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October 2014 Archives

Does Your Law Firm Website Need Videos?

I have a pet peeve: I hate it when a website has a really interesting link in a post, something that SCREAMS "Click me! CLICK ME!" like the "Exorcist" girl, and then when I do, it's a standalone video.

A video. A video that I can't watch in public unless I have headphones, a video that will take a ton of my monthly data allotment on my phone, a video that I can't watch at work because that would totally be unprofessional.

But not everybody is me. Some people like videos. Some people would rather watch a three-minute video than read a 900-word article. And if that sounds like your target clientele, you might be wondering: Should your law firm website have videos?

Which Corporate Form Is Best for Your Law Firm?

In the 1980s cartoon classic "Garfield's Halloween Adventure," Garfield sings a song about what he should be for Halloween. The same song could apply to new lawyers forming some kind of firm. There are just so many corporate forms to be!

Should you be a PC, LLC, LLP, or another type of entity? Thankfully, we're here to help you make some sense of this alphabet soup so you can decide what's best for you.

But first, here's Garfield:

3 Simple Tips for Law Firms on Facebook

Truth be told, if someone asked me whether their law firm should have a Facebook page, my gut reaction would be "no." Why? Practically speaking, it's a lot of work for little payout, more so now that Facebook has entered the "Pay to Play" era. A Facebook page that pays dividends is going to require constant fresh content, moderation of user comments, and likely an advertising budget.

But if your firm already has a Facebook page, or if you really want one, here are three simple tips to make it worth your time:

Should We Elect Judges? Shady Money Answers Obvious Question

Is electing judges a good idea? Our gut reaction is "no," but for the sake of argument, let's take a look at the current state of the courts to see just what's happening with elected versus appointed judges.

In Pennsylvania, a former Supreme Court judge just dropped her appeal of her sentence for campaign-related crimes. In Illinois, a record-breaking 2004 campaign, for which $9.3 million was spent by or on behalf of the candidates, has been followed up with a 10-years-in-the-making retention election sequel, raising questions of why lawyers and businesses are dumping millions into that election -- to "buy" an outcome for their upcoming Illinois Supreme Court case perhaps? There's even money being dumped into a district court race in Missouri.

And then there's the hypocritical rules on raising funds -- in many states, judges mustn't solicit donations but do need to fund their campaign -- that led to a Supreme Court cert. grant earlier this year.

It's a mess, one that could be solved easily with one small change: Ending the popular election of judges.

How Do Lawyers Become Adjunct Professors?

If you've thought about becoming a law professor, you probably know that it's hard to become a full, tenured professor. You have to go to the right school (cough, Yale, cough) and then spend the next several years writing articles and doing research.

If you're a practitioner, that's not a likely sequence of events. But what you can do is become an adjunct -- an untenured "guest" professor who teaches courses here and there (though, increasingly, more than just here and there).

Want to teach young minds, and make a little extra money on the side? Here are a few potential ways to do it:

3 Bad Marketing Ideas That Can Get Your Law Firm Sued

What's the quickest way to get yourself sued, for the most amount of money, advertising-wise? It's as simple as picking up the phone (or fax).

Unsolicited calls, texts, and faxes, which are often made in bulk, can lead to statutory damages of between $500 and $1,500 per violation. We've seen plenty of appellate cases dealing with the nuances of the law and regulations. And as you might expect, appellate courts have little sympathy for telemarketers and junk faxers.

We're not even going to talk about ethics rules here, not just because they vary so much by state, but because it's hard to imagine an unsolicited text/call/fax campaign that wouldn't violate solicitation rules. (If you're looking for the next big thing in law firm marketing, either put the phone and fax down, or talk to someone who really knows what they're doing.)

5 Tips for Writing Lawyerly Letters of Recommendation

Prestigious legal jobs, up to and including federal clerkships, require letters of recommendation, that most hagiographic of exercises that's really fairly pointless. Seriously: What is a prospective employer going to learn in a letter of recommendation? (The dark secret is that this is the employee's chance to show off whom he or she knows.)

It's getting to be recommendation season, so if you're going to write a letter of recommendation for young lawyers, law students, or even prospective law students, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Lawyers: 5 Reasons Why You Should Resurrect Your Blog

How many times have you stumbled upon a blog that was once active, but hasn't been updated since 2009? Or you go to someone's website and see the infamous WordPress placeholder: "Hello world! Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!" Gross.

It's easy to start a blog. It's far more difficult to keep one alive. If your firm's blog has stagnated, and you're in desperate need of a little motivation, here are five reasons to resurrect your blog, including SEO benefits, two easy types of posts for when you're stuck, marketing benefits, and of course, the creative outlet:

Apple Just Launched Apple Maps Connect: Add Yourself ASAP

We've talked a lot about the importance of local-mobile searches, but here's the two-sentence recap: Searches from mobile phones is rising exponentially, and Google prioritizes local business listings on its search results page. Plus, adding a local listing simply makes it easier for people who are looking for you to actually find you, especially since everybody uses their smartphone for navigation.

That latter point is why you may want to sign up for Apple Maps Connect as soon as possible. While adding yourself to Apple's database may be of no use whatsoever in search engine queries, it will help the legions of iPhone users locate your office.

Remembering Ben Bradlee: 5 Life Lessons for Lawyers

Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died Tuesday at the age of 93. Bradlee was the editor of the Post during one of its most difficult times, and the time that made it famous: the Watergate scandal of 1972-73. Even long after Watergate, Bradlee continued to helm the Post, cementing its place as a national newspaper, not just a "metropolitan daily."

So what lessons can lawyers learn from Bradlee?

Google Just Updated Penguin. Why Is This Important for Lawyers?

Penguin? What's that? Don't worry if those are the first three words out of your mouth. Unless you -- like those of us at FindLaw -- spend all of your day worrying about search engine optimization and other online marketing buzzwords, don't feel bad that you don't know about Penguin.

In the wacky world of online marketing, it's important to know not only how to market, but how the marketing system itself works. Penguin is, for better or worse, a part of this ecosystem, and Google updated it earlier this week.

Here's why this matters for lawyers:

Facebook Sues Paul Ceglia's Lawyers, Alleging Malicious Prosecution

It's one thing to represent someone who has a questionable case. It's quite another to continue to press forward with a lawsuit when you have evidence that the case is not only questionable, but fraudulent.

If Facebook is to be believed, that's exactly what the multi-firm team that represented Paul Ceglia did. Ceglia claimed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sold him an ownership stake (now worth billions) in his startup social network. Ceglia's lawsuit was dismissed after evidence emerged that the contract he presented as proof of a deal was a forgery.

Fresh off that victory, Facebook isn't pursuing Ceglia for the false claims; the company is suing his lawyers.

Blogging Lawyer's Copyright Claim Against Ethics Board Fails

This is one of the more absurd copyright claims, and absurd responses to a disciplinary proceeding, that you'll ever see.

Joanne Denison, an attorney, has a blog about the trials and tribulations of Mary Sykes, a 90-year-old "probate victim." The blog contains a number of allegations of corruption in the Probate Court of Cook County, Illinois, along with accusations of elder abuse and physical and mental harm inflicted upon Sykes.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) filed a complaint against Denison listing a handful of alleged ethics violations, most of which regarded her statements on her blog. In the complaint, which was published on the IARDC's website, 15 paragraphs from her blog were quoted. Denison's response? To sue, alleging a copyright violation.

Lawyer Mom Scolded for Baby in Court Files Complaint Against Judge

Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle took on a pair of brothers as clients in early September. Knowing that she had a six-week maternity leave coming up, she immediately filed a request to postpone the hearing. After a month, and with only a week until the hearing, Judge J. Dan Pelletier Sr. denied her request, stating: "No good cause. Hearing date set prior to counsel accepting representation," reports The Associated Press.

On October 7, 2014, with her husband out of town on work, no friends or family in the area, and no daycare willing to take a 4-week-old baby, Ehrisman-Mickle showed up to court with her baby strapped to her chest -- after clearing it with her pediatrician. When her child began to cry, Judge Pelletier publicly scolded her for her behavior and questioned her parenting, commenting that she was exposing her child to many germs in court.

Judge Pelletier eventually delayed the hearing, while Ehrisman-Mickle filed a formal complaint the same day.

5 Ways to Tell When a Client Is Lying to You

There's really nothing worse than a client who has a strictly casual relationship with the truth. (Well, maybe that and a client who can't pay you.) When clients lie, it makes life difficult for everyone and makes you look like a schmuck; attorney-client privilege sort of precludes exclaiming, "But he swore up and down he didn't have any other assets!" But even if no one else finds out about the lie, it harms your ability to represent your client. One lie begets another; how do you know that everything isn't a lie? Finding out requires time, which means money.

In order to fend off the possible sanctions, the bruised ego, or something as prosaic as opportunity cost, how can you make sure that your client is telling the truth? (Note that this advice isn't for clients who plan to lie to a tribunal, but rather clients who aren't being forthright with you.) Here are five signs to look out for:

7 Online Marketing Buzzwords Every Lawyer Should Know

In case you weren't aware, today is National Dictionary Day. We've been talking a lot about legal marketing and how solos and small practices can do it more effectively. But sometimes, there's a tendency to get loaded down in jargon, which can put people off.

You've undoubtedly heard of things like a "click-thru" and "SEO," but you may not have known what the heck is going on. So what do all of these marketing words mean?

Here are seven that every lawyer should probably know:

Amal Clooney Now Practices Under Her Married Name. Should You?

Amal Alamuddin. Amal Clooney. Amal Alamuddin Clooney. This whole marriage thing can get a bit confusing, right?

It's even more confusing for clients and the court, which is why the decision about whether to practice law under your maiden or married name is pretty darn important. There's the marketing and name recognition aspect. There are ethics considerations too. And, of course, the convenience factor: changing firm names, business cards, websites, and letting clients and the court know.

Maybe hyphenation is in order?

DOJ: For Plea Deals, No More Ineffective Counsel Appeal Waivers

One of the more ridiculous inventions in the law has to be the waiver of the right to appeal, especially the right to bring claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Imagine if we could all make our missteps and mistakes go away by having clients sign waivers -- there would be no malpractice suits, no insurance requirements, and maybe even no disciplinary proceedings.

There would also be a whole heck of a lot more misconduct and far less faith in the justice system. That's why it's heartening to see that the Department of Justice is finally ending its practice (albeit a somewhat sporadic practice) of requiring defendants to waive ineffective assistance claims as part of a plea bargain.

Even if, as the policy change memorandum notes, "federal courts have uniformly held a defendant may generally waive ineffective assistance claims pertaining to matters other than the entry of the plea itself," the goal should be fairness and adequate representation, even at the cost of a few additional appeals.

The Ins and Outs of Attorney Client Referrals

Part of the reason you're doing all the networking we keep harping about is so that you can get referrals from other lawyers. Like your friend the tax attorney who knows a guy who knows a guy who needs a personal injury attorney -- like you.

New lawyers especially might not know how to navigate referrals, so we've provided this handy guide so that you know how to take advantage of referrals -- and do it without violating any laws.

25 Things You Shouldn't Have on Your Law Firm Website

Web design: Many have tried, and nearly as many have failed miserably. And while a do-it-yourself site, with a barely recognizable color scheme and misspelled words might be OK for your local hobby group, a lawyer's professional site demands quite a bit more. It needs to be clean, modern, and as mistake-free as possible.

And it really, really can't have any of these things:

10 LinkedIn Groups Every Lawyer Should Join

What is LinkedIn for? Is it for recruiters? Job seekers? Is it a social network? Yes, it's all of those.

One way that LinkedIn adds value is through its "groups," which are bulletin board-style groups that occasionally post messages. If you're a legal professional who wants to use LinkedIn to its fullest, then you've got to be a member of groups. And if you're going to be a member of groups, then you've at least got to be a member of these 10 groups:

Colors and Law Firm Branding: What Lawyers Need to Know

Colors matter. Scientists know this from years of studying the effects of color on people. Color can effect clients' perceptions of you because different colors evoke different emotions. Do you want your client to think you're aggressive? Or do you want your client to trust you?

Color is also important in branding; for example, when you see a particular shade of blue on a website, you may think of Facebook. When you see red cans in the soda aisle, you probably think of Coca Cola. So what messages are you sending with your colors? (And more importantly, did you even think this was important? 'Cause it is.)

Turning Down Clients: 4 Ways to Say 'No Thanks'

Not every potential client who walks through the door is worth the trouble. There's the controlling "my uncle is a lawyer and he said..." client. There's the "can you bill me later... at a lower rate" client. And, of course, the overly specific herpes defense client.

When you start out, you'll be tempted to take every case that walks in the door. First of all, don't. And as you get further along in your practice, not only will that feeling subside, but you'll get better at learning when to say no, and more important, how.

For now, here are a few ways, each of which is inspired by the many times I've been rejected, for softening the blow while still getting the message across:

5 Lawyer TV Commercial Stereotypes That Have to Go

TV commercials are an integral part of lawyer advertising and marketing. If you go too far outside the mainstream, people will make fun of you (and we have).

On the other hand, some standbys of lawyer TV ads are so trite and overused that they've become parodies of themselves. Don't you fall victim to that! (Points out of monitor at reader.) If you're going to do TV advertising, do your best to avoid these five silly stereotypes:

NYC 'Chokehold' Lawyer Quits Amid Rape Accusations

You'll recall that in July, Eric Garner, a man from Staten Island, was placed in a lethal chokehold by NYPD officers after he was arrested for the inherently dangerous felony of selling untaxed cigarettes. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) Garner's family filed a civil suit against the NYPD.

Well, things just took a turn. In another case of lawyers (allegedly) behaving badly, Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney representing Garner's family, was accused of rape earlier this week and has now said he will drop out of the case.

Do You Need a Lawyer Nickname or a Law Firm Tagline?

Much like the stupid local Pizza Hut TV commercial I mentioned earlier this week, there was always a second commercial that played during afternoon cartoons that I could recite by memory: Rubins, Kase, Rubins, Cambiano, & Bryant, "Because There's Strength in Our Numbers."

So cheesy -- yet so memorable, especially when it plays on television 87 times per day. But they've got nothing on the Internet champ: the legend Lowell "The Hammer" Stanley.

What do these legends, and many other lawyer marketing legends have in common? They all have a gimmick -- a nickname or slogan.

5 Ways to Serve Your Community (and Get Your Name Out There Too)

So you want to get your law firm's name out in the community, but you also want to help the community. Why can't you do both at the same time?

Like the Invisible Hand, you can do one while necessarily doing the other. Here are five ways you can help the community while providing a little plug for yourself:

The Pros and Cons of Niche Practice

Personal injury? Wills and trusts? Even criminal defense? Blech -- everyone's doing that. In this job market, you've got to distinguish yourself somehow. You might be tempted to do that by getting into a niche practice.

If you're good at it, you might find yourself a local expert in the field. Then again, it might be "niche" for a reason.

Here are some pros and cons to consider:

3 Mistakes Lawyers Make in Radio Commercials

Radio commercials are like the middle child of lawyer marketing -- everyone knows they exist, but they are far too often forgotten or neglected. People always remember the older kids (print and television ads) and the younger kids (websites and social media), but radio? It's probably one of the last things you think of, and yet, who doesn't listen to the radio, at least occasionally?

Of course, not all radio ads are going to be effective. You need to be memorable. You need to get attention. And you need to avoid common slip-ups. Here are a few that are easily avoided:

5 Mistakes Lawyers Make With Business Cards

Business cards are ubiquitous. Lawyers have been using them for centuries and yet, somehow, some way, people still manage to botch their business cards.

How? Maybe the card is too flimsy. Or maybe it's missing vital information, like an email address. Or perhaps it's just plain ugly.

Here are five mistakes that you should avoid when ordering your next batch of attorney business cards:

Are You the 'Law Office Of' or 'Law Offices Of'?

Yesterday, my fellow FindLaw blawgger Marky Mark wrote about Maverick Ray, a lawyer who was hired to represent a capital murder defendant despite having only a few months' experience. That's still happening, apparently, because the client has a Sixth Amendment right to hire whomever the hell he damn well pleases, and besides: Whatever, bro -- the "Top Gun Lawyer" can bang out a cap. case like that.

While we were all sitting around mocking the self-proclaimed "Assassin of Suppression," someone stumbled upon Mark Bennett's point that Ray calls his firm "The Law Offices of Maverick Ray," despite only having one office.

Can you do that, or will the state bar bench-slap you?

What Exactly Is a 'Boutique' Law Firm?

Someone asked me the other day about "boutique" law firms. My response was a stutter and a mumble about specialization. But the truth is, if you go on Craigslist or Google and look for firms, chances are that you'll see a whole heck of a lot of firms flinging around that adjective.

From an informal office poll, none of us could really tell if a "boutique" firm really was a distinct thing, or just another marketing term tossed around on the Internet and on business cards. The message to clients from these highfalutin' firms is that this is more than your ordinary shingle-hanger -- the adjective provides some assurance that this is a specialized firm focusing on close attention (though it's true that all firms pretty much promise that). Going with a boutique also means the client doesn't pay for 57 practice areas that a BigLaw firm covers, but she never needs.

But even with all that said, "boutique" is still a nebulous concept.

Looking for New Clients? What About Your Old Ones?

When you're looking to expand your client base, there's no better resource than the clients you already have. "But," you say in protest, "They're more like former clients. I haven't heard from them in months."

That might be true, but they may still need some legal assistance and they might not know you can help.

So how can you leverage old clients to create new business? Here are three strategies that may work for you:

5 Mistakes Not to Make With Your Law Firm Website

Setting up a website for a law firm? That's easy! Just go to one of those DIY tools -- a site builder -- and put up a page with contact info, the list of attorneys, and a brief rundown of the services you offer, right? It's basically a yellow pages ad for the 21st century!

Not quite, folks. While we're all about DIY, just as a novice watching Bob Villa's "This Old House" (the original version, of course) can screw up his bathroom tile, a shingle-hanging attorney can really mess up his professional website by falling into a number of common traps.

Here are a few that we see all the time: