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Announcing Your Firm via E-mail? Better Not E-glut!

By Henry Gottlieb

When those 4-by-6-inch envelopes with raised lettering arrive in lawyers' mail, they're bound to be professional announcements. Good old what's-his-name has started or joined a firm and wants to spread the news elegantly, on ecru cards, maybe even with a gold border.

Litigator E. Drew Britcher, who gets such cards all the time, says: "You think, 'this is nice,' you look at it and you drop it in the garbage."

So when Britcher and Armand Leone formed a new partnership in Glen Rock last month, they vowed to make their announcement more memorable than the usual throwaway.

They created an electronic slide presentation that touted their talents, and sent copies to 1,000 lawyers by e-mail. That made them pioneers in the field of e-announcements, and other attorneys who contemplate mass e-mails with glitzy attachments may benefit from their experience. Not all of it was good.

Britcher says most recipients who reacted said "wow," but one out-of-state lawyer accused the firm of e-glut: sending junk mail, or spam.

After years of working alone or in firms dominated by others, Leone, a physician-lawyer, teamed up with Britcher, a certified civil trial lawyer. Almost 90 percent of their practice is for medical malpractice plaintiffs.

For help with their startup marketing, they turned to Rainmaker Marketing Inc. in Wilmington, Del., which sent news releases to newspapers and handled the mailing of a traditional printed announcement at the average cost of almost $3 per item for printing, addressing and postage. The 1,000 or so recipients were mostly nonlawyers, who presumably are not as quick as attorneys to consign such announcements to the round file.

A professional announcement that ran for two weeks in the New Jersey Law Journal cost $1,400, Britcher says.

Rainmaker also created the electronic announcement, using still photographs and text provided by the firm. Britcher sent it from his computer to the addresses of lawyers, many of whom are connected with various northeastern states' chapters of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

As active members of ATLA-NJ -- Britcher chairs the state group's amicus committee -- the trio wanted other trial lawyers to know about their startup and their expertise, including their experience representing children harmed by vaccines.

Britcher sent the e-mail on Sunday, April 9 so recipients would see it in their Monday morning messages. It opened with the firm's name at the top so recipients would know right off that it was from another lawyer, not an advertiser.

Embedded in the message was a clickable line that triggered nine attached pages of text explaining the partners' backgrounds and expertise and color pictures of Britcher and Leone at work. Rainmaker used Flash software to create the pages, which ran in sequence, fading in and out.

George Conk, of South Orange's Tulipan & Conk, was checking his e-mail from home that Sunday night when he saw the display. "I was really impressed with it," Conk says. "It has a lot more sex appeal than a paper announcement."

Besides giving readers a quick sense of what the firm is all about, the display instills the impression that Britcher and his partners have a sophisticated outlook. Conk says that given the presumed cost of such a display, recipients would assume that Britcher Leone, LLC has the kind of resources a referring lawyer would seek in a firm.

"If they can finance this, they can probably finance litigation," Conk says. In fact, the e-mail announcement cost $1,000, Leone says.

While the majority of those who called him were as complimentary as Conk, Britcher says, a couple of recipients weren't thrilled.

An attorney from New York e-mailed a rebuke, accusing the firm of sending junk mail. And another, whose computer apparently had a slow processor, complained that the electronic slide show, a 1.9-megabyte package, ran at a glacial pace. Britcher says it could take up to 15 minutes to run the presentation in the slowest of slow computers, far longer than most recipients would sit still.

Looking back, Britcher says that instead of embedding an attachment in the e-mail, he should have included a hyperlink to the firm's Web site and had the slide show run as part of the site.

Unfortunately, a Web site wasn't ready when the firm started business. Only last week, a month after the e-announcement, construction of the site was advanced enough to include the e-announcement. Windco.com of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., which also is ATLA-NJ's webmaster, prepared the site and obtained two domain names for the firm, www.britcherleoneroth.com and www.medmalnj.com.

Like Britcher Leone, LLC, most new firms will be too busy to get a web site going before they announce their formation.

Deciding whether to risk overloading recipients' e-mail capabilities or building a Web site before sending an e-announcement "is almost a catch-22," says Tammy Wenzel, Rainmaker Marketing vice president

Either way, e-announcements are "the way things will be going from now on," Wenzel says.
This article is reprinted with permission from the May 15, 2000 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal

© 2000 by The New Jersey Law Journal

"The mission of Britcher Leone, LLC is to unite the professional disciplines of medicine and law to help the victims of physicians' malpractice and serious personal injury restore their future and the future of their families."
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