Google is Not your Audience

Audience at Humanities Theatre by Mohammad Jangda from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Audience at Humanities Theatre by Mohammad Jangda from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week, I was talking with a fellow lawyer who wants to write more posts on his firm’s blog and to create a system for lawyers in the firm to regularly contribute posts. We talked about strategies for generating ideas for posts and ways to keep everyone motivated to create content when it’s their turn.

Then I asked him, “Who is your audience?”
“I guess our initial audience is Google.”

I had to resist the urge to immediately channel my inner Jack Black a la High Fidelity (you can stop watching after 1:46).

I get where he’s going. I suspect his web guy told him that adding content to the firm’s site on a regular basis will help the firm climb the ranks in search results. This is true (based on the current algorithm) but it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to create content. You have to create quality content.

Think beyond search engine results. Think about the big picture – having a blog gives you the opportunity to craft your reputation, the firm’s reputation. Don’t create noise. Write something that you would want to read. If something is interesting enough for you to write about it, it’s probably something that’s going to appeal to your audience, your community.

When it comes to law firm blogs, the audience is one of two groups of people:

  1. Other lawyers who you hope will refer you work
  2. Potential and/or current clients

If your audience is the former, you can use your blog posts to showcase your expertise and mastery of your practice area. Bust out those five-dollar words. Display your intelligence with pride. If your audience is the latter, your audience is people who are looking to you for help. Use your posts to demonstrate that you understand their situations and that you can help solve their problems. Always provide valuable information. Regardless of who your audience, if done well, your blog will instill confidence in your readers and give them a reason to choose you over your competition.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I write to my potential clients’ needs. I prefer to use English instead of legalese. My goals are to be approachable and provide useful information. And it seems to be working – half of my new clients find me after running an internet search related to their problem such as “non-compete agreement Arizona” or “posting my photo without consent.”

I enjoy working with law firms who are ready to make the commitment of maintaining a blog. It’s fun to help them develop their voice as a firm and the best strategy to maintain their commitment to creating content on a regular basis. Lawyers are professional writers, and so it’s not as hard as they fear it will be. I suspect many enjoy using their blogs as a creative outlet related to their work.

If you want to know more about legal blogging, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. If you want to chat with me about maintaining a legal blog, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Invest in Yourself with a Monthly Self-Meeting

Stargazin by Zach Dischner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Stargazin by Zach Dischner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

How much time do you devote each month to your own professional development? I’m serious. When was the last time you took a step back to look at your business as a whole and not just focusing on whatever task is in front of you? I want to share an activity that my business mentor ingrained in me very early in my career as a business owner – a monthly self-meeting. It’s been a pivotal part of my business success. Here’s how I do it:

Within a week of getting my company’s bank statements, I reconcile my accounts and run the following reports for the previous month: profit and loss, cash flow, and balance sheet. I also pull the list of all my income sources from the previous month. I’ll need these for my meeting.

For my self-meeting, I block out 2 hours and remove all distractions. This is my time to focus on me and my business. I start my meeting by writing down (by hand) the celebrations since my last self-meeting. These might be things like a successful end to a client’s case, reaching one of my financial goals, or being selected to speak at a conference. It’s always good to look back and see the progress I’ve made, especially since I’m the only person at Carter Law Firm. It’s easy to focus on what I could be doing to improve that I forget to give myself kudos when it’s earned.

I also look at my networking activities from the past month, what networking events I have coming up, what business ideas I’m toying with, what concerns I have, what opportunities might be on the horizon, and whatever else comes to mind. This is my time to look at my business and process how things are going and where I want to see them in the future. By the end of my self-meeting, I have a list of things I want to accomplish by my next self-meeting. At the subsequent meeting, I will review this list and acknowledge my successes and also look at where I came up short and what contributed to that happening. I also make a list of reflections and write out things that I’ve learned in the last month and what issues are currently important to me.

Then I shift my attention to the company’s financials. I look at where my work is coming from – which tells me what marketing techniques are being effective, what type of legal projects are bringing me the most revenue, and I review my expenses. I maintain two spreadsheets: one tracks how much money I’m making from each type of legal work I do and the other tracks my spending. These spreadsheets help me see month-to-month how money is coming and going from the company and by the end of the year it gives me a clear picture of the state of my business affairs.

Sometimes it’s hard to make my self-meeting a priority, particularly when I’m busy. However, it is enormously helpful in terms of my business development as well as understanding who I am and my priorities as a business owner.

Do you do a periodic self-meeting? What’s your process like?

More Unsolicited Advice for Law Grads in Professional No Man’s Land

Empty Montreal Apartment by Reuben Strayer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Empty Montreal Apartment by Reuben Strayer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week I put out a post about networking tips for new law school grads who are working on their job search while waiting on their bar results. A few days ago I got an email from a law grad who is in this professional no man’s land. She said she’s been trying to network with various lawyers via email and she hasn’t received a response from any of them.

Her email happened to come in while I had some down time and I responded with “give me a call right now.” I think that scared the hell out of her. But a few minutes later my phone rang, and I gave her some off-the-cuff suggestions. Here are some of the ideas I shared with her and some others I’ve thought of since then.

1.  Make sure your email has a clear call to action. Are you asking a question, are you requesting a meeting, what do you want? If you’re looking for advice, be clear about the type of advice you’re looking for. This student was asking for “any advice” which is pretty broad. I suggested she might want to rephrase it and ask the next lawyer “What’s one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your legal career?”

2.  Be thoughtful about your subject line. One of the challenges facing people who send unsolicited emails is inducing the recipient to open the message. Think about what it might take to get through that lawyer’s impulse to delete any email from someone they don’t know.

3.  Ask your career services office what lawyers comes to their events. Those lawyers have a track record of wanting to meet and help law students so they’ll likely help new grads too.

4.  Tap into you network and ask a lawyer you know to introduce you to a specific person you want to meet that they know. You can also ask your contacts if the know the type of lawyer you want to me – i.e., a lawyer who does probate work at a small firm.

5.  Look for lawyers who are active on social media, teach CLEs, and blog. I suspect these lawyers are more likely to talk to strangers via email.

6.  Connect with lawyers you want to meet on social media and look for mutual interests. This could be your “in” with them. For example, if you’re a runner and a lawyer you want to meet is also a runner, ask them how they balance the demands of their job with their training schedule.

7.  Social media could also give you a hook to get into their good graces. For instance, I’ve been following The Namby Pamby online since law school, which included posts about his preferred snacks. If he wasn’t an anonymous lawyer, and I lived in the same city and wanted to meet him, I would send him an email that said, “Can I have 15 minutes to bring you a box of Cheez-its and ask what a typical day is like for you?”

Being in professional No Man’s Land is hard. You may send out dozens of emails before you get a response. Focus on quality, not quantity. And don’t forget about the value of following up. The person may miss your first message in the shuffle of a busy day but your second message may peak their interest or remind them that they meant to respond to you.

And as this one recent law grad learned, if you send me an email, I’ll probably respond. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+, and/or YouTube.

Unsolicited Advice for Law Grads in Professional No Man’s Land

TransparencyCamp 2012 - #tcamp12 social network graph [1/2] by Justin Grimes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

TransparencyCamp 2012 – #tcamp12 social network graph [1/2] by Justin Grimes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I feel for new law school graduates who are in professional limbo. You’ve taken the bar exam but you won’t have results for weeks. You’re starting to look for jobs, but you know a lot of firms aren’t interested in you until you’ve gotten your law license.

If you haven’t secured a job, now is an optimal time to network with lawyers who practice in the type of firm you want to work at or in the area of law you hope to practice. If you started building some of these relationships prior to graduation, reach back out and invite these people to coffee or lunch now that you’ve re-surfaced after the bar exam. (Congrats on taking the bar exam, by the way. That thing’s a bitch!)

If you haven’t formed relationships with the lawyers you hope will become your professional friends and colleagues, there’s no better time to start conversations with them. You want to be top of mind when they hear that their firm or a friend’s firm has an opening for a new associate.

I got a painfully awkward email from a law grad in No Man’s Land this past weekend. I know how hard it is to try to strike up a conversation from nothing but there are ways to make it easier. His email inspired me to share some suggestions to help him and others be more effective when trying to network online.

1.  Start the email with “Dear Mr./Miss.” I will tell you to call me “Ruth” in my response but it’s a sign of respect and decorum to start out by calling the person by their title and last name, bonus points if you know that I am a Captain in Starfleet.

2.  Don’t ask for a job in the first email. Unless the firm is actively hiring, don’t ask about job openings or say that you want to work for me. You want to be building friendships, not working the legal job phone tree. Ideally, you want to build a network of friends, who happen to be lawyers with similar interests, who will come to you when they hear of an opening, not the other way around.

3.  Tell me where you went to law school. If you don’t say what school you graduated from, I’ll assume you’re ashamed of it and I’ll wonder what else you’re hiding.

4. If you tell me you’re “keenly interested” in an area of law I practice, bolster that statement with information about classes you took on the subject, work experience, or even books, blogs, or situations you’ve followed – something that shows your statement is sincere.

5.  Finish your LinkedIn profile. Before I respond to your email, I will look you up on LinkedIn. Make sure your profile at least has a decent photo of you, states where you went to law school, and any internships, clinics, or clubs you were involved in. It’s ok if it doesn’t say what type of law you’re interested in – I know lots of grads will take any job they can get. It would be great if you could get recommendations from your internship and clinic supervisors, but that’s not always possible.

6.  If you’re on Twitter and the person you want to meet is on Twitter, follow them and look for opportunities to converse with them. Ditto for LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube. Feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+, and/or YouTube.

When you send an unsolicited email, ask for a meeting with the person – coffee, lunch, or even just a 20-minute visit or video chat. (If I do coffee with you, I’m probably giving up at least an hour of my day so often times a short visit or video chat is preferred for a first conversation.) If you’re interested in an area of law they practice, ask about what a typical day/week of work is like. Ask them what kind of life they have outside of work – that may open the door to talk about mutual interests/hobbies. Afterwards, send a thank you note and do some type of follow-up within thirty days – send a useful article or just chat with them on social media.

If you’re interested in resources to supplement your job search, I recommend the following books:

I don’t envy anyone who is in post-bar exam No Man’s Land. It was a stagnant time in my life where my professional future was in limbo until I had bar results. I hope you’re enjoying your down time and building towards your professional future.

No Path to Follow When You’re a Non-Traditional Lawyer

Me and the Skies by Jesse! S? from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Me and the Skies by Jesse! S? from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Let me tell you about a pivotal day that happened early in my legal career. I was a second-year law student at Arizona State University. During a study break, I was hanging outside the law library with my classmate Julia who is also one of my best friends. Out of nowhere a thought popped into my head and I blurted out, “I don’t want to be a traditional lawyer.”  She responded with a look that screamed, “Duh.”

It was an incredibly scary moment of clarity for me. By that point, I’d had enough experiences in internships and my pre-law school career that I knew a lot about what I didn’t want in a job. I wasn’t sure how I wanted my future to look, so I had no path to follow to make it happen.

About eighteen months later, I had lunch with the family friend who would become my business mentor. I’d taken the bar exam but I was still waiting on my results. I told her some of my ideas about what I was looking for in a legal career and she bluntly asked, “Why don’t you just start your own practice?” The idea of opening a solo law practice excited and frightened me so much that I started sweating profusely. My dress was soaked by the end of that meal. I knew no one would hire me as a first year associate and let me continue to blog, write, speak, or dig into the depths of topics like social media law and flash mob law.

Besides the basic information about how to start a law practice and practical advice from my mentor about accounting and marketing, I felt like I was operating without a map. It seemed like my classmates had clear paths to follow – paved by the lawyers who came before them – while I had an expanse of beautiful terrain to traverse, but not even a dirt path to guide me. My path and my destinations were for me to determine. This provided a tremendous amount of freedom in my life but also an unsettling amount of uncertainty. I’m grateful that I’ve found fellow adventurers – solo attorneys and other entrepreneurial minds – who have helped me along the way and who I continue to rely on for guidance and support.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t always know what I’m doing. I have goals for the year, but I don’t have a ten-year plan. I let my experience, creativity, and passion guide me. And it’s scary to know that I don’t have a steady paycheck coming every month, but it’s the price I pay to have a life with autonomy.

In everything I do, I try to remain teachable, strive for excellence, and learn all I can about the subjects that intrigue me like persuasive writing and how the law applies to new technology and business practices. I think there’s a lot of change on the horizon, and I want to be part of it.

As I reflect on my life as a non-traditional solo attorney thus far, I find myself thinking of the John Shedd quote, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” I have an amazing opportunity to have the career and the life I’ve always wanted, if I’m willing to take the risk and go after it.

And one of the things I want to do is share more about my behind-the-scenes journey – how I got here, what keeps me going, and the methods I use every day to make my business, and my life, a success. Stay tuned for more about my life as a non-traditional lawyer.

If you’re interested in chatting more, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.  Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Being the Lawyer at Phoenix Comicon

Mike Baron and I speaking on Comic Book Creator Rights at Phoenix Comicon 2014 - Mike says this photo is proof that the "gurus" could not levitate.

Mike Baron and I speaking on Comic Book Creator Rights at Phoenix Comicon 2014 – Mike says this photo is proof that the “gurus” could not levitate.

Earlier this month, I spent the weekend speaking at Phoenix Comicon. I was on two panels: Comic Book Creator Rights (with Mike Baron) and Copyright and Fan Fiction/Art (by myself). The lineup at this year’s event was amazing and included Stan Lee, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, and the original Batman cast (Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar). There were also workshops on writing and costume-making, a huge exhibitor room, and the best geeky game show – The Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown.

Mike Baron

Mike Baron

Needless to say, no one was coming just for me, and I didn’t have line of people waiting to attend either of my panels. But I had about 30 people at each session and those that came were truly interested in the subject matter.

I heard a rumor before my first panel that my co-presenter wasn’t too enthusiastic about being on a panel with a lawyer. We’d never met before and I’m sure he did what I did, which was no advanced research. I bet he assumed I’d be boring, stuffy, dry, and wearing a suit. I suspect he didn’t expect his legal eagle co-presenter to be in jeans and a hot pink t-shirt that said GeekLawFirm.com.

I got to our room before him and I did what I typically do when I present at Phoenix Comicon – I took off my shoes and plopped myself down on top of the table.  There’s something about sitting on the table that makes me feel energized and free-spirited.

Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter

Unfortunately, Mike walked in through the back entrance so I didn’t get to see the look on his face when he first saw me. He said hello and took a seat behind the table but then I declared that we were doing our panel from on top of the table. He humored me and climbed up. (I’m not sure he knew what to think at that moment.) I spent most of our panel gleefully swinging my legs and they dangled over the edge of the table while we fielded the audience’s questions.

About halfway through our panel one of the event photographers popped in to take some shots of us. He later told me that he’d never seen anyone present from on top of their table. He seemed pretty amused when he saw the two of us sitting cross-legged on top of the table. (I sit cross-legged when the photographer comes in because I think it looks cute in the photos, but I usually uncross my legs once they leave because it’s not that comfortable.)

Our panel went really well. I provided some basic information about copyright, trademarks, and contract terms, and he got to talk about how these things actually play out in the professional comic writing world. I think it was great balance between academic and practical knowledge from both of our perspectives.

I often forget that there’s a strong stereotype about what a lawyer is and that many people assume that I’m boring and that my material is dry. When people ask me to speak at their event, it’s not uncommon for them to say, “She’s a lawyer, but she’s not that kind of lawyer,” when they tell people about me.

Hmm . . . maybe I should have business cards printed that say, “Ruth Carter, Esq., Not That Kind Of Lawyer.”

Photos by Erik Hawkinson, used with permission.