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Ari Kaplan Advisors

Reinventing Professional Services – Top 5 Tips For Lawyers

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Ari Kaplan’s new book, Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace addresses the question of how professionals can integrate new technologies into their businesses to be more influential and effective.  Loaded with resources and stories from professionals in all industries, Ari’s book provides suggestions about how to use social media, blogging, e-newsletters, and video/audio recordings that makes them less daunting.

As I read this book, I reflected on the legal profession, which has the stereotypes of being dignified and particular, and where deviating from the norm is often frowned upon.  Many lawyers and law firms shy away from online resources and tools.  Perhaps this is because of the strict rules in the profession about advertising and soliciting clients, or because members the profession have a low tolerance for making mistakes.

I’ve compiled the top five lessons lawyers can integrate from this book into their professional lives.

1.       Social Media is a Tool, not the Goal.
It seems that a lot of professionals think that having a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, or a blog is enough, but then they never use them.  Doing this is like buying a hammer and never building anything.  These professionals do not understand that these are tools to communicate more effectively with other professionals and clients.  These are merely channels to “cultivate relationships.”  These are fantastic tools for building trust by being genuine and consistent.  Using these tools is not a one-time event; it requires “habitual participation.”

2.       Be a “Visible Enthusiastic Expert.”
This is one of the best lessons I took from this book.  Being a visible enthusiastic expert means being part of the online conversation on topics where you have interest and expertise.  It’s important to contribute “rich content” and to convey your passion.  Conversing with other experts in an online forum is an effective way to become associated with them.  Even the simple act of sharing a link to another’s work shows that you are aware and informed about a topic.  Additionally, being transparent about who you are and what you can do without being a salesperson conveys to others that you care about a particular issue or population.

3.       Pick Your Targets.
Having a solid online presence is a good start, but it’s not the end.  When there are people you want to connect with, you have to reach out to them.  Don’t wait for them to find you.  Websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are instant ice-breakers for introducing yourself to new people.  They provide comfortable opportunities to ask a person for advice or for an informational interview.  If your first attempt at interaction fails to produce the desired result, be sure to follow up.

4.       Do Not Be Afraid to Fail.
Law students are instilled with the notion that they must always be perfect – perfect appearance, perfect cover letters, perfect work product, etc.  They graduate thinking the worst thing they could do is misspell a word on an email.  This can make them gun shy to try new things.  Ari’s book demonstrates that most of these new tools are easier to use than you think.  He encourages readers to consider who they want to connect with, where they are interacting, and to join the conversation.  He promises that you will fail some of the time, and that’s ok.  If you try using an e-newsletter and it doesn’t work for you, you can use another tool like blogging or LinkedIn to reach your audience.  Figuring out what works for you and your business is part of the process.

5.       Never Forget the Value of In-Person Contact
Using technology to communicate with someone is less intimidating than picking up the phone; however it is more impersonal.  Nothing will ever replace face-to-face contact, which is more personal and memorable.  It is important to look for opportunities to meet people in person whenever possible and to continue to build relationships with thoughtful follow up.

Using these tips and tools requires willingness and commitment.  The potential benefits of using technology should overpower any fears that come with trying new things.  Always keep in mind that these tools are to facilitate interaction, not for self-promotion.

Ari Kaplan, a Fastcase50 honoree, is the principle of Ari Kaplan Advisors in New York City and the author of The Opportunity Maker, Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (Thomson-West, 2011).  I bartered this blog post in exchange for a copy of his new book. 

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Bar Exam Wisdom from Legal All-Stars

The bar exam is tomorrow!  I’m praying that what everyone has told me about law school and bar exam prep being harder than the bar exam is true.  I’m ready to kick this test’s ass and to get it behind me.

I have met some amazing legal minds during law school.  I asked a few of them to share some final words of wisdom.

“Don’t try too hard. All you have to do is pass; you don’t have to ace the test.”
Sam Glover, Lawyerist editor-in-chief and ABA Legal Rebel

Bring it on!

Image by pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold via Flickr

“Trust your preparation.  I had the good fortune of studying for the 1997 New York and New Jersey bar exams with my wife (my girlfriend at the time) who was the smartest law student I knew (and is now the most gifted lawyer I know).  If you sincerely completed all of the practice questions and tests the course required, and trained yourself to respond (correctly as often as possible) within the allotted time, you should pass.  That said, I still remember feeling intimidated after seeing the person sitting next to me smiling widely before the exam began on the first day at the Javits Center.  In response, I lowered my head and simply tried to concentrate on the test.  Block out all distractions and solely focus on your goal of passing.  Then, once it is over, let it go and enjoy some time off.”
Ari Kaplan, founder of Ari Kaplan Advisors and author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace

“It is a stupid test. Most of the time, people less intelligent than you pass it. Sometimes people smarter than you fail it. If you pass, you get to be an attorney. If you fail, you cannot immediately be an attorney. Either way, you are a winner of sorts. Eat a decent breakfast and completely wipe the test out of your mind after the last question. Most people use the bar exam as another reason to be unhappy and stressed out. Don’t do that.”
Tyler Coulson, former associate of Sidley Austin, left his law firm to walk across the US with his dog

“Hyperventilating won’t help. Really. The day before the VA bar exam (my first bar exam), I had this mini-panic attack. I suddenly felt the weight of it. However, after a glimpse of rationale thought, I decided that, with less than 24 hours to go, I was better just taking the day easy and letting fate – or rather all of my hard work – take its course. Worrying can be productive but not when it is time to perform.  If you have studied, then simply go out and play your legal instrument. This is one of the last tests of your life where 75-90% will pass. Listen to the symphony in your head and play elegantly.”
Mark Britton, founder of Avvo and ABA Legal Rebel

At this point, there’s nothing more we can do but to walk into the test and do what we know how to do: kick ass.

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