About: Carolyn Elefant

The way I like to tell it, I started my own law firm back in 1993, because frankly, a big law firm wasn't big enough. Not big enough for my ego which balked at doing the grunt research without the glamour of arguing the cases or meeting with clients. Not even big enough to fit two little words -- my name -- on the top line of the briefs or on the nameplate on the door. Back then, I was a lawyer ahead of schedule. By starting my own law firm, I made partner before I turned thirty and became a business owner long before the dotcom boom of the late '90s made entrepreneurship at once desireable and virtually mainstream. I was also one of the first law firms to recognize and harness the power of the Internet: my firm has had an email account since 1994 and with the upload of a law firm website (which I handcoded myself) in 1995, I joined the the first generation of law firms on-line and in 2002, I was part of the first generation of lawyer-bloggers. At heart, I am a practicing attorney, a solo by choice, as I note in my eponymously titled book, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be. Before starting my law firm in 1993, I worked for several large or national law firms and a federal government agency. When I started my firm, I continued with energy regulatory work, a specialty that I'd developed through prior employment, but also took on court appointed criminal cases, employment cases (public and private sector), Section 1983 civil rights cases and commercial and civil litigation. Since the birth of my daughters in 1996 and 1999, I've focused my practice on energy work, including emerging renewable energy development and compliance/enforcement issues, appeals, and civil rights litigation. To learn more about my law practice, visit my website, Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant, the trade association that I co-founded and for which I serve as regulatory counsel Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition and my law firm blog, LOCE Offshore Wind and Wave Energy Blog. In addition, I also blog at American Law Media's Legal Blogwatch. Nolo's Legal Marketing Blog and my other blog, MyShingle represent my own small contribution to improving the quality of legal representation by * Showing lawyers ways to practice more profitably and efficiently * Increasing competition in the profession and access to law by helping lawyers start their own law firms that can compete and thrive in the 21st century and * Inspiring lawyers who dream of going solo, or who are unhappy working for others to start a firm and find the personal satisfaction that previously eluded them. I am available for consulting, speaking engagements and workshops and seminars, which I consider on a case by case basis. Feel free to contact me with any questions at 202-297-6100 or by email at carolyn.elefant@gmail.com.

Recent Posts by Carolyn Elefant

Some Old Tips on Old Fashioned Networking

Much as I love to blog and participate in social media, I must confess that most of my clients still come the old-fashioned way: through personal referral. That doesn’t mean that I’ll stop blogging, Facebook or Twitter any time soon, since those activities reinforce my credibility and support my in-person networking. After all, it’s much easier to simply toss out my Twitter handle when I meet a potential referral source instead of always carrying a stack of business cards.

Well maybe. Because many of the people whom I interact with still aren’t on Twitter and won’t be any time soon. In order to capture these prospects, it’s still necessary to abide by conventional approaches even in a twenty-first century world. And with that said, below are some tips to help you brush up on your networking skills.

Don’t Be Looking in All the Wrong Places Selecting the appropriate venue for networking is critical as Los Angeles attorney Lee Rudnicki advises in the LA Times. Rudnicki, who practices entertainment law spent his networking time at bar association events, schmoozing with lawyers who were actually his competition. Rudnicki found better results when he attended parties with filmmakers and others in his target client base.

Time, Place and Manner Some venues – like funerals, for example, are simply off limits for networking. You’d think this would be obvious, but as a PR expert in this NJ.com article points out, she observed one colleague glad-handing at a funeral. Other common mistakes of networking includes focusing on yourself instead of inquiring about the other person’s needs. And while it’s good to follow up and keep in touch, many networkers make the mistake of asking for work – either a job or new business – as soon as they meet someone, which can make for an uncomfortable situation.

How the Meek May Inherit Business Through Networking Though networking comes naturally to some, for shy, introverted individuals, meet-and-greet parties can be a torture. LegalJob.com offers some suggestions, including getting involved in an association where the focus is on working together rather than small talk, following up to meet people one-on-one and using email to help schedule get togethers.

Never Eat Lunch Alone You’ve heard Keith Ferrazzi’s famous book, never eat lunch alone. That advice still holds true, particularly for young lawyers like Michael Siri who offers this advice in the Daily Record.

The best way to network is to reach out to people, ask for assistance, offer assistance, and to not keep tabs of either. Go out and meet people. When you are going to an event, make sure you know who is going and do some research on the people you should meet (but not to the extent that it will be considered stalking). Build personal relationships.

Do you still network face to face? And what approaches work best for you?

LegalMarketing RoundUp

Here’s a quick round-up of updates on earlier posts.

Easy Reading: Back in May, I posted on the importance of typography to legal marketing efforts. This month, the Harvard Business Journal Blog addresses the same topic, emphasizing that:

And good design gives you an edge. How big an edge? It’s the difference between getting read or getting ignored. You don’t have to understand Photoshop or other design programs to be able to create clean business communications. You just have to develop an eye for the difference between visual order and visual noise.

The post offers a number of basis tips for improving design, including keeping your materials simple, using pull quotes and preserving white space.

The Latino Niche Market: Last month, I posted on growing Latino population and its potential as a niche market. Now, there’s an interesting article at Ocala.com that offers specific advice on how to serve the Hispanic population, which is projected to comprise one third of the U.S. population by 2050. From the article:

According to George San Jose, president of The San Jose Group of Chicago, owner of one of the top three Hispanic marketing companies in the U.S., “there are two trends entrepreneurs need to keep in mind as they begin to figure out how to tap the Hispanic marketplace. First, many Hispanics are still comfortable with Spanish as the language of choice. The grandparents may still speak Spanish exclusively; while their children may be bilingual, and the 20-something generation may speak primarily English while still being fluent in Spanish. The second factor to understand is how much family is integral to the Hispanic lifestyle. Not only does the burgeoning younger generation tend to have more children than the general U.S. population, making baby and family products a big seller, but many also have extended families throughout Latin America, offering even more opportunities.” Another important factor noted by Helen Rodriguez-Burton, a Hispanic insurance professional who has spoken on the subject, is “Once you’ve acquired a Hispanic customer, don’t overlook the importance of customer service. Offering bilingual service through a customer call center is not enough. Hispanics cherish personal contact, which leads to long-term loyalty. They’re known to “talk” with their feet and never come back if they have a negative experience.

Person-to-Person Marketing Though online marketing has its advantages, personal marketing never goes out of style. That being the case, you ought to be prepared when you meet people at events – for example, by developing an elevator speech. Matt Homann offers a creative way to do to do it: using Haiku. Though haiku’ing your way to an elevator speech sounds crazy, it’s a sensible approach if you follow the steps that Matt recommends:
• Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
• What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
• Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

Mobile Mommy Marketing

Even if you don’t serve female clients exclusively, you should be targeting women any time you pitch legal services to a couple or family – because they’re the ones making important decisions. A recent study by Prudential Financial, highlighted at Blogher concluded that 95 percent of women are either making or influencing major financial decisions within the household. These results suggest that women’s influence has grown; a 2008 study showed that for 43 percent of couples, women make more decisions at home, while in 31 percent of couples, decision-making responsibilities are equally divided.

So if women are the audience for legal services, how do you reach them? Perhaps a quarter of a century ago, you’d run an ad campaign on daytime television or talk shows, but no more. Today’s women, and moms in particular, have gone mobile. According to a survey by BabyCenter, (summarized here, smartphone use among moms has risen 64 percent over the past two ears, with 51 percent of moms saying that they are addicted to their smartphones. Top smartphone activities by moms include reading social media newsfeeds, updating social media status and reading answers to posted questions. And moms are also using smartphones to research products and for health and wellness information.

As I’ve posted before, if you’re targeting an audience that makes use of mobile devices, make sure that your message matches the medium.

In practical terms, what does that mean if you’re marketing to moms? First, make sure that your website and blogs are optimized for mobile use. Second, since moms use smartphones to track social media, distribute blog posts or other news items through Twitter or Facebook. Finally, consider creating a useful app (such as a checklist of documents to compile for estate preparation or a list of laws relating to special education) that might interest moms, or assist them with legal issues that they may have.

Marketing: A Journey, Not a Destination

Marketing a law practice is an ongoing iterative process. Starting out, many lawyers make rookie mistakes – such as spending thousands of dollars on Yellow Pages ads because an older colleague told you this is how it’s done. Or spending money to join the Chamber of Commerce only to discover that as a new lawyer, you’re on the low end of the totem pole when it comes to consideration for referrals. These types of errors are easy to recognize and correct. If you’ve paid $5000 for a Yellow Pages ad and it’s only yielded a $1000 client, then it’s a waste of money. Ditto the Chamber of Commerce, which may not be as expensive but produced no results whatsoever.

It’s more difficult to recognize a need for, and to change course in marketing when you’ve been practicing for a while. For starters, your revenue may be stable for several years and you won’t realize that with some changes, you could earn more. You may have also fallen into a comfortable marketing routine comprised of a few favored activities, and so you figure that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Trouble is, if you don’t constantly monitor your marketing results and keep track of your competitors and future trends, those old standby’s that once performed so well now fall flat. For example:

1. You were an early adopter of Twitter, using it well before anyone else in your geographic or practice area. As a result, your initial returns from Twitter weren’t very promising and so you stopped using it. But now, your competitors and target clients are coming on board. Thus, you may lose out on opportunities if you don’t return.

2. As a new lawyer running a solo practice, you had plenty of time of your hands but little money for advertising. So you joined several bar associations and professional clubs, enthusiastically volunteering for whatever work was available. Two years later, your work has paid off and you’re receiving several referrals a month from others in these organizations. Trouble is, now that your practice is so busy that you simply don’t have thirty hours a month to devote to all of these organizations. In this situation, even though your bar association work doesn’t cost money, it now represents an opportunity cost that may force you to turn down paying work. For now, you’ll either need to drop the bar work, or perhaps use the revenue from your new work to hire an intern or associate who can help out.

3. You’ve been handling family law cases forever, and your business is generally steady. But you’ve noticed that a couple of new lawyers’ practices are going like gangbusters. The reason? They’ve been tracking that new law in your state that legalizes gay marriage – and they’ve developed a niche that highlights that particular area. Now, they’re swamped with gay and lesbian clients who want to get married seeking advice on prenuptial arrangements, adoption and other issues. Although this particular niche may already be saturated, you may want to start tracking trends to identify whether another niche could serve as an easy add on to your practice.

4. In a fit of enthusiasm, you signed up for a dozen different social media sites. You thought that this broad presence would generate SEO, but that hasn’t worked and your left with a bunch of barren profiles scattered across the Internet. Here, identify the platforms that have been working best and remove your other profiles.

5. You’ve always written a monthly column for your local bar newsletter – and your colleagues have complimented it. But you’d like to get more “bang for the buck” out of the time you put in. Maybe it’s time to turn those articles into an ebook – or to start a blog.

Roscoe Pound, a legal scholar once said “The law must be stable, but it cannot stand still.” The same holds true for your marketing efforts: invest time regularly and strive for a consistent brand and message. But always reevaluate your results and what lies ahead, and make changes as necessary to stay at the head of the curve. In Roscoe Pound’s words, don’t ever let your marketing stand still.

How to Avoid Having Your Law Firm Contest Contested When It’s Run Through Social Media

Though I’m not sure about their long-term effectiveness for attracting clients, most law firm contests are undeniably fun as well as a way for a firm to give back to the community. A recent sampling of contests that I culled from the news included a contest for high school students to create videos about the importance of bike safety, a contest celebrating March Madness with give-away of two free Jazz basketball tickets and a contest for best business pitch. Of course, some contests seems a bit tacky, such as the Valentine’s Day divorce contest run by a West Virginia firm (it’s not the divorce that’s tacky, in my view – just the contest’s timing).

As more firms adopt social media, expect contests to proliferate, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s nothing like social media — either a Facebook Fan Page or a Twitter stream to build buzz and enthusiasm about a law firm contest. Second, many law firms may view contests as a way to generate more friends and followers by making prize eligibility contingent on “liking” the firm’s Facebook page or following it on Twitter.

Regardless of their reasons for sponsoring a contest, when law firms use social media as a platform to conduct or publicize their contest, they must comply with three categories of rules: (1) Bar advertising rules (which I won’t discuss here; suffice it to say, read your jurisdiction’s rules in advance or contact bar counsel with questions), (2) laws governing sweepstakes and games of chance and and (3) platform-specific regulations regarding contests.

Laws on Online Contests Because online contests have been around for more than a decade, the basic legal principles are fairly well established. An excellent summary is available in this excellent online compliance guide for online contests and sweepstakes by Antone Johnson of Bottom Line Law.

As described in the guide, companies must avoid operating an illegal lottery which generally involves payment of an entry fee, a winner chosen by random chance and prize awarded. However, companies can run sweepstakes, which is a drawing for a prize by chance alone or contests which requires some kind of skill and judging and an entry fee is permissible. Contests must have official rules that specify eligibility requirements and disclose restrictions on receiving the prize.

Platform-Specific Rules But contests conducted on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter include an added twist. Not only must companies holding contests comply with the general rules just discussed, they must also adhere to the social media platform’s contest policies. Failure to comply with these policies can result in removal of promotion materials or disabling of an account.

Twitter’s contest guidelines are fairly simple and straightforward:Contest sponsors should encourage entrants to use Twitter conventions (@ sign to signify a reply and a hashtag(#) showing a subject) to communicate with each other, and discourage them from tweeting multiple entries. Finally, both the contest sponsor and participants are expected to abide by Twitter’s use guidelines.

Facebook’s contest rules are subject to frequent revision (the last revision was December 1, 2010) and are far more complicated. Facebook users are prohibited from using their wall or other pages to create a contest; instead, they must set it up through an application on the Facebook platform. Users can enter the promotion only via the application or a tab created on the Facebook page. The promotion must include certain disclosures.

Facebook also sets rules on what contest sponsors can ask of entrants. A sponsor can ask an entrant to like a page as a condition of entry, but cannot require any other action such as uploading a photo or writing a post or comment. (As an aside, seems that this contest, which required a wall post may have run afoul of Facebook’s rules).

Many firms may be tempted to hand off administration of contests on social media to PR reps or marketing gurus. Don’t. It’s you or your firm that will wind up with the suspended account on Twitter or Facebook if the contest isn’t run properly – and further, many face the embarrassment of e-shaming if competitors learn of your missteps.

Law firm contests can be a fun, as well as a way for a firm to show its appreciation for clients and the surrounding community. But having someone contest your firm’s contest because you didn’t follow the rules will take the fun right out of it.

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