Spring Additions to Lawblogs.ca

Time for another installation of “What’s new at Lawblogs.ca”! Since our last update, we’ve added several new (and new to us) blogs to our directory of Canadian law blogs. Take a look:

As always, if you have a blog that meets our submission guidelines, please let us know!

Invite Your Clients To Co-Author Your Firm’s Content

Most lawyers have long since figured out that writing articles showing off their expertise in their chosen field is a safe and productive way to market their services. Some lawyers choose to publish these articles in their firm newsletters, others on blogs, and others in legal profession periodicals. Quite a few lawyers, additionally or alternatively, have realized that the best place to publish content is where potential clients will read it: in client periodicals, business magazines, industry newsletters, and consumer websites.

This is often easier said than done, however. These client periodicals are swamped with submissions from lawyers, so they can afford to be choosy and might take greater editorial licence with the text than most lawyers would like. There are other barriers, too. One of the most noteworthy belongs to the ACC Docket, the highly regarded magazine of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

You can probably imagine the number of BigLaw partners who’d love to display their written know-how to more than 20,000 in-house counsel. The ACC Docket stems this tide effectively with a simple publishing rule: every submitted article must be authored or co-authored by a corporate counsel. It’s an editorial policy masterstroke, ensuring that (a) ACC members have the opportunity to promote themselves to their colleagues, (b) content is always relevant and on-point to in-house readers, and (c) law firm lawyers who want access to this audience must have the strong relationships with their in-house clients necessary to make such collaboration possible.

What I’d like to suggest here is that every lawyer, including those in smaller law firms, could take a lesson from the ACC Docket‘s policy. Why not make this your firm’s content publishing policy, too?

Make it a requirement that one or more articles in your firm’s newsletter or on your firm’s blog be at least co-authored by one of your clients. This is possible across almost every type of law practice, from family law to wrongful dismissal to bankruptcy to trademark litigation to M&A: get the client to tell his or her story as part of a practical guide to navigating similar matters in future. Base it on an actual legal experience by the client, or have the client share his or her first-hand perspective on a commonly occurring law-related matter.

This would have all sorts of benefits for your publishing program. The clients and potential clients who read your firm’s content would respond positively to stories “just like theirs” related by people “just like them.” They would identify more closely with the familiar co-protagonist of these articles than they would to a faceless stranger in some case comment from the Court of Appeal.

The articles themselves would be heavy on personal narratives, actual facts, real challenges and practical solutions (although of course, sensitive or confidential information would be omitted or anonymized). Accordingly, they would also be lighter on the jurisprudential detail in which lawyer-authored articles frequently get bogged down. These two changes alone would improve the quality and readability of most articles prepared by law firms for their clients.

Best of all, this policy would strengthen the relationship between the lawyer and the client. Even setting aside the positive feelings engendered for clients asked to tell their stories to the firm’s clientele, co-authoring any written work requires close collaboration, frequent conversation, and the friendly (when carefully administered) give-and-take of drafts and revisions between the writers. The lawyer will often learn things about the client’s interests and experiences that didn’t emerge during the actual matter itself; the client will get first-hand exposure to the lawyer’s expertise and experience in similar matters.

This wouldn’t have to be a permanent policy: there could be a special issue of the newsletter or month of blog posts featuring clients as co-authors, just to try it out. We’ve seen what lawyer-authored content looks like, and most people would agree it’s not usually Pulitzer material. Think about turning to your clients for an injection of first-hand experience and real-world relevance to your law firm’s publishing efforts.

Stem Client Roundup for April 2015

April is a busy month in the legal world, with both the ABA TECHSHOW and the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference taking place. Our clients were busy as well, with cases, conferences, media mentions, and more. Here’s a look at what April held for them:

That’s it for this month’s roundup, but we’ll be back at the end of May with more news.

Beyond Lawyers: The Future Of Law Firm Branding

If you’re among those who enjoy the spectacle of “Battles of the Brands” among law firms, the Acritas Brand Indices provide unsurpassed grist for your mill.  The 2015 Brand Index For [large] Canadian Law Firms was released last month, showing that Norton Rose Fulbright has regained from Blake, Cassels & Graydon the crown it wore in 2013 and briefly surrendered in 2014.

I offered an analysis of this report, as well as a critique of law firm brand indices in general, in this article at Bloomberg Business of Law. Here at Law Firm Web Strategy, however, I’d like to talk more generally about the idea of a law firm’s “brand,” and to suggest that lawyers who spend time and money pursuing strong brand recognition for their firms might be hamstrung by an unseen but critical flaw in their firms’ service delivery model.

You can find many definitions of “brand” in the legal context, most portraying brand as a complex amalgam of myriad interconnecting factors. For myself, I tend towards a simpler definition: a brand is what it’s like to deal with someone. How your customers or clients feel following one or more interactions with your business, the impression they’ve gained and the likelihood that they’ll want to deal with you again, is your brand. It has little to do with tag lines, advertisements, or the colour scheme on your website. It has to do with the user experience of your firm.

This, at first blush, is not an encouraging thought for law firms: most clients experience a law firm through its lawyers, and many lawyers do not rank stratospherically high on measures like emotional intelligence and customer service. But even in firms whose lawyers are natural communicators (or who are carefully trained to appear that way), there’s a larger challenge: the inconsistency of the user experience across multiple points of contact. Clients’ experience with a law firm frequently varies according to the person, and especially the lawyer, with whom they’re dealing.

Now, if a client only ever deals with a single lawyer at the firm, then this isn’t much of a problem. But in that situation, it isn’t really the firm that the client is experiencing, but the lawyer: we’re really talking about an individual lawyer brand. A firm brand comes into play when many different people interact with a client, a far more likely occurrence for an institutional client or a complex matter. In those situations, the client is much more likely to experience a range of personalities, behaviours, and procedures, to such an extent that the client may sometimes wonder whether she’s really dealing with a single firm. When asked to describe the law firm brand she’s experienced, she might well respond, “Which one?”

Very few law firms train their personnel to deliver a consistent client experience, and few of those that do could claim great success in enforcing such consistency, especially among their lawyers. Never mind consistency of work quality and client communication: today, in some of the most esteemed law firms in the country, you could find two partners who don’t even bill their work to the same client the same way. To add to the challenge, law firms undergo an unusual amount of churn, through entrenched associate attrition and growing partner mobility, such that the lawyer who served you today might be gone tomorrow — and might even be calling you to see if you’d like to follow him to his new place of business.

This is why I think that in the near future, the brand champions among law firms will be those that can ensure a high degree of consistency in the client experience. And what will set those firms apart will be the degree to which they rely heavily on automated systems, predictable processes, and dedicated client liaisons to deliver their services more so than on lawyers. These firms will figure out that decision trees don’t bolt the firm for greener pastures, that intelligent systems deliver the same experience regardless of practice group and billing rate, and that client protocols don’t vary according to how many hours they’ve docketed so far this month.

If a firm’s brand is fundamentally rooted in its clients’ experience with the firm, then every unnecessary variance in that experience is going to shake clients’ confidence in and undermine the brand itself. Lawyers are, by nature, deeply resistant to conformist behaviour: if they’re the ones delivering your front-line service, you can count on your clients receiving mixed messages (and on remembering the negative ones far more than the positives). To improve your brand, start thinking about ways to solidify and upgrade the client experience — and to what extent your lawyers should or can play a critical role therein.

Stem Client Roundup for March 2015

The American newspaper columnist Doug Larson said, “Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.”  That pretty accurately sums up this awkward in-between time of year, though we hope there’s more whistling than slush in your life these days. As March gives way to April, let’s have a look at what our clients were up to this past month:

We’ll be back next month with more client news to share. (And with any luck, the slush will be completely gone by then!)

Mobilegeddon: The Countdown Is On

“Make it mobile-friendly” has been the mantra in web development for the last many years, but now Google is making it official. The search engine has announced that as of April 21 (a.k.a. Mobilegeddon), they’ll use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in their search algorithms. Translation: if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will suffer in the search rankings on mobile devices. In fact, one Google engineer said it would have more of an effect on rankings than Panda or Penguin did — and those were two of the most significant algorithm updates Google has ever made.

Before we get into this, however, let’s outline what we know:

  • Google has been tinkering with giving mobile friendly websites an advantage in the search results since last fall. You may even have seen a “mobile friendly” tag next to your own site in recent months. (This notation only appears in mobile search results; you won’t see it during a desktop or tablet search.)
  • When we say “mobile”, we’re talking about mobile phones. Google is very clear about treating iPads & tablets as separate devices.
  • According to everything released, the search ranking impact will only be felt on mobile phone driven traffic. The warning letter that Google is sending out to webmasters even states: “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”  (emphasis added)
  • The amount of smartphone traffic received by each firm varies. Subsequently, the impact of this algorithm change will also vary “firm-to-firm”.
  • Having a fully responsive design is not required to be “mobile friendly”. (more discussion below)

Here’s a quick guide to assessing your site’s mobile-friendliness and what to do if it doesn’t meet Google’s mobile-friendly criteria. And don’t worry, it’s actually pretty easy to update your site, especially if you’re on WordPress.

Take the test

Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and plunk in your site’s URL. After a quick analysis, you’ll get your results. If your site is mobile-friendly, you’re golden.

Identify your needs

If not, visit the “Getting started” section of Google’s Mobile guide. It’s likely that you just want to learn how to tweak your site yourself; if this is the case, click “Customize your website software for mobile users”. (There are also options for getting technical or working with a developer).

The Customize Your Website Software guide gives a rundown of all the major website software: WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, Blogger, Tumbler, and others. Choose the software you’re using. For this post, we’re going to use the example of WordPress since it’s the most popular (and the CMS choice we recommend to all our clients).

A note: if you’re using wordpress.com (i.e., you have a URL such as mylawblog.wordpress.com), you’re in luck – these sites are automatically mobile-friendly.

Make the required changes

There are different steps to follow depending on what your situation is. They might be:

  • Updating your version of WordPress
  • Updating your theme to its newest version
  • Choosing a different theme that is mobile friendly (look for one with the tag “responsive layout“)
  • Implementing an additional plugin to add mobile-friendly functionality to an existing theme
  • Doing custom edits to make your theme mobile-friendly

The WordPress section of the Google Webmaster’s Mobile Guide helps you figure out what steps you need to take, and points you to the resources you need.

Some troubleshooting advice

Let’s say your firm has a custom theme. Maybe you laboured over it, or you paid someone to make it for you. Either way, you made an investment and you’d like to keep using it, but it’s not passing the mobile-friendly test. What to do?

In this case, installing a plugin is probably the easiest way to fix the mobile-unfriendly problem. We’re fans of the WPTouch plugin (other Google-approved plugin options are Jetpack and WP Mobile Detector). From the WPTouch description:

WPtouch is a mobile plugin for WordPress that automatically enables a simple and elegant mobile theme for mobile visitors of your WordPress website.

The administration panel allows you to customize many aspects of its appearance, and deliver a fast, user-friendly and stylish version of your site to your mobile visitors, without modifying a single bit of code (or affecting) your regular desktop theme.

The theme also includes the ability for visitors to switch between the theme on your mobile WordPress website and your website’s regular theme.

Once you’ve installed WPTouch, you’ll see it appear as its own item in the left-hand menu in WordPress. Go into Core Settings and confirm the default settings. At the bottom of the screen, you can click “Preview theme” to see what your site will look like on a mobile device. Click “Save Changes” and voila – your site is mobile-friendly.

After you’ve made your changes, run your URL through the Mobile-Friendly Test again, just to confirm Google registers your improvements.

And now you’re set for Mobilegeddon!

Lawblogs.ca Breaks 500!

Since our last lawblogs.ca update we’ve now hit a pretty major milestone — there are now slightly over 500 blogs listed in the Canadian Law Blogs Directory! Some of these blogs are relatively new, while others are just new to us. Two of them won Clawbies this past December and others came onto our radar by being nominated or nominating others for the awards. And so in no particular order, here are some of the latest additions to lawblogs.ca:

We also have a site update to mention: we have added a category for podcasts, which applies to both exclusive podcasts and blogs with occasional podcasts. At present there are three listed in that category, but we suspect there’ll be more to come. If you’re aware of a legal podcaster or blogger we’ve missed, please let us know!

 

Stem Client Roundup for February 2015

February is short, yet somehow our clients manage to pack as much into it as any other month! Here’s a look at what Stem clients were up to this past month:

We’ll be back next month with more client news to share.

7 Quick Ways to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn has long been the preferred choice for lawyers as a social business tool. There’s lots of studies to support that, and it likely doesn’t come as a surprise to many.

Given this importance that many lawyers claim to have regarding LinkedIn, though, I remain a bit surprised that some of the most basic profile elements are often MIA.

Take a look at the pieces below. If you’ve been on LinkedIn for a while — or a decade — you probably have taken advantage of these. That said, a simple comb through of your profile (or a colleagues) is probably worth your time. Chances are there are a few areas that could be improved upon with relative ease.

1. Snag a custom URL

It’s easy to clean up the look of your profile’s web address.  Change this: ca.linkedin.com/pub/steve-matthews/01/234/567 into something like this: http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevematthews.

(Learn how here)

2. Add websites to the Links area

Take a minute and add links to your firm website, your blog, any other relevant sites you contribute to or are involved with in some way. Don’t forget to include your lawyer profile page on the firm website.

(Learn how here – and be sure to choose “other” and label your websites with their actual names rather than “my website” or “my blog”)

3. Clarify your professional headline

Include a description of what you do, not just your position. For example, change your headline from “Senior Partner at ABC LLP” to “Corporate Finance & Securities Lawyer, Senior Partner at ABC LLP”.

(Learn how here)

4. Prioritize your past positions

If you’ve held a lot of positions throughout your career, consider trimming the descriptions of any that are more than 10 years old. Eliminating older jobs might not be doable, as it’s a big part of who you are; but reducing the descriptions will help make sure the jobs section doesn’t completely dominate the profile page.

5. Add contacts strategically

Consider the contacts that send you work directly or by referral, and their common characteristics. What position/title do they hold, for example. Use that title or characteristic and do a search on LinkedIn for other people from your past, or potential future contacts. If you’re not mining for potential new business via contact demographics, you’re missing one of LinkedIn’s most powerful tools.

The LinkedIn search feature can be helpful in this regard — triggering memories of your past experiences, or getting ‘the right people’ on your radar who are within x degrees of separation.

6. Add a recent presentation or publication

Have you recently written an article (think CLE, firm newsletter, etc.) or given a presentation? Get more mileage from it by posting it on LinkedIn. As a bonus, adding text or new sections makes your profile eligible to be included in LinkedIn’s email alerts to other members. When your colleagues receive their roundup of profile news, your profile is included in that message. Just make sure the change is somewhat substantive.

(Learn how here)

7. Ask for some recommendations

This isn’t a volume exercise, but acquiring a couple of impressive testimonials from very close contacts rarely hurts. Not everyone uses the “Recommendations” area, but it can be a nice touch. This also isn’t an exercise in strict reciprocity, but while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to write a few recommendations for some of your key contacts.

Any other ‘basics’ for lawyers to improve their LinkedIn profiles? Chime in with a comment.

Stem Client Roundup for January 2015

Hello, 2015! The new year is off to a terrific start, with lots of projects keeping Stem’s clients busy. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to in January:

We’ll be back again next month with more news and accomplishments.

Legal Web Marketing: Search vs. Social

A client recently emailed me for my thoughts on Kevin O’Keefe’s post “Good law blogs losing traffic from Google?“, specifically wondering about the value of social media vs. search traffic.

Here’s what I told him.

Once you get past the (semi-sensational) headline and into the post, Kevin makes a good observation about not taking Google Analytics data at face value. The fact that many Google referrals now come from an “https” domain do make those visitors appear as “direct visits”, where they were once counted (correctly) as search traffic. This is useful context to the discussion, as direct traffic numbers are showing much higher across all the legal websites we represent. The fact is, Google miscounts a lot of referrals as direct traffic; and it’s been noted by a number of analysts.

But getting into the meat of Kevin’s argument — that optimizing for social media is becoming more important than optimizing for search engines — I think we need to look a little closer.

In support of his assertion, Kevin mentions that “the percentage of viewers coming to my blog from Google has dropped 28% in the last year”.  Giving a single example using his own blog, of course, does not make a trend. Just a personal observance. Kevin invests a lot of his time in social media; I’d wager 30+ hours per week. (Not a critique, mind you. This makes sense; his business is based on selling blogs — but it is more time than most practicing lawyers I know have to give).

With two pieces of the pie: (1) direct visits currently counting high in Google Analytics, and (2) social media referrals growing in size; search traffic has gotten smaller. Why? Well, first of all every blog is different. I’ve observed some websites that have experienced number shifts like Kevin’s experienced; but I’ve also observed mass increases in search traffic over social traffic.

In the case of Kevin’s statistics, there could be other factors at play. It’s possible his personal brand has gotten bigger, and he has more of a following. It could be his SEO game is getting worse, because he pays little attention to it. Or, it could be simply that, as a percentage, the methods he’s investing the majority of his time in are paying off for him.

Or it could be all of the above.

The point he and I would agree on is that it is healthy to have more dedicated readers and relationships. The social vs. search part? In my view, both are means of getting to that destination. Social supports existing relationships better, no doubt. But social also offers little in terms of helping people find your business when they have no prior relationship with you.

Tactics wise, I would always recommend doing both, and to consider how they fit together. Search isn’t going away, and neither is social.

I would never suggest forsaking ‘search for social’ though.  I don’t believe search is dying. The internet is 20 years old. We’ve always searched for things and I have a tough time believing that will end any time soon. Searching for information (or services) is as much human nature as connecting.

2014 Clawbies: The Acceptance Speeches

Another edition of the Clawbies has wrapped up – have you checked out the latest Canadian Law Blog Award winners yet? Here’s what some of the winners and finalists had to say about their wins:

You can also see a couple more reactions in the comments on the announcement post.

Don’t forget to grab your badge if you were among the finalists or winners for 2014; they’re available within the right-hand sidebar at clawbies.ca.

2015 will mark the awards’ 10th anniversary and we’ve already got some ideas in the works for how the Clawbies will evolve. We’d love to hear your ideas too – anything new or different you think we should do with the awards?

Stem Client Roundup for December 2014

Well folks, this is it: our last client roundup of the year. A big thank-you to our clients who gave us such interesting projects and challenges, and made 2014 a great year for Stem. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to as the year draws to an end.

That’s a wrap! See you next year!

People Don’t Follow Law Firms, They Follow Lawyers

Can law firm-generated content can be effectively distributed simply by putting it on the firm’s website or pushing it out over the firm’s social media channels?

“No way”, says Kevin O’Keefe in his recent post, It takes an entire law firm using social media to distribute content. He uses the example of journalists and reporters, for whom personal social media participation in the workplace is no longer optional:

“The New York Times has found that those news publishers whose reporters and editors personally share news stories on social media generate significantly more traffic to their news stories than publishers relying on the brand and isolated staff using social media to distribute stories (New York Times Innovation 2014 Report).”

Kevin goes on to  say:

“On Twitter, individuals with unique interests who establish trust, person to person, are more effective in the distribution of news and info than companies and law firms. People who get to know a person are more apt to read items the person shares, it’s only natural. … To assure that your law firm’s thought leadership, news and information gets seen in the days ahead, you’ll need to get your lawyers and law firm leaders using social media. Not just the lawyers who are publishing content, but everyone.”

This topic caught my eye; I wrote about the topic a couple years ago in a Slaw post on how law firms fail at social media.  I want to re-post a large chunk of it here because I think it bears repeating:

Think about it for a moment: unless a law firm has a very narrow, niche practice, it’s virtually impossible for a firm Twitter feed to be engaging and relevant to all clients, who potentially have hundreds of areas of interest and concern. But who knows, on a much more accurate level, what clients would be interested in? Who is perfectly positioned to generate a stream of relevant, useful tweets? Individual lawyers, of course. As the old saying goes, people don’t hire law firms, they hire lawyers.

I see the firm Twitter feed as a pool of abundant, high-quality, yet controlled, vetted messages about the firm, from which individual lawyers may cherry pick, passing along only the best to their readers, interspersed with their own tweets.

Add to this, the fact that an essential aspect of social media is reciprocity and interaction, something that corporate Twitter accounts often neglect entirely. But individual lawyers are more apt to develop the types of social networking relationships that aren’t just one way, replying, retweeting, and passing along information and links from outside sources.

In summary, clearly, it’s not healthy for any firm to be unidirectional in their approach to social media; we do, however, need to see the bigger picture – firm accounts and lawyer accounts must be considered collectively, not as separate entities.

Two years later, social media is embedded more deeply than ever within firm marketing activities. Considering all the hard work lawyers and firms invest creating content, wouldn’t it be wise to make sure the distribution channels you employ are as well thought out as the content itself? Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

  • One of the most critical jobs of your firm branded social accounts is to act as “a beacon of news and content” for your lawyers. Pipe as much relevant information about your firm through this stream as possible, then let your lawyers decide what’s relevant to their online presence. The firm account is a fire-hose, and your lawyers are the filter.
  • Your firm branded Twitter account should have a ‘twitter list’ aggregating ALL of your member accounts and content streams. Every firm lawyer should subscribe to that list and review it as part of their online activities.
  • Lawyers can automate the announcement of new articles to social tools, but that should be a tiny portion of their overall engagement.
  • Relationships drive healthy content distribution. Simply put: Engage with your peers, or don’t bother with social as a potential channel for your practice.
  • Lawyer to lawyer discussions between firm members are healthy. So are exchanges with industry colleagues. If you don’t know what you’re going to talk about, it’s time to give your firm’s narrative some off-line consideration.
  • You can have intelligent conversations about the law without giving legal advice. Add a disclaimer on your profile, or say it outright mid-conversation; but don’t stop your lawyers from having opinions about their chosen industry or area of expertise.

As we look over the Clawbies nominations coming in this year, there seems to be a real interest in the micro-blogging aspect of Twitter. Some lawyers do it well, while others fail miserably. The takeaway is that a carefully crafted stream of tweets can become an incredibly valuable component (or pairing) to a lawyer’s blogging and publishing activity. But the trick is two-fold: feed the machine with quality resources, while never taking one’s eye off the relationships behind the audience reading.

Latest Additions to Lawblogs.ca

Clawbies season is well underway (get your nominations in before December 23rd!) and before too long we’ll be annotating lawblogs.ca with this year’s winners. In the meantime, take a look at the latest crop of blogs to be added to the Canadian Law Blogs Directory:

Know of a blog we’re missing? Check out our submission guidelines and drop us a line.