Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Lesson From Social Media/Tech Lawyer Evangelists: Do As I Say, Because I Don't Do

hy·poc·ri·sy (h-pkr-s)
n. pl. hy·poc·ri·sies

[Middle English ipocrisie, from Old French, from Late Latin hypocrisis, play-acting, pretense, from Greek hupokrisis, from hupokrnesthai, to play a part, pretend

As I continue to watch the sewer that has become social media for lawyers on the internet, I wonder why the real lawyers, the ones who practice law as a profession, haven't risen up and told the others to get the hell out.

Actually, I don't wonder that much, as there are plenty that will take advice from a non-practicing lawyer on the latest tech toy that will be a "game changer."

A new application ("app" for today's tech lawyer that can't use any words with more than 5 letters) was recently released for the iPad. You know the iPad, every lawyer MUST have one?

It's called TrialPad. Some folks right here in Miami developed it, and it's all the buzz.

The idea behind Trial Pad?

Litigators know that presenting evidence electronically is a winning strategy for large, high profile cases. But the cost of this persuasive presentation tactic was always prohibitive for smaller matters, and learning curve for available technologies was steep.

In response, legal tech evangelist and lawyer Nicole Black (who doesn't read anything I write because apparently I've been "globally filtered" out of her social media world from what I hear) wrote a review:

I tried it out a few times, but it wasn’t until I sat through a demo with the developer at LegalTech in Manhattan last week that I truly realized how useful this app will be for litigators.

Then she goes on and in part says:

Using TrialPad, you can simply and easily control the presentation of evidence to a jury. You can highlight and annotate documents in real time, drawing the jurors attention to important aspects of the document.

The TrialPad interface is intuitive and easy to use, making trial preparation and presentation more effective.

And of course, like all good tech evangelists that subscribe to my theory of the self fulfilling prophecy, she ends:

...mark my words, within the next 2 years, trial presentation software such as TrialPad on tablet computers will be the norm in the courtroom.

"Everyone will have one."

But here's the problem.

When you write about new tech being essential for lawyers, and you present yourself as a lawyer who is also a tech evangelist, you're going to get this type of question from let's say someone like... criminal lawyer Nicole Farnum, who asks:

@nikiblack have you used it yet?

Well of course she's used it, why else would she be saying how easy it was to use in a jury trial? Why else would she say it will be the norm in the courtroom? Why else?

@nicoleruns I've tested it out but I don't litigate at this point in my career, so I haven't used it at trial.



We'll get back to that in a minute.

As I said in the beginning of this post, play acting is a definition of hypocrisy, and there is no better place to play act than as a lawyer on the internet playing with shiny toys and social media.

My good friend and lawyer Adrian Dayton, who has decided his best offense against my continued questioning of his complete lack of rainmaking experience, is to crawl in to a hole and not answer any questions, was recently interviewed about his "career" teaching lawyers how to tweet and use other forms of social media to make money.

Now this is an impressive looking interview, even with the host not able to control his laughter at 1:41. It's always great to be interviewed. It gives you the "organic" following Adrian talks about so much. It makes a lawyer with 8 months experience in a law firm, look like someone we all should hire to give us rainmaking advice.

So I asked Adrian if this was an interview he was asked to participate in, or whether he paid for it.

No answer.

Why not?

He paid for it.

It's totally fake. It's play acting.

But it looks real.

When people with law degrees claim authority over anything in the legal profession, whether it be the toys of Apple, or the keys to social media, lawyer ears perk up. "We're one of you," they say. But they are nothing more than "passionate" about toys and tweets. They don't use any of them to practice law, and never will.

I have no issues with lawyers who don't practice law. Plenty don't, and have started businesses, work at charities, work in other professions, become President of the United States, or do nothing.

But to all those that left the practice and are using their "lawyer" moniker to play act and try to gain relevance and authority over real, practicing lawyers, I have some advice:

Shut the fuck up and go away.

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


Pauline said...

Very well put. If you're going to be a marketing robot, then hold yourself out as a marketing "guru" or whatever. But not as a lawyer.

Litigation news said...

that's a hell of an assumption ... " simply and easily control the presentation of evidence to a jury"

First, if you are there in court alone, you still 1)have to lay a foundation 2)deal with objections 3)have the paper ready to go back with the jury, etc.

2nd- it may be that it helps with video dep clips, with perhaps using it to project certain items of demonstrative evidence, or to enlarge dep transcript testimony, but you know as a crim def atty that its too simplistic to suggest that a laptop or tablet will change the way entirely.

3rd- bench trial? different story. a maritime COGSA case, sure. Bench trial on issues relating to contracts, maybe. Still, you have to intro paper into the record.

At the end of the day, non litigators talking about a courtroom changer is like ... a virgin talking about sex?

Christine McCall said...

Brian, you nailed it! I am so weary of the group-think about the gadget-media-network of the moment. All of this noise about information massaging/amassing/churning and so little reference to the core skills of critical listening and thinking, rigorous and original analysis, and effective communication of ideas to others. Give me, please, a smart lawyer with a legal pad and a whiteboard who knows the material and has spent more time thinking about my case than managing and packaging information about it.

David Fuller said...

I've been in practice about 2 and a half years. I opened my practice basically right out of law school; I clerked for a year, but that's still a world away from solo practice. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so I used a couple a couple of "law practice" gurus. For a grand total of $3,500 I was told to buy some motivational books on networking, given some vague advice about "content building," and sold a really shitty website.

I could tell I'd been snookered - which is a polite of saying fucked - when I had to to tell the law practice guru that you can't use PayPal for handling payments to trust. Why not? PayPal doesn't make intact deposits and it takes a security interest in the the payments. Those are no-no's. She actually insisted that I was wrong, until I emailed her excerpts from the PayPal TOS and the RPCs. Her only suggestion for building a book of business when you are completely new to both a city and the practice of law, get your picture on business cards and hand them out like candy. We had a conversation about good taste versus whether I really wanted to be successful.

Also, she told me to get a Twitter account, because "that's where people go to find lawyers."

On to the shitty website. It looked and functioned like a website from 1998. It was impossible to get drop down menus. When I ultimately decided to design my own damn website and change to a real host, I found out that Captain Jackass the web designer had actually taken my old site down, when I switched servers, and so I got hit with a duplicate content penalty, and ended up delisted from Google for three months, which was awesome for business. A client who actually has a degree in computer science helped me figure that out and showed me how to fix it. Thank god for referrals from real life clients who liked my work for them.

So let me break it down for you. The web isn't going away. You need a website. For the price of three beers and some nachos, I'll show you how to set up a professional looking website in an afternoon. Buy a domain. Get a hosting account. Buy a Wordpress theme for no more than $100, then follow the instructions. I'll also tell you that the website has nothing to do with how well you practice law.

What about SEO and Twitter and SERPS and social networking? SEO is fairly straightforward. Just write about the kind of law you practice, throw in your city's name a few times, rinse and repeat. I blog about recent case law changes in bankruptcy. I've got real content, i.e. it's an actual discussion of the law, I'm ranked in the top 3 for my area of law, and that's it. That's about 15% of how you start a law practice.

The other 25% is making sure you are ready to practice, reading court rules, preparing forms, making sure you know the questions to ask during intake, calling the state bar for a practice startup guide, then read and follow the guide.

Then 55% is asking yourself why you want to practice on your own; how you will treat your clients; how you will treat angry, upset clients whose lives are falling apart; asking yourself how you can contribute to the profession, asking yourself how you can do better for a client than another lawyer; then asking yourself how you can do better tomorrow; and finally, remembering that this is a profession and not a get rich quick scheme.

The final 5% is realizing that 100% of your law practice is not 100% of your life, regardless of how it feels some days.

I paid $3,500 to get a website and learn how to start a practice. I didn't get squat. All that stuff I just said, I figured out on my own or by talking to other lawyers. My "Super Awesome Law Practice Consultancy" bills in beer and nachos, also buffalo wings.

Carolyn Elefant said...

I have recommended Paypal subject to various caveats (including most importantly, reading your ethics rules), so at first I was concerned that this comment was about me (except I do not charge money except for my book which people can also read in the library). I think that this post is important because Paypal is absolutely problematic in many, but not all jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, you can set up a Paypal account and have the proceeds from Paypal go to your trust account. However, you would need to (1) keep sufficient funds in your trust account to cover the charge that Paypal (and make sure that your jurisdiction permits you to keep funds to cover charges and does not consider this commingling and (2) transfer the funds from Paypal to your trust account immediately and do not hold them in the Paypal account. All of these steps arguably take the convenience out of Paypal and for that reason, a lawyer might be better off using a merchant account or one of the lawyer specific products that some of the bar associations recommend. However, even if lawyers can't use Paypal for trust accounts, I do find that a paypal account is useful for making payments to contract lawyers or accepting payment for work earned on receipt (i.e, funds that do not have to go into trust).
There are many other areas where there is a disconnect between what consultants recommend and what bar rules allow. Such as flat fees - they are all the rage but in DC there are very strict rules on how they must be accounted for (the type of rules that Texas is trying to prevent) Or the endorsement to throw out the time sheet when often, it is needed to recover attorneys' fees in civil cases (different from criminal)

David Fuller said...

Important caveat - I wasn't about Carolyn or her book. I've actually worn the spine out on it. Among other things Carolyn actually practices law.

I've talked to a couple of people who are starting up practices in my area. It's pretty appalling what some of these consultants will promise and then charge. Apparently I got off lightly, because the current price is starting at $5,000 on up. Then they promise all kind of big numbers in your first year.

Colorado Startup Lawyer said...

Re Paypal issues, I believe that Law Charge ( was specifically designed to address the ethical issues arising out of fees charged to funds deposited to a trust. I am not associated with them nor receive any kind of compensation from them. I haven't even set up an account with them just yet. But I plan to soon just to have something out there as an online payment option for the clients.

Dave! said...

As a member of the "David's who have been solo for a little over 2 years club" I think the other David is spot on.

I have the benefit of a decade plus career in IT before law school, so I've done most of my own IT; but you *do* need a website, and you *don't* need to pay a lot to some ex-lawyer-turned-marketer to get one. I'll second the idea of setting up a blog/site using WordPress and paying for a premium theme. Many themes have support options, too, so for a few hundred bucks you can get a nice looking site, with support. No sales pitch required.

Online marketing (website aside) is mostly a scam. I've never found a client through Twitter. I have through LinkedIn, though. I have made several good contacts and gotten a few *paying* clients from the site. Keep in mind, I practice business and intellectual property law, so your mileage may vary. But there are many specialized web communities that can be good referral sources--not through spamming, but by being an actual, contributing member of the community. If you are simply trolling sites/services for clients, you aren't going to find any. At least not any worth having.

I am not anti-marketer, but I don't know why anyone would hire an ex-lawyer turned marketer for anything. Look, there are people who have studied marketing and made it their career from the get-go. Some of them aren't dirtbags, even. So if you *really* need marketing, why not find one of them? A competent and ethical marketer can easily help you with marketing within the bounds of the ethics of our profession. No, they might not know all the rules, but you should. And as hard as it may be to believe--ethical marketing usually doesn't run afoul of the rules of professional conduct. Marketers or PR professionals can help you write better copy for your website or craft ads that are effective and not sleazy. And, in my experience, they cost less than charlatans do, too.

Here's my 100% free build your practice tip: get to know other lawyers. You have local bar associations? Join them. Go to their meetings. Join committees. Write articles. Get to know your peers. More than 75% of my practice has been built by referrals from *other attorneys*. Why? Because they know me. They know about me. They have come to trust me. I do my damnedest to do great work for my clients. I thank fellow attorneys for referrals. And I refer work to them, too, when I can. You know what it costs me? Some bar dues and dinners out with people I like and would have dinner with anyway.