June 16th, 2015

The First Rule of Lawyering


Since Atilla the Hun lived before the age of photography, I went for the next best thing….

Over at Above the Law, Mark Herrmann was commenting yesterday on ways for associates to screw up. Hermann is a terrific writer, and author of the highly regarded Curmudgeons Guide to Practicing Law that I reviewed in 2008, as well as Inside Straight, a collection of his writings from Above the Law.

But he said one thing in yesterday’s piece that really jumped out at me, as he discussed an article from another site on that subject. And that had to do with a lawyer’s personal demeanor, which I’ve bolded for you since block quotes generally suck:

The folks in the Law360 article did okay. Their six ways for associates to disappoint were: Don’t (1) be visible enough, (2) take ownership of your work, (3) be thorough, (4) be pleasant, (5) know how to talk on the phone, and (6) sow the seeds of business development.

I’m deeming numbers 1 (visibility) and 6 (developing business) to be duplicative and 5 (talking on the phone) to be penny-ante. And, personally, I don’t much care about number 4 (being nice). Maybe I’m out of the mainstream here, but I’m the person who said: “Attila the Hun? Guy’s got a nasty mean streak, but at least he can do his job. Hire him.” I’ll accept an awful lot of personality quirks in exchange for the chance to work with someone who’s smarter than I am and writes and speaks better than I do.

Ugh. This violates my First Rule of Lawyering: Don’t be Attila the Hun.

But why?, I hear some of you cry!  We’re supposed to be tough as nails in litigation and doing everything possible (within the law) to win!

And here’s the issue: During the course of the litigation there will be a time when one side needs an extra day or week for something. And you don’t know if that someone will be your client or someone else.

If your client is scheduled for a court-ordered deposition on October 10, for example, and it happens to be the week she is taking a short vacation, or the day of her daughter’s 2nd grade play, you want to be able to pick up the phone and request common courtesies for a new day. So long as there is no genuine strategic issue, that serves the client well.

But if you have been acting like Attila the Hun and thought it was good lawyering to deny even small courtesies to the other side? Well, guess what?

The other lawyer might tell you to go jump in the lake when the shoe is on the other foot. What goes around comes around. Karma. And all that.

That courtesy might not be granted. To the detriment of your client. Because you thought you could act like Attila the Hun on something in a Take-No-Prisonors litigation strategy.

Keeping a good, working professional relationship with the adversary’s counsel, while still doing what you are retained to do, is often a tough thing. Tempers may flair if you aren’t careful in even the most routine deposition.

This doesn’t mean that the lawyer stops short of arguing his heart out just to be nice, only that there is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable.

All of this comes home to roost, often, if one side or the other wishes to talk settlement. Sitting down for a cup of coffee with Attila to discuss why a settlement should be more/less beneficial to the client, may be difficult if someone was acting like a jerk. Sitting down with  a human is much easier.

And that is what serves the client.

A story I’ve told before and I’ll tell again: When I was in law school I watched my father try a medical malpractice case in Brooklyn. He and the other lawyer would go head-to-head in the courtroom, acting within every meaning of the phrase “zealous advocacy.” Then they would grab a cup of coffee together after court.

Best lesson in the law I ever had.


February 5th, 2013

Is Google Stupid?

Yesterday Brian Tannebaum wrote about many of the law firm web site marketeers that write dreck for their clients (Blogging And Other Social Media, Like A Search Engine Whore)

The marketeers put this stuff online for the lawyers and call it content. Those with even minimal composition skills use far less charitable words to describe it.

As an example, he writes about the self-linking that takes place in pseudo-blogs and the embarrassing effect it actually has on the lawyer being promoted. He uses the example below — a monstrous keyword smorgasbord you may have stumbled across in the past, and were dumber for having done so:

Recently, this Craptown family lawyer read about a father being held in contempt for failing to pay child support. This case was not in Craptown and did not involve aCraptown family lawyer. As a Craptown family lawyer, it is important that anyone in Craptown who has a problem with Craptown family law call a Craptown family lawyer. It is unclear whether the father sought the services of aCraptown family lawyer, but contempt is a bad thing and is a reason to seek out aCraptown family lawyer. So for those of you fathers that are broke, it may be time to call a Craptown family lawyer.

This is a theme you have likely seen before, though it’s still worth reiterating as lawyers continue to come online with blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc., ad nauseum. Not knowing how to actually use these media, the attorneys outsource the content to the marketeers, outsourcing their ethics and public face in the process.

But I’d like to add a bit to what Tannebaum wrote, which he summarized like this:

Stop the multiple links in your blogs, and stop automating your social media accounts.

Fire anyone who you hired to do this for you.

Stop being an internet marketing whore, and start being a lawyer.

Now my two rupees to add on: The only reason to create such horribly dreadful prose is because the marketeers (or lawyers listening to them) think there will be Google link juice that will flow to those links; they think page rank will increase. In other words, the prattle isn’t written for the human, but for the search engine.

But do they really think Google is that stupid? Do they think Google doesn’t know that folks are trying to game them by passing along valuable page rank in the form of links?

If I were building a search engine, I would value the first inbound link from a site. The second link would be less valuable, and the third even less. It’s the only logical thing to do. Thus, my first link from Above the Law was likely good for my blog. But they’ve linked to me often over the years and additional ones probably have little impact as far as Google is concerned.

The same is true with multiple links within a post. The more links, the less value each will have. While I’m obviously not privy to Google’s algorithms, I do know these folks didn’t get to the top of the search game by being stupid.

So if you should happen to stumble across one of those Craptown blog posts that Tannebaum wrote about,  you have learned several things about the lawyer, none of them good

But adding to the humiliation factor that Tannebaum noted, you can add that:

  1. The lawyer has hired a marketeer that is incompetent;
  2. The lawyer has wasted his money because he gets nothing from it (other than humiliation).

And if you already made the mistake of hiring one of the marketing charlatans hustling business from lawyers left and right, and you can’t figure out whether the content being produced is good for you, ask your mother to read it. Ask your spouse. Ask friends who you trust for candor, the kind of friends that would take the car keys out of your hand because you’ve had one too many.

What would they think? Would they be proud to say they know you? If your kid’s friends read it, what are they likely to think of you?


May 29th, 2012

BigLaw, Please Meet SmallLaw

(This is cross-published at Above the Law)

For the new ATL readers, let me introduce myself here in my first column. OK, screw that, I know you don’t really give a damn about me, so let’s jump to the meat and potatoes…

You all know that Dewey & LeBoeuf, filing for bankruptcy liquidation today, is the largest law firm to ever go bust. And that means a ton of people are now out of work, either scrambling to hitch their wagons to new firms or looking to start their own practices.

Because having your own firm is, to many, the Holy Grail of a law practice. Sure, some like the consistent fat paycheck, but the ranks of lawyers are filled with Type-A personalities who fantasize about practicing law the way they want to do it, not the way some other Type-A knucklehead has been telling them to do it.

There are only about a gazillion things to think about in starting your own shop: office space, support staff, technology and money to keep you going, to name a few. But today’s topic will be self-promotion and social media. And I don’t mean this in a good way, as in here’s how to go out and be famous on Twitter. No, no, a thousand times no. Instead I’d like to warn you about them, and help  you save your soul.

You’re welcome. Pull up a chair, and let’s review some of the more dreadful attorney marketing over the years. We’ll start in the toilet.

And when I say start in the toilet, I am perhaps, exaggerating a bit, because what I really mean is over a urinal. Now I know that no one from BigLaw would ever stoop low enough to advertise over a urinal, but you should know that marketing opportunities come in all shapes and sizes and that someone, somewhere might try to sell you something that doesn’t quite pass the smell test.

Selling is what marketers do, and dreams of a steady flow of clients is what many lawyers want to hear. That is always the salesman’s pitch, figuring out what the mark wants to hear. (“Would you like to have more cases?”) But I don’t suggest you take the ghoulish pitch from the funeral home website. Or that you advertise in a jail.

I won’t belabor the point of lousy marketing strategies, because I think you get the picture. If you’re going out on your own — and letting everyone know you are out on your own — you may start fielding inquiries not only from the commercial end of the pool where you once swam, but also questions from friends, family and neighbors that may focus on the consumer end of the law. That means criminal, personal injury, matrimonial, residential real estate, etc.

Some of you will dabble, not wanting to turn away business and curious as to how you might expand your practice. And some of you might actually like it, as your clients are likely to be real people instead of corporations. In addition to getting paid, you might get the warm, fuzzy feeling of actually helping a fellow human. But because these are people that don’t usually use legal services, it is also the domain of the mass advertiser.

So, for my new ATL readers, this is the thing to remember above all else: Marketing is part of our ethics codes. So if you outsource your marketing you outsource your ethics. It isn’t complicated; the marketer is your agent that is speaking for you. When the marketer calls and emails, you ask yourself: Is this the type of person I want to hand my law license to?

You may think that the company is reputable. But that is only because you really haven’t been watching the way some of us outside the BigLaw cocoon have been watching. Instead of giving examples of how the piddling marketing companies screw up (urinals, funeral homes, jails) — perhaps you figure you’ll just be safe and hire the biggest and best? —  let’s look at the Goliaths of the industry to see how well they have done.

First in the dock is Martindale Hubbell. One day it seems, some comment spam turned up on my blog. From them. That’s right, the great revered king of all kings in the legal directory business, was using black hat techniques to drum up business. By basically coming over to my place to stick a billboard for itself on my lawn. How did that happen? Because they weren’t actually doing the work, but had simply outsourced it to others (who may in turn have outsourced it yet again). So you should assume that no matter who you hire to market for you, it will end up being done by some kid in Bangalore, India who knows less than nothing about the practice of law and our codes of professional responsibility.

Next in the dock is FindLaw. What was their faux-pas? Creating crap. This company decided to create fax-blogs that did little more than repeat local news stories of accidents and then end with a links to the people that pay them. They were hoping that the people in the accidents would Google themselves and find the story and then click on the links to the lawyers that had paid FindLaw. At one point, I actually found them using the name of a dead child in the subject heading in order to lure in the family. Ask  yourself: Are these the types of people that you want to hand your ethics over to?

So this is the essence of what happens: The lawyer outsources marketing (and reputation) to a non-lawyer marketing company, which in turn hires or outsources your marketing (and reputation) to yet other people.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Welcome to the world of attorney marketing. Please drive carefully.