Category Archives: legal marketing

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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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Immature or Savvy Legal Marketing?

A lot of men have bald or thinning hair, some have a potbelly, and others aren’t thrilled about getting older. You can make money from that! Or at least from being bald. No, this isn’t a sales pitch to grow your hair, but a way a lawyer is pitching himself to get new clients in his ads for Mybaldlawyer.com.
I read about it at the Legal Watch blog where they pointed out other examples of ways that lawyers stand out from the competition with garish or racy images. It’s a great way to create buzz because it’s controversial, but is it really appropriate for a professional? When promoting your firm, you should consider what kind of image you want people to walk away with. If you want to be smart, it’s best to avoid such tactics.  

In some ways, doing whatever it takes to get more clients than other lawyers seems sophomoric and immature. I’m sure those attorneys who have billboards with half-dressed women to promote the benefits of divorce aren’t lacking in clients and have made decent money from selling their merchandise, but what about their reputation? You don’t have to cheapen yourself to make a good living. In the long run, behaving like a professional is better than making a flashy splash and being remembered for being silly.  

So it’s something to think about: do you want to make lots of money at any cost, or do you want people to respect you by promoting your firm in a professional way? I’d take the latter.
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Behave Lawyers, Or Else!

I read an interesting post at Above the Law about judges who have “punished” misbehaving attorneys by inviting them to a “kindergarten party” and “a ‘special’ emergency refresher course in first year ethics and civility.”

It’s an obvious case of a “shame-on-you” discipline program, and both of those special “invites” sound like harsh reactions to immature attorneys, but it makes us all think that it’s important to watch our behavior, no matter where we are.

Not all behavior is as extreme as in this video of a Cleveland courtroom, where a defendant throws a backpack at the judge’s bench and beats up the public defender. However, not presenting truthful information or whining is not acceptable, not just in a courtroom, but anywhere.

Even though most of us aren’t videotaped, we still have to be careful about how we act. One judge cancelled his kindergarten party, and the other judge was replaced by someone who canceled the refresher course, so the attorneys didn’t have to “waste” their free time. But their behavior was publicly exposed, and they probably felt humiliated. Hopefully attorneys can avoid public embarrassment by acting like grownups.

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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.”

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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.

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The Importance of Jelly Beans in Today’s Legal World



All aboard the Jelly Belly Express with Tom and Elizabeth

 Recently, I was on vacation with my family in Racine, Wisconsin. The great thing about small towns near Chicago is that they can be as interesting as Disney World for our 22-month-old daughter. On the way home we stopped at Jelly Belly for one of the free tours that provides a multimedia presentation on the history of the company, how those little beans are made and a drive through the warehouse.

As you board the Jelly Belly Express train, they give you a paper hat because its a legal requirement in a food storage facility. You also have to wear a safety belt. Although I saw no real danger in a train that goes .5 miles an hour The “real danger” is Jelly Belly’s free sample kiosk in the store (I limited my requests to six samples).

I know we live in a litigious society where so much of life is about covering yourself legally. However, a Jelly Belly warehouse tour is a good example of being legal and having fun. Yes, you need to protect yourself by following rules and regulations, like having you hair covered in a food facility. Yet, as you can see in the picture, the hats were good fun for Elizabeth and me. And we can be sure that no one will sue Jelly Belly for finding one of Tom Ciesielka’s hairs in a cherry-flavored bean.

Additionally, the fact that they provided plenty of staff to monitor the safety for guests (and give away bags of free Jelly Bellys at the end of the tour) made it a very sweet experience.

I know that when law firms think about public relations they often think about presenting papers at trade shows, writing articles in business magazines, or sending out e-cards (to be “green”) at Christmas time. Those are safe ways to handle your public relations and they follow the “rules” of such a conservative profession.

However, why not have a little fun? Find a way to interact with clients in a unique fashion. I work for an attorney who brings his clients and prospects to karaoke bars for business development.  Sure there are a million excuses for not doing that, one being to avoid over comsumption of alcohol and another to guard against people singing “I Did It My Way” off-key. However, he’s not worried about that because he knows it will be a memorable experience.

I hope that lawyers and their marketing departments will find ways to lighten up. By the way, Jelly Belly offers a service where they can print a law firm’s logo on their product.  If you decide to try that at your firm, please send me a couple bags for our office. Thanks.

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Slick Attorneys

Working with both IP and PI attorneys has helped our agency get a complete view of legal marketing. And both now have a news hook to weigh in on, and possibly cash in on the BP oil crisis.

Intellectual property lawyers who specialize in green technology and alternative energy have a golden opportunity to help their clients capitalize on the U.S. government’s desire to more quickly advance energy innovations.

For personal injury attorneys the question becomes: Where does the harm and damage end with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

What inspired this post was a story I read at ClickZ titled BP Oil Spill Fuels Legal Marketing Machines. While the article focuses on lawyers who are marketing to find aggrieved businesses and property owners seeking damages, it really opens up a whole new discussion on law firm marketing. Here are my thoughts:

  • Genuine opportunity to focus on helping others: There’s no question that relief efforts for the people, wild life and natural resources are a top priority. However, there are legal matters that need to be addressed almost as quickly. Attorneys who have a genuine interest and expertise should market to help the region recover and get what is fair and just from settlements with BP and the government. Lawyers might even get creative and help their reputation by finding ways to connect with non-profit organizations involved in the clean-up.
  • Moving Beyond the Disaster: While we know it will take months to fix the gushing oil leak and years to get the region somewhat back to normal, there is still something to consider beyond that. The attorneys that have been practicing in environmental law and alternative energy development stand ready to think through the legal implications of what can be done now in setting the agenda in the courts and in perhaps litigation that will set the stage for a greener environment.
  • There’s Nothing Wrong with Marketing Your Services When There’s A Need Due to a Disaster: People buy life insurance from trusted companies. The Red Cross mounts massive fundraising campaigns right after a tragic incident. Some people talk to a funeral director to make arrangements for after they’re gone. While people may not see how such services relate to attorneys, I would argue that attorneys who have the expertise to help, should get out there and make their services known in an ethical fashion.

Most law firms still take the slow conservative approach to marketing. What’s ironic is that attorneys, especially trial lawyers, aggressively go after the win in court without reservations. Why the dichotomy of lion and lamb when comparing legal practice to legal marketing?

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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.

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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.