Category Archives: Chicago Sun-Times; tom ciesielka

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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. 
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Would Jon Bon Jovi Be Better Off Dead?

Recently, to prove to people that he’s not dead, Jon Bon Jovi posted a picture of himself online with the statement that “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey”. I’m sure a lot of people think what he did is funny and are probably very happy to find out that he’s really alive, after rumors of his death were all over the Internet. However, I’m not laughing. I don’t consider myself a serious guy and I like to find humor wherever I can, but Bon Jovi is really making light of an eternal matter.

Newsflash to Bon Jovi: heaven isn’t really New Jersey. I think it’s arrogant to say that, and he never really died to find out where heaven really is. Plus, if he was right, how come no one has found John Lennon, Elvis, or Ray Charles there? 

Bon Jovi’s joke is a way to think about how your reputation is on the line in whatever you do. It’s important to not make light of serious matters when it comes to your own reputation management. What will people think of him from now on? Have you ever made a mistake by saying or doing something that was too frivolous for a serious situation? How did people respond? If you’re thinking of saying something in public you know is questionable, then consider what kind of image you’re putting out there. Everyone doesn’t have the same sense of humor and doesn’t see the world in the same way.
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Are Your Friends Worth $45 Billion?

Recently, USA Today had an article with the headline,”Google+ adds $45 billion to Net giant’s market value.” It made me think, why? Yes, Google is trying to take over all things online. And while $45 billion is still real money, even for the US government, it’s still about half of Facebook’s valuation. So what does all this mean to a non-business major who focuses on public relations?

Over the years, the value of my services has been tied to my personal database of media contacts. Clients and prospects have felt that because I have contacts at the New York Times or USA Today or “The Today Show,” they would get great publicity. Sometimes, not always, that is true. However, the real value of having contacts at media outlets has been about my connecting to their colleagues. And that’s where I believe Google and Facebook get their multi-billion dollar valuations: knowing you, means getting to know your contacts. Here’s how it plays out in public relations:
  • The Transfer of Trust Factor: Maybe you’ve heard public relations professionals referred to as “flacks” or “spin masters,” two very negative terms that make me ill when people describe my work that way. I knew that when I had a great working relationship with one reporter, who was my doorway into every other contact at that media outlet. Google + is all about access to whom we know who trusts us.
  • Faster Connections: I’m not talking Internet speed; I’m talking about the speed at which you can build a relationship with someone new. If it took me three months, three phone calls or three emails to build a relationship with the first contact at that outlet, it took about a third of the time to get up to speed with the reporters they introduced me to. With Google +, the trust factor that marketers and advertisers are buying into is that if you’re a fan, you can help them get more fans faster.
  • Blog “Circles”: When blog authors list other blogs they like, it tells you in short order who are the other key influencers. A client today asked me about research they needed done quickly. I did not have time to search Google or Yahoo! or to set up alerts. However, I did look at a key influencer and through their connections, I was able to give the client good advice in short order. Google + will also allow them to see how you “endorse’ friends or business contacts and makes it even easier for them to make target pitches, not just through you, but to all your connections.

The value of a blog, Facebook page, or Google + is nothing without personal connections that help marketers sell through you. When I was growing up, network marketing was big with Avon, Tupperware, and Shaklee vitamins. These companies worked hard to get their sales agents to get friends to buy their stuff and then get those friends to sell this stuff. Except then, it took months to build a network, not moments.

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Do You Really Need a Public Relations Degree to Be a Lawyer?

When I was in college, there really were no formal degrees in public relations. Most professionals had degrees in English, Journalism or Communications, like I did when I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Yet, a “fake” lawyer managed to practice law after posing as an attorney and handled more than 60 cases without a law degree. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that he was sentenced to two years in prison for such a crime. Ironically, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, “No one suspected anything for years because he did everything right — except obtain a law degree.”

I won’t agree that when I work with an attorney I expect that person to be legitimate. It is the type of professional service, like doctors and CPAs, where credentials, licensing, and certification are important. You can ruin peoples’ lives if you don’t know what you’re doing. (Think about all the people locked up in prison for decades and then released because they were innocent.)

While I enjoy working with lawyers and don’t expect them to get a public relations degree, in order to work with me, there are some courses I wish were part of a law degree:

  • Filing a Response to the Reporter on Time: Attorneys know all about statutes of limitations, court filing deadlines, and being at court on-time. Miss one of those, and it can lead to disciplinary actions against the lawyer. The same is required when attorneys are needed for a comment with reporters. The writers are on deadline, and with real-time news media, not responding in a timely manner can lead to being excluded from the story or even giving the impression you have something to hide.
  • The Facts Will Come Out Somewhere, Sometime: Attorney/client privilege is critical to protecting a client’s interest in a legal matter. However, it’s better for the attorney to hear the bad and the ugly before someone else leaks the information. When lawyers work with the media, while they may not be able to disclose confidential client information, they can still respond in a responsible way that helps to maintain their credibility with the media.
  • Associates Don’t Become Senior Partners Overnight: I’ve had attorneys with no media experience, expect to become an instant source for The Wall Street Journal. Unless the attorney threatens the lives of the Supreme Court justices, it’s not likely to happen. Attorneys know that most law firms have a path to go from first year associate to partner and beyond. It can often take years. While media relations may not move that slowly, building relationships and credibility with major news outlets requires paying your dues.

Perhaps Prison Legal News can develop a new section of their publication for when lawyers break the “public relations laws.”