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A big law firm has few ways to show the universe of potential clients that the firm is full of able, knowledgeable lawyers who are pining to help them out of their stickiest jams. One way is to launch a national television advertising campaign; Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s $3.5 million series of four spots on CNN in 2001 may have helped stave off (or was it accelerate?) the firm’s ultimate bankruptcy by days, if not weeks. A second way is to arrange for the firm’s name partner to take tremendously high-profile cases, a task that is easier for firms with name partners who are either a) still alive, or b) David Boies. A third way is to place airport billboards displaying pictures of amusing animals; the Womble Carlyle bulldog looks as if he’d give great ERISA counseling. Banner advertising on a financial Web site is a fourth, largely untried, way, but that’s beyond the scope of this column (interested firms should not hesitate to contact me). HAPPY LAW FIRMS Offering continuing legal education is easier and less expensive than any of the mechanisms listed above (except for the Web site advertising � why haven’t you called?), and it provides lawyers with the opportunity to improve their own practical knowledge while demonstrating their prowess to potential clients. As a general counsel in the D.C. area for the past seven years, and a veteran of more than 20 hours of CLE in the past three months (thanks to California’s triennial CLE compliance period), I have seen the strategic benefits firms can derive from conducting CLE programs. Unfortunately, by sowing anxiety and demonstrating poor social skills, law firms often squander their chance to dazzle. Providing CLE benefits firms, even if they’re not attempting to market themselves. First, CLE gives firms opportunities for internal professional development and knowledge management � the chance to convey information from their lawyers who know something to their colleagues who know nothing. CLE programs can highlight the lawyers at a firm who understand a subject, and a firm attorney who attends a presentation can later draw upon the PowerPoint slides that he saw to convince a client that he grasps the latest FCC VOIP ruling, at least until he can contact the colleague who does. Second, CLE encourages firms to develop their expertise. Associates can be assigned to research topics and brief their mentors or present by themselves, perhaps the closest they’ll get to actual trial experience for the first several years of their big-firm careers. It is wise to give the junior lawyers more time to prepare than the night before the presentation. Many lawyers use presentations at the high-profile American Law Institute- American Bar Association or Practising Law Institute programs to trumpet their talents. Quality aside, those independent programs may lag at marketing a firm, because (unlike all but the most dysfunctional firm programs), presenters must share the spotlight with competitors, who may expose their ignorance and humiliate them. Firms may join with accountants, insurers, security consultants, or other vendors to cosponsor programs. Aside from sharing the costs, vendors can provide useful information, as well as contribute to the atmosphere of professional cronyism that clients may have come to expect. HAPPY CLIENTS Firm CLE can be attractive to potential clients’ in-house counsel, who often may influence, if not determine, the employer’s choice of outside counsel. First, unlike fancy programs in exotic locales (even cruise ships!), firm programs are often free (sometimes even including parking!), which can be important for counsel whose budgets may barely include off-peak Metro rides. Although Internet-based CLE may attract frugal in-house counsel, firm CLE is even more attractive because it’s cheaper. Furthermore, firm CLE doesn’t require attendees to watch low-resolution video from bizarre camera angles, or strain to hear inaudible audience questions. To be fair, Internet CLE does permit counsel to fulfill CLE obligations at their desks or, thanks to wireless networks, while bathing or watching “The Simpsons,” experiences that are rarely possible during firm events. Firm CLE also gives in-house counsel the chance to see the team that would handle their projects, how they work together, and how they treat each other. A quick and sneaky general counsel can even get legal advice without getting billed for it. The best method is to present a problem in general terms, perhaps using misdirection, as in, “Speaking of golf, have you ever heard of a company that recognized revenue for its employees’ 401(k) match, and would Eliot Spitzer come and hurt me if we stopped now?” Finally, some in-house counsel may attend firm CLE because they are lonely, are looking for new jobs, want to show that their companies still exist, or, in the rare, extreme case, want a free meal. Those attorneys arrive late (or early), sit in the back, and help themselves to several sandwiches and cookies (that description may apply to firm partners, too). In-house attorneys with such sad objectives will attend virtually any program, so a firm trying to attract them need not read the rest of this column. FEAR Despite generally friendly audiences, law firms often blow the opportunity to gain a new client’s faith, trust, and budget through a set of common mistakes. A firm’s most important task while pursuing a client is to convince the relevant decision-maker that spending time with the firm will reduce stress and increase happiness, however the client defines those terms. Too often, though, firms in their CLE presentations increase both stress and misery, through programs that are merely harrowing or personally unpleasant. For marketing purposes, the best CLE presentation should follow the following sequence: 1) A particular peril, which you didn’t know about, is causing trouble for many people. 2) The problem is hard to understand and complicated, risky, and tedious to address. 3) We, the law firm, have addressed a large number of these situations, including the most complex. Here is the map of the route by which we will cross the valley of the shadow of death to the shining city on a hill. 4) By the way, we have a great, deep team, including both wise partners and bright (cheap) associates. 5) When we get to that shining city, we’ll drink some hot chocolate together. In more concrete terms: 1) As we travel with clients along the Yellow Brick Road, we’ve seen some vicious flying monkeys. 2) Those flying monkeys have carried off a number of people who’ve been seeking the Wizard of Oz. 3) The best way to defeat those monkeys is by detecting them with radar and shooting them down with smart missiles. 4) By the way, one partner who will speak during the CLE presentation won the 1991 Patriot missile championship (Kuwait Division), and her associate was the 2002 laser missile champion (Afghanistan Invitational). We typically invite clients over for missile training, then we all head out for a flying monkey safari. 5) When we get back to Kansas, there will be no place like home. Many firms go awry at or before the third step. They emphasize the terror of a situation, without explaining how mutual endeavor can overcome it. In legal terms, it’s as if they were to say that under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board may break the thumbs of any corporate director who fails to certify a company’s financial statement in a special blue ink, which only the firm knows how to make, rather than explaining the ingredients that are necessary for the ink and offering to help combine them. Perhaps these firms believe that despairing potential clients will come to them, seeking shelter from the storm, or perhaps they fear that if they share too much practical information, clients will not need their help. But despair paralyzes, and potential clients who associate the law firm with feelings of anxiety, rather than confidence, may decide that if they are doomed anyway, they might as well stick with their prior lawyers, who don’t nauseate them. REVULSION Perhaps because those of us who had social skills went to business school, firms may alienate potential clients through arrogance or indifference. Even if the firm dazzles the audience with its brilliance, it still must convince clients to trust its attorneys in times of peril and opportunity. It’s hard for clients to embrace those from whom they feel contempt. For example, at one (relatively unobjectionable) presentation on intellectual property in Washington last year, the lawyers at the extremely prestigious firm sponsoring the event spent most of the “networking” time talking amongst themselves; the only attorney who spoke to me was from a rival firm, whom I may very well hire if we have matters calling for his expertise. (Also, the orange juice was oddly sour and the melon was not ripe, but that’s a topic to discuss later.) Firms should remember the rules that apply to small children at their birthday parties. When you invite people to your home or office, welcome the guests and, even though you are doing them the favor of letting them bask in the sunlight of your expertise and eat your birthday cake, don’t treat them as if you’re doing them a favor. Firms should also be aware that the accountants and insurers that frequently cosponsor their CLE events might not be able to remedy personality shortcomings, although insurance salespeople occasionally tell amusing jokes. THE WAY TO A CLIENT’S HEART? Few in-house counsel select firms based upon the food they serve, and fewer still will admit doing so (unless the food is barbecue, or the mint pie that I ate at a 1986 insurance arbitration conference in Hartford). Nevertheless, food offers another opportunity to provide either comfort or anxiety. It can be stressful to approach a serving table on which there may not be enough food, where the sandwich fillings are indistinguishable, or where the selection may not meet an individual’s dietary needs. Gourmet food is unnecessary (and may imply that the firm’s billing rates are too high), but it would be prudent to offer a vegan option and, for those avoiding carbohydrates, suet wrapped in lettuce leaves. Conversely, Rice Krispies squares make almost everyone happy, except when hungry lawyers resort to fisticuffs over the last one. Providing legal education may be a cost-effective way for a firm to educate potential clients about its capabilities, as well as substantive areas of the law. Too many firms, though, scare away potential clients, through presentations that evoke stress without inspiring confidence and trust, and through alienating the clients through apparent arrogance. To use CLE for marketing, firms need to improve both their presentations and their personae, so that they can alleviate clients’ anxiety and empower them to overcome the challenges they face. Some firms, though, may find that the frightening faces they present to clients are not fa�ades, and those firms may need to try to attract clients through pyrotechnics and lavish entertainment. Lawrence Greenberg is the chief legal officer of The Motley Fool Inc. (www.fool.com), a financial information and education company based in Alexandria, Va., and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.

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