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Comfort object: the way we’ve always done it isn’t always the way to do it

I'm handed lawyer business cards quite regularly. In fact, I have a substantial collection. They're like my bobbleheads. After a while, you sort of become numb to the hand-off: Quick glance to get the name down, into the shirt pocket (at least, that's where mine go for storage). After a little while longer, you sort of become numb to the process, as well: Scan the card to populate a new contact within your case management system, and slot the card into your overflowing storage box.

Last week, I was waiting for valet service to return my car (not a regular occurrence, which makes the forthcoming narration possible), and I was just sort of hanging out outside without a whole lot going on. So, I started shuffling through the business cards I was given that day, because I don't have a smartphone upon which to play Candy Crush or do SnapChat. In an unscientific survey, I discovered that every card I was given had a fax line listed.

This begs the question: Do any of these attorneys actually want me to send them a fax? My educated guess would be that, if I did, their reactions could be placed somewhere along the continuum of disappointment → disgust → indignation → psychotic rage. I mean, even if you're an elder law attorney (and even ignoring the fact that you'll most often be dealing with the children of elders), do you really need to provide a fax line? If people want to fax you, won't they ask? Haven't email attachments taken up the slack for the fax? Will anyone actually make the decision to retain an attorney based on whether that attorney has offered up a fax line, or not? No way. So, why is the fax number a ubiquitous business card line item?

Well, it's probably because, each time since 1977 that the decision to reprint business cards has come up, the attorney in charge of such things has approved the existing design and inclusions in reliance upon nothing more than a cursory glance. Certainly, this is a function of many things, including the general busy office to which a lawyer is subjected, and the existence of the traditional law firm decision matrix that anything outside of billable work is not worthy of depth of consideration. But, there is another pervasive aspect of that kind of oldthink at play here, too: the default mechanism that "it's the way we've always done it." It starts with seconding a choice made the prior year; and then, like an advancing root system, it comes to dominate multiple decision trees. This method of managing eventually becomes subconscious; then, your firm is on autopilot, hurtling toward stagnation.

Sure, it's just a fax number, but, if it's not on your business card for a specific, identifiable reason, it may be symptomatic of a larger issue creeping through your law firm management technique.

. . .

For less arcane marketing and management tips, attend the Massachusetts Bar Association's Fourth Annual Super Marketing Conference: Building Relationships to Build Business, on June 5 at Suffolk University Law School, or online.

  • MBA members can access a $50 discount by selecting the "Co-Sponsoring Organization" rate when registering.
  • 2013 & 2014 law school graduates may attend for FREE by selecting the "Current Suffolk Student" option when registering.

For conference news, follow the hashtag #LHLM and check out our media sponsor, Attorney at Work, for program updates.

Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published May 22, 2014

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To learn more about the Law Practice Management Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members, contact LPM Section Chair Cynthia E. MacCausland or Vice Chair Damian J. Turco.
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