Category Archives: lawyers

law-lie

Lawyers Lie and Other Truths About Attorneys

Inside Counsel has an article called “37% of people say lawyers have ‘very low’ ethical standards” and the title really says it all: too many attorneys do not have a good reputation.

 The article gets that statistic from a Gallup poll that was conducted earlier this month, and even though we’re almost at a new year, I don’t think these statistics will improve much, unless some lawyers work on developing a better reputation.

When an attorney really is dishonest, he or she doesn’t deserve to have a good reputation, so I’m not talking about that type of lawyer. Even though there are unethical people in every profession, I doubt that the number of unethical lawyers adds up to 37 percent.  

Which means that attorneys have a lot to fix if they want the public to trust them. Think of all the education they’ve gotten and all the hard work they’ve done, to only be greeted with disdain from the public. That’s not good. 

What you should think about doing in the new year is planning to work against the negativity by offering good advice and help in the public square. There are many ways to improve your reputation and not get lumped in with the rotten attorneys. You can post helpful information on your own website, write an article, do an interview, be an expert in the media, make a speech at an organization, volunteer at your children’s school, participate in community projects, and more. 

Maybe Gallup will do another poll, and by the end of 2012, attorneys’ reputation stats will be better. Let’s hope so. 
friend_hair

Facebook – A Hairy Liability for Lawyers Working with the Media?

I read some good advice on the Slaw blog about a partner of a law firm who was “friends” with a reporter on Facebook. The reporter wanted a good picture of the attorney, and dug through Facebook to find one. Luckily, the photo wasn’t embarrassing, but can you imagine if it were? Not only would that be a public relations disaster, it could affect the firm and the attorney’s own professional life.  
So let this be a lesson to be careful about what you do on Facebook, and who you friend there, because you never know how much people will do with what you post or where you’re tagged.
If you’re wondering if there’s anything embarrassing about you on Facebook, do a search on Foupas, which is a Facebook search engine. Just do a search for your name, and try using quotes around it to see if you get different results. Some people forget what they’ve posted on Facebook, or didn’t pay attention when a photo was taken, and voila…they end up in a photo they wish had never existed. 

If you feel like you’ve gone too far and done too much on Facebook that is making you feel uncomfortable, you can try deactiving your Facebook account to reassess your activities. Some people end up deleting their account and starting over, so that any tags or posts they’re in are gone, and they can start fresh.

Whenever I think about posting anything on Facebook, I ask myself how it will affect my reputation, and even now, I feel like I’m pretty careful about what I post. But some people let their guards down and end up doing things that they don’t want other people to see…such as posting photos on a network of reporters who might end up using an embarrassing picture of them! So you really have to be careful out there.
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Making a Mess of Your Law Firm

While law firms are considered a “conservative” professional service business, they seldom always represent conservative issues or at best, neutral ones. The law, like anything else, is politically charged. Think “liberal” ACLU attorneys versus “conservative” ADF lawyers. Which brings me to Katherine Franke’s article at The Huffington Post titled, “King & Spalding’s Self-Made Mess.”

Ms. Franke did an excellent job of showcasing how one law firm managed to offend both the “left” and the “right” with one statement after it decided not to support the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA. Ms. Franke explains how this has become a public relations nightmare for King & Spalding’s reputation.

Here are my thoughts about when a law firm finds itself walking a very thin line among clients with divergent viewpoints:

  • Review the mission and values of the law firm. Can a law firm that represents evangelical Christians also defend the free speech rights of an atheist? Depends. If the firm values that the US Constitution protects the rights of the faithful and faithless, then it can serve both clients. If the partners believe that they have a call from God to defend Christianity, then serving conflicting clients will create…conflicts.
  • Plan for damage control. I remember a case where a public relations agency that represented Planned Parenthood also represented a major Catholic archdiocese. Talk about a battle between pro-abortion and pro-life organizations. If this was a law firm representing both, then you have to work through various scenarios. Find a way to keep both clients, or decide which client you would rather keep and do what is necessary to break off from the second client. (I wish I could explain how to do this in a blog post.)
  • Be transparent with your current clients. Before a law firm takes on a potentially “hot-button” new client, consider having a conversation with the clients who love your work and are advocates for your firm. Decide on which partners can talk to which clients and clue them in to the type of client you are considering that is likely to raise concern about certain groups. It’s a great way to show mutual trust, and you might learn something in the process like how your current clients value your going to the mat when it’s justified.

I know this particular matter with DOMA has opened many cans of worms. However, it’s a great lesson for other law firms to learn from when it comes to potential liabilities with your client mix.

dui

When a Lawyer’s Reputation Can be Damaged by Public Relations Consultants

This week, I had two meetings at a legal trade magazine where the reporter interviewed my clients from different law firms for two profile stories. I sat in the room quietly, listening as my clients shared their experiences as attorneys. I enjoy sitting in on these meetings because I often learn something new about my clients. I also make a point to keep my mouth shut and avoid trying to control the conversation. However, there’s a situation when meetings among a client, reporter and publicist can backfire in a big way.

The Seattle Times reported that a high-profile trial attorney, Anne Bremner, wants a court injunction to block the sheriff’s office from releasing investigative reports and video from her arrest two months ago on suspicion of drunken driving. The story goes on to say that the interview with the paper took place in the office a public relations specialist. The article also said:

Bremner is a well-known defense attorney who has often appeared on cable and national television stations to offer legal analysis. According to her website, she covered the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial in 2005 for CNN and has appeared on TruTV, “Good Morning America” and Fox News. Over the course of her 26-year career, she’s represented numerous police agencies, officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Clearly, Bremner is media-savvy. However, having this meeting in a publicist’s office was a strange move. If she’s as innocent as she says, why not meet the reporter at her offices or at a coffee shop? Why have a publicist in the room if you’re telling the truth about what happened? A publicist should not be seen or heard in these circumstances. Rather, a good prep session with the publicist and client before the meeting is the way to go.

It raises some suspicion that she needed to have the protection of a publicist and is trying not to allow the media to see her public records. This creates a “loop hole” for the media and citizen journalists to exploit, which opens up a new can of cats.

phone-book

Law Firms’ Public Relations Agencies Should Act Like eHarmony

Can you remember what a phone book looks like? Could you underline the names of the people who are worth over a million dollars? Not likely, since the wealth of each person is not listed. That’s one of the big jokes with many public relations professionals. Public relations agencies subscribe to media databases (phone books) and randomly send out generic emails messages that clog reporters in boxes or get lost in spam land. The true goal of the public relations professional is to use the data to establish a relationship between the media contacts and the agency’s clients, and it’s hardly done through emails or a generic phone pitch left on a voicemail.

I think a great way to think about this concept is with trial lawyers. Yes, the attorneys must prepare the court documents in a professional fashion. However, when you’re dealing with a jury, at some point the attorneys on both sides need to quickly establish a relationship with the jurors. And that’s accomplished through interpersonal communications that no court document can ever capture.

But back to the point of this post. 

Our agency uses a media “phone book” from a company called Cision. It’s a great database that allows our account executives to research media contacts based on location, topics of interest, and their contact information. MOST of these contacts say that their preferred mention of communication is email. Fair enough. You want to honor someone’s request. However, emails rarely create a relationship. (FYI, I met my wife through Eharmony, so I believe in online communications. However, without that first in-person date, we would not be at the point we are at now with expecting our second child.)

Too often public relations agencies think they are doing their media contacts and clients a favor by following this “rule” of email-only communications. Yet, when an agency is doing their job, they are truly servicing their clients and the media contacts when they send the email to ONLY those people where a “first date” on the phone or in-person is likely (by the way Eharmony had me answer about 500 questions, not something I ask our account executives to do for each media contact). It’s important to remember it’s media “relations” not “target marketing” email campaigns. After my wife and I learned about each other through our online Eharmony profiles, we had to eventually learn more about each other and that required personal interaction. The right “blend” between online communications and interpersonal communications is what is what great public relations professionals are able to create.

Law firms need their public relations agencies to blend their “court documents”  (read “emails”) with interpersonal communications (read “looking the jurors in their eyes when making a case”). If your public relations agency can’t do that, fire them.

In fairness to myself, I’ve landed our clients some awesome media coverage strictly through email communications when there was a tight deadline and I had the perfect client the media contact needed to talk to within hours. So razor sharp targeted emails do work. However, if it was such a great fit with a tight deadline, you can be sure that I backed up the email with a phone call too.

So, when should law firms fire their public relations agency or love them like an eHarmony connection? Well, ultimately it is about getting the results that matter most to the client. No results, no contract renewal with the agency.  And in the process, the public relations agency should be the go between to create a relationship between their law firm clients and the media contacts. A relationship that is firmly established with the best blend of online and personal communications.

lawyers-social-media

True or False: Corporate Counsel is to Social Media Like Oil is to Water

I’ve been searching for something related to public relations that will transcend time and technology and I’ve FINALLY FOUND IT: lawyers’ opinions. Over the years, there has been a polite conflict between corporate public relations professionals and corporate lawyers.

These two friendly adversaries debate whether t0 stay quiet verses almost absolute transparency, which the public craves. The PR people want let the truth be known, the lawyers don’t want to get sued.

I came across an article at Ragan.com titled: “Can Legal, communicators reach accord on social media?” An attorney at Dickinson, Mackaman, Tyler, & Hagen listed five things lawyers look for in social media:

1. Use properly attributed content (our PR agency works for a personal injury attorney and on THREE occasions we found other law firms stealing this attorney’s online content, including copying every word from his blog postings).

2. Avoid unfair or deceptive trade practices (At TC Public Relations, we’ve had to tell one legal client that words like “best,” “expert” and bragging about successes could get you successfully busted by the state agencies that regulate attorney marketing. It might also get your Wikipedia listing shut down).

3. Remember the FTC guidelines (basically, if you give something free to a blogger and they review it, they need to disclose it. As a practical matter, if I’m working with an experienced blogger, I’m NEVER going to tell them about ethical guidelines they should already know about. It’s my job to pursue ethical bloggers for our clients).

4. Will you allow feedback, comments or trackbacks? (I believe if you’re blogging you MUST keep the comment option ON. That’s like inviting someone to a party and telling them to have a good time but keep their mouth shut).

5. Have a crisis communications plan in mind (You might recall the YouTube video of the Domino’s Pizza employees spitting in the food and shoving cheese up their nose before putting it on a sandwich. While the legal department can look into filing a suit, there is really very little the law can do to prepare for this, except make social media guidelines clear in the employee manual and hope for the best).

So for those of you who are wondering where’s the PR Laugh is, it’s two sources (Ragan.com and Dickinson, Mackaman, Tyler, & Hagen) cited in this article. Neither had readily available links for me to connect this post with. Hey, I gave them credit, so I’m trying to follow the rules. Now I hope they reach out to me and give me the links.

judge

Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer?

A: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.

This lawyer joke reminds me of the huge difference I see in lawyers who are involved in public relations for their firms and those who are not.

On one side, I see the lawyers who see no value in managing their reputations outside of the contacts and business relationships they already have. These are the “old school” rainmakers who believe knowledge and expertise are the only things that win them new business.

On the other side, I see the “new school” lawyers who are on Twitter hourly, update their Facebook pages three times a day and try to be a featured speaker at every bar association and business organization event.

Here’s the PR laugh for me. Business is down for many law firms to the point where first year associates who used to start out at $160,000 are beginning at $60,000. Not poverty level for most families, but still it will slow down the tuition loan payments. For the “old school” rainmakers, this is a disaster in the making. Your business is down and you’re likely to hire the less talented people.

For the lawyers who are trying new marketing techniques without knowing what is working for them, they are on the “right track,” but not always going in the best direction. That’s because to do new social media marketing will takes an average of five hours per media platform per week to do it right. If these “new rainmakers” are on three social media platforms, what is the “investment” based on billable rates? It’s a value of $300,000 a year in marketing costs!

So the joke we started with should be rewritten: What’s the difference between a lawyer who knows how to market and one who does not? About $300,000. Not very funny, but the joke is on the lawyers who have not taken the time to “know” what works with marketing and communicate with those audiences.

snake

Social Media Snakes for Lawyers

Disclaimer, putting the words “snakes” and “lawyers” in the same line was not meant to degrade lawyers (ha, ha). Since I’ve worked on public relations campaigns for lawyer for years, I would not want to bite the hand the feeds me. However, the problem is that over those years, I’ve seen lawyers jump on the marketing bandwagon in a big way. So much so, that they’ll try almost anything from buying overpriced website design services to hiring people to ghost write their blogs.

There’s a LinkedIn group called Legal Blogging that has a discussion going about a BusinessWeek article titled Beware Social Media Snake Oil. The dialogue was started by a thought leader in this area, Kevin O’Keefe.
As a matter of disclosure, our agency helps our clients through the social media maze. However, we do disclose that while we can measure results, measuring the primary result with ROI in dollars is difficult. That’s because too often our clients don’t track all their business leads that come as a direct or indirect result from public relations or a social media campaign.
For fun, I went to YouTube and searched for videos on “social media for lawyers.” At the top of this was this:

Talk about irony, this “expert” video is a talking head that gives nothing more that few tips. And it does not make clear the ROI. This video reminds me of what I see being sold to lawyers: social media utopia for business development.

The PR laugh for me is that lawyers, highly skilled and skeptical professionals, sometimes fall for these “snake oil” sales pitches. Why? Not because they are not intelligent, but because in recent years their business has been down like other professional services company and they are desperate and feel that social media is the sure shot short cut cure.

justice-scales

Law Firm Taglines: Tasteful and Tacky

Any legal marketing professional will tell you how they feel the home page artwork for many law firms makes them cringe. That’s because so many use almost identical stock photos of court houses or scales of justice. (What justice, I was not able to participate in the Cash for Clunkers program with my 2003 Toyota Corolla, nothing just about that, anyway…)
Recently, Law.com has a story called “101 Damn Fine and Not-So-Fine Law Firm Taglines.” And they did a great job of summarizing the original posting from Stem Legal. The post speaks for itself, however, here’s an excerpt:
Five Law.com likes:
Shepard Mullin: Our Mission is Your Success
Arnall Golden Gregory: Not If, But How
Ervin Cohen & Jessup: It’s Not a Common Practice.
Lawrence Graham: Lawyers. Just Different.
Womble Carlyle: Innovators at Law

A couple not easily forgotten:

Foster Townsend Graham: Damn Fine Litigators.
Harris Beach: Lawyers you’ll swear by. Not at.
Harrison Pensa: In any case.

Some the writer felt were possibly made up by a four-year-old:
Dickinson Wright: Great Lawyers. Great Law Firm.
Mischon: Not just any law firm.
Here, your choice clearly boils down to Leadership versus Experience:
Alston & Bird: Leadership. Creativity. Results.
Crowell & Moring: Experience. Creativity. Results.
Harry Potter Wisdom Division
Locke Lord: Practical wisdom, trusted advice

Where’s the PR laugh here? Well, it depends. It’s only been in recent years that law firms have taken more marketing seriously. So while I would love to poke fun at self-serving tag lines like
“Great Lawyers, Great Law Firm.” I can’t. (Actually, based on marketing guidelines by individual states on how you can describe your firm, that tag line might be illegal, but that’s another post).

What I can chuckle about is how so many lawyers think they are marketers. While some are great self-promoters, some of those same lawyers need to rethink how their marketing efforts make them look sophisticated or silly.