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.



February 2nd, 2010

SuperLawyers Gets Sold, Creates Conflict With FindLaw (And My Days As A SuperLawyer Seem Numbered)

I was amused some months back when I was named one of New York’s personal injury “SuperLawyers.” I had some ambivalence about it since it was difficult to know much about the magazine’s methodology in making selections.

But no matter now; the company has now been sold to Thomson West and my days on the list, it seems safe to say, are numbered. I’d bet good money I won’t be on it next year.

Why? Because Thomson West also happens to own FindLaw, whose dreadful history of selling links, ripping off a certain blog name, exploiting dead victims for its dreck-blogs by a writer who appears to know little about the law, and diminishing the profession of law in general, has been a recent topic here. FindLaw gets paid big buck by some lawyers, and it has lost business as a result of my posts regarding its conduct. And if you charge $10,000 a year to lawyers, it doesn’t take more than a few lost pigeons accounts to tick people off.

So you can bet that FindLaw will make sure that SuperLawyers keeps a healthy distance from me next year. But they really have a bigger problem than little old me.

You see, folks, FindLaw will want it’s big-paying customers to be included in the SuperLawyer listings. And since SuperLawyers thrives on the very expensive magazine ads that supplement its listings, and FindLaw has an existing catalogue of lawyers willing to spend heavily on marketing, those lawyers are real important. Some B-law grad was whispering the magic word “synergy” into the ears of the powers-that-be.

So while the purchase by Thomson West would seem at first blush to bolster the credibility of SuperLawyers, the company actually runs smack into an inherent conflict of interest that gums up the works. While it tries to build an objective rating system with SuperLawyers it is also taking big money for the FindLaw listings. And that is a big problem if you want to claim objectivity in ratings.

Over at Bob Ambrogi’s Law Sites, he writes that Thomson West intends to build a Chinese Wall of sorts between the companies. He writes:

[Christopher Kibarian, president of the Business of Law group] said that a key priority for Thomson will be to provide assurances of the independence and integrity of Super Lawyers ratings. Super Lawyers already employs a rigorous selection process, he said, one that has been recognized by bar associations and courts across the country for its credibility and sophistication. It combines peer nominations and evaluations with third-party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis.

On top of that, Thomson will create an independent advisory board to ensure the integrity and independence of the ratings process.

Will it operate independently? Ask yourself this: Do you trust any company that would exploit a dead child for ad copy on a faux-blog?

FindLaw’s credibility is currently around zilch. And that means that everything that comes near it will be adversely affected. Thomson West will try to build up the SuperLawyer’s brand, which already suffers from credibility problems. But as long as they keep FindLaw’s dreck-blogs, they will run into continuing problems. And that is in addition to the conflict and credibility issues.

If Thomson West has any hope of success here it will have to figure out way to rise to a higher place. As the legal blogosphere confronts ugly lawyer commercials, ghostbloggers (more, more and more) comment spammers, and marketing hustlers of every stripe, the major companies should be trying to reassure its customers that if they are entrusted with the marketing of a lawyer (and therefore with the lawyer’s ethics) they won’t screw things up. And right now, the opposite is happening.


January 29th, 2010

FindLaw’s Continuing Problems with its "Blogs"

FindLaw continues to have problems with its so-called law blogs. Today’s problem: Their writer doesn’t appear to know a damn thing about law.

Why does FindLaw continue this charade of having blogs by producing crap content?

From its Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog (coded “NoFollow” so it doesn’t get Google juice) comes this mega-screw-up of a headline:

Doctor Found Innocent Of Malpractice

Oy. That’s what happens when non-lawyers try to write law blogs. Legal terms get thrown around willy-nilly without the writer knowing what they are doing.

It’s always been one of my pet peeves in newspapers when I see a headline declaring that someone was found “innocent” of a crime. Criminal juries, of course, don’t determine innocence. (Nor do civil trials.) Criminal trials just determine whether the prosecution sustained its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But at least when I see newspapers do it they aren’t conflating the criminal with the civil.

Memo to writer Emily Grube who continues to churn out this awful dreck at the behest of her employer: This was a civil trial and you used the language of the criminal world by waltzing into the guilt-innocence issue. That’s a whopper of a mistake, as we say in legalese.

But it’s clear this wasn’t an inadvertent mistake, because it continues in the content with this gibberish:

It took the jury less than an hour to find that Dr. Robert Stratton was not guilty of providing poor emergency room care to Dennis J. Kowalick.

Civil juries don’t determine “guilt.” That is a criminal law term. The civil jury in a malpractice case will determine negligence. And I can’t believe anyone would hire a writer for a law blog when that writer didn’t understand such fundamentals.

FindLaw obviously continues this crap because it thinks it will get SEO juice. These “blogs” are merely ads designed to dump as many SEO friendly terms onto the web, quality be damned. And if FindLaw need to use a dead child for its self-promotion, well so what, because the ends of self-promotion and making money are more important than anything else, right?

I assume that no one at FindLaw cares, since they’ve permitted this stuff to go on for months now. I would have thought that its professor-contributors from Writ: Anthony Sebok, Marci Hamilton, Michael Dorf, Carl Tobias, Sherry Colb, Joanna Grossman, Neil Buchanan, and Julie Hilden, to name a few, would have raised a ruckus since they are now associated with these shitblogs. Perhaps they don’t care either.

If FindLaw can find professors to write Writ, you would think they could find a lawyer or two to write blogs. But then, FindLaw would have to actually give a damn. Marketing appears to trump all else and remains the holy grail; produce quantity and not quality.

As Scott Greenfield discusses, anyone can have a blog, but not everyone should.

The wonder of it all is that there are lawyers that actually outsource their marketing to FindLaw. I assume that they remain utterly clueless as to what this company does in their names, though if they find out they could save a bundle (and their reputations) by taking their business elsewhere.

And a final obligatory note: You don’t have to be a lawyer to write a law blog, as Walter Olson shows at Overlawyered and Point of Law.

Are FindLaw’s “Blogs” Tainting Its Clients, Commentators and the Profession of Law? (1/4/10)


January 22nd, 2010

FindLaw Uses Dead Child To Advertise Attorney Services

Demonstrating that, perhaps, there is no sewer deep enough for it to descend into, FindLaw has used the death of a child to promote the services of the lawyers that pay them fees.

On its Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog (coded as “nofollow” so that site doesn’t get Google juice) FindLaw‘s writer, Emily Grube, re-hashes the tragic accident of a nine-year old that was hit by a car while playing with its scooter. After the re-hash comes this deep-thinking analysis:

There are many difficult questions about this case: Was the driver aware that she hit White? Was she aware that he was under the car? Did she continue to drive in an attempt to flee the scene?

Truly profound. I know I feel more educated having read it. At the end of it comes the call-to-action: “If you have been involved in a similar situation such as a hit and run, or a pedestrian injury, you could discuss your possible personal injury case with…” blah, blah blah

The “blog” is one of the dreck-blogs that I wrote about previously (Are FindLaw’s “Blogs” Tainting Its Clients, Commentators and the Profession of Law?), that offer little content beyond repeating a local story, making damn sure the name of the victim is repeated in the event the victims (or their survivors) Google the event, and ends with a call-to-action. There is, of course, no comment area since discussion isn’t the point of the ad.

(If the name of the writer sound familiar, Ms. Grube also writes dreck-blogs for other FindLaw sites, having apparently left what little dignity she may have been born with in the dust.)

In my prior posting, FindLaw was using dead adults in its pseudo-blogs, which appear as little more than ads designed to chase clients. The extent to which such ad-blogs violate local ethics laws has yet to be explored by any ethics committee that I know of, though surely that day is coming soon.

So who sponsors this kind of crap? When you click their link, these are the firms I found at the top of the link, that would benefit from FindLaw‘s use of dead children in its ads:

The Law Offices of Eric Strand
West Chester, PA

Law Offices of Basil D. Beck, III
Norristown, PA

Law Offices of V. Erik Petersen
Harleysville, PA

Hark and Hark
Philadelphia, PA

Law Office of Henry S. Hilles, III
Norristown, PA

So long as lawyers continue to pay money to FindLaw for its services, this will no doubt continue. (See, FindLaw, How To Leave and Save Your Reputation.)

And the continued existence of such crap will continue to hurt the legal community and our clients, and make it even more difficult to find objective jurors.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Mark Bennett had previously published a partial list of New York attorneys that were supporting this kind of conduct (Call This Notice). Yet FindLaw continues, and subjects more of their clients to being associated with its ugliness. So it appears that FindLaw doesn’t really care about the reputations of the very people that hire them. Considering that FindLaw is the agent of these firms, that’s important.

The only way for FindLaw‘s clients to preserve their reputations appears to be to ship out, because it doesn’t appear that FindLaw will shape up.


January 16th, 2010

FindLaw in Class Action?

A comment came in yesterday about a possible class action suit against FindLaw. I didn’t publish it because it was a blatant advertisement for a couple of firms who bizarrely thought I created this blog so that they could freely advertise. Go figure.

But the ad itself is worth discussing so it now follows with the names of the law firms redacted.

The potential class deals with FindLaw promising attorneys that it will put them on the first page of Google, which, of course, is impossible to do for all of your clients if you have more than a few clients and you use normal keywords. Lawyer search service hustlers are pretty much everywhere these days, and slime predominates from WhoCanISue and SueEasy to FindLaw, to MalpracticeLawOffice and AnAttorneyForYou amongst the gazillion companies sleazing their way across the web.

The redacted version of the ad, originally submitted on the post on how to save thousands of dollars a year by dumping FindLaw, looks like this:

We understand that many attorneys are dissatisfied with services and products provided by FindLaw. Many laws firms have told us that their business dealings with FindLaw did not come close to meeting their expectations. For example, we have been informed that FindLaw made promises about placement on the “first page” of search engines that were not delivered?

Attorney [redacted] and [redacted] have joined forces to investigate any potential causes of action that may flow from FindLaw’s business dealings with lawyers across the United States. A number of attorneys have contacted us and have asked to retain our services, therefore we are in the process of gathering more information and documentation to assist us in our investigation. Any feedback, documentation and suggestions that you would like to share with us would be greatly appreciated. We are also looking for experts in the areas of legal marketing and the Internet.

If you would like to learn more about this matter or offer your assistance, please click on the link below in order to connect with our law firms. You can expect to receive a prompt and confidential response. [redacted]

While I certainly see the anger in those that wasted big bucks with FindLaw, such a suit on these terms seems to be a no-win situation since the actual contract that the lawyers signed with FindLaw would govern, there are unlikely to be any such written “first page” assurances, and the verbal assurances (even if admissible given the existence of a written contract) would likely differ from case to case. That would tend to be problematic given the need for common questions of fact for the victims in a class action.

It would also be problematic given the sophisticated nature of the potential plaintiffs and the fact that only a moron would believe every customer could be on the first page.

To the lawyers that tried to use my blog to chase clients: If you want to chase, do it on your own dime.

While the above class action seems to be a likely loser, there may be another avenue to explore. If lawyers want to claim that FindLaw‘s dreck-blogs tarnishes their reputations (as well as the reputations of every other attorney in the country) and constitutes a breach of contract, then more power to you. Perhaps a suit lies in such a claim and I wish you well in nailing them to the wall for their scuzzy conduct. Here is a copy of the FindLaw Master Agreement.pdf for you to go looking for additional ammunition.

I’m just trying to help. If anyone goes that route, give FindLaw my best regards. If you succeed based on my tip, please remind them where it came from.