It seems to me that most lawyers are still yelling about how experienced they are, how hard they fight, and generally how great they are, and missing the tribe building and leading idea. At least that’s what the internet tells me.

I know, I know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. But does this approach still work in today’s evolving online socially networked world?

It’s been almost 4 years since Seth Godin told us to focus on leading tribes. And sure, tribe building and leading works for navigating technology (selling ipads) and discussing shoe preferences (zappos). But does tribe building work for lawyers? Do you know lawyers who are successfully building and leading tribes?

What’s this tribe thing all about?

In case this is the first time you’re hearing about this tribe-leading idea, I encourage you to read Seth’s book (and his other books), subscribe to his blog and watch this video:

Law firm factories, advertising and tribes

In his Ted talk, Seth discuss 3 cycles: factories, TV advertising and tribe leadership. We can think of law firms that fall into each of these.

Factory law firms work to churn out clients and fees. But, just as Seth describes with traditional factories, these firms need ever-cheaper labor and ever-cheaper ways to churn out fees. Which often results in poorer client service & unhappy clients.

TV advertising law firms, of which there is no shortage, interrupt, push and shout. They spend a lot of money hitting you with their message:

(TVB citing Kantar Media study)

If I can just get enough money to tell enough people about what we do, we’ll get a lot of clients and fees. But this just isn’t working as well as it used to (see dvr players).

Then there are those few lawyers who have bought into the tribe-leading idea. They are trying to be leaders. They are trying to build tribes. Unfortunately, many of them who think that they’ve adopted the tribe mantra, are really just doing more advertising. Of course, there are some who are really leading, but there are many others that are merely applying the old advertising model onto internet media.

And so, we get oodles of web spam.

Can lawyers really build tribes?

When confronted with the tribe leading concepts, most lawyers with whom I talk respond with the, “that doesn’t work for my practice”, objection. They see how it can work for the business examples that Seth provides, but they just don’t see how it applies to their practice.

And frankly, I don’t blame them. It’s hard to challenge the status quo. It’s hard to have a good idea. It’s hard to tell a story. It’s hard to publish stuff online that people actually care about. But it’s not impossible. But difficulty doesn’t make it any less relevant to your business, I mean practice.

It seems to me that too many lawyers focus on the how to reach their audiences and not enough on who these people are and what the message is these lawyers are trying to convey.

Ask yourself Seth’s 3 questions:

The first one is, who exactly are you upsetting? Because if you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo. The second question is, who are you connecting? Because for a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for: the connections that are being made, one to the other. And the third one is, who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it — not the mechanics of what you’re building, but the who, and the leading part — is where change comes.

  • What’s your story?
  • Who is your audience (tribe)?
  • How can you connect with them?

Don’t get caught up in the logistics and mechanics. For one simplistic example, when it comes to using social networking tools, don’t spend so much time fretting about what time you’re sending your tweets, but who you’re engaging and what you’re adding to the conversation.

Admittedly, this post is short on practical tips. Perhaps it’s just a suggestion or reminder. Really, I’d like to get a sense of what you think about tribe building for law firms.

Do you know any legal tribe leaders? Who are they? What stories are they telling? How are they identifying and connecting with their audiences?