Articles Posted in American Bar Association

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2021_marketing_plan_budgetThis is the time of year where I sit down with my marketing committees to review what successes we had with our 2020 marketing plan and budget. The same for many one on one discussions with individual attorneys on his/her business development plans. Well, I’m not taking the blame for any failures this year—just say “COVID” and try again. So in this month’s issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Today webzine, I ask and answer–what should your marketing plan and budget look like for the coming year?

At a time where I seem to read daily outdated articles on topics such as branding yourself in online meetings (that was useful a year ago)—and has about the same relevance as an article on which pagers might be best for effective client communication. As my kids responded, “what’s a pager?”  Or equally perceptive reminders that we’re all using LinkedIn more, and online content (webinars, podcasts and tweets) is all the rage. Yes, the first half of 2021 will pretty much resemble most of 2020—but getting ready for some degree of normalcy is certainly in the cards. At least, that’s what we’re planning for.

So read this LPT article to help you and your law firm plan accordingly, and most effectively, for marketing in the New Year. While much of it is not rocket science, it is important to still plan thoughtfully and strategically, lay out a game plan, and most importantly—don’t stop marketing. In a time with so little human interaction and removal of the most effective (and fun) methods of networking, staying visible and relevant is critical. At least until we meet again, perhaps to grab a beer in the lobby bar of your favorite (not virtual, not remote, but in-person!) legal conference.

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BLMIf you want to read a powerful piece about the hottest topic in law firm marketing circles this year, the lead feature in the December 2020 edition of the ABA’s Law Practice Today webzine hits the target with How Can the Legal Sector Have a More Meaningful Conversation About Race?

The process may be difficult for some, but the conversations need to happen – the days of sitting back and maintaining a desensitized outlook on this problem must end. So how do legal professionals discuss race and social justice in these trying times? The answer is to listen to those with experience and those affected.

The article includes perspectives from major law firm leaders throughout the U.S., including Skadden, Morrison & Foerster, Morgan Lewis and Holland & Hart.

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ABA’s Law Practice Today Webzine

Over my 25+ years of working with law firms on business development, addressing the issue of law firm names is not really one of my favorites—because it rarely comes without some painful internal issues to address.

There are the firms that want to drop the second, third or fourth names (if you have more, you’ve got a real problem) from the law firm name—usually just in regard to branding and the logo (and the website, e-mail address and social media accounts), while keeping the full “legal name” intact. It is easier when those names are for attorneys that are deceased (sorry to say), because it is a lot tougher when the lawyer whose name is coming off the signage is still sitting right there.

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Law Practice Magazine CoverA favorite business development endeavor for many lawyers (me included) is involvement on a nonprofit board. It can be time-consuming, potentially expensive and sometimes frustrating, but it is a do-good activity that ideally is tied to an area of interest and passion. In my November/December 2020 marketing column in Law Practice, I write on Profiting from Nonprofit Board Involvement.

The heart of my column comes from conversations with leaders of BoardAssist, a nonprofit itself that matches prospective board members with nonprofits in the New York metropolitan area (including New Jersey and Connecticut). Cynthia Remec, the executive director and founder of BoardAssist, is a former attorney who started her career at Pillsbury Winthrop and Weil Gotshal. I also received valuable input from Richard Hall, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and a longtime member of its board of directors.

Like many aspects of our lives, nonprofits are reeling in the midst of a pandemic where time, money and resources are hard to come by. For board members, there is the teeny, tiny silver lining of being able to conduct most of these meetings from the comfort of home. However, that in-person human interaction is lost. And I’ve heard a number of people lament that they miss the free snacks at meetings. I, myself, will trade sitting at home in sweats and buying a box of munchkins out of pocket. But, seriously, it is true that removing the travel element (sometimes involving getting on a plane) can make donating your time simpler and easier. Bottom line—nonprofits need us to step up now, more than ever.

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ABA Law Practice MagazineMy annual Law Marketing Up/Down Drill column in the July/August 2020 issue of Law Practice tackles the topics of diversity, websites, billboards & radio, press releases and ABA Resolution 115. Of course, I wrote this piece in the first week of March, in a seemingly different universe.

If I were writing this column today, the “hot topics” for the up/down drill would probably be quite different or certainly with a changed focus. Discussions of diversity in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and protests related to racial injustice and inequality are more important than discussing the shortcomings of the Mansfield Rule. I admittedly never crafted law firm communications before on office closings for Juneteenth, or what law firms were proactively doing in response to protests in various U.S. cities.

It’s the third paragraph of this blog post and I’m just referencing COVID-19 for the first time. It’s changed the way the world and society functions, so obviously it has a huge impact on law marketing as well. Some of that impact includes cutting of staff and budgets. I had one law firm cut my marketing program on March 16th!—effectively the first Monday of the pandemic in the country—almost in a rush to decide marketing wasn’t a necessity (it still is, mind you). Most law firms, however, realize that staying visible now is at least as important, if not more so, than ever. With the removal of most in-person contact for the foreseeable future, we’ve pivoted business development plans to a mostly online marketplace.

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ABA_Journal_June_July_2020-225x300In the June/July 2020 issue of the ABA Journal, Cynthia Sharp asks me about how attorneys can best respond to negative online reviews in “Trashed by Clients Online? Ethically responding to negative reviews,” a subject that I’ve discussed with many attorneys and clients over the years.

It is probably the topic that brings me the most questions during my marketing ethics-related CLE programs. In a recent webinar for the American Legal Institute (ALI), Ethically Navigating the Three Rs: Lawyer Ratings, Rankings, and Reviews, I focus solely on this area as it relates to attorney advertising. And I’ve written about the subject matter multiple times in my ABA Law Practice magazine column as well. Mostly, because unlike many areas of attorney marketing ethics, this one is quite “real” to many lawyers that have been bitten by disgruntled former clients, or unhappy ex-employees, shady competitors or just someone that plain doesn’t like you. The combustible mix of not being able to opt-out of the review process and the sheer fact that this stuff can be highly visible in your online portfolio can be deadly. And many attorneys have responded poorly—and violated ethics rules in the process.

The power of the online review—on Google, Yelp, Facebook, or numerous sites that are legal-specific—has grown exponentially in recent years. Early on, the issues often stemmed from reviews on legal site Avvo (which rewarded attorneys for having reviews in their profiles), and Yelp—the initial home of choice for the disgruntled…there is nothing like being ripped by a Yelper. Facebook could be especially critical to the consumer-facing law practice. But it was really the elevation of reviews on Google that increased the potential for reward and damage. If you think about the evolution of Google in the online marketplace—from sponsored results to adwords; SEO spends on organic results, local/mapped searching and various efforts at developing a social media component (mostly without success), the incorporation of Google Reviews and the related visibility in a search result puts a spotlight on them for the end-user and adds another concern for reputation management of your online portfolio.

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NWLSO Diversity Panel

Pictured left to right: Allison Turner, Micah Buchdahl, Josephine Lee, Monsurat Adebanjo, Carla Luna (moderator), Najee Thornton, Lisa Levey

When I was first contacted by Ms. JD, the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers, and invited to speak at the National Women Law Students’ Organization (NWLSO) Leadership Academy, my first thought was—do they know I’m a guy?

I perused the organization’s website, found the event at Harvard Law School, and scrolled through the all-female faculty and attendee lists. Later, I was joined for my panel session by Najee Thornton, an Associate in the Santa Monica, CA office of Fenwick & West—so for a short time, I had some company.  But I was assured that yes, they knew I was a male, and they’d love to have me participate. So I figured that it would be a great learning experience, and really, what could go wrong?

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ABA’s Law Practice Today Webzine

Being super-active in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division means collaboration is a necessity. So in the November 2019 edition of Law Practice Today (LPT), I get to combine my role as Associate Editor of the webzine with my participation in the Ethics & Professionalism Committee to formulate our annual “Ethics Issue.”

Of course, that typically means I will need to contribute a feature as well, so I’ve authored “Maintaining Ethical Boundaries on the Gray Web of Marketing,” which discusses the difficulty many law firms are having today in determining how to effectively and ethically market themselves on the Internet without violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. Suffice it to say–easier said than done. And as the title suggests, it is far from black & white. There are issues of jurisdictional boundaries, fee-sharing, unauthorized practice of law and understanding where the RPC, ethics opinions and enforcement kick in (or don’t). I recently told a colleague that the sophistication level of aggressive online law marketers is well beyond the long arm of the (disciplinary) law. I used to put a ton of time and energy into making sure there was ethics compliance with a “standard” law firm website—text, disclaimers, bar admissions, etc. Today a typical website—regardless of the look & feel—is pretty ho-hum at the end of the day—office locations, bios, practices, industries, representative matters, blah, blah, blah…but it is in the realm of SEO, cookies, social media and all sorts of traffic drivers where the real issues lie below the surface of the World Wide Web. Have a read.

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ABA’s Law Practice Today Webzine

When I sat down to write No Law Firm Niche is Hotter Right Now than Diversity a few weeks ago (and published today), in the March 2019 edition of the ABA’s Law Practice Today (LPT) webzine, it was Paul Weiss getting the negative publicity fresh off an unflattering  feature in the Sunday New York Times.

Of course, this week, another white shoe New York law firm, Willke Farr, was getting to put its own crisis communications plan into play, when firm co-chair Gordon Caplan was placed on leave in the wake of the hottest news story of the week—the college admissions cheating scandal. In Law360’s Did Willkie’s Reaction To Admissions Scandal Miss The Mark?, reporter Aebra Coe asked me about the firm’s action and reaction, and potential for long-term damage to the firm brand. From a PR standpoint, there are huge differences between the stories—one is about the firm as a whole; the other is really about the behavior of an attorney that works there. In neither case will the law firm suffer any serious repercussions (as should be the case), but no big-time business likes to wake up to these calls from the media. But how to properly handle crisis communication is an article and a subject for another day.

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ABA’s Law Practice Today

Ethical issues and dilemmas hit the legal profession from all angles. In serving as issue editor for the September 2018 edition of the ABA’s Law Practice Today (LPT) webzine, I sought to address a wide variety of subjects from attorneys with different practices and backgrounds.

Of course, I authored my own piece, What Do the Revised Rules for Lawyer Advertising Mean for Me?, recapping the recently adopted Resolution 101, passed by the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago this past August. These suggested amendments to the Model Rules (7.1 through 7.5) relate to the realities of today’s lawyer advertising. While change is long overdue, it will be interesting to see the true impact that they may or may not have on state bar regulations and subsequent enforcement.

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