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Posts Tagged ‘Legal Marketing’

Contrary to what you might have heard, that’s not me in this video

h/t to Jordan Rushie for bringing this to my attention. I can only dream of having this guy’s acting and musical chops. Some day, perhaps…

I can see how one might confuse me for this guy, if you look at me in my full-bearded days. I have never gotten to sing in a commercial, although we did once have our own TV commercial, for two magical, grossly-unproductive months in 2004:

We got three phone calls as a result of that commercial. Two of them were people wanting to sell us stuff. The other one wanted to sue God or something.

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Grandpa lawyer doesn’t understand your newfangled technoggoly

I wrote the headline to this post on August 17, 2011, and I saved a draft that only consisted of four URL’s. Honestly, I have no idea exactly where I was going to go with this, but the headline was too, uh, weird not to post. Rather than try to piece together exactly what sort of thesis I was going after almost four months ago, I’ll just link to the articles that so inspired me.

Obviously it was something about older lawyers eschewing newfangled technology.

cat
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

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Bald lawyers, unite!

From MyBaldLawyer.com

From MyBaldLawyer.com

Dangit, why did I never think of this???

If you are injured and in need of a lawyer, Chandler Mason hopes you will remember his bald head.

Mason, an Atlanta personal injury lawyer, is differentiating himself in a crowded field with billboards picturing himself and promoting his website, MyBaldLawyer.com.

I once billed myself online (in the pre-social media era, before I was actually marketing myself for business purposes) as the “Official Bald Guy of the New Millenium.” It was pretty lame. I can’t even find it on the Wayback Machine anymore. This guy is doing it right.

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Not blogging so much lately

My reader(s) may have noticed a lower volume of posts lately. Since the beginning of September I have been embarking on a new venture doing freelance blogging and web content writing, so I have been limited in my time to devote to snark.

Fear not, dear reader(s). This is an exciting new chapter, and this blog will still be an integral part of it.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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Not all marketing ideas are created equal

While cleaning up around the house, I came across an old idea for a marketing piece that probably never would have worked out so well.

Austinites and Austinphiles are no doubt familiar with local institution Waterloo Records and their ubiquitous free bumper stickers. You can grab as many of them as you want (well, I did, anyway) and rearrange them in creative ways (People in Houston do this with stickers for the Rice University radio station, KTRU).

Or you can just do this:

This probably won't display in all its glory in this window.

 

You may notice that “Waterloo Records” does not include the letter “f”. I think I made the “f”s out of “t”s and “r”s that I stuck together. I think I was planning on putting this on my car to be a low-rent rolling billboard. Probably for the best that I never did that.

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Risk-aversion and the coming generational clash amongst lawyers

The other day a young attorney named Rachel Rodgers wrote a post at Solo Practice University called “Ethics Should Not Be Used as a Weapon Against Young Lawyers.” The post outlines a bit of the tension between older attorneys and the hordes of young lawyers now entering the marketplace and not finding jobs, many of whom are now starting their own practices (this was largely the theme of my post from yesterday, “Too Many Lawyers?”).

It’s a complicated issue, and it’s not even entirely clear what the points of contention are. I have commented a bit at Ms. Rodgers’ post, but the blawgosphere is starting to light up about it. Ms. Rodgers states that:

Professional ethics is supposed to be a code by which we lawyers operate to ensure that we are maintaining the highest level of integrity as we practice law. Unfortunately, many experienced attorneys have taken to using the word “ethics” and all of its connotations as a weapon against any attorney serving their clients in a way with which the criticizing attorney is unfamiliar or does not approve. Sadly, given that young and innovative lawyers are blazing a trail for new ways to both practice law and deliver their services, we tend to be the target for such ridicule. I have even seen some lawyers claim that young lawyers, especially solos, cannot possibly be ethical without the hand-holding (otherwise known as chiding) of more experienced attorneys.

Not the way to run a law practice

Not the way to run a law practice

The thing about that is that legal ethics is a pretty vast field stretching back for centuries, and it is often difficult for even gray-haired lawyers to fully grasp it. Technology is fast outpacing ethics rules when it comes to advertising by attorneys–today’s ethics rules are useful for Yellow Pages ads, but not so much for blogs. That said, the question is whether the changes in ethics rules that need to happen can best be achieved through research and deliberation, which is pretty much how it has always been done, or through innovation and experimentation in a free market setting. Lawyers have never been much for a free market when it comes to how we actually practice law. We are not a profession with a great love of risk (quite the opposite, in fact).

Scott Greenfield remarked on Ms. Rodgers and her practice back in June, and Brian Tannenbaum picked up the story yesterday:

Used to be that lawyers would work for someone and then go solo. Now there’s no jobs so lawyers are going from law school graduation, right to the computer to create their law firm twitter account and Facebook fan page, and presto – a practice is born with an “experienced, aggressive” attorney. Today we fake it until we make it, as the marketers encourage young lawyers to do.

I can’t exactly be critical of a newly-licensed solo, since I used to be one (technically I was a newly-licensed shareholder in a firm of three newly-licensed lawyers, but I became fully solo within 3 years, so close enough). At the same time, I have seen quite a few sketchy schemes from solo lawyers, and the value of having a mentor cannot be denied. I think law may be the only profession where brand new practitioners are allowed to jump head first into the pool right away, so maybe we need some sort of apprenticeship system. Just a thought. Matt Brown sums up the concern very well:

No lawyer, especially a young lawyer, is going to see every ethical pitfall. Whatever it is that you want to do may be the next best thing in lawyer marketing since sliced bread, but there’s no rule insulating from attorney discipline those lawyers who engage in innovative but ethically-prohibited business practices. The truth is that ethics rules will prevent plenty of lawyers from opening up certain types of “cutting edge” practices, just as the criminal laws ultimately stop many of my clients from operating their “cutting edge” businesses.

On the other hand, there is much to be said for reevaluating the risk-averse culture of lawyerdom. An extreme, possibly sarcastic example appeared on the blog What About Clients? the other day. A series of mantras, supposedly dating to 1836, appeared in the post “The 7 Habits of Highly Useless Outside Corporate Lawyers”:

1. Be risk-averse at all times. Clients have come to expect this from their lawyers. It’s tradition. Honor it.

2. Tell the client only what it can’t do. Business clients are run by business people who take risks. They need to be managed, guided, stopped. Don’t encourage them.

3. Whatever you do, don’t take a stand, and don’t make a recommendation. (You don’t want to be wrong, do you?)

4. Treat the client as a potential adversary at all times. Keep a distance.

5. Cover yourself. Write a lot to the client. Craft lots of confirming letters which use clauses like “it is our understanding”, “our analysis is limited to…” and “we do not express an opinion as to whether…”

6. Churn up extra fees with extra letters and memoranda and tasks. Milk the engagement. (If you are going to be a weenie anyway, you might as well be a sneaky weenie.)

7. As out-house counsel, you are American royalty. Never forget that.

I have my doubts about the historical authenticity (as does the blog’s author), but it does nicely illustrate how lawyers emphasize the avoidance of risk almost over all else. Quite often, that is exactly what corporate clients hire their lawyers to do. The question is whether that attitude should extend to lawyers’ own businesses. I used to tell my business client that I was their “professional pessimist.” In other words, they started their business to make widgets (or whatever), not to worry about contract terms or premises liability, so they should pay me to worry about it for them.

That’s not a bad way to help a client, but it’s far from the best way to run a business.

It’s not like young lawyers and old ones are fighting in the street. Thus far the debate seems to be limited to blog exchanges and ABA conferences. Sooner or later, the question of new lawyer innovation will butt heads with traditional risk aversion (some might say it has already happened), and it will be fun to watch.

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Social Media Credential Fraud

Photo by www.gaj-it.com

Photo by www.gaj-it.com

I learned a new term: social media credential fraud:

This week, the concept of social media credential fraud went mainstream after presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bragged that his 1.3 million Twitter followers represented six times as many followers as all the other candidates combined. Like the social media expert discussed by Shear, Gingrich sought to boost his professional credibility by pointing to his sheer number of Twitter followers.

According to an article in Gawker, however, only about 10 percent of Gingrich’s followers are “real, sentient people.” The remaining million-plus people, the article says, are just a mirage.

Apparently fake Twitter accounts and Twitter accounts that are really just bots can pump up followers lists and promote tweets or blogs. Spam on Twitter is sadly not a remotely rare occasion. On top of that, the ranks of self-proclaimed social media gurus may continue to swell, and lawyers just can’t seem to get enough apoplexy over the topic.

The problem for lawyers in particular is really part of the age-old problem of how to stand out from the crowd. With a possible opportunity to boast thousands of followers or subscribers without the pesky problem of actually appealing to thousands of people, some lawyers here and there are bound to fall prey to the temptation of “credential fraud.” The key word, of course, is “fraud,” something lawyers are always wise to avoid. This could lead to ethical problems we can’t even imagine yet. Best for lawyers to stick to their natural charm to build a following. If you lack charm, become a tax lawyer (zing!).

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Bad lawyers! Bad!

This is an old story, but it just caught my eye:

Two lawyers who used a pit bull logo and displayed the phone number 1-800 PIT BULL in their television ad have been disciplined by the Supreme Court for violating Florida Bar advertising rules.

The court overruled the recommendation of the referee in the case and found the ad was not protected by the First Amendment. It approved a public reprimand for the lawyers and ordered them to attend the Bar s Advertising Workshop within the next six months.

The lawyers involved, John Pape and Marc Chandler of Ft. Lauderdale, say they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court an won’t seek a rehearing from the state’s high court.

“I don’t believe that we are going to seek a rehearing. From a practical start it was a unanimous decision; there was no equivocation. I don’t think it would be very fruitful,” Chandler said. “We are going to appeal.”

The court ruled unanimously in the November 17 opinion, holding that the ad violated Bar rules because the image of the pit bull objectively had nothing to do with the type of services being provided by the law firm and improperly described the law firm’s services.

The full decision of the Florida Supreme Court is available online (PDF) should you care to check it out. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, according to the lawyers’ own account of the case. Note that they still use “800-PIT-BULL”as their web address, and they have kept the logo available for viewing:

Many commentators have described out [sic] logo as “ferocious” or ‘fierce.” Please click here if you want to see the logo and determine if it is “ferocious” or ‘fierce [sic].

Photo by harminder dhesi photography on Flickr

Photo by harminder dhesi photography on Flickr

I’ll skip over an analysis of their spelling and punctuation skills. I think I have made my feelings about pit  bulls clear by now. I think they are awesome. Mistreatment and misrepresentation of these wonderful dogs just makes me angry. The ad in question is also a caricature of ridiculous lawyer marketing, which played a role in the court’s decision. I don’t really want to get into the First Amendment argument supporting the ad. These guys have received support from some “free expression” advocates. For me, the guiding principle here is that just because something can be said does not mean it should be said.

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Wishful thinking doesn’t build a law practice

Photo by Tiara at www.sxc.hu

Face it, we're long overdue for a visual lawyer joke (photo by Tiara at www.sxc.hu)

My friend Debra Bruce (a/k/a the Lawyer Coach) has an article at Law.com: “From Associate to Solo — Don’t Overestimate Your Value.” She discusses how young lawyers tend to overlook many of the expenses, both in money and time, associated with being a young lawyer. I can certainly relate to that. Law practice, as it turns out, is not necessarily the quick road to riches that it may seem to be.

You may dream of being your own boss, running a lean and mean shop with a lot less overhead than your current organization. With the technological advances of the last few years, that is undoubtedly an option. Just don’t underestimate the three crucial responsibilities in the success of any law practice: client development, collection of fees and taking out the trash.

Well, you may not really have to take out the trash, but you will have a lot of administrative duties that hinder your ability to rack up billable hours. Almost all businesses wind up writing off some accounts receivable, and for most lawyers, it takes a lot longer to bring in new clients than they expected.

I don’t want this article to dash your hopes and your belief in yourself. I want it to encourage you to do some realistic assessment and planning so that you don’t end up dashed on the rocks.

It is by now well-known that I have soured somewhat on being my own boss. There has been a steep learning curve in the realm of running a law practice, something law schools tend not to teach. Those” administrative duties” in the above quote certainly do pile up. Every profession has its unique expenses. Law has insurance, continuing legal education, and all sorts of other ethical compliance issues. Marketing is particularly tricky for lawyers, who cannot afford to leave their marketing in the hands of a non-lawyer. New York attorney Eric Turkewitz coined the term “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics,” meaning lawyers have such a convoluted code of ethical requirements surrounding our advertising that we can ill afford to leave it to someone not intimately familiar with those rules (bad things have happened when marketing is left to non-lawyers).

Then there is client development. Clients will not just come to you because they need a lawyer and you are awesome. Client development is complicated, and unless you have an immediate family member with a corner office on K Street, it will not happen overnight. What’s more, the market is saturated with new lawyers. You will need to start getting creative, and that does not automatically mean going high-tech.

I started my firm in 2002 with two other lawyers. They had experience from law school doing criminal defense. I had some immigration experience and had worked for a civil litigation firm, so the plan was for them to build criminal practices and for me to develop civil clients. This was before “blog” was a household word, when most computers still had floppy disk drives. So we did our marketing the old-fashioned way: direct mail. Every day, we would get the jail roster from the Travis County Sheriff, develop a mailing list, and print, sign, stuff, seal, and stamp several hundred letters to prospective clients.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Not everyone has regular internet access, even today, relying on the mail. We stopped doing it for two reasons: (1) stuffing 250-300 envelopes per day sucks, and we didn’t want to hire staff just yet; and (2) more and more lawyers were sending letters and the rate of return was plummeting. Anecdotally, I heard that in 2002 about 20-25 lawyers in town were sending letters, but by 2004 there were almost 75. Now, everyone is so internet-focused, perhaps snail mail could have a Renaissance. Many people respond quite well to receiving a personalized piece of mail.

poofytoo.tumblr.com

via poofytoo.tumblr.com

Don’t even get me started on collecting fees. I’d compare it to herding cats, but all a cat can do is scratch you.

Personally, I think it is great whenever a young lawyer wants to go solo. The number of resources to assist a new solo grows every day (resources I wish existed, or that I’d known of, back in the day). It’s scary, but it can also be rewarding. What it definitely is not, is easy.

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This week in unusual litigation (R v. I update)

“R v. I” is just my shorthand for Rakofsky v. the Internet, in case you were wondering. As I’ve said before, others have addressed this case with much greater wisdom than I, but a few notable events have appeared on my radar.

1. “Rakofsky Effect” has made it into Urban Dictionary:

Infinite pleading amendments as the unintended consequence of suing to censor your critics.

This term is in reference to Rakofsky v. The Internet, a defamation suit filed by Joseph Rakofsky against approximately 80 defendants, including The Washington Post Company, screen names, email addresses, and various esteemed lawyers who publicly on their websites condemned Joseph Rakofsky for bringing shame upon the practice of criminal defense and the legal profession. As the story caught fire across the blogosphere, plaintiff Rakofsky continually amended the suit, adding new defendants seemingly every time a new individual on the internet spoke critically of him, which only prompted wider criticism, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Photo by Woodlouse, http://www.flickr.com/photos/woodlouse/, used under a Creative Commons license

This lemur has nothing to do with the case I am discussing. He's just cute.

There’s also a Twitter account I hadn’t noticed before.

2. This may be completely unrelated, it may be completed related, or it may be some strange meta-narrative on the whole strange saga of young Rakofsky. On June 30, an ad appeared on New York Craigslist looking for a lawyer to handle a large defamation case, offering $200/week plus $150 per court appearance (this has since been changed to “Compensation to be negotiated”). First, Joe DePaola tweeted about it, and Ryan at Absurd Results blogged about it. Then my fellow defendant George M. Wallace made note of it in his weekly update on the case.

The ad is a bit long to quote at length, so I have a couple of screenshots for your enjoyment.

The ad does not identify the person(s) seeking an attorney. It could be you-know-who, or it could be another New York litigant suing a large group of defendants for defamation. One thing is clear, though: this seems a singularly poor method of finding an attorney. Fellow defendant Scott Greenfield said it best:

As enticing as this offer might seem at first blush, it reflects a problem.  Could it be possible that the reason that the litigant who found it necessary to solicit a lawyer blind on the internet can’t find a lawyer otherwise?  Lawyers are a dime a dozen, taking on dubious causes all the time if there is even the slightest hint of making a buck somewhere down the road.  Why, then, does the person who has carefully crafted his requirements for his lawyer found it necessary to go to the virtual street and solicit for anyone, anyone at all, willing to take him on?

What if the ad-placer went from lawyer to lawyer, knowing a few who could be asked to fill the shoes he feels are so vital to his cause, and was told that despite their hunger and desperation, their willingness to take on pretty much any case that held any potential to make a buck, they would not take his?  This would seem to be as clear a message that his cause was not just, not right, a horrible loser.

Who is this mysterious seeker of legal services? We may never know for sure, but his/her case seems to parallel one that is familiar to me. I will say this: we have a lot of lawyers in America right now. Some are quite good, some are not quite so good, and all of them probably need more than $200 per week to really focus attention on a case.

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