Marketing, Branding and Sales

Something interesting happened recently.  Jeff Carr, Nicole Auerbach and I consulted with a client about how to improve the law department’s performance and save money.  Shortly afterwards, Nicole and I consulted with a law firm about moving to alternative fee arrangements.  The interesting thing was that we found ourselves enjoying being consultants.  We found, in these two experiences, that we have a lot to offer.

This should not have been a surprise:  Valorem has been a classroom of sorts since we formed the firm in 2008. We learned from trial and error how to do alternative fees when there was no roadmap to guide us. We also figured out how to frame the national discussion about AFAs when no one was talking about anything but the billable hour. We learned how to divorce hours from pricing when most people to this day still use hours as the basis for calculating an alternative fee.  We learned that AFAs are just one of several tools necessary for a successful representation and delivery of exceptional client service.  You learn a lot in 9 years, and believe me, we’ve been drinking through a fire hose.

We are grateful that clients have responded so favorably. In 2016, Valorem was recognized as one of 22 law firms “Best At Delivering Alternative Fee Arrangements,” and has been recognized for the past four years as a member of the BTI Client Service A-Team. For the past two years, we have been recognized as one of the “Most Recommended (by clients) Law Firms.”  And I have been humbled to have been named a BTI Client Service All-Star MVP for the past four years.  We’ve learned a lot, but we also have put what we’ve learned into action.

We haven’t exactly kept most of the lessons we have learned a secret. I have shared my thinking on alternative fees in two books, and shared my thoughts on customer service and the delivery of value in this blog, which I started back in 2004.  And I have written extensively (with my friend Paul Lippe) about what we affectionately refer to as “the New Normal” in a column for the ABA Journal. These columns are soon to be released in book form. Jeff just started a blog, Life at the Speed of Prevention, that focuses on the enormous untapped value of preventing legal problems from occurring. Nicole, Jeff and I also speak regularly at various industry events across the country to share the lessons we’ve learned and our (often outspoken) views of the legal market.

In the past, though we’ve willingly helped others with their AFA programs or customer service initiatives, we drew the line at formal “consulting.”  But as we found ourselves enjoying the consulting experience, and as more people are asking us to devote more time to this aspect, we realized that maybe the line we had drawn in our minds was a bit artificial.  And one of the many good things about being in a small firm is the absence of rigid rules, or objection to changing them. So we’ve erased the line, and have officially launched a consulting practice for both companies and law firms on these broad topics (and anything in between):


For Law Departments:

  • Analyzing processes to identify and eliminate waste
  • Analyzing workflow to identify prevention opportunities—reducing work coming into the department at the front end
  • Alternative Fee Arrangements (training and structuring fees, making AFAs profitable)
  • Deploying tools to reduce total fees even if they are billed by the hour
  • After Action Assessments and programs to embed continuous improvement into the Department’s culture
  • Developing RFPs for AFA engagements
  • Deploying an low-cost arbitration program to address small cases that, in the aggregate, can add up
  • Designing prevention programs and helping departments see around the corner to know what’s coming

For Law Firms

  • Alternative Fee Arrangements (training and structuring fees, making AFAs profitable)
  • Firm culture audits to determine if the firm is customer-focused
  • After Action Assessments and programs to embed continuous improvement into the Firm’s culture
  • Responding to RFPs that address AFAs

Our goal is to help others go through the learning curve we experienced, but at an accelerated rate and without having to learn the hard lessons through actual experience.

So as they say in the consulting biz, if you have interest in any of these topics, please give us a call. We will customize the right program for you.


Nice story from the Chicago Lawyer on law firms developing apps for smartphones, iPads and similar products (and we especially like the way the story features Valorem!).  Here’s the key takeaway:

"More cell phones are being sold than computers," [uber Marketing ConsultantLarry] Bodine said. "Everywhere I go people are texting or going online and looking at their smartphones. Once you have one of these smartphones, what makes it fun to use are all the apps. What that means is that everyone has to adjust their marketing from a 20-inch screen monitor to a 2-inch screen."

The world is changing quickly, including the world of our clients.  Stay abreast or your clients will be looking at you (if at all) through their rear view mirror.




Every two weeks, I receive an email from a legal staffing vendor.  Each time I receive it, I deleted it.  Each time I went through that short process, I was annoyed.  Today, I finally unsubscribed.  It is highly unlikely I will ever choose to do business with this company, and the annoying blast emails, which send me information I don’t want at a time I don’t want it, will be one of the principal reasons why.  I have to believe that the company did not intend to trigger this reaction: to the contrary, they probably view these emails as an important part of their marketing.  But I also have to believe that my reaction is not unique.  But I am not writing to tell this story–instead I am wondering what lessons  I should learn about my own marketing efforts.

Here are my top lessons:

1.    As enamored as I am with our story, the prospective client doesn’t care about our story. He or she cares about his or her issues.

2.    Talking about "us" is not useful–it is counterproductive.

3.    Selling solutions is much better than selling pieces with the idea that the client will assemble a solution.

4.   If my goal is to get on someone’s radar screen, my outreach has to be either useful or funny.  Serious and sales-y, not so much.

Now, to put those lessons to work.


Continue Reading Lessons from Blast Emails

As a small firm, we are frequently told that people will buy "The Brand" (read, big firm) for harder matters because The Brand protects the buyer in case something goes wrong.  We generally respond to this by pointing to our own big firm pedigrees, talking about actual trial experience, which most big firm lawyers lack and our willingness to bet on our skills, which most big firms are unwilling to do.

But recent news events allow an even better response.  Toyota.  It’s only turning into one of the biggest recalls in history, threatening the entire company.  So how’s that quality branding working for those car owners now?

Sophisticated buyers need to be more discerning than simply relying on a bought and paid for brand, where good marketing and advertising disguises real shortcomings.

I strongly endorsed a new book by Jeff Jarvis, What Would Google Do?  If you want to see Googley thinking in action, check out Michelle Golden’s post, Think Your Clients Use Your Firm’s Website?  Here’s the advice:

Firms also talk about putting valuable content and tools behind this client-only wall. This is exactly opposite of what your content strategy should be. Put your content and tools "out front" where people can see how brilliant and generous you are.

The Gospel according to Google.  Share content and figure out how to make money by doing so.  In Michelle’s example, sharing content is the avenue to new clients.


Marketing, to be effective, needs to (1) have a point and (2) not insult the listener or viewer.  These things seem to be Marketing 101.  So here I am this morning, driving along listening to NPR.  The announcer reads the piece that programming is brought to you by "[insert name of large national accounting firm] where we are dedicated to providing our clients with thoughtful answers." 

Now I am not a marketing expert, but doesn’t it seem like a client should be able to assume that it’s highly paid national accounting firm will provide thoughtful answers?  Or is there some large cadre of accounting firms that provides thoughtless answers? 

I was going to say that my conclusion is that marketing statements that are obvious insights into the obvious are a colossal waste of money, but that would make me guilty of that which I criticize (although at least this is free!).  So let me leave with this:   there needs to be a quality control element to everything a firm does to present itself to the public, if only to avoid certain ridicule for things like "thoughtful answers." 


Continue Reading “Dedicated to providing thoughtful answers.”

Duane Morris laid off 18% of its marketing and business development staff yesterday.  Ed Schecter, the head of marketing, apparently said cost-cutting was "secondary" and the real intent was to build a more experienced, leaner team.  Of course, this is reported the day after Citibank’s Dan DiPietro is quoted as saying the profits of Amlaw 100 firms (which includes Duane Morris) will be down 15% this year, even with all the cost-cutting and staff reductions being widely reported.

Here’s my question:  why do firms (and businesses in general) seem to worry about being lean only when the economy is bad?  If being lean is a good thing, why not aspire to it when times are good?

These questions are obviously rhetorical.  Here’s my point:  tell the truth.  There are many reasons to do so.  Among them are that you owe it to your colleagues.  They presumably did good work for the firm or they wouldn’t be there.  It’s bad enough to release them into a terrible job environment, but to do so with the innuendo that they weren’t good enough is just wrong.  But that type of institutional loyalty is collateral to the real reason.  All over the legal world today, people are making fun of Duane Morris simply because they didn’t have the fortitude to acknowledge that which everyone believes to be true–they let some people go in order to reduce expenses.  And I promise you that the memory of the lie is much worse than any feeling created by acknowledging that tough times bring tough decisions.

ADDENDUM:  Today brings a report that Duane Morris laid off an additional 15 staffers.  The point of this post was not to pick on Duane Morris, but the richness of this development can’t be ignored.  The spokesman who said the economy was secondary to the layoff of people in the marketing department  has had his crebility as a firm spokesman damaged even more by this development. 

I had an opportunity to participate in a panel led by Gerry Riskin at Hildebrandt’s 2008 Marketing Partner Forum.  As always, it was an outstanding event, perhaps the best in many years.  Congratulations to Tom Billington and his Hildebrandt colleagues for putting together such an outstanding and thought-provoking program.

I have had several requests to the slides I used as part of the Riskin program.  So here they are.

The idea of the Riskin session was to pretend that the panel was the management committee of a mid-sized law firm.  Dan DiPietro of Citibank was our banker and provided a somber (nee, depressing) view of 2008.  Sara Kraeski of Davis Graham & Stubbs spoke about the marketing challenges in times of extreme jeopardy.  Wendy Bernero of McKee Nelson spoke about the challenges and opportunities posed by the Clementi reforms in the UK, and I spoke about the technology challenges and opportunities firms face at the moment.  Gerry served as the Managing Partner pushing for specific strategy recommendations.  It was a fun session to participate in.

I’ve received a number of kind comments from people who attended, which I greatly appreciate.  I hope those who attended found the session as interesting as those kind enough to comment.