Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Real Problem With Lawyers: Pure Stupidity

Today, a member of the Bar is giving a seminar on how to start and manage a law firm. His partial qualifications? He failed in private practice, had his license administratively suspended for failure to complete CLE requirements, had a foreclosure, and operates his business out of a UPS store.

There will be a room full of young (and old) desperate lawyers who have paid money to hear him, and are awaiting eagerly, like panting dogs, to hear all the secrets of success.

None of the people in that room know any of this.

Yesterday, a member of the Bar jumped on the ABA story that shocked the legal marketing world when it concluded that blogs, twitter, Facebook, or other forms of "you better get on the train or you'll get run over," marketing, are secondary to word of mouth referrals.

This member of the Bar stated that whenever there's a story on social media (seemingly where it disputes his claims that it is a requirement for the wanna-be successful lawyer), lawyers "from all over the world" call.....him.

Sure they do. And why wouldn't they? He practiced law for 8 months, really 6, got laid off, and then became a self-proclaimed rainmaker. He also lied, and continues to lie about his experience, saying he was part of a $450 million deal while a newly minted associate, when all he did was review documents. He brought in no business as a lawyer, ever, but if you pay him, he will teach you all the tricks. The Aussie legal community is apparently so impressed with his vast experience and personal success, they paid for him to spend a month down under spreading his knowledge to the legal community.

Another lawyer will soon speak on the ethics challenges lawyers face with cloud computing. Except the lawyer doesn't use cloud computing as part of any established law practice. Oh well, it'll all sound relevant.

Then there's the disbarred lawyer who lied about why he left the profession (he stole money from a trust account set aside for kids, among other things) and now sells a blog platform so you can blog for profit. Lawyers snap this up, without concern that they are putting money in the pocket of a disgraced liar. Nothing wrong with being disbarred, but in this age of transparancy (and the marketers cringe) an affirmative lie about your past should cause the discriminating lawyer to pause.

But why would we expect this? The largest group of people who fall victim to those Nigerian email scams? Lawyers.

We have become a bunch of blithering idiots, so desperate for money that we're willing to listen to anyone who pretends to have the ability to put some in our pocket, regardless of who they really are.

People ask how I know all these things, how I find them out? I look, I Google, I read. Why don't I link these people in this post? Because I'm tired of doing your work. I'm tired of the emails saying "oh my God, I had no idea, and I was going to hire him!" You look like idiots.

We live in a generation where lawyers have all but lost any reputation for high honor. Lawyers are viewed as liars, scumbags, thieves.

I'm just glad most don't realize how stupid we all are.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seller's Remorse: A Lesson In Abandoning Policy

Sorry to interrupt the circus of marketing advice out there purporting to show you how to get all the clients you want who have a a few bucks and a problem, but the one thing no one ever mentions, is that most of this advice comes from those without clients. Former failed lawyers-turned-marketers can help you be the best neon sign on the Vegas Strip (they say), but have no concept about the real decisions that are required by lawyers who wish to run their practices, instead of having their practices run them.

You know what I'm talking about. Most lawyers have a philosophy about client intake - if you have money and a problem, I'm your lawyer. Lawyers hear that the best case is "the case you turn down," but does anyone really do that?

Most lawyers don't create policies that weed out the headaches that cause burnout and a general distaste for the profession.

Policies like, for example, talking to clients over the phone and quoting fees prior to bringing them in to the office where an hour later you realize the potential client has no money. We are car salesmen after all, aren't we? Come on in, kick the tires, and we'll sell your the car.

Or, as another example, not answering the cell phone at all hours of the day so the client doesn't think they can abuse the ability to reach you at all hours. Make clients think they need to respect your after-hours and weekend time, and you'll have no practice, right?

Or like the policy I want to talk about here, never being the second lawyer.

Yep, that's mine.

I don't want to be the second lawyer, for several reasons.

One, and most important, is that the majority of people who have a falling out with the first lawyer, will never be happy with any lawyer.

Many calls I receive from clients with Bar complaints begin with "I was the (second, third, fourth) lawyer on the case."

While there are exceptions to this policy, they are rare. Sure there are lawyers who take a case and do no work, never return calls, and are truly the culprit in the breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. Mostly though, the problem is that the client is unhappy with news, or believes that the lawyer is not paying them enough attention, or wouldn't file a motion that no lawyer should file. I also rarely hear a call for the second or thurd lawyer where there isn't a trail of unpaid legal fees.

What interests me is the controversy this policy causes. Lawyers express shock that I would have such a policy. These are the same lawyers who are all too willing to meet with a represented client and make the client believe they can do better. They would never think to recommend that the unhappy client try to reconcile with the offending lawyer. There's no money in that...

Some lawyers also believe, assuming it's not just a case of a client with ridiculous expectations, that I owe an obligation to a client who chose a bad lawyer.


There's more information about lawyers out there today then there ever has been. If the client is making a bad decision on bad information, perpetrated by scumbag marketers and not taking the time to verify the lawyer's credentials, why does that become my "obligation?"

Disagree all you want. I'm not the savior for those that hire lawyers based on flash and buzzwords

So yeah, I did it. I violated my policy.

It gets worse.

All the evidence was there not to do this.

But this was going to happen. Sometimes human elements trump hard and fast policy.

Now the search for the third lawyer commences.

Will I do this again? Probably. Soon? not a chance.

But I will tell you this: the practice philosophy of 24/7, any case, any client, any fee, any personality, is a recipe for burnout.

Not every client or case is right for every lawyer, regardless of the fact that the money looks the same.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Lawyer's Review of The Thank You Economy

I wasn't going to buy The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk's follow up to his best seller Crush It. I mean, who needs to read another book about how social media is taking over the world and if you don't join in the take over of the world, the world is going to take over you?

But I bought it for two reasons: One, to support someone I know and respect as a businessman, and two, because one of the not-so-secret secrets of business success is to find those who have had success in business and learn everything you can about their philosophies, strategies, and predictions.

At his core, Gary Vaynerchuk is a loud-mouth New York Jets fan who works at his father's wine shop. This begs the question why a lawyer in Miami would give a crap what a guy who peddles wine in Springfield, New Jersey has to say about anything. He sells wine, I represent people in trouble.

We'll get to that.

Vaynerchuk, or "Gary V" as he's better known, took his father's local wine shop, formerly known as Shopper's Discount Liquors, and turned it into Wine Library, and winelibrary.com, now an 8 figure affair with Vaynerchuk hosting a daily video blog garnering a six figure audience as well as a weekly satellite radio show, making regular national TV appearances, and signing a multi-book publishing deal.

Vaynerchuk's meteoric rise in the wine world and thus the business world, is much attributed to his use of social media. He ran out of space to accept new "friends" on Facebook, has north of 800,000 twitter followers, and laments his inability to continue to answer every e-mail, something he used to do religiously.

Let me get some things out of the way for those so keyed in to the world of 140 character messages that this post is already much too long - If you sell a product or service, which pretty much includes anyone in business, read the book. For you social media freaks - all the great buzz words that drive me crazy are packed in there - "early adopter," "best practices," "game changer," they're all there. But a warning, if you use social media as "billboard," (a word mentioned many times in the book, and one of my favorites) you won't like what you read.

What you need to understand in reading The Thank You Economy, is that Vaynerchuk is not one of those trolling the internet expressing passion about social media with no street credibility to back it up - he is one of the few who has actually used social media to create success in an underlying business. Vaynerchuk doesn't see social media as "tech" or a new way of doing business - he explains that social media is bringing us back to the days of our grandparents when:

Businesses lived and died by what was said via word of mouth and by the influence people had with one another. That meant every person who walked through the door had to feel like he or she mattered

The Thank You Economy is probably not a welcome read to those who see social media as a way to game consumers, as it offers example after example of human interaction, transparency, and Vaynerchuk's mantra - "caring," that has created success for everyone from a burger joint owner to a dentist.

At it's core, social media requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners.

Doesn't really get your techy SEO does-Apple-have-a-new-product-that-will-launch-me-into-the-stratosphere blood pumping, does it?

Midway through the book, Vaynerchuk debunks the numbers side of social media, and makes clear he's not writing to the crowd of SEO tacticians (an aspect of the internet he has little use for):

If your view of social media is so tunnel-visioned that all you care about are the number of fans or retweets or views you're garnering, you're missing the whole point.

As I read The Thank You Economy, it became clear that this is not a book about social media creating business success - something the hucksters are trying to sell you. The book is about how general concepts of treating employees right, treating customers as if it matters that they are your customer (or client, lawyers) by saying "thank you," and understanding that loyalty is created by the way a business handles problems, combined with the use of social media, can do a lot more for your business than taking out ads and developing traditional media campaigns.

The Thank You Economy doesn't just use statistics to explain how social media can create brand loyalty, it gives detailed and recent examples that make clear how direct and sincere contact with those that patronize your business - even, and especially with those who complain, can create "advocates."

So back to why a lawyer with a traditional practice based on word of mouth would care what a internet-savvy wine merchant and misguided Jets fan has to say about social media in business?

Because you can dismiss everything Vaynerchuk says about social media and still learn something from the book. The social media revolution, if you consider it that, is something for you to join, or watch. You may not think social media is appropriate for your business (and the book discusses that as well), but if you think that differentiating yourself is beneficial to beating the competition, then I would read what this former shelf-stocker at Daddy's liquor shop has to say about the future of business.

Understand that Vaynerchuk's product - wine - is not the differentiating factor that sets his shop apart from the others. A bottle of 2007 Beringer Cabernet from Wine Library tastes exactly the same as a bottle of 2007 Beringer Cabernet from one of the dozens of other online wine merchants, or your local gas station. The answer to how social media has created a real "following" for Wine Library is laid out in the book. If you own a business where your product, like Vaynerchuk's, is widely available, and you want to understand how today's consumer makes a purchasing decision, read the book.

For lawyers, the product is not the same. Some lawyers are good, few are outstanding, many suck. Is authentic engagement in social media going to make a difference in your practice? Not unless it's real, and not unless behind that tweet or blog post is a real lawyer who gives a crap about the client.

Most lawyers are lousy business people. As much as lawyers like to debate whether "law-is-a-business-or-a-profession," the reality is that for the private practitioner, it is both. I learn my craft of lawyering from other lawyers. I learn about business from other business people.

Some of the best business advice I've received over the last 10 years has come from a dry cleaner - a business where complaints are a natural occurrence. He said "problems are great - they turn a good customer in to a loyal customer if you handle it right." Vaynerchuk talks about the exact issue in the book. In a world where so many pumping out "billboards" on social media run from criticism and complaints, Vaynerchuk explains how problems are a foundation for building the "culture" of your business, not only in his own company, but in others in which he provides great examples.

As I read the book, and read examples about companies like Best Buy, Ann Taylor LOFT, and BP, I kept thinking that Vaynerchuk needs to write a book about how professional service firms can use social media in a ethical, transparent way. Then, at the end, at the very end, he talks about a dentist and a lawyer who used social media in a way that follows his "human interaction" philosophy.

I was disappointed in the portion about the lawyer, as it was quick, and thin on detail. He did appear to understand the ethical issues surrounding lawyers on social media, I just was looking, selfishly, for more examples of successful lawyers and other professionals who took an already burgeoning practice and added a social media component.

Although it's clear that law firms aren't Vaynerchuk's focus, his advice is important to those lawyers whose only other option is paying failed lawyers with no business success for worthless social media advice. I think he has an opportunity to expand on this part of the business world in future books - for those stuff-shirts who understand that good business advice comes from people who have been successful in business, even if it's not their type of business, and even if the one giving advice wears t-shirts and jeans, and roots for a despicable NFL football team.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dry Cleaners, Rental Cars, And The Practice Of Law

Ten years ago I began using a dry cleaning company that comes to my house, picks up the week's wears, and drops them off at next week's pick up. It's not a little, but a lot more expensive then standing in line at the one next to my local breakfast joint on a Saturday where moms in jogging suits and dads in t-shirts evidencing the last good trip sigh as they hold the pile of whites and blues of the week.

As I walk past them Saturdays on my way in to have Tanya pour me some coffee and bring me a perfectly scooped bagel, I shake my head at how people can wait in line to have their clothes dry cleaned.

But they do. They do there, and at the dozens that I pass every day as I travel through town. While pick up and delivery is more convenient, I don't see dry cleaners closing up store fronts and buying vans in their place.


Because there are still and will always be people who don't trust leaving their clothes on the front porch. Maybe they like saying hello to that angry Greek guy who runs the place. Maybe they like to explain exactly how they want their clothes cleaned. Maybe they can't afford the pick up and delivery service. Maybe they just like doing it the way they've done it for years and have no reason to change.

Then there's rental cars. I think Hertz was the first company to have a service where you got off the plane and went right to the car. No stopping at the counter.

Plane - car - done.

But I still see counters. I still see lines of people there.

There's guys like me who can't understand any of this. Why wouldn't you pay a little more for the convenience? Why would you do it the way you've been doing it for all these years?

The problem is that I'm not one of these new fangled "evangelists" who spends their days trying to convince people that the way I do things is the way they are going to be done and therefore you must do them this way or you will die.

Listen to the evangelists of the internet today as it pertains to law practice, and you will think that in 5 years there will be no offices, no paper, no pens, no clients meeting lawyers face to face, nothing will be like it is today.

But don't ever forget that those who are making these claims, are doing so because they are doing things differently, and can't imagine doing it any other way.

See, I think there's many ways to practice law. I know very good lawyers with nice offices and computers that sit on a credenza behind their desk collecting dust. I also know very good lawyers who are hired by fax and credit card and have well organized trunks.

Don't tell me I have to get on board. Don't tell young lawyers looking to rent an office and hire a secretary that this spells disaster.

Just put your pajamas back on, sit at the dining room table, and shut up.

The people in line at the dry cleaners and rental car counters don't give a crap what 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.Share/Save/Bookmark

Monday, March 7, 2011

Looking For "Free"

I received this e-mail:


We are running our annual survey to find out out what real people really think about cloud systems, and we are entering everyone who takes part in a draw for a case of six bottles of our favourite Chablis from France. We'd really appreciate it if you could spare just 2 minutes to take the survey - it is only six questions, so why not take the survey now and maybe you'll win those six bottles? Just click here.

Translation: Brian, the internet is such a easy place to convince people to spend their time on things for the hope of getting something back that we are spending zero on market research and instead hoping that people who have opinions that can help our company make more money will donate their time on the hope of some vino.

My response?:

Whatever you name is, thanks for the offer.

These days, 2 minutes of my time is worth about (X), and I don't really want to spend that money giving my opinion on cloud systems, which I understand is going to be all the rage among attorneys.

I have an opinion though. Why don't you set aside some market research dollars and send each person who responds - a bottle of wine? What's it cost? $20 or something. Let's say 100 people respond? I think a couple grand investment is worth it.

Don't you?

Their response?:

There was none.

I assume they were a little surprised. Wouldn't I be honored, excited, thrilled to be asked my opinion for the chance to win some cheap crap wine? Isn't everyone these days interested in giving away their time for the possibility of getting something back?

Before the explosion of the internet, where those without credbility now travel to conferences for free so they can "tweet" what's going on and get lots of attention, or speak at some "side" conference down the hall where many who would never be asked to speak at the main conference huddle and videotape their session in the hope of becoming the next YouTube star, we had other ways of obtaining "free."

I used to hear "this case would be good for you." Translated: "I have no money, but the publicity will be worth your time."

I still get the e-mails: "Mr. Tannebaum, I have a question. (the answer will determine whether I get this job, keep my job, get arrested, get in to the Bar, ever have a life) The question is in 4 paragraphs and requires your immediate attention. I won't ask you if you will charge me for this or otherwise offer you anything to help me, and after you make be feel relieved over my situation, I will not send you even a thank you card. You may get the standard one-word "Thanks!!!" and then you'll never hear from me again."

In this age of minor celebrity status being created by a few interesting ideas written on the world wide web, people are all too willing to seek free advice - and not just a quick answer to a simple question - but a detailed analysis to a scenario that has a significant effect on the questioner. I'm always interguied by someone who may lose a $100,000 job, but won't spend a few thousand dollars to help fix the problem. More and more I realize that it's not that they won't, it's that they don't feel they should.

Sure, some people offer to pay, or provide the appropriate thanks, but too many are trolling the internet looking for "free."

I'm always happy to answer a question (not a 5 paragraph hypothetical in which you've don'e not a stitch of research), and I'm always happy to spend some time with an appreciative soul who inquires as to whether my time is worth anything. (Hint: I usually reject the offer, but they come so infrequently).

We lawyers see the search for "free" on listserves. Lawyers are hired on cases they know nothing about, or how to handle them, and start typing away: "anyone got any case law on this scenario?" "Anyone know of a REASONABLY PRICED expert that will opine on whether my client is innocent? He is facing life and has a family of 12 but only wants to spend about $500, thanks!!!!!"

My unscientific research says this is all getting much worse. People, lawyers, are not just looking for free, they're expecting free.

Why is that?

I think it's because many are willing to give it all away, for the hope of something in return.

Our value is becoming what we are willing to take. Our worth is becoming nothing.

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