Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Home of AAJ 2018 Annual Convention

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) Annual Convention that recently took place July 7-10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado, was an eye-opening experience. I was asked to speak on Avoiding Ethical Missteps in Promoting Your Firm, as part of a Professional Negligence Section CLE Program track. Besides a multitude of CLE programs on themes that ranged from trampoline injuries to the hugely popular (standing room only) sexual assault litigation group programs in what is now the #MeToo era, I found that a walk through the Expo Hall offered dozens of vendors providing products and services geared toward marketing, business development, and simply getting leads…and converting them. Some were quite entrepreneurial and unique; some made me a bit queasy (regardless of whether I was wearing my marketing attorney hat or ethics attorney hat, or both). There are seemingly hundreds of companies with the “best” web development, SEO and PPC strategies. And, yet, there were products that got me to stop, watch a demo, and grab a business card.

The track in which I participated as a faculty member, Professional Negligence, offered an excellent day of subjects and attorney speakers, including: Finding Damages Through Every Witness Defense and Plaintiff, J. Jude Basile; my Avoiding Ethical Missteps in Promoting Your Firm session; Cross-Examination of Defendants in Medical Negligence Cases, Paul A. Casi; Captivating the Jury, William P. Lightfoot; Leveling the Playing Field:  A Jury Selection System that Roots Out Bias, Keith R. Mitnik; Practical Application of Electronic Medical Records for Trial, James Puga and Don Hanson; The Affordable Care Act:  Are Future Damages a Thing of the Past?, Emily G. Thomas; Topics in Calculating Economic Damages for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death, Gene A. Trevino; Direct Examination or “The Heart of the Trial”:  Direct Examination From A to Z, Thomas J. Vesper; and Avoiding Legal Malpractice, David L. Wikstrom.

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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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ALI-300x108When ALI CLE asked me to present an ethics CLE on lawyer advertising, I hesitated. After all, I’ve been teaching this course across the country for more than 20 years. But the timing was right. There were hot-button issues sitting on my desk, and the equally red-hot debate over making the first substantial changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct related to law firm marketing since Bates v Arizona in 1977. So I said yes.

In the days leading up to my presentation (taped on March 23rd), there were articles in the local (Philadelphia) daily newspaper discussing geo-targeting billboards for Johnnie Cochran’s law firm (despite the fact that the famed OJ Simpson attorney passed away in 2005). There was U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissing the remaining (false advertising) claims in Larry Pitt’s lawsuit against competitor Lundy Law. I discussed earlier Pitt-Lundy battles in the 2013 version of my CLE. Yet they are both news items here in 2018. Social Media has been an integral part of my CLE since flashing up my MySpace profile in 2007. While I tout Facebook as being an integral part of marketing for many attorneys, the news was also covering just how our data was being used by the likes of Cambridge Analytica—that same market data we use to generate prospective clients was also being used for evil, and not good. The news was not fake, but apparently some of the Facebook users were. And, of course, there is the debate over proposed changes to the ABA model rules (for advertising and solicitation), scheduled to go before the House of Delegates this August during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. So if that is just what is going on in my neck of the woods, and at the national level, you can imagine what else is out there.

If you are in need of an ethics credit for continuing legal education compliance and/or your law firm markets—this is a perfect use of one hour to catch up on the latest trends and discussions related to the always-prickly subject matter of appropriate (and inappropriate) lawyer advertising and solicitation.

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ABA Midyear Meeting, Vancouver, B.C., 2018

If you are attending the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver the first weekend in February, reside in the B.C. area or simply are looking to escape to Canada (as so many U.S. citizens and non-citizens now are), be sure to attend this free CLE program, Fishing for Prospects – Ethical Limitations Can Create Muddy Waters in Catching New Clients on Saturday, February 3, 2018 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PST at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown.

This ABA CLE, co-sponsored by the Law Practice Division and the Young Lawyers Division focuses on ethical strategies for business development and relationship building.  We will cover ethic rules and related pitfalls when soliciting new clients and advertising your practice. The Rules of Professional Conduct, various US Supreme Court cases and numerous state bar ethics opinions can create an often-unseen myriad of issues when soliciting new clients.

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Online legal referral and attorney rating service

For some attorneys—even 40+ years after Bates v. Arizona—marketing itself is a disruption. But when AVVO, the online legal referral and attorney rating service, came along in 2006, it created some of the more significant disruptions to the legal marketing industry. With the company being acquired by Internet Brands last week, the question is whether the business will remain cutting edge?

Of course, as is usually the case, the company touts that things will remain the same and be “business as usual” under new ownership. But that is rarely the case. I would argue that Martindale, Nolo and Total Attorneys—all businesses acquired by Internet Brands (makers of such sites as WebMD, Fodor’s Travel and MySummerCamps) no longer have the same impact they did before being acquired. When Findlaw was acquired by Thomson in 2001, it basically ceased being Findlaw (after the typical “business as usual” period of time). If you want to see the original premise of Findlaw today, you go to Justia. Martindale-Hubbell, founded in 1868 by attorney James Martindale (talk about being ahead of the curve on marketing! I always thought Greg Siskind was first with everything), was what most law firms considered the one piece of business development they would pay for. And pay for they did for over 100 years until the Internet killed the golden goose. When I first started visiting law firms to discuss marketing in 1996, I was often sent to see the librarian—because she updated the Martindale listings—that (plus perhaps the holiday card) was the extent of “marketing.”

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Pennsylvania Bar Institute

In order to get your ethics credit while attending my annual PBI marketing ethics program, you will need to watch me “live…on tape…from Philadelphia” (Larry Sanders Show reference) on December 19th in Pittsburgh or December 21st in Philadelphia. HOWEVER, if you’re interested in the subject matter, you are invited to attend the free live taping of that program (without the CLE credit; written materials will be provided via e-mail in PDF form), at The CLE Conference Center in the Wanamaker Building on Tuesday, November 28th from 10:30 am to 11:30 am.

If you are fascinated by the topic and enjoyed my recent ABA Law Practice Magazine column, Revisiting Lawyer Ratings and Rankings, you’ll learn a lot in this one hour program. Thank you to PBI for allowing me to extend an invite to the local lawyer and law marketing communities to attend the taping.

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Wall Street Journal

You have NO IDEA how much I nodded my head when picking up this morning’s Wall Street Journal and seeing reporter Sara Randazzo’s article on Time to Rank the Rankers of Lawyers? It has seemingly been a huge part of my work days over the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, you will have to wait by your mailbox for the November/December 2017 issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine to see the marketing column I authored for it a few weeks back entitled Revisiting Lawyer Ratings and Rankings, which is a follow-up to my 2014 column, The Impact of the Three R’s: Ratings, Rankings and Reviews—which still draws e-mails and phone calls. In the column, I highlight past and present issues with an industry that is still burgeoning and remains largely unregulated (despite generally failed attempts by state bars and even the Better Business Bureau) to reign them in.

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If you arthird_circuite a Judge or attorney fascinated (or at least feeling like you need to know this stuff) by the world of social media, consider attending the 2017 Third Circuit Judicial Conference on April 19, 2017 at the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I will be participating in “Twitter in the Court:  Social Media Issues for Judges, Lawyers” from 4 pm to 5:30 pm along with fellow panelists Cynthia L. Dahl, Director of Detkin Intellectual Property and        Technology Legal Clinic and a Practice Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School; and  Kathryn E. Deal, Partner, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Our program is moderated by the Honorable Lawrence F. Stengel, United States District Judge, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The panel will cover a wide range of topics in the vast realm of social media, from a brief history and introduction to the major social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat) to the boatload of ethical issues that arise and the many ways social media has impacted matters in the courtroom.

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PBIIn the 15+ years where I’ve taught the marketing & advertising ethics CLE hour of Ethics Potpourri, this years’ program has elicited some of the most fascinating exchanges from the audience. I teach this hour live in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh every April, August and December. The coming weeks include the live presentation in Pittsburgh on August 25th and Philadelphia on August 30th. For directions and registration information, visit PBI. If you missed the program in April and can’t make August, the December dates will be here before you know it.

The deadly Amtrak train crash in Pennsylvania last May (2015) serves as the backdrop for a program that examines whether today’s ethics rules regarding solicitation and advertising are still effective in protecting victims and their families?  For an attorney who believes in the reasoning and philosophy of the Rules of Professional Conduct, does waiting out a 30 day moratorium on contact mean you’ve lost out on the lucrative race for clients? The program examines related court cases, ethics opinions and the RPC as they tie into various forms of business development for plaintiff’s attorneys that are seeking clients in a highly competitive marketplace. Some of the concepts might disgust you—but they are kosher. Some might remind you that today’s society, spurred on by a different news cycle, social media and a more cutthroat landscape means changing the way you do business, and get business.

The program flows from a column I wrote for the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine in late 2015, Content Marketing is Outpacing the Ethics Rules. That column also elicited many e-mails from colleagues on the somewhat controversial subject matter. As I witnessed the aftermath of the deadly crash at home in Philadelphia, I watched the way attorneys used newspaper articles, press conferences, e-mail, social media, press releases and other semi- or non-“advertising” means to promote themselves and position their law firms for prospective clients. It reminded me that so many of the ethics rule in place today to protect the client are simply outdated or ineffective. Judge for yourself.