Sunday, January 22, 2012

Because First You Have To Be Dead

Long before I signed a lease for my office space, the cleaning crew in the building was there, and I trust they'll be there long after I leave. There's a few things they do that keep them coming back every day as the sun sets. One, they clean the place. Two, you could leave a diamond ring, 2 Rolex watches and a stack of cash on the desk and it would be there the next day, and three, they have this policy where unless a box, container, or other thing on the floor that looks like it's garbage, actually says "GARBAGE" (I write "BASURA" because I actually know these folks), they don't throw it out. That's right, that empty cardboard box appearing to have no relevance or future, will remain in the middle of the hallway the next morning if there's no instructions on what to do with it.

Sometimes that fourth thing is a bit annoying, but sends the appropriate message - we have a job to do, and begging for forgiveness is not helpful at contract renewal time. You want the box thrown out, just say the word, literally.

In contrast, this philosophy that there's a hierarchy of authority in the business world was rejected at last week's "Marketing Partner's Forum." That's right, Sally in marketing, is on her way to becoming a "Marketing Partner." This group is just a few motivational conference quotes away from relevance in the 70% of law firms that don't have a "Marketing Partner."

The following platitude went viral in the conference twitter stream and I'm sure emptied a few tissue boxes:

@cindygallop: You heard @silviacoulter, #MPF12 peeps: BREAK THE RULES and ask forgiveness, not permission.

That's right, the marketers have had it with lawyers, especially when it comes to social media, saying no, "not for us," "not our image," "no," just "no." If the grey hairs, whose only significance was to grow a successful law firm, won't listen to the 28 year old social media star, well, they're going to just do their own thing, start pounding away on twitter and LinkedIn and blogging, and apologize later.

They don't ever discuss rules, especially when they say things like this:

Rule 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants:

With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer:

(a) a partner, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the person's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;

(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the person's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and

(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a person that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:

(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or

(2) the lawyer is a partner or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.

Now when it comes to rules, the marketers have an easy out - one, they don't apply to them, and two, they are seen as "scare tactics" by lawyers like me who constantly throw them in their face and, well, maybe hurt business. Anything that hurts business is wrong, and communist, and part of the past, and mean.

Marketing folks didn't have to swear to their state Supreme Court to follow some rules, they reject the constant droning of "be careful with social media," and reject any notion that anyone should be "scared" of the consequences of stupidity on the internet.

I responded that I thought their "seek forgiveness not permission," nonsense was a good way to get fired, to which one of the merry group of morons responded something about how you wouldn't want to work for someone that didn't "follow" that premise.

Who are these lawyers to tell the marketers how to run a law practice?

Of course the marketers would like my cleaning crew to take a page from them and just start throwing out boxes, then saying "oops," and there's really no example of how this philosophy (other than my mean, mean, rants) actually was detrimental to someone's career.

And then last night, oh no, ut oh, damn, not again:

The managing editor of a student-run news organization that covers Penn State resigned Saturday after the publication's Twitter account sent messages saying former coach Joe Paterno had died, according to a letter on the publication's website.

That's right, the kid woke up Saturday morning, probably threw back some badly needed coffee, some cold 2 day old pizza, went for a run, did a little homework, had some tweets pop up from the paper's twitter account about Joe Paterno dying, and this morning, well, he's out of a job.

Just like that.

Yeah, see, the problem was, Joe Paterno didn't die. The family spokesman (usually a family member or someone a cell phone call away in another room), never said he died, because he wasn't dead.

News about a death is sad, and even sadder when you hear about it while you're still trying to live.

He's not a marketer, but he's begging for forgiveness right now.

"I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State might be cited by the national media,'' his letter said. "Today, I sincerely wish it never had been."

Yeah, I know, you're just some local student-run paper at Penn State, and when you tweet something about the death of Joe Paterno, why think that anyone else may read it?

The kid had some help from some other, better known media outlets that couldn't be bothered with that old, dying journalistic concept of "verification:"

The incorrect information found its way onto media websites, including, and the Huffington Post. had run a photo of Paterno with a caption saying the longtime Penn State coach "loses his battle with lung cancer at 85.'' The blurb did not include the source of the information.

In an apology on its site, said the mistake "was the result of a failure to verify the original report. holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations."

Oops. Sorry.

The now former editor did say something that's true, of which the perfect "verification" is his own stupidity:

"In this day and age, getting it first often conflicts with getting it right, but our intention was never to fall into that chasm,'' the letter said. "All I can do now is promise that in the future, we will exercise caution, restraint, and humility."

Caution, restraint, humility.

Not really exciting buzzwords like "thought leader," "game changer," "rock star" "evangelist," or "epic."

They're terms of the past, that have caught up with the future.

Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and aren't a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

1 comment:

David Fuller said...

I wished I saved the name of the marketer who promised to "generate" good reviews on AVVO a couple of years ago.

I do all of my own "social media marketing." I write blog posts on substantive issues in bankruptcy law. That means I read court decisions and then write about them in the context of my practice as a consumer debtor's lawyer. Once they get posted, they get posted to my Twitter through something I found on Google. Sometimes other lawyers email or call about what I've written. That's it and I never use exclamation points.

I'm not sure if writing about informative articles on something that are genuinely interested in is "social media marketing," but at least its both ethical and honest.