In the November/December 2022 marketing column in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Magazine, Marketing Ethics Compliance Continues to Confound, I combine a number of business development topics into one.
When writing my column, I often start by thinking about what “hot” areas I’m working on at the moment. In the 21 years-plus since launching HTMLawyers, I’d say most years that the bulk of law firm clients have been on the marketing and business development guidance side; a slight amount dedicated to my related but separate ethics practice. However, in recent years, it has flipped. I find myself spending a lot of time behind the desk reviewing a vast variety of marketing campaigns for law firms around the nation—not to give my two cents on the marketing aspects, but to review for ethics compliance. I help law firm managing partners and GCs sleep better at night. They don’t want to be at the helm when that disciplinary letter rolls in, or worse. It is a practice area loaded with inconsistencies, confusion and varied levels of enforcement. All of which makes it a super fun area to practice.
Yet, it is a marketing column, not an ethics one. It was a conversation with Greg Siskind, my fellow magazine marketing columnist, about business generation coming from unexpected places that I had that moment of clarity. Writing about the ethics practice was writing about marketing, as I traced the way I accidentally became nationally recognized in a practice area through all of the things I preach to my attorney clients on a daily basis—thought leadership, writing, speaking, etc. Like many of my strategic efforts at a firm, I push playing the “long game”, and how really great marketing is rarely based on a “silver bullet” idea that translates to revenue overnight.
So, when I taught that first CLE program back in the late ‘90s, how much did I really know about the subject matter? I did what many of us lawyers do all the time—agreed to be on a panel, read and researched what I could find on the subject matter (today via Google, back then it took a little more work), and hoped that nobody in the audience asked me something I did not know. It started by reading the Rules of Professional Conduct and a bunch of ethics opinions. While I still look at the RPC and related opinions today, the nuances of the practice go well beyond that. But you read and research for two decades, and I no longer worry about anyone asking me anything I don’t know the answer to. It is a success story I retell when sitting down with law firms to identify new practice areas—where we might need to read and research for a bit, not fake it per se, but learn as we go along—until it becomes a full-fledged practice, through marketing, yes, and perseverance. For me, it is the confluence of marketing and ethics. I would not have it any other way.