The shift in the balance of power towards consumers means less “shouting” (marketing) about your product or service, according to Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder.

"Before if you were making a product, the right business strategy was to put 70% of your attention, energy, and dollars into shouting about a product, and 30% into making a great product. So you could win with a mediocre product, if you were a good enough marketer. That is getting harder to do. The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies…the individual is empowered… The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. If I build a great product or service, my customers will tell each other."

See the Bezos interview and transcript.

The legal services industry has seen a similar shift in power from lawyer to client and a correspondingly greater emphasis on providing better quality legal service for less money, as described, among other places, by author and lawyer Pat Lamb in Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market.   This is the "new normal" to which most law firms must adapt or die.  But does this mean that the need for shouting by the new normal firm is significantly reduced?  For now at least, the answer is no.

Here’s why.

New Normal Firms Need Early Adopters

For new normal firms to continue to gain traction and thrive in the current market place, they need to expand the pipeline of work in their respective practice areas.  The reality is that the group of clients who currently are most likely to hire these firms, i.e., the early adopters, tend to be less sophisticated consumers of legal services.  Think emerging growth or early stage technology companies with no in-house legal department and a history of little or no litigation.  Often for the first time, they are confronted with litigation challenging their ownership and use of the software, processes or other intellectual property the business needs to survive.  Making matters worse is that the business-threatening litigation has been filed in  a "plaintiff friendly" venue outside the client’s home forum.

Early Adopters Need Help Finding New Normal Firms

With little or no experience hiring outside counsel and even more limited connections, the early adopters tend to fall back on subjective and anecdotal information provided by a limited group of non-lawyer engineers, scientists or early stage angel or VC investors whose knowledge is typically limited to "old normal"  firms using hourly based fee structures.  The old normal firms further confuse matters by proposing discounts on hourly rates or capped hourly fees and falsely describing them as "alternative"  "value" or "client-focused" fees.

Not surprisingly, the early adopter clients tend to come to the new normal firm after first having been channeled through an hourly firm only to come to shocking realization, usually after a month or two of billings, that the old normal way of doing things is far too expensive – it does them no good to ultimately win on the merits where the cost incurred in obtaining this result have run the business into the ground.  The slow trickle of early adopters that limp into the new normal firms in these circumstances is not of a sufficient rate to create a robust contribution to the overall pipeline of firm business.

On-line Shouting: Google AdWords

So shouting is necessary, but simply shouting through more traditional channels such as papering the market with carefully vetted (= too long and boring) white papers, being interviewed in the local legal publication,  speaking at lawyer associations or playing golf with the in-house lawyers etc. won’t work because this does not reach the target audience – it literally does not put new normal firms on the early adopter’s screen.

Which brings us to Internet search.  ALL early adopters use this resource, which means new normal firms may need to shout in this on-line space using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising such as Google AdWords.  In its simplest form, with AdWords an advertiser (such as a lawyer) targets the words that prospective clients might search using Google (e.g., "IP litigation attorney").  When someone searches using these words, the lawyer’s 4-line advertisement may show up above or to the right of the search results.  The lawyer does not pay for the ad to appear but does pay when someone clicks on the lawyer’s ad and then is whisked away to the lawyer’s website.

Make no mistake, shouting is not the exclusive requirement for expanding the new normal firm’s pipeline.   A good case has been made for use of social and professional networking to reach interested clients.  Also crucial is investing the money and effort necessary to achieve results that delight the client and create goodwill necessary to attract more business.  Nonetheless, shouting is a necessary bow in the new normal firm’s business generation quiver.

Still to Come:

Before we spend any more time on Google AdWords, is it even allowed under current professional ethics rules?  See future installment Shouting (Part II).

Assuming it is allowed, is shouting through Google AdWords worth the time and money?   See future installment Shouting (Part III).