Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

June 2009 Archives

Beware of Brand Impersonators on Twitter

If you haven't started an account on the microblogging service Twitter yet, here's another reason to go ahead and take the plunge: businesses are often the subjects of fake Twitter profiles, some of which are even started by competitors. 

That's why it's a good idea to start an account and being posting updates - or "tweets" - in order to establish yourself as the real voice of your firm.

As the Iran election shows, people are getting more and more of their information from Twitter.  This trend suggests that many people are looking for information about attorneys on Twitter as well.  There's also this attorney's personal anecdote on how he found clients on Twitter and other social networks. 

Fight the Good Fight, Get Free Westlaw

When business gets slow, it can be a good idea to take on some pro bono cases in order to keep active and spread the word about your firm.  Pro bono work offers attorneys the chance to engage in some professional networking and learn about different areas of the law, all while doing good.

The only problem with pro bono work is that it's pro bono.  Attorneys don't get paid, and complicated cases can result in a large amount of expenses, which can be hard to deal with when the economy is already slumping.
In keeping with yesterday's theme of things to leave out of your overall firm strategy, here's a tale that illustrates how you shouldn't go about marketing your firm on Twitter.

[Twitter, as you may have heard, is the microblogging site that allows people to post short messages, or tweets, to the internet.  It's kind of a big deal right now.]

Users of the service noticed that the European furniture maker Habitat was tweeting about gift card offers using popular hashtags like #Mousavi (the opposition challenger in Iran's contested and tumultuous election) and #iphone.  The Twitterverse was none too pleased with Habitat's tweet spam, and users called the company out on inserting their message into unrelated conversations.

Attorney's Million Dollar Dare Comes Back to Haunt Him

On this blog, I try to pass along tips for running a small law firm.  Essentially, ways to plan and operate your firm so that you will meet your goals (the blog is called the "Strategist," after all).

Well, here's one Florida attorney whose story offers an example of a strategy not to pursue.

Cheney Mason went on Dateline and offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove that his client, Nelson Ivan Serrano, was actually able to travel across two states and kill four people in the time that prosecutors had alleged.
Howrey LLP will employ a novel strategy for some of its first year associates arriving in September that will save the firm money and allow it to both keep the flow of new talent coming in and train the new associates as they go.  It will also allow the firm to forego the deferrals that have raised the ire of many law school graduates and tarnished the once-golden reputations of many of the elite BigLaw firms.

The firm will lower some of its first years' salaries and place less of an emphasis on billable hours.  Instead, the firsties will "spend only one-third of their time in their first year on billable client work. The rest will be spent on pro bono work and training programs," according to the JD Journal.
Look upon your loans and do not fear them, class of 2009: the federal government is going to help you make those payments, and could even wipe the slate clean after, oh, a decade or so.

If you qualify, that is.

Under a federal law, the College Cost Reduction & Access Act, that will kick in on July 1 of this year, the federal government will cap the loan payments for qualifying graduates and forgive the loans of lawyers who choose to go into public interest work.
Apparently it's not just Jon and Kate Gosselin: family law attorneys are reporting a wave of new activity around divorce actions, child support settlements and alimony arrangements according to an article in the National Law Journal. 

The Jon and Kate Plus 8 stars apparently filed for divorce today, but attorneys say that the rising tide of family law actions has been growing for several months.  Most place the blame squarely on the recession.  According to the NLJ piece, attorneys are witnessing three main trends:

Small Firms and Solos Are Most Frequent Targets of Embezzlement

You work hard to make your money, especially in tough times when business can be hard to come by.  The last thing you want is for a partner or employee to steal money from the cookie jar while you're concentrating on representing your clients.

Unfortunately, if you're a small firm or solo attorney, it's much more likely to happen to you than it is to a large or mid-size firm.

Lawyers Go Local

In its ongoing series on the effects of the economic meltdown on the legal industry, the Legal Intelligencer postulates that many lawyers currently at large, international firms will jump ship and move to smaller, more local firms.

This represents a potential coup for mid-level firms, as they can jump in and recruit come top talent away from the AmLaw 100. 

SCOTUS to Examine Bankruptcy Discharge of Student Loans

There's been much discussion about student loans ever since the economy tanked.  Many students leave school with debt payments they find impossible to stay current on with their postgraduate salaries.  This phenomenon only increases in tough economic times as recent graduates take jobs they are overqualified for, or are unable to find work altogether.

Some feel that the rising cost of higher education, and the consequent increase in the amount of student loan debt the average student is forced to shoulder, is an unfair burden for those seeking to enhance their education with a college or advanced degree.

Putting Your Trademark on Facebook

Yesterday I wrote about the new Facebook usernames that go into effect tonight.  The new system allows users of the social networking site to replace the random set of numbers associated with their profile with a name or set of words.

For law firms, this creates a great opportunity to spread the firm brand into areas it might not have reached yet.  It also creates some concerns when trademarks are involved.  Unlike LinkedIn and MySpace, two social networks that already offer personalized usernames, Facebook is giving users the option to reserve certain protected names so that no unauthorized person or group can claim them.  In order to reserve the names, the marks must be registered with the Patent and Trademark Office.

Facebook Vanity URLs Are Up for Grabs Tomorrow Night!

Facebook has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the social networking world, largely because people use their real names when they use the site.  This gives the site credibility and helps people trust the individuals and organizations that they interact with.

Up until now, however, the URLs that Facebook uses to mark a profile have been a little less than personal.  For example, an individual's profile URL usually looks like this:

Pretty much incomprehensible, right? 

Webinar: Surveys & Blogs: Tools to Deepen Client Relationships

I talk a lot in this space about using blogs as a way to promote your practice or firm.  This webinar will take you through the essential points involved with starting a blog, as well as using surveys to enhance your client relationships.

Thursday, June 18, 2009
12pm to 2pm EST

The blog wave is growing and hasn't come close to cresting. Find out why - and learn how to use this powerful communications vehicle to enhance your firm's visibility. In this Webinar, experts explain:

Changes to Domain Names Could Help with Law Firm Marketing

As everyone with a website knows, standing out among the billions of pages on the Web can be a difficult proposition.  Changes that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to implement next year could help. but not too many firms or companies know about the changes, according to a recent survey cited in a Reuters article.

ICANN plans to liberalize its domain structure next year, according to the article.  Instead of just the familiar top level domains like .com, .net and .org, firms choosing a domain name will have the option of using their firm name as the top level domain.  This opens up branding options, and will allow firms to organize their domains in ways conducive to effective marketing.

For example, a firm could set up the domain name bankruptcy.firmname for the firm's bankrutpcy practice, or personalinjury.firmname for the personal injury section.
Last Friday, the New York Times published a great article that examined the plight that most law firms have found themselves in lately, as seen through the lens of one law firm, White & Case.

As the article explained, many of law firms' current woes spring from the fact that banks have ceased to lend money as freely as they once did and are calling in previously issued loans.

Former Client Conflicts and Ethical Screens for Lateral Hires

This article is by Kristopher Klein, J.D. of InOutsource. For more author information, please see below.

Conflicts of interest surrounding the "lateral" movement of attorneys from one firm to another have proven to be a risk management challenge for many firms today. One of the more uncertain aspects relates to conflicts created by laterals' former clients that do not come to the hiring firm. For example, Attorney was formerly with Firm A, where she did work for Company A, drafting and negotiating a supply contract with Company B.  Attorney then takes a job with Firm B, which is representing Company C adverse to Company A in a contract dispute over a similar contract.  Despite the fact that Company A is the lateral's former client and will not come to Firm B with Attorney, Attorney may have information the firm could use to the detriment of this former client. 

To prevent restrictions on practice, while at the same time reducing clients' limitations on choice of lawyer, states have adopted rules providing mechanisms to prevent imputation of conflicts brought about by laterals' former clients. Although these rules vary among jurisdictions, they typically allow firms to construct so called ethical screens to prevent imputation under limited circumstances. This past February, in a long awaited, while at the same time highly debated shift, the ABA's governing body modified Rule 1.10 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, to allow screening to prevent imputation of conflicts brought about by laterals' former client relationships. While not authoritative in itself, this ABA rule change has the potential to influence remaining states to adopt similar provisions.

Mayer Brown Trades Associates to Clients' Legal Departments

Do you have attorney employees that you need to get rid of, but you feel bad about cutting them off in such an abysmal job market?

Well, then do what Mayer Brown did: farm them out to your clients' legal departments!

SCOTUSblog Is a Supreme Marketing Coup for Akin Gump

Tom Goldstein has taken his labor of love, SCOTUSblog, and turned it into an empire.  Along the way, he's gained a reputation as the Nostradamus of the SCOTUS and become a combative and sought-after commentator, as described in an article in today's Washington Post.

He's also done so much to raise the profile of his law firm, Akin Gump, that the firm gives him free reign with the blog.  Goldstein brags that one of his reporters "could write that our clients are completely insane and evil and there'd be nothing to stop him."