Articles Posted in American Bar Association

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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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LPcover_JulyAugust2018-234x300Whenever I pass a roadside diner promising something like “world’s best cherry pie,” I think about lawyer advertising restrictions. Because no law firm or lawyer could tout themselves as the best or greatest—and many of the taglines, phrases and symbols used to market products and services to consumers are restricted or outright prohibited in the legal profession.

Of course, I’m a sucker for that cherry pie. And it never is remotely close to the best I’ve ever had, but I also know the difference between a marketing message and stark reality. Which all somehow leads into the topic of my marketing column in the July/August 2018 issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine, Law Marketing Model Rule Revisions – Better Late than Never?

It remains to be seen what will actually happen to the proposed model rule changes to law marketing and advertising when it gets to the ABA House of Delegates in August. After all, it is a long way from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (which arrived via multiple reports starting in 2015 from the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers—APRL) to the House floor. The debates at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver this past February volleyed back and forth between those that thought the suggested revisions went too far, and others who firmly believed they did not go far enough. Of course, once something is approved—state bars often like to remind us that they are nothing more than “model” rules, and that the states will decide themselves what direction lawyer advertising should go in down the pike.

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NewMexicoCLE-300x156Recently, I had the privilege of serving on a panel at the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division continuing legal education program on the ethics of virtual and multi-jurisdictional lawyering in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The program was co-sponsored by the State Bar of New Mexico, and took place on May 18, 2018 at the Inn and Spa at Loretto.

Moderated by Albuquerque-based practitioner Charles Gurd, panelists included fellow Philadelphia area attorney Dan Siegel, and Charity Anastasio, Associate Practice Management Advisor at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. It struck me that the audience interest, interaction and participation were greater than in the vast majority of CLEs that I teach. These two intertwining and overlapping issues—virtual law practices and multi-state jurisdictional issues—go hand in hand, and often create as many questions as answers.

When I’m driving down I-95 and leave New Jersey to cross into Delaware, I know it. When I then cross from Delaware into Maryland, I know it as well. I also know that if I’m caught speeding in Delaware, the only police I need to worry about are the ones with Delaware on the side panels. Of course, reciprocity when it comes to fines and points are sometimes blurry, but not nearly as confusing as crossing state lines in your law practice, typically on the Internet. However, as many of the CLE audience opined, most lawyers today have practices that are not confined to one or two states.

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