especially in the absence of a proven alternative, change can be uncomfortable. Our first steps in this brave new world are to recognize the generational and technological challenges now upon us and our common goal to provide excellent legal service to our clients. We know in the near future there will be new techniques and tools to bridge our differences and create success, but that discussion will require another article. For the moment, futurist Alvin Toffler’s observation may be our best guide to what lies ahead:
“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”