Online Reputation Management (ORM) has become one of the latest marketing and brand buzz-concepts. This is one every leader and manager of law firms as well as all legal professionals should be concerned about and should understand.

Much has already been written about ORM, as any search on the internet will show. I have found much of it does not explain where ORM ‘fits in’ with other important brand concepts, to thereby help readers understand why it is important, why it creates personal and organisational risk and how to manage it.

In this short note I will try to do this in the context of my concept of brand outlined in Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms and how I explain brand to clients.

Ideally, your and your organisation’s ORM should be a strong contributor to the strength of your brands. To ensure this happens requires some internal education, discipline and management resolve and follow-through.

Your personal and organisational brands (your brands) are what other individuals think and feel about you or your law firm. What people think is due in part to what brand offer you make to market and whether you deliver on that and they experience it in the way in which you suggest they will.

Your brand offer in turn is what you put out to market as your offer to the market – what you offer or promise to do or can do or deliver on.

Your brand offer can comprise a number of important attributes – your technical, leadership or management expertise, experience, reputation and style, your ethical behaviour, whether you live up to what you promise to deliver, and your accessibility, responsiveness and reliability. It also includes how you interface with those who work for or with you and for whom you work, what you have written or said, your experience, expertise and reputation, your thought leadership, level of emotional intelligence (EQ), communication skills and style, personal values etc. The combination of all this, and how other individuals experience these things and feel about you as a result, contributes directly to your brands.

However, bear in mind that your brand offer is generally not your brands as such. It is what you offer to market. Your brands are what other individuals think and feel about your personal brand and your organisation’s brands.

What is published online by you or about you also becomes part of your brand offer to market in the form of your online reputation, digital footprint or ‘presence’. The challenge about what is online about you is that some of it you will have authored or published, while other pieces are from others in the form of comments, complaints, reviews of something you have written or said and so on. It all goes into that online melting pot.

Of course, while it is out there it is searchable and ‘findable’ and may influence others about you and your firm and what they think, i.e. your brands. So, it becomes part of your intended or maybe unintended or even unwanted brand offer and can in turn influence your personal and organisational brands. In this way it also becomes part of your brands as such.

So, this cause and effect nature of your online presence and reputation means it is both part of your brand offer to market as well as being part of what others think or feel about you i.e. your brands. It is for these reasons that it is particularly important to do all you can to manage your online reputation.

This in turn impacts what I term Brand Fusion (BF) – that is, whether what you offer is actually delivered on by you and experienced in that way by other individuals. BF is important as it directly impacts trust in your personal brand, and trust is the vital foundation stone of a strong brand. Think about brands you trust and respect – you don’t think twice about using, buying or recommending them.

Given the weight and attention given to what is online – written or published by or about you, and that many people do online research before making purchasing decisions or committing themselves, it is worth taking care to ensure it is as favourable as possible. It lives there for a long time and is not easy to alter or take down, particularly if you were not the author of it nor control the relevant media. This can create risk for individual professionals and their organisations and even cause damage.

What can you do to manage this risk? For a start I suggest:

  • create awareness amongst your professionals by having someone come in and explain the importance of ORM, where it fits in to brand, the risks involved and how it can impact your or your organisation’s brand;
  • rather than merely adopting a defensive strategy I suggest being assertive and taking steps to ensure there is much useful online material published about your professionals and your firm. Many lawyers don’t bother to do this, sometimes as they don’t recognise the value of it and think it will be a waste of time. Remind them that all such materials are searchable and findable way into the future and can result in leads for new work or clients even in years to come. Anyone who has published extensively online will confirm this;
  • research this topic thoroughly and have a clear policy around online publishing and even speaking engagements undertaken by any of your professionals to ensure they are qualified to do this and will not mis-state or mis-speak;
  • consider using one of the many online tools which can virtually search the internet and vet and report on anything online about the firm or its professionals. This becomes an ongoing due diligence of what is ‘out there’;
  • if you don’t take the latter step, at least do this manually from time to time or have a qualified person do it for you, simply by doing appropriate manual online searches; and
  • take active steps to manage what is online and try to have damaging material removed, corrected or responded to as soon as possible after it is published.

Do this and you will be better managing two important elements of your brands – your brand offers to market as well as what others think of you or your organisation, that is your personal and organisational brands.

I am often asked for my views on the main challenges faced by leaders, or what to look for in potential leaders. While internal thought processes immediately scurry through dozens I have come across from experience and recent assignments, on brief reflection, a few always rise to the surface as being particularly important.

Of course, leaders have to provide direction, make tough important decisions, give speeches and lead strategic initiatives. But realistically they also have to build trust in themselves and the organisation through their leadership. Directly related to this is the oft-discussed activity of listening, which is to some extent common sense but is also part-science and part-art.

Continue Reading Listening by leaders – it’s part-science, part-art

My colleague Jordan Furlong and I penned an article in August 2014 on NewLaw  for the ALPMA website. In that we defined NewLaw as “any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”.

We featured some firms as examples of NewLaw, including some from Australasia. At the time it was quite easy to identify firms ‘doing something different’. In the short time since then, this type of ‘new’ simply does not seem so unique and special any more, and a number of firms are doing something in this space.

We didn’t mention Nexus Law Group then, mainly as we didn’t know of them or what they were in the process of doing. That has changed: Nexus Law seems to be getting a lot of attention and recognition and it appears, for good reason. Continue Reading New angle on NewLaw

There are many interesting and innovative structural and strategic options for law firms nowadays which can be attractive to clients. It is wise for these to be considered in planning for your future.

The way legal services are delivered to clients and how firms are structured to do so, should undergo a significant transformation. This must also be factored into planning for the future.

So-called ‘NewLaw’ firms have been quick to capitalise on the opportunities this has presented, with an array of innovative structures and service delivery models all of their own. In this way they are determining their firms’ destinies, rather than having this dictated to them by market forces.

You can learn about these transformative practices as well at a Masterclass Workshop to be presented by my Edge International colleague, Jordan Furlong.

Jordan (at Edge we call him our ‘futurist guru’!) is a leading legal industry analyst, commentator and consultant, and will provides practical advice for traditional law firms looking to import and integrate relevant ”NewLaw” features into their businesses, in order to position themselves for their chosen future.  Jordan will be supported at the workshop by new Edge International Australia principal, Dr Neil Oakes.

Continue Reading Determine your law firm’s destiny

Performance Reviews should have as their main purpose to assist the person concerned to reach their full potential and succeed. Unfortunately both terminology and practice don’t always serve to achieve this. This does not have to be so.

It seems a momentum is developing in the corporate world for organisations to move away from performance reviews, certainly the once a year, formal jobs. It is only a matter of time before this trend gets some traction within the professional services market. I would caution against this. The rationale about moving away from performance reviews seems to be:

  • once a year is not enough and is far too long a gap between ‘discussions’;
  • they are not popular;
  • they are not done well;
  • they are often disguised as something else (e.g. a retrenching tool);
  • they don’t achieve what they should.

While all of these points may be true in many cases it is not necessarily a good reason to not have them. It has always been a concern for me what they are termed and how performance reviews are conducted and perceived in both the corporate and professional services worlds. As a result they certainly don’t do what they are meant to and are most often even resented.

Continue Reading Don’t rush to join the ‘anti-Performance Review’ herd!

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Picking and grooming the right successor in the context of the firm’s future strategic needs is arguably one of the most important duties every partner should have and carry out. Few do.

Arguably one of the most important things a partner should and can do for his or her firm before he/she retires is choose and groom a suitable successor. Given the ageing in the profession worldwide in recent decades succession is a subject that is getting more and more attention, and rightly so.

More and more clients are wanting advice on how to address succession within their firms. A common theme one comes across however is that it is assumed there is some sort of single system or process one can put in place which will address the matter and that will be that. It is also sometimes assumed the issue can be addressed ex post facto, sort of ‘in arrears’, and all will be well. Unfortunately it is not so easy, nor should it be. It is far too complex a subject for that to be the case. These are some of the many reasons why succession is not properly addressed by professional service firms.

For instance, for the right person to succeed a partner it would normally take years or even decades of preparation by both the partner retiring and the successor in relation to his or her personal brand, , technical skills, practice area, industry sector, staff and most importantly, clients. There are many things that need to be taken into account and put in place over time.

It is relatively easy to do a quick test on how your firm is travelling in the area of succession. Think of the last half dozen partners who retired or left the firm. How many developed suitable successors who covered the items mentioned above? Go further, ask how many left anything of lasting benefit in the firm? You may be surprised and saddened at the outcome.

Continue Reading Partner succession is not a standalone

Stick figure in thought small
Challenging circumstances often cause leaders to revert to their default leadership styles. instead, matching, switching or combining styles can be much more effective.

A senior leader of a corporate client recently expressed frustration  at one of her senior manager’s continued dogmatic, almost autocratic style of leadership, which was beginning to irk a number of people in and around his team. In his defence he was only trying to get everyone else to respond to emergency situations as assertively as he did, but it nevertheless seemed to be heading for real issues, and possibly even a disastrous situation for the manager and organisation.

It seemed that due to his background (para-military) and personality, he was defaulting to using his usual or trained style of leadership in all circumstances.  He was not consciously aware of adapting this style to match the demands of the situation or people he was dealing with.

It reminded me of an article I read some time ago by Daniel Goleman which provided a handy summary of some of these leadership styles and when they could and should be used. He includes a handy table in the article which I have shared with many clients.

Continue Reading Matching, combining or switching leadership styles

In talking about client relations lawyers like to talk about the importance of using simple English, killing clients with kindness and generally keeping things simple for clients. It seems years of training and our natural lawyerly DNA inhibits this. So, instead, we are killing clients with complexity and bloody mindedness. Clients use this as yet another reason (did they need another?) to try to get their ‘legal’ work done elsewhere (i.e. outside the legal profession), sometimes at all costs.

Yes, that complicated mess is the array of plugs and wires for an office building! Something like the complex layers of mush some lawyers seem to be making of clients’ favourite projects! (Photo Credit: Bitterjug via Compfight cc)

This was brought home to me twice in the last month in conversations with clients, both interestingly enough experienced lawyers themselves.

The first client, let’s call her Sue, heads up a very sizable charity and has recently been involved in some very large commercial transactions worth millions of dollars. As most will know many charities have been forced to fend for themselves nowadays and so engage actively in supportive commercial activities. Inevitably Sue had to engage lawyers. Her legal bill with her main firm amounted to millions of dollars per annum.

Continue Reading Killing clients with complexity – be sure to recognise and address it

NewLaw, particularly in Australasia, has quietly begun to call some shots, pushing old ways (and larger firms) aside, winning some important chunks of work and clients, and recruiting top people in the process. (Sean Larkan – Edge International)

I recently posted on nimbler firms chipping away at others’ brands. Well, it seems they have been at it again – baking some more of BigLaw’s cake and eating a few more slices along the way.

Following this theme, an Edge colleague (Jordan Furlong) and I recently published a short Inventory of NewLaw in Australia focusing on what some smaller and mid-tier firms have been up to. The definition we used for NewLaw was:

“Any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”

This definition allowed us to encompass not just law firms, but also new legal talent combinations, legal service managers and legal technology that both changes how lawyers practice and places the power of legal service provision in clients’ hands. We decided not to include American legal documets and consumer law portals, innovative legal companies and technologies whose primary focus is the marketing or management of law practices or e–discovery providers or accountants

I have long been an admirer of the mid-tier in Australasia – about a decade ago people were about to write them off but they have bounced back and then some. This has translated for them too – many are earning the same and more than the top ten, and doing some really exciting and innovative things into the bargain which is going to set them up against all comers for the future.

Continue Reading Well dang! Those nimble NewLaw firms are at it again!

Pollinate Energy a small social enterprise start-up and brainchild of a group of young Gen-Y Aussies has found a way to get inexpensive light into tens of thousands of Indian homes. Visit www.pollinateenergy.org.

Remembering back to when I helped run large law firms I recall how impressed we often were with the energy, enthusiasm and good ideas that came out of our young people, especially when it related to helping others. We’d heard all the stories and media reports of the so-called ‘me’ or ‘my’ generations but in practice found the opposite was generally true.

On this theme, some months back I posted an article about the things we learn from young people (involving my son and his best mate, and the funds they had raised cycling and mountain biking for a charity) – well, it turns out the story had an even happier ending, as they went on to do a third ride and managed to reach their target of $100 000 for Youth Focus, a charitable enterprise in West Australia which supports young people at risk of suicide.

Continue Reading Gen-Y comes through, again. . . and makes light of darkness