5 Ethical Guidelines for Lawyers on Social Media

Whether you’re a social media novice or a pro, you need to be aware of the ethical standards that lawyers are expected to meet … and not cross. These standards apply if you’re using social media as a marketing tool for your firm, of course, but can also apply to your own personal online activity. Navigating social media as an attorney can be tricky, but don’t let it scare you away – follow these five simple guidelines to ensure you’re using social media properly.

  • Treat your firm’s social profiles as advertising
    The golden rule of lawyer social media ethics is “treat your social profiles as you would any other ad.” Just like your website is considered an advertisement, so are your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Avoid using promotional verbiage and follow the same guidelines across all online platforms. Although you may not think of a Facebook post as an advertisement, State Bar Associations sure do, and if you’re not up to date on the rules governing this area, you could find yourself in hot water.
  • Don’t make false statements
    Many social media websites geared toward professionals (think LinkedIn) ask users to add their “specialties” or their “expertise” to their profiles. Most professionals don’t have to think twice about this, but lawyers need to be particularly careful about labeling themselves as experts. Several State Bar Associations, for example, have ruled that lawyers cannot call themselves specialists without literally being certified as a legal specialist. You may not always have control over the categories or labels that social media websites use to describe you, but when you do, consider leaving “expertise” sections blank or avoiding social media sites that include these categories.
  • Avoid improper solicitations
    Social media marketing 101 says you should always include a “call to action” in your social media posts – something like “call me for a consultation.” But for lawyers it’s not so simple: statements like these may be considered solicitation. Any time you ask a potential client to contact you for legal advice, you risk veering into solicitation territory, even if it’s just a harmless tweet or a line at the end of a Facebook post. If you’re not sure if what you’re posting is solicitation, it’s better to be on the safe side and rewrite it.
  • Keep confidential information private
    It should go without saying that if you wouldn’t blab about a client in real life, you shouldn’t do it online either. It’s fine to post about case results, but never reference client names or any identifying details – stick to the facts only. You should also be cautious about geotagging posts or inadvertently sharing your location. Many social media platforms now automatically show your followers where you’re posting from, which might give too much away if you’re at a private location or out of town for a case, for example. Make sure to turn off automatic location sharing in your account settings.
  • Be careful who you friend
    Friend requests aren’t always so friendly when you’re a lawyer. In general, it’s not a good idea to send friend requests to judges that you may appear before. Although public information on social media profiles is fair game in discovery, rules vary from state to state on whether lawyers can friend request people to gather evidence (check with your Bar Association on this one). You should also be cautious about friending anybody who you know is currently facing a legal issue or being represented by a lawyer — a friend request may be considered solicitation.

Legal Trends: Stand-Out Practice Areas, Marketing and Business Development Strategies to Watch

Bob Denney’s highly anticipated What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession is out, and even after three decades of tracking trends important to law firms, this year’s report still manages to contain some surprises. Some of the key findings include the rising trend in eSports and Gaming as an industry group/practice area, the hot field of Bitcoin, and the consistently steady practice area of Healthcare law – in spite of the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s an overview of other trends reported:

Practice Areas/Industry Groups

Immigration and Cybersecurity reign supreme along with Healthcare as practice areas identified as “Red Hot.” Financial Services, Food & Beverage, Elder Law, Sports (emphasis on contracts) and Real Estate & Construction are also practice areas which are considered prime areas for firms in today’s economic and political climate.  In California, environmental law is also making a mark, on account of increased regulatory activity.

Areas that appear to be cooling off for firms include Commercial Litigation along with Labor & Employment law.

Marketing & Business Development

The Department of Justice is predicted to begin enforcing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in the coming months, and law firm websites need to be in compliance, in order to avoid lawsuits and declining SEO performance.  As such, website design and development compliance must be a priority for all law firms.

The addition of sales professionals (particularly in the personal injury space) is tracking as a trend.  In some cases, non-lawyers used to develop new leads, are actually receiving formal sales training and coaching.  Though this is an interesting concept, it remains to be seen whether the addition of non-lawyer sales professionals to firms will be a lasting, or successful trend.

Other Trends to Watch in the Legal Field

  • Working remotely or from a virtual office is on the rise
  • Smaller offices are closing to save on overhead
  • Mergers continue to break records, with larger firms acquiring small to midsize firms in droves
  • Demand for lawyers and total number of lawyers in the country is expected to be unchanged, though first-year hiring is expected to rise in the coming months
  • Multidisciplinary practices are on the rise, with firms hiring non-legal professionals to integrate into the firm practice

Law Firm Succession Planning: 6 Steps All Firms Need to Take Now

According to a recent report by ALM Intelligence, at least one-third of all law firms have no succession plan in place for firm leadership or for client team leaders, putting the future of even large firms in peril. If there is no plan in place as the older partners retire, the firm is sure to find itself in trouble.

So why aren’t all law firms giving as much thought to their own future success as they do for their clients’ future wellbeing? According to the same study, many law firms haven’t formulated their plans because they are having a hard time identifying successors. Conversely, younger attorneys cited resistance from senior partners as the reason for the lack of planning. So where in the middle can the millennial attorneys in a firm find common ground with the older partners?

Interestingly, this common ground can come in the way of creating that succession plan together. Input from the future firm leaders (generally millennials), coupled with the years of experience from the senior partners (generally those 55 and older), can be blended together to create a smart succession plan that addresses the needs of multiple generations of firm leaders.

How do you create a succession plan for your firm?  Start by taking these 6 important steps.

  • Analyze Relationships & Data – Start by laying out a clear picture of client relationships, revenue, and potential threats should the primary partner retire.  From there, look at the next generation of firm leaders to begin identifying who will take the reins of those accounts when the primary partner is no longer at the helm. Identify and examine all significant client relationships similarly.
  • Determine Your Overarching Goals – Determine the long-term goals of the firm before deciding who will be responsible for seeing that those goals are met. Agree on what is best for the firm before nailing down who the specific people are who will see that the firm’s best interests remain paramount to all else.
  • Appoint the Next Leaders – Only after clarifying the firm’s goals should management focus on who should lead the firm to success in the future.
  • Appoint the Next Leaders – It can’t be emphasized enough just how important it is to make sure your clients are kept abreast of your plans for their future.  Avoiding discussion of succession planning with clients is dangerous, and undermines the integrity of the relationship.  Be honest about eventual transition, so there is ample time to confirm that the future partner and the client work well together.
  • Create Transition/Compensation Plans – Determine how partners will transition out of the firm from a financial standpoint.  Will you use a decreasing compensation plan or other retirement plans to help partners who are transitioning out of the firm?
  • Make Succession Planning an Ongoing Priority – Succession planning needs to be a part of every law firm’s business model.  After all, the goal is likely to keep the firm thriving for years to come.  Eventually the millennials will become the firm’s experienced elders, and will need to be planning their own transition. Creating a plan now, that can be adapted for future years, increases your chances of thriving for generations to come.

For other insights revealed through this report, click here.

Berbay Goes on Art Muse LA Tour

Berbay’s most recent Cultural Camaraderie program took in three contemporary art galleries and the exciting new LA Arts District. This outing enlisted the aid of Art Muse Los Angeles with our artist guides Lindsay Preston Zappas, founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles (CARLA) and Sarah Jones of Sarah Jones Art. These amazing women led us to several interesting and off-the-beaten path art galleries in Los Angeles.

The first stop was to Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. Presenting the first solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist Julia Haft-Candell entitled the infinite; the exhibit displayed an in-depth exploration of the artist’s recent wall reliefs and ceramic sculpture which we found both beautiful and striking.

Next, our tour took us to the Los Angeles Arts District and one of the largest complexes there, Hauser & Wirth. With exhibits of the provocative and influential work of acclaimed LA-based artist Paul McCarthy and Polish artist, Monika Sosnowska. whose exhibit displays Polish architecture in sculptural installations created from industrial materials and objects. We were mesmerized by the entire complex.

Our day ended with an early dinner at Manuela. All in all, it was a fun, thought-provoking and stimulating day.

Launched in 2016, Berbay’s Cultural Camaraderie focuses on exploring the vibrant culture that is Los Angeles as a stimulus for innovative thinking and creativity as well as enjoying time together. Prior outings have included visits to The Gamble House, the Hollyhock House, and the Broad Museum to name a few.

Law Firm Marketing: How Twitter’s Expanded Character Limit Can Benefit Law Firms

With roughly 330 million active users, Twitter remains a powerful social media channel for lawyers and law firms to utilize as part of their overall law firm marketing strategy. However, many law firms fail to leverage this highly influential marketing tool to their maximum benefit. That may change however, as Twitter recently doubled its character limit from 140 to 280.

Why the Increased Character Count Matters to Law Firms

Following a trial in which the character count for tweets was increased from 140 to 280, the results were favorable enough to compel Twitter to increase the limit for most users. One reason? Those who tweeted longer posts experienced greater engagement.

In fact, according to a blog post by Twitter Product Manager Aliza Rosen, “people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter. People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall.”

This should come as good news to law firms, which more than most professions, depend upon being able to articulate exactly what they want to convey. This of course, proved challenging with the previous 140 character limit. So, with more room to say what you want, if you’re not using Twitter for your law firm marketing efforts, it’s time to ask yourself why.

Here’s a reminder of the benefits that law firms can reap from using Twitter.

  • Connect with the media on a direct level
  • Distribute news articles regarding cases you’re working on
  • Educate your audience about your practice area
  • Network with other attorneys in the same practice areas for potential co-counsel opportunities
  • Publicize your victories (press releases, awards, large verdicts or settlements)
  • Reach potential clients
  • Share firm news (new hires, firm milestones, new offices, etc.)

Since there is no need to worry about abandoning a tweet because you just can’t condense it enough, or fear that your message may be misinterpreted because you had to abbreviate so many words, there’s never been a better time for law firms to begin tweeting or reengaging with your audience through Twitter.

Why These Negative Reviews Are Actually Good for Your Firm

As a professional services firm, you will find that people are the cornerstone of your business. Your business goals aren’t as simple as selling a one-size-fits-all product. Every client’s needs, personality and perspectives are different — which means it’s inevitable that somewhere along the line, a client is going to be unhappy with your services. And now that online review sites have exploded in popularity, it’s likely that a displeased customer will take their complaints to the internet.

It’s tempting to simply delete negative reviews and bury your head in the sand, but you don’t have to live in fear of criticism. In fact, it’s been shown that a few less-than-positive reviews don’t hurt business, and they can be important in making your firm look genuine.

Negative reviews are also an opportunity to see where your firm can improve its service. Think of them as free market research. Look for patterns, and try to pull out the useful bits of information in each review. It seems great to have dozens of five-star reviews, but ultimately, glowing reviews don’t offer much guidance when it comes time to strategize or refocus. You have to face the bad reviews to get the positive ones.

If you’ve ever received one of the common reviews below, read between the lines and use it as an opportunity to examine your business practices. Instead of getting annoyed or defensive, take the negative in stride and leverage it.

“They weren’t responsive.” Staying in contact with clients while keeping their costs in check is a delicate balance. Oftentimes, people don’t need a long conversation or a meeting — they just want to know that their needs haven’t been forgotten. Do you need to make it easier for people to contact you? Should you add a phone number, a personal email address or a chat box to the contact page on your website? Do you need to set up automated emails telling clients their messages have been received? Or perhaps the problem lies in your own time management, and it would be helpful to hire more administrative staff or determine a more efficient way to tackle your inbox.

“It was expensive.” Like communication, sometimes the “high” price of your services is just a problem of perception. Do you need to be more upfront about your costs? Provide a rationale for your pricing? Send invoices more frequently? Maybe your prices are higher than your competitors’ and you need to do a better job advertising the superior quality of your services. If your costs truly have crept up, perhaps you can automate minor tasks to save your clients money. Examine your workflow and see if there is anything you can do more quickly or more cheaply without sacrificing quality.

“They didn’t get me the results I wanted.” This can be the hardest review to face but also the most critical to address. Are you overpromising in your marketing materials? Can you be clearer about the results clients should expect? Are you taking on business that isn’t truly in your wheelhouse, rather than referring clients to a colleague? When you sense that a client is growing unhappy because things aren’t going as expected, see if there’s anything you can do to right the ship. You may not be able to control every outcome, but being empathetic and suggesting a plan B (or C, or D) can go a long way.

“&*$% this company!” Sometimes, it’s not you — it’s the client. When you get an over-the-top, expletive-laden review, remind yourself that you don’t have to accept everyone’s business and this isn’t the type of client you want to work with in the future. In most cases, you were never going to please the reviewer, no matter how hard you worked. The good news is that if these reviews are few and far between, most potential clients know enough to write them off as flukes.

Client Alert Essentials: 5 Ways to Make Your Alerts Stand Out from the Rest

The average office worker gets 121 emails each day. Most professionals would agree that there simply isn’t enough time to read all those messages. So, when one of your client alerts lands in someone’s inbox, it had better be good if you expect them to take the time to open and read it. This becomes doubly true when you consider that the colleagues and clients on your listserv may be getting the same news from additional sources, whether from a media outlet or a competing firm.

It can be difficult to break through cluttered inboxes, but you do have one advantage working in your favor. The truth? Most firms aren’t very good at client alerts. If you can master writing thoughtful, easy-to-read and informative alerts, they’ll almost certainly stand out from the rest—and they’ll help secure your place as an expert in your practice area.

There are a few client alert best practices that will ensure that your emails get opened, read and enjoyed. Read on for our top five.

  1. Break up text with subheads and bullets. Clients don’t need an essay detailing the latest Supreme Court decision. They just need to know enough, and they need to know what’s important for them. Formatting your alerts with bullets and headers helps readers skim and pull out relevant information. People’s attention spans are much shorter online, and easily digestible content wins over walls of text every time.
  2. Don’t bury the lead. Filling precious space with unnecessary information is by far the biggest problem with client alerts. Like most lawyers, you’re probably detail-oriented to a fault and you love to lay out all the facts. But when it’s time to write an alert, you have to think like a journalist. Use the inverted pyramid style of writing and organize information by importance rather than chronology. Your first sentence should convey the latest news in the simplest terms possible, with no nonessential information cluttering it.
  3. Don’t limit yourself to words. Visuals can make your client alerts shine, and they don’t have to be anything extravagant; a simple stock photo can make text look more engaging. Even a pull quote in a nice font can make your email more visually appealing. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, either. If another source has produced a chart or infographic related to the latest news, in many cases you can include it in your email so long as you give credit.
  4. Keep it to the essentials. An alert should never be more than a few paragraphs long. The beauty of a client alert is that it conveys critical information quickly and succinctly. Stick to the essentials and keep any extra information at the bottom or out of the alert entirely. If you think your audience wants more, you can always encourage people to visit your website, or you can link to a whitepaper or blog post you’ve written.
  5. Tell people what to do next. Ideally, clients should be able to use your alerts to make key decisions and react to changes in their industry and the law. It’s not enough to explain what legal development has occurred—you have to tell people why they should care. If there is a specific action they should take, tell them exactly what to do and how to do it. This guidance is the heart of your alert, because it’s what differentiates it from all other alerts cluttering up inboxes. No one else can provide your expert opinion.

Three Tips for Pitching to Broadcast Reporters

Each month, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) holds an “At Breakfast With” event, which allows public relations professionals to network with peers and media representatives. At their August event, the panel consisted of NBC4 Investigative Producer Philip Drechsler, CBS2/ KCAL9 Special Projects Producer Nicolette Medina and KMEX Executive Producer Jacqueline Ramirez. Panelists discussed what they look for in a media pitch, best practices and pet peeves.

  1. Incorporate photos and videos. Industry professionals know to use strong subject lines and a catchy first sentence when pitching a story; however, the producers also recommended taking an extra step and including a visual element in the pitch, noting that imagery is a powerful way to get a story across.
  2. Identify viewer benefits. In addition to adding pictures and videos, the panelists also suggested identifying the viewer benefits in the body of the pitch because they want to know how the story affects the community. With longer pitches and press releases, the producers advised outlining the who, what, where, when and why of the story.
  3. Remember that the process takes time. As PR professionals, we may get excited when we obtain an opportunity to have a client appear on television, and sometimes we get a little too excited. A panelist noted that one pet peeve is when agencies rush producers to get a story on the air. Different producers have a different turnaround time for stories, and the stories need to go through a certain process, including conducting background research, taking interviews, and editing the footage – which takes time.

PRSA-LA is an organization comprised of nearly 600 agency, in-house and independent public relations professionals representing LA-area corporations, academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, and strives to keep public relations professionals a step ahead in communications strategies and skills through seminars, networking mixers and At Breakfast With meetings.

Three Tips to Measure Your Online Marketing Campaign

Since internet marketing hit the mainstream, marketers in every industry have relied on similar metrics to determine whether their strategy is successful. Ask anyone in a marketing department and they can quickly tell you the number of website clicks, the number of followers on Twitter and the number of views on YouTube they have.

In Above the Law article “Don’t Measure The Easy When It Comes To Internet Marketing,” Seth Godin argues that these numbers are easy to calculate (oftentimes, they’re figured out for us) and easy to understand, but they don’t necessarily tell us what we really want or need to know.

Businesses in entirely different industries are using the same set of metrics. A law firm has different marketing goals than an engineering firm or a nonprofit, but no matter the industry, clicks and views are the standard. Even within the legal industry, law firms of all practice areas are using the same techniques regardless of their size, type or ideal client. If we have different goals, shouldn’t our metrics be different?

It might be tricky to figure out the best metrics for your firm, but having accurate and relevant data is infinitely more useful than having numbers that, ultimately, don’t mean anything. Good data can transform your marketing strategy and your entire firm.

So, how can you start measuring more meaningfully? Here are three tips to start.

  1. Work backwards. You can’t measure something if you don’t know what it is you’re measuring. When determining your metrics, you must begin with the end in mind. How do you define success? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Once you answer those questions, you can find the metrics that will help you measure what you want to know.
  2. Remember your goals. Ditching traditional metrics in favor of ones that are more difficult to measure can be frustrating and time consuming, so keep your goals in mind to stay motivated. Start small and remember that better data can have a positive impact on the whole firm. Survey key decision-makers at your firm to find out what data would be helpful for them, and find a way to measure it.
  3. Focus on revenue. Marketing can be creative, interesting and fun, but at the end of the day its purpose is to bring in more clients. Your metrics should reflect that. Figuring out how your online marketing is impacting the bottom line is much more difficult than adding up how many social media followers you have, but it’s essential if you want to ensure your online marketing strategy is working.
Berbay Marketing & PR