Brown

The majority of the Western world's population views New Year's resolutions as commitments that are easier to break than make.

For those people who still believe the new year is an opportunity to end unhealthy habits, such lifestyle changes -- both personal and professional -- can become the wisest steps they've ever taken. Ambitious individuals usually make up advantageous law firms, and many attorneys are resolving to turn mediocre efforts into the best practices of 2008.

* Law firm Web site "hygiene" is an act of keeping content clean, current, and clutter-free. Most homepages suffer from staleness, in that news stories linger for months without being updated with fresh information.

If a Webmaster hasn't been tapped as the guardian of all things posted, then many sites risk becoming neglected, which can be a symbol of inattentiveness to detail. To clients, this reflects laziness, and that behavior might carry over into legal work.

Getting a law firm "in shape," consultants stress, begins with a Web site makeover.

* The concept of "work/life balance" has become less of a conversation topic and more of a law firm program. Managers are looking for unique ways to retain female lawyers and managers who believe motherhood is as important as a successful career.

Many women who report professional dissatisfaction blame the problem on management's inflexibility and the pressure to ignore personal commitments and family obligations. Creative working arrangements keep both mothers and fathers from having to choose between parenthood and partnership.

* Today's client wants to know how a firm embraces diversity, and frequently asks to read an official statement or plan that addresses gender, nationality, race, orientation, religion, marital status, and other personal interests.

Many larger market firms have hired diversity program coordinators to focus on creating a new culture that emphasizes how individual differences build valuable legal practices. Firms are redirecting marketing budgets to the development of diversity programs, which usually require a particular level of expertise if such efforts are going to succeed.

* Technology specialists advise law firm committee leaders to invest in enterprise database systems for research purposes, which should be the backbone of all marketing and client relations activities.

While some firms still operate through a hodgepodge of contact databases and business card spreadsheets, industry gurus claim that tracking systems must be implemented if attorneys want to be competitive.

By investing in one primary source of firm intelligence, no lawyer can complain that he or she didn't know something about someone.

Ironically, relationship marketing often begins with a click of a mouse, and then a personal handshake.

* Finally, if a law firm wants to better itself, then the first question to be asked is whether the lawyers feel they truly know who they are as a whole. Firm identities are often defined by slogans and logos, both of which serve a purpose in communicating image, but rarely reflect authenticity.

Since most tag lines and artwork are developed by outside creative agencies, a firm's image is built by people who don't always understand lawyers or the clients who hire them. Strategic differentiation is the process of knowing what a firm stands for and the services it provides to clients, which no other firm can deliver in the same way or with the same talent.

In an era of one-stop shopping and being all things to all people, consultants remind law firm marketers to narrow their focus and mindset. By zooming in on the singular characteristic that defines a firm's true essence rather than generic descriptions, marketers can help lawyers retain the clients they have been searching for.

Best practice resolutions seem to run parallel to the average person's annual dedication to improving their look, regaining a balance of commitments, accepting change without hesitation, getting better organized, defining their true sense of self, and finding that special someone. Despite the similarities, New Year's resolutions range in complexity and demand, which may be the reason why most people "crash" within the first weeks of January.

Perhaps modern society should learn from the simplicities of ancient Babylon, the birthplace of New Year traditions. Four thousand years ago, the most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC, a writing and editing agency based in Charleston. She can be reached via e-mail at thewriteword@suddenlink.net.




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