Articles Posted in American Bar Association

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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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SM_Pic_LPT_2018-300x144In the March 2018 issue of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today webzine, I put around 2,500 words to web in my article, What’s New in Social Media Marketing for Lawyers? It seems like just yesterday that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (and plenty others) came into our lives. It’s been longer than that…as a nine year old post this morning on Facebook reminded me of an event from days’ gone by. The tools have changed, and for business development purposes, lawyers have had to change with them.

In preparing to write the feature, I kept putting down notes on various social media news, programs and events—seemingly by the hour. At the same time I write this very blog post, I’m mere minutes away from moderating an ABA CLE on The Law and Social Media: Tips for Every Lawyer, with my colleagues Cynthia Dahl, Kathryn Deal and Molly DiBianca, covering social media issues that range from employment law matters to tweeting jurors, messaging witnesses, friending judges, cybercrime and prosecution, DMCA and trademark issues, virtual law practices, professionalism, and marketing.

Just last week, the ABA released Formal Opinion 480 from the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility reminding lawyers of the confidentiality obligations for lawyer blogging and tweeting. It is an opinion that has been widely panned as being late to the game. This provides another reminder as to the speed that social media runs. The suggestions are already somewhat old and outdated.

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LPcover_MarApr2018-235x300Oh, remember the ‘80s? Alf, Madonna, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Garbage Pail Kids? I was in New Orleans to see Keith Smart’s last-second shot for Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosier over Syracuse in the NCAA Championship Game in 1987. I watched the Baltimore Orioles defeat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1983 World Series (when the O’s still were more important to me than the Phillies). And I was at the Stanley Cup Finals between the Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and 1987. Those were just some of the games I attended in person. I worked in the Major Indoor Soccer League and the NHL during the 80s—attending hundreds of games. I remember the end of high school, my college years, first jobs, and the start of law school. Little did I (we) know at the time that those babies being born were—Millennials! And that—in the here and now—it would all be about them.

It certainly seems like every day over the past few years has had an issue or conversation regarding the topic of Millennials at the law firms I routinely visit. How do you hire them? (Can we even fire them?) How do you retain them? How do you work with them? How do you make them happy? And, as I write in my marketing column for the March/April 2018 issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine, Marketing to and for Millennials.

The reality is that Millennials today are often the core focus for marketers. And for law firm marketers, there needs to be a shift in the approaches taken to be successful in this space. I’ve worked with law firms on efforts geared toward Millennials for a few years now. In 2016, I spoke on an ABA panel, Bridging the Generational Divide: How Millennials Can Communicate with Baby Boomers and Succeed in the Workplace. There was a Law360 article on How to Manage the Millennial Lawyer. And in 2015, I served as the Editor in Chief for an entire issue of Law Practice Today geared to Law Firm Management Struggles with Multigenerational Issues. As detailed in the column, I have had to shift my own marketing strategies—not only to engage the millennial lawyer, but more importantly, engage the millennial client.

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