Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Watching Law Ignite Into Flames

I was asked to watch some videos from a small conference called IgniteLaw that was held at the ABA Tech Show last week in Chicago

The concept was interesting - Fifteen social media and marketing mavens, along with a few lawyers I respect, talking for 6 minutes or so in a lighting round type form, all with power point presentations.

So I watched. And watched. And watched.

And I almost cried.

It was called IgniteLaw. I don't know why. I don't know what any of it had to do with law. It was all about Google, iPhones, social media, marketing, and a little (a very little) ethics.

This was too bad, because I happen to enjoy some of the writing of IgniteLaw host Matthew Homann.

But he begins by going on the attack of the traditional lawyer:

"Your peers fear change, only because they fear you'll change better than they will."


Was this a revival to assure the social media mavens that they matter, to convince them that those who call out this new type of lawyer conference are just mean, mean men?

I consider myself a traditional lawyer. I built my practice by word of mouth referrals. I have an office. I wear a suit. I don't market myself to death or sit in Starbucks all day telling other lawyers how to use a computer. And yes, I think the way lawyers are being evangelized into the marketing world, is pathetic.

But I don't fear change.

What I fear, is new lawyers who listen to non-practicing lawyers go from conference, week in and week out to tell them all the wrong ways to get business, and that the way they are doing everything, is wrong. I fear many of the people who spoke here. I fear that I have witnessed a live version of everything I criticize.

That's what I fear.

I fear that we are creating a generation of marketers, and not advocates (unless they are advocates for themselves, and marketing, and their twitter account.)

Watching some of these videos I realized that the practice of law has not merely taken a back seat to marketing and social media, it's attached to an open trailer attached to the car, hidden under a bunch of tied-down blankets.

There is something going on here that IgniteLaw brings to light: An attempt to convince new lawyers that Law, lawyers, legal issues, legalities, legal writing, advocacy, ethics, are the enemy of change.

Maybe I'm wrong.

What do you think?

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


Monday, March 29, 2010

What Matters In A Lawyer's Off-line Presence?

While we're busy creating a generation of "lawyers" obsessed with their online presence, I wonder if the lawyer's off-line presence is even a consideration anymore.

I'm not talking about the Starbucks lawyer with no clients whose only offline presence involves remaining quiet enough not to disturb the college students enjoying cafe lattes next to them, I'm talking about the lawyer that goes to court, or meets with clients, or actually carries around a file or two and wears an occasional suit.

And I'm not just talking about dress. I'm talking about "presence."

I'm talking about the way a lawyer conducts themselves in and out of court, around clients, around other lawyers. My personal belief is that a lawyer's presence is about how they conduct themselves from the time they walk out of their house, to the time they get home.

I was in court Monday before the judge took the bench and observed 4 prosecutors laughingly discuss the weekend. The discussion was loud enough for the defendants in the courtroom to hear. I wondered what they thought. I wondered if they were either relieved to know that the people who in a few minutes would ask the judge to sentence them, take them into custody, or otherwise advocate that their lives change in a significant way were happily discussing their social lives, or whether that made them feel like this courtroom was not a serious place to the government.

I then saw a tweet from a business professional criticizing lawyers tweeting from court. I explained that there is a lot of down time in court waiting for the judge to call cases, to which he responded that regardless, he would immediately fire his lawyer if he saw him tweeting from court.

Some clients don't like when opposing counsel appear friendly in court. Some lawyers can't wear a matching jacket and pants to save their life. Some lawyers put on a show at every court appearance, thinking the client will be like a proud parent and say "that's my lawyer!"

This all leads me to a question, really for non-lawyers, although lawyers are invited to comment.

What do you expect from your lawyer regarding his/her behavior, conduct, dress, and overall "presence?" If you've ever been to court with a lawyer, what bothered you about your lawyer's conduct, or the conduct of another lawyer? When you hire a lawyer, are you hiring the lawyer for their ability alone, or does it matter how clean their office is, or how professional they look, or how they carry themselves in court?

Do you care if your lawyer looks like this:

Or this:

Actually, this lawyer did pretty well:

Once you get past the bullshit website and Vegas-style marketing brochure, what matters to you about your real-life lawyer?

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


To Anonymous At 3:47:00 P.M.: No, I Don't Do Free Consultations

On the local Miami Courthouse Blog, there was a funny discussion about naming sandwiches after judges, and someone whose obsession with not liking me couldn't wait wrote:

guess who wrote this on his web profile:

"The consultation is only free if the client decides to retain me. Otherwise, it is $500 for a consultation. I do not believe in using time that other clients are paying for to speak to potential clients who are merely "shopping" for a lawyer"

The answer, my anonymous friend, is......: me! That's my profile. I wrote that.

Before I respond to my friend's "question," just a few words about the state of the profession regarding anonymous blog comments.

I've said many times that leaving anonymous comments on blogs for the purpose of attacking someone, spreading rumors, or otherwise trying to embarrass someone, is the new version of leaving shit on someone's door step, ringing the door, and running away.

When lawyers do it, it just tells me that the profession has sunk to a new low. I understand that people who work in government offices (prosecutors, public defenders, even judges) can't speak their minds and use anonymity to engage in critical discussion. I also understand some people are unwilling to put their name to what they've said. After all, this is not the generation of leaders or outspoken lawyers who are working to change society.

This is the age of fear.

And this is the age of competition and jealousy.

This is the age of lawyers doing what they can to belittle their colleagues all in the name of getting a case.

This, is from where my anonymous friend's comment comes.

He (and yes, it's a he) doesn't really want to know if anyone else knows it's me, and he doesn't want to know whether not giving free consultations is a better business practice. He just doesn't like me, and he doesn't like that I say, without anonymity, that I don't talk to people for free.

He would never think to call me and say "hey Brian, can I talk to you about your policy?" "Does it work?" "Because I give free consultations all day and actually advertise it like a neon sign - FREE CONSULTATION." "Could I stop and still make money?"

He just wants to let everyone know he doesn't like me, and therefore doesn't like anything I say.

But I will answer his question.

Yes, I charge a consultation fee. Why, is it illegal? Am I required to talk to potential clients for free? Who invented the free consultation anyway? Probably lawyers who were looking for a way to be more car salesman like and "get the customer in the door."

I don't want the "customer" in the door that isn't looking to be my "customer." You can have them, anonymous. You can have all of those that are looking for a free consultation. I won't judge you, promise. Unlike you, it doesn't have any affect on my life how other lawyers run their business. I just hope they do it ethically and without resorting to cheap tactics, you know?

Most people who meet with me, hire me.

Most people who ask if there is a consultation fee, have little or no money.

My current clients wouldn't appreciate if I was sitting around all afternoon talking to other potential clients for free, using their time that they paid for. I use my "free" time to do pro bono work. I trust you do a great deal as well.

Therefore, I rarely get a consultation fee because I'm unwilling to meet with those unwilling to pay for one, and those that are told there is one unless I am retained, and come in, usually retain me.

So it's like tasting fees in Napa (sorry for the gratuitous wine analogy). Most wineries have a tasting fee. The reason for the tasting fee is to keep out those that just want to drink free wine. Tasting fees are rarely charged to those that buy wine.

Now, to my anonymous friend, I have some advice.

If it bothers you so much that I do this, and that I am willing to put it in writing on Nolo.com (where most of my calls have come from people with little or no money looking for a cheap lawyer), feel free to further take out your dislike for me by stating in your marketing brochure: "Come to my office, because unlike Brian Tannebaum, I don't charge a consultation fee."

I hope it gets you more business, and more free consultations.

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


Thursday, March 25, 2010

When Social Media And Lawyers Become Relevant

Yesterday the State of Texas was planning to execute Hank Skinner. A bunch of criminal defense lawyers, including myself, blogged about the pending execution and the controversy over untested DNA.

Then we took to twitter.

All day, criminal and civil lawyers, non-lawyers, everyone, joined in on informing their respective followers about the execution. People were urged to call, e-mail, fax, and leave messages on Texas Governor Rick Perry's Facebook Page and ask him to stay the execution.

Then, the United States Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the execution.

It is a ridiculous notion to think that the Justices of the United States Supreme Court were surfing twitter yesterday and saw the outpouring of interest. It is less ridiculous to think that their young clerks and staff may have seen the posts.

But let's accept the argument that not a single person at the Supreme Court saw a single message about Hank Skinner's pending execution. Let's accept that the stay was granted without any knowledge of the online campaign.

The shame of it is that the social media marketers, some who are lawyers, largely stayed out of the postings. It wasn't part of their marketing campaign, it wasn't part of their "brand," and it wasn't self-promotion. It is these low-life marketers who only see social media as advertising, self-promotion, and a method to talk about "me."

Maybe they support the death penalty? Maybe they wanted Skinner dead? Nope. Listen, the people I speak of have never represented a client, entered a courtroom, or did so years ago and now use the moniker "lawyer" as a way to convince young lawyers that they have the answers to their desire for wealth - get a blog, twitter account, cool laptop and cell phone, and you will be the lawyer you want to be.

These are the people who are sticking their tongues out and whining "you guys didn't do anything to get the stay." The notion that social media exists for any other reason than shameless marketing and a medium to puff a resume for the unknowing, is beyond them. To them, social media is not a way to get a message out, unless the message is "hire me!"

That a message was spread of a possible injustice about to occur is so beyond the mindset of these social media types that all they can do is try to dissuade anyone who may think that social media can be used for a good, relevant purpose.

Yesterday the lawyers came together to pass along information to their colleagues and friends about a real legal issue that mattered.

The social media lawyer marketers, watching their world become one of relevance and not gamesmanship, took a pass.

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


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Ethics Of Lawyer Marketing, And Other Lost Ideals

When I was in law school, the internet was in it's infancy. Cheesy lawyer marketing was limited to billboards, bus benches and sending "I heard you got arrested" brochures to client's homes. I remember my torts professor (of all subjects) say "I better never see any of your names on the back of a bus." Funny thing is that I never have - seen any of my classmates names on the back of a bus, and yes, I always look.

Yesterday's lawyer marketing still exists, the billboards still the darling of personal injury lawyers, the bus benches mostly reserved for ticket and foreclosure defense lawyers. But today, it's all about the internet. It's all about getting to the top of Google, and nothing more.

Everyday we lawyers get emails about how some kid in shorts and a t-shirt sitting at Starbucks can get us to the "#1 spot on Google." I always wonder how everyone can be #1 in this seemingly "race to the top," which is really a race to the depths of shameless marketing.

Here is the secret to Google - linking. Every chance you get, link to your website. Google will pick it up. This was better said by a recent commenter: How does google do it? Is it magic? .. slight of hand? .. divine intervention? No, it's done by robots. Yes, robots. They mindlessly crawl around the web and look for magic words that people like you and me use to find plumbers, dentists and lawyers.

I recently wrote about this, here.

And received these comments:

I'm working with Justia to create a better blog platform (will be up in a few weeks), and they want me to write that way. They've got some good ideas but that one is lame.

It is just advertising. If you are practicing law to make your living and not as the idealogical lawyer for a cause, what is the problem?

Exactly - this is lawyer marketing today - it's being taught, and those whose BigLaw dreams have been shattered and have to suffer through trying it on their own find nothing wrong with the race to depths of shameless marketing. It's all about getting clients, even if getting those clients means typing mindlessly for the sole purpose of being number 1 on Google.

I guess after all those years of college and law school, you have to try to be good at something.

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


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can You Go 24 Hours Without Your Phone?


But there's a movement to get people to try.

I remember my Dad, when I first got a cell phone: "why do you want to always be connected?" My answer?: "Because if I'm not, and another lawyer is, I lose the oppportunity for that new client."

It's silly for a lawyer like me not to have 24 hour access to email and phone calls. "Someone just got arrested," or "I just got a letter from the Bar," needs to be answered immediately. It's not a desire for me, it's a necessity. The best I can do is leave it in another room, but within ear shot for the call.

I remember being in court 15 years ago when everyone had beepers. A judge asked a prominent lawyer for his beeper number so the clerk could call him when the judge was ready to try his client's case. "Judge, I have no beeper, or cell phone."

I still envy him for that, 24 hours a day.

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


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A View Of The Bar Admission Process, From A Client

A newly minted client wrote to say "thank you" today and summed up his view of the process with this:


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


Lawyer Marketer On Lawyer Directories - Eh.

While today's lawyer runs, as fast as possible, to put their profile on every single website promising to get them to the first page of Google and bring them more clients then they ever dreamed of, a lawyer marketing consultant actually questions the practice.

Dave Lorenzo asks: Do Internet Directory Services Work for Lawyer Marketing?

As the economy deteriorated these services ramped up their marketing efforts so that almost every lawyer in America received a call from one of them at some point (or so it seemed).

Dave correctly notes that directory services are essentially the Internet replacement of the phone book.

But then he makes the point:

You list your law firm in there with other attorneys who do the same thing as you do. You provide your information packaged in the same way as all the other lawyers marketing their services. You even have the opportunity to list prices for your services. Then people call you. Some call seeking free advice and some call shopping around for the least expensive lawyer.

He makes the desperate-for-business lawyer feel good:

You will get phone calls from most of these services. And in many cases you will get clients. In a few cases, you may even get enough clients to do better than break even on your investment. Many people would say this is a good lawyer marketing tactic since you are receiving a positive return on investment.

Then he drops the bomb, engaging in what few lawyer marketers are willing to discuss - the truth:

The problem with directory services is that they make you a commodity. You become the same as a can of peas on the shelf in a supermarket. Potential clients cannot see the difference in your service from all the other attorneys in the directory. You all look the same. When everything looks the same the only criteria the client has to make a decision is price. This is not good.

This is "not good?"


Dave believes that placing yourself in these "please hire me" sites will give you visibility, but not much, if any, credibility. He gives a big fat "no" on the subject of differentiation:

This is where we put the nail in the coffin. These directory services offer no way to differentiate you from everyone else. In fact, they make you a commodity which is the opposite of what good lawyer marketing is supposed to do.

Dave's analysis is focused on those directories that claim your clients are waiting to hire you. Noticably absent from his analysis is the typical directories that serve as placecards for lawyers. I personally think every lawyer should have a "profile" on the most popular sites - the ones people go to for information on a lawyer. But I've never participated in these "I need clients" sites, and Dave's post nails the reason why.

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


Monday, March 15, 2010

What (Some) Clients Want In A Lawyer

My friend Lee Rosen asks why some crappy lawyers have happy clients?

Lee says he knows one personally:

She’s a terrible lawyer. She can’t read and understand a court opinion. She misreads statutes. She’s an embarrassment in court. Her pleadings are poorly drafted. Her correspondence is filled with errors. She says things in chambers that make her look like an idiot. Her objections are overruled. Her court appearances are dominated by illogical arguments.

Her clients, however, love her. They refer business to her like crazy. She spends nearly nothing on marketing and is making a freaking fortune. She can’t see a new client for weeks because she is solidly booked.

He wants to know how it is that she's so crappy, yet seemingly so successful?

I know lawyers like this. We all do. One lawyer I know has been sanctioned by the Bar several times. Judges don't like this lawyer. Lawyers don't like this lawyer. This lawyer's name is used to describe bad behavior.

He's got tons of clients. They love him.

Here's Lee correct analysis:

Here’s the deal. She does things that make it clear that she cares about her clients. She rants and raves in court, like a maniac, on behalf of her clients. She crosses over every line and gets personally involved with her clients. She laughs with her clients, she cries with her clients. She returns calls, she calls at night, she stays on the phone forever. She loves her clients and it shows. She knows it and her clients know it. She’d do anything to help them. They are her friends.

Her clients love her. They love her when she wins, they love her when she loses. They know she’s committed to their cause. They know she did her best, even when her best isn’t good enough.

Recently a client called to say he was hiring another lawyer. I asked why: "the other lawyer we met with (practicing less than half as long as me) told us about all his results including that he recently won a case involving a friend of ours."

Oh well. Hope he's got one of those rare winning streaks.

This is a fascinating issue. We all know that clients hire lawyers for the strangest reasons. Something, one thing the lawyer says or does can determine the client's happiness with the lawyer. In the criminal practice we all experience the difference in the client who barely shakes your hand when you win his case, and the client who hugs you after you lose his case and before he's shipped off to jail.

From a client's perspective, the definition of a "crappy" lawyer is completely different from that "within" the profession.

Lee asks the important question:

It all makes me wonder whether she’s really a crappy lawyer or whether I have ideas about what’s important that might be irrelevant. Who sets the standard for crappy? Lawyers or clients? Maybe my idea of crappy doesn’t really matter?


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


Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Just a question Mr. Ogletree, you think someone may have...Nevermind.

Here's the letter.

H/T Nicole Black

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


Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bar Application: When Not To Disclose

It seems no matter how much I write on the Bar Application process, the question of disclosure continues to rear it's head as the most asked.

I have the answer.


"They will find out."

Every time.

This is 2010, information is readily available. The minute the question "should I disclose./..." comes our of your mouth, the answer is "yes."

Always disclose.

This of course is mostly an issue with whether something is actually a "conviction," or whether you think the Bar will find out because you determined with a phone call that the records do not exist.

In my opinion, here's why you disclose:

[1] If they find out from someone other than you, it's a problem.

[2] If you disclose in a situation where you think you do not need to, it makes you look like an open book, unafraid of your past.

[3] IF you didn't need to disclose - so what?

This applies to life in general. Really.

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


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Former BigLaw "Feels Like I Don't Even Have A Job."

Last year an unhappy BigLaw called and asked if we could meet. I learned that her work in criminal law was much more fulfilling than her then stint at BigLaw.

She told me she had her eyes set on getting back into criminal law. She asked, with an almost desperate tone of "I hate what I'm doing," if I'd help.

Today, while I was leaving court, she stopped me. She was on a break awaiting to give her closing argument in her first trial as an assistant public defender.

I asked how she liked the job.

"I love it so much that it feels like I don't even have a job."

I know, I know, going from $150,000 to $40 or $50 grand doesn't do it for the newbies out there. I understand. It's not about the law, it's about the cash.

I just wanted to mention a quick story about a rare young lawyer who is doing what she loves.

Even if few get anything out of it.

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


Monday, March 1, 2010

A Reader Sees Hypocrisy On Going Solo


You've done several recent posts that seem to encourage solo practice, contrary to your advice to me when we first met. Personally, as one of those people "you reading this from a couch, or a Starbucks, lamenting why no one thinks you're entitled to a career," I've considered it. But let's be real: there are a lot of barriers to entry. Even in the otherwise heartwarming story you posted the other day about the guy doing foreclosure defense, the punch line is the legislature just made it much more difficult for him to get paid.

How about writing a post that explains some of the basics of learning your trade--CLEs? treatises? Setting up your business structure, bank accounts, malpractice insurance, good practices etc?


So let me see if I can get myself out of this mess.

First, as to the second part of the reader's email: Here's a bunch of posts I've written on solo practice.

To sum it up:

First figure out what type of law you want to practice.

I know when I say that, most of today's law school graduates respond: "But I never went to law school to become a certain type of lawyer, I just went for the paycheck at the end. Whatever type of law that is - that's what I want to practice."

As to the first part, no, I don't advocate solo practice out of law school. I also don't advocate that if you cut yourself and are bleeding, that you urinate on the cut to sterilize it. However, if you have no other options, it's probably better that you do that, then allowing yourself to become infected. Exploring the option of solo practice, rather than playing video games while waiting for Oprah to start or hoping someone at Starbuck's notices you typing feverishly on your laptop and offers you a job, is the better move.

If you explore the solo path, and it doesn't work for you because you don't feel competent to go solo, or it doesn't interest you because you believe the hype of BigLaw that solos are somehow less of a lawyer than those who pray to the mahogany and billable hour God, then here's my advice: If you went to law school to get a job and you cannot get that job, get another job. Yes, do something else. While I know that most lawyers are perceived to have no other interest than law, I bet there is something else you can do, even if it's not exactly what you wanted to do. I know that is a foreign concept to those who feel entitled to a specific job, but it's better to pay your bills, then have someone else pay them while you wait for the job that you thought was guaranteed at the end of your 3 year yellow brick road.

Thanks for writing (and I won't tell anyone that you are doing other things to pay the bills right now, it offends those who won't).

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