Category Archives: law firms

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. 
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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.

lawyer-reputation

Lawyers to Avoid

I’ve been thinking about why a law firm decides to spend money on public relations. If it’s not to further promote their reputation and trusted attorneys, then that money is wasted.
If you do a Google search for “lawyer” and “reputation” one of the top paid links is for Lawyerratingz,which has the headline: Lawyers to Avoid. It appears to mostly cater to consumers looking for lawyers. For fun, I put in the name of a personal injury attorney I know and he was not listed. I then searched for one of the top intellectual property attorneys I work for and he was listed, but had no reviews for him. It’s not clear to me how this particular site has value for someone searching for a lawyer be it a PI or IP practice.

While I am an advocate of lawyers having blogs to exhibit their expertise (assuming it is very specific), I also encourage them to consider how “not” to become a lawyer that people want to avoid.
Certainly, building the reputation of a personal injury lawyer is much different than a patent attorney’s. I believe there are common image building traits for many practice areas:

1. Lawyers need to overcome an inherent mistrust about their character. I’m not talking about the “ambulance chaser” image of PI attorneys when I was growing up. I’m talking about 21st century “overbilling image” that is calling for the death of the billable hour. Attorneys who address this issue in regards to the integrity of their billing practices will go a long way in enhancing their reputations. For example, check out the website for Valorem Law Group. Their first flash animation states “The Billable Hour is Dead.” Talk about tackling the issue head on.

2. When it comes to marketing, lawyers are still learning to crawl: I wonder how many 2010 law school graduates understand the 1950s legal term “rainmaker?” Firm growth is no longer about a few super stars at the top that bring in all the revenue. New associates are now being trained early on in business development. They are also being told in firm policy manuals to mind their manners with their online profiles at social networks.Face time client development has morphed into Facebook policing at some law firms.

3. Lawyers Fear Asking the Hard Questions for Marketing Services: I had a blog post titled Social Media Snakes for Lawyers. My point was that there are hundreds of marketing, public relations and social media services making near impossible promises such as simply pay a fee, get consultations with a marketing/public relations expert, and like magic the firm’s reputation will be enhanced and clients will come begging for your services. This type of magic is reserved for something more realistic, like unicorns. I’ve seen too many law firms think they can throw money at something that can enhance their reputation, without their involvement. Attorneys need to ask the questions to know exactly how their reputation will be enhanced with these services and understand the “costs” that has nothing to do with what they are charged (e.g. their personal time, giving the consultants direction and benchmarks to measure progress against).

For attorneys to become trust advisors to their clients, it starts with a reputation management strategy, not a repulsive brand of lawyering.

mike-photo

Are Law Firm PR Pros Overpaid or Underpaid?

Sometimes the best blog posts are inspired by other bloggers. In this case, Robert J. Ambrogi’s blog LawSites provided me with and idea that I have never looked into: what am I worth to a law firm? Here’s something from his blog that I’d like to respond to:

The gist of my post is to ask whether law firm PR professionals are overpaid or underpaid or whether law firms even need PR pros on staff. My opinion is that a skilled and knowledgeable communications professional can be highly valuable to a law firm. That’s not to say there aren’t incompetent PR folks out there. As a former newspaper editor, I’ve encountered my fair share of clueless PR folks. But as I say in my forum post, in an age of social media, law firms do themselves a disservice not to use a communications or media professional.

If you read his entire post and related links, you’ll see that law firm media professionals have salaries that range from $50,000 to $375,000. In comparison, larger law firms in Chicago, on average, publish that they start out their associate attorneys at around $160,000/year. So if you are motivated by money and deciding between legal PR verses becoming a lawyer, I’ve solved your career decision.

When our public relations agency works with law firms, I find that how they value public relations can be as different as practicing IP verse PI law. While the PR professional can point to values such as ad rate equivalency, number of LinkedIn connections or followers on Twitter, the real value meter lies in the hearts of the attorneys.

I find that more lawyers need to ask themselves these types of questions when it comes to deciding how much to invest in public relations:

  1. Where does it fit into my business development chain?: While public relations results can range from being quoted in the New York Times to speaking to a national trade organization, the main issue is knowing how it fits into a marketing strategy. So if speaking four times a year at national industry conferences can eventually yield one million dollars of new business a year, then the work your PR person did might justify a six figure salary.
  2. What will the lawyer invest? I’ve seen public relations and marketing people inside law firms loose their jobs because their efforts did not get the phone to ring. Yet, when attorneys were given leads to follow up with or were asked to mingle at a trade show, the lawyers dropped the ball. For the PR person in these instances, they were worth paying minimum wage because they never got buy in from the attorneys to follow through on initiatives.
  3. Do you want tactical or strategic PR people?: Some lawyers see their internal marketing and public relations staff as additional administrative staff. Just having them order business cards, update the copy on their websites or write press releases and post online. It would be better to get an English major who knows basic HTML to handle that work. However, the law firm who sees their internal marketing people as part of a business development strategy, will include them in managing partner meetings to decide how to best bring in the business. For these marketers, somewhere in the six figures seems right.

So to respond to Mr. Ambrogi’s question, it all depends on the attorneys who run the firm and whether they are willing to invest time to understand the value they want from a public relations professional. It’s not a matter of getting what you paid for, it’s more a matter of knowing what you want and finding the people who are worth hiring to get you the value you desire.

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.

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.

lawyers

Why So Many Lawyers are Failures

Around the holidays, I had a great conversation with Kevin O’Keefe who is best known as the brains behind lexblog. When he saw that I quoted him in a previous blog, he reached out to me and we pursued setting up a phone conversation. We did everything right.

My blog linked to his website, he watched for his name being used, he reached out to me, I was honored to have someone with his expertise contact me, and the love goes on. The point is, we did everything right in connecting with other people. Yes, it started out as a social media/social networking/citizen journalism exchange (or whatever you want to call it). However, we connected and learned about each others expertise and experience in a way that means I will never forget him. Too bad that so many lawyers don’t get public relations.

I just noticed an article at the American Bar Association titled “Why Law Firm Public Relations Fails.” Wow, what a great find for me. (Disclaimer, the author is not on the ABA staff, but it was written by a former journalist turned public relations professional). The article references the book “The Expert’s Edge,” which spells out how consistently presenting specific and targeted expertise in various formats (e. speaking, writing articles) will increase your public relations success and get more calls from the media.

Here’s the PR laugh for me. Lawyers are very smart people. They know the power of precise words and how those words can land you in court or prevent you from unnecessary litigation. They also know that it takes time and often teamwork to get those words right. Yet, too many lawyers think that a press release, one speaking event a year, or contributing a generic article on their area of law will make a difference. However, when they decide to follow a strategic public relations plan consistently or find a trusted advisor inside/outside the law firm, then they can expert to garner the media attention that shows their smarts.
By the way, check out the video below. Do you think this is genuine public relations for this lawyer interviewed or a pay for placement?

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.