If you would like to hear a short podcast discussing how legal advertising has changed due to the internet and social media, how to launch a successful marketing campaign without getting into trouble with state bars, and some advice to small and big firms about advertising in certain practices and geographic regions, LISTEN HERE to the podcast on the Legal Talk Network. Thanks to interviewer Jason Marsh, Adriana Linares and the LTN team for the opportunity to chat during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston, Texas.
I’ve seen a lot of fun and strange law firm web site ethics issues come up since the mid-90s, but it is refreshing to see that there are still new takes on the concept of “deceptive and misleading” lawyer advertising online in 2014.
A State Bar Court judge in Sacramento, California has recommended a six month suspension for a Los Angeles attorney who put Photoshop to use in manipulating a photo gallery on her website filled with fake pictures of her with various politicians, celebrities and star athletes. The court found that this photo gallery amounted to deceptive advertising. Read the highly entertaining opinion here.
It is hard to believe that I’ve been teaching the “advertising/marketing” ethics hour for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute for more than a decade now. But what makes it particularly interesting is that my space (pun intended, if you get it) keeps changing with such rapid fire imprecision that it really never gets old. This year I return to the theme of social networking ethics. I could say I’m repeating my program from 2010, but very little is the same. I looked back into my PowerPoint slides to find my first discussion of advertising and social media taking place in 2003. This makes me sound and feel ancient.
As usual, I will be presenting this PBI program live in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in April, August and December of 2014. My April programs take place on the 24th in Pittsburgh and 29th in Philadelphia–from 11:30 am-12:30 pm. For more information and registration, visit PBI.
In advance of the fourth edition of the ABA’s New Partner Conference, Law Practice Today highlights the topic with an issue dedicated to the theme of new partners. With the New Year upon us, many new partners are taking their places at the management tables of law firms throughout the country. Yet many find themselves wondering what the new role brings with it. Many of the New Partner Conference speakers and planning board members have authored the articles that coincide with their respective program topics.
LPT issue editor and conference speaker Amy Drushal of Trenam Kemker in Tampa, Florida, authors Transitioning from Associate to Partner: What now? Yours truly, also a conference presenter, writes about the new partner’s role in marketing and business development. Kerri-Ann Bent and Vanessa Cotto write on the effects of mentoring on the duty to supervise.
Avvo honcho Mark Britton discusses the New Partner Cheese–taking lessons from “who moved my cheese” to the law firm board room. Justia’s Tim Stanley, with co-authors Ken Min Chan and David Kemp, writes about building great relationships online, focusing on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.
In this month’s Web Marketing Today column, Pros and Cons of Online Publicity for Lawyers, I write about the issues that struck me coming out of Perez v. Factory Direct of Secaucus, LLC. There is a significant difference in determining the impact of media attention on a case in the “traditional media” days versus the “blog/social media” era. That is the lesson defendants’ counsel for Ashley Furniture learned when filing suit against the plaintiffs’ law firm for defamation–stemming from online publicity.
My article breaks down the impact and pros/cons that all parties involved–plaintiff, defendant, and counsel for both sides–in measuring how the World Wide Web might affect not only the outcome of a case, but the long-term consequences that can be far more detrimental than whether you won, lost or settled.
As I note, I would never have heard about what I’d suggest is a relatively common “employee lawsuit against an employer for wrongful termination”-type filing if not for the third party action taken by one law firm against the other for what amounts to unwanted publicity on the case.
In the November 2013 issue of Your ABA, the monthly e-news for attorney members, they have effectively recapped my October CLE on lawyer rankings and ratings with an excellent top ten list of suggestions, based on speaker comments and the examples provided.
Nearly 5,000 ABA members tuned into the monthly ABA CLE Premier Speaker Series, which I led along with my esteemed colleagues–Florida Bar ethics counsel Elizabeth Tarbert and Best Lawyers co-founder and President Steve Naifeh. We were able to provide three very different perspectives of a powerful industry in the legal marketplace. Tarbert focused on bar compliance issues. Naifeh gave the perspective of the companies in this space. And I fell somewhere in the middle–since I provide guidance on ethics issues as an attorney and guidance on participation as a marketer.
The topic continues to spark controversy and interest in the profession–and will continue to do so as our business evolves. From the “original” Martindale AV to tier one in Chambers USA; top honors in the Best Lawyers/US News & World Reports law firm rankings to effective visibility on Avvo; working the popularity polls for your local-yokel “Top” Lawyer lists in your hometown to the truckload of lists, surveys and rankings from American Lawyer Media publications. There are thousands to choose from. Figuring out which matter is just the start of the process.
Last night, my five year old son asked me what the “f” word was. While dancing around the answer, my nine year old daughter suggested she knew it and was pretty sure she had heard it from me. I won’t lie to you. I’ve used it from time to time. I’m sure while sitting in Lincoln Financial Field for the last nine Philadelphia Eagles home losses in a row, I’ve used it 10-10,000 times. But never online.
However, when Reed Smith real estate partner Steven Regan cursed at SCOTUS on Twitter, the story became a Reed Smith partner cursing on Twitter. It was not really about Steve. He quickly deleted his Twitter account, and if the firm functions like most big law firms I work with on these issues, he was probably met with a much more private profanity from some of his partners in management. If they were one of my clients for social media compliance, I might have actually said, “Steve, WTF!”
Unlike much of the work I do in making sure a law firm’s marketing efforts are compliant with the rules of professional conduct and the states in which they practice/market, this is not an ethics violation (although I did find one here, which I’ll point out in a moment). This is just bad publicity. Public relations crisis management. You simply don’t want people thinking your law firm does not know how to properly use social media. Especially a firm like Reed Smith, which has a significant media and advertising practice.
After taking a one month “sabbatical” from my monthly Web Marketing Today article, I address a topic that is becoming increasingly important for the legal professional–how to respond to online criticism.
How Lawyers Should Respond to Online Criticism addresses dos and don’ts as they relate to the growing slate of websites that allow for posting of “reviews”, whether you are a plumber, doctor or lawyer. As I often teach, this is not an area where you have the option to participate. If I’m a client and want to post a positive or negative review of your professional product for the world to see–I can.
I’ve often used the power of Internet-based reviews myself. When my realtor pissed me off a few years back, I let a number of websites know what I thought of her. It did not go unnoticed. I’m a huge review contributor to Open Table–posting at least one a week after every dining experience. I often hear back from restaurants for the good and the bad.
American Bar Association members receive free continuing legal education credits through the monthly CLE Premier Speaker Series. Sponsored by the ABA and the Center for Professional Development, thousands of attorneys participate in each month’s complimentary webinar program.
It is a tremendous honor to have my program, Lawyer Rankings and Ratings: The Impact on Ethics and the Profession, selected for inclusion, on Monday, October 21, 2013 from 1-2:30 pm Eastern Time. If you are an ABA member, be sure to take advantage of attending this timely and topical CLE.
There may not be a bigger “industry” in law firm marketing and business development circles than the continued growth and proliferation of rankings and ratings. The Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics opinions have tried in vain to develop workable ethics barriers and parameters, however, the impact on the profession is significant–from the time and money spent to the permissible uses for promotion. Learn about ratings and their methodologies, and the ethical considerations voiced by various state and national bar associations. From long-time services by Martindale, American Lawyer Media, Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers; to relative newcomers such as Chambers USA and Avvo; and the thousands of other companies that have recognized there is a lot of money to be made in the business of lawyer rankings. Are they helping buyers of legal services make more informed decisions or hindering the profession as a whole?
If you’ve attended any of my Internet marketing ethics CLEs since I started teaching them in the late 90s, you know I said this was coming. Remember when my prime example of social media was a MySpace profile? Yeah, things have changed a bit. But concern about the content in unforeseen online content has always been something I examine in writing and reviewing law firm marketing efforts.
On June 26, 2013, the New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics issued Opinion 972, which in a nutshell says that “a Law firm may not list its services under heading of “Specialties” on a social media site, and lawyer may not do so unless certified as a specialist by an appropriate organization or governmental authority.” The opinion cites adherence to RPC rule 7.4.
In most cases and most states, I’ve discouraged attorneys from utilizing the “specialties” category for some time. In some cases, I suggest doing so with an added disclaimer pointing to the RPC. However, this is the first ethics opinion I’m aware of that really addresses the particular issue head on.