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