Legal Marketing: What You’re Missing at SXSW 2012

Every spring the social media and entertainment industries converge on Austin, Texas for SXSW (shorthand for South by Southwest), one of the most frantically busy and buzz-worthy conferences of the year.

For all the claims about lawyers as consummate networkers, I marvel that SXSW is not awash in IP, entertainment and small business/startup lawyers. The superabundance of crowded parties, meet-ups, hospitality pavilions and special events are a networker’s dream — start-up businesses, start-up films and start-up bands, all in need of lawyers with specific expertise.

Rocket Lawyer jumped into the networking fray this year with a Sociable Lawyer Premiere Event last Friday to promote its On Call lead referral program. Despite it being an uncharacteristically cold and rainy afternoon, a crowd of young lawyers converged on a Sixth Street bar to connect. I spent a while talking to some first-year associates about their experience with the controversial forms-driven service, and it was clear that Rocket Lawyer was on to something — building and strengthening connections with the current generation of solo and small-firm attorneys who “get it.”

A hidden bonus for lawyers at  SXSW is the free CLE. Yes, you can get free CLE as part of your SXSW admission.  I don’t know when they started, but for the past several years Lommen Abdo Law Firm has run a really interesting CLE track called “Legal Issues in the Music, Film and Emerging Technology Industries”  Talk about a marketing ROI goldmine….

This year the program boasts more than 40 industry leaders on different 13 panels. All SXSW registrants are welcome, but attorneys can register for up to 13 CLE credits and are given preferential access if the session is full.

Tomorrow’s sessions include:

Gimme Shelter from the Storm Clouds

As more products and services move to the proverbial cloud, from shared collaboration, commercial product offerings, and user-uploaded content, new business models are created while extant business models come under attack. This panel will explore the disruption caused by some new cloud-based services and how this disruption is affecting existing industries. For example, who is responsible for liabilities arising from the use or exploitation of content stored in the cloud; should Congress change the law to impose new liability/responsibilities on operators of cloud-based services; what rights, if any, do consumers have to perpetual access to their content in the cloud; can a user transfer their content in the cloud to another device or person? These and other questions will be addressed by the distinguished panel.

The Automobile as Network Node

Automobiles are increasingly connected to computer networks and are used to collect, use and share vehicle-related information. They also provide a delivery mechanism for driving, entertainment and other content and information. This panel will discuss legal issues arising out of and related to the collection, use and disclosure of vehicle-related information and related emerging legal issues of data use in or related to vehicles.

CLE panels later this week during the music festival portion include:

Royalties in the Digital Space: What, Where and How Much Are They?

Identifying, following and actually collecting essential money from a myriad of digital sources is a growing challenge. With the help of sophisticated music accountants, this panel will show what is at stake, and where and how to secure this income.

Licensing Madness: Exploitations a Go-Go

In a world where music is being licensed to promote, enhance, advertise and image almost everything, the deals and protocols are as varied as the uses themselves. The panel will identify uses and review common terms and deal expectations.

Run for Cover: The Future of Cloud Commerce

As traditional music consumer consumption habits evaporate into the cloud, a new legal and language lexicon casts a mighty shadow over the music business. This panel will analyze whether subscriptions and other alternatives present promise or problems in the new music economy.

Any interest in working with me to pitch social media for law firms panel ideas for next year’s SXSW?

Texas Wildfires: Austin Bar Offers Free CLE for Disaster Recovery Volunteers

I don’t know if this is a common response by local bar associations. If not, it should be. I’m very proud to be an Austinite.

From the Texas Bar Blog:

The Austin Bar Association is offering a free CLE training for attorney volunteers responding to legal questions and providing assistance to all those affected by the wildfires. The training will be Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Austin Bar Association, 816 Congress Ave., Suite 700, Austin.

The cost is free to Austin Bar Association and Austin Young Lawyers Association members. The CLE credit for this training is 2.0 hours MCLE ethics credit.

This training will cover:

  •  Ethics & Pro Bono Service
  •  FEMA & Public Benefits
  •  Home Ownership Issues (title/mortgage, tax & fencing, barn, pens)
  •  Landlord-Tenant Concerns
  •  Insurance and Consumer Law Issues
  •  Pet and Animal Welfare Law

Read the full agenda.

Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas is providing malpractice coverage to lawyers volunteering through the Austin Bar.

To RSVP for this training, please contact Marissa Lara-Arebalo at 512-472-0279, x100 or at Marissa@austinbar.org.

Thank you to all the volunteer attorneys and donors for your support in helping evacuees affected by the Bastrop wildfires.

The Law School Debt Crisis: Forget Reforming Law Schools, Start from Scratch

Spiraling, uncontrolled costs. Crippling personal debt. Long-term joblessness and underemployment. Downward pressure on wages. Hand-wringing. Finger-pointing. Ineffectual half measures to address the crisis.

Sound familiar? But unlike the U.S. sovereign debt, there still are no urgent or comprehensive efforts under way to slow — let alone reverse — the job-killing effects of law school costs. Lots of talk, though.

This week saw another round of disingenuous harumphing when a post by an anonymous “whistleblower” law professor rehashed what’s been manifestly obvious for years: Law schools are revenue-generating machines with no checks or balances from the marketplace or government, and with plenty of self-interested reasons to push their costs ever higher. [Apparently this is an “astonishing” indictment because an anonymous law professor said it.]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE&w=420&h=345]

Fortunately, this week also saw a refreshing antidote to that impotent hand wringing — a well-reasoned and eminently achievable way to cut the Gordian knot: Build from scratch a no-frills, ABA-accredited, university-based private law school covering all its costs at the $20,000-per-year tuition level.

On The Faculty Lounge blog, Roger Dennis, Dean of the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, posted a precis for The Class of 1957 College of Law. The thought exercise begins simply:

“The Class of 1957 College of Law will have 500 students.  It will not offer any financial aid; one price [$20,000] for all will create $10 million in revenue.”

It then goes on to explain how the school will be structured, staffed and operated within that budget.

Key elements include:

  • A full-time faculty of 20, earning $100,000/year, plus benefits.
  • No research requirements for faculty, allowing them to teach three courses each per academic term.
  • No sabbaticals.
  • Professional development focused on teaching only.
  • The curriculum will be meat and potatoes (e.g. evidence, commercial law, federal income tax, business organizations, trust and estates, family law and legal drafting).
  • Beyond trial advocacy and legal drafting programs, the experiential education program will be based on other simulation courses and well-monitored externships.

No call to arms to actually build and test a model school, though. No discussion of approaching the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help underwrite a pilot.

Alas, while interesting, Dennis’ post is just another abstract academic parlor game (and it has the comment thread to prove it). But it was a refreshing counterpoint to the usual jeremiads — a welcome rhetorical sorbet.

Law Practice Management: Legal Work vs. Work Lawyers Do

Last Friday Rachel Zahorsky at the ABA Journal filed a story from the ABA Annual Meeting headlined “As Nonlawyer Vendors, Would-Be Clients Take on More Legal Tasks, How Can Practitioners Get Ahead?”

Wait a minute…since the unauthorized practice of law is illegal, how can these brazen scofflaws get away with it? Because the work that is shifting is not intrinsically legal work, but rather non-legal work historically performed by lawyers. Granted, lawyers might be better at those tasks than non-lawyers, but economic, sociopolitical and technological factors are successfully breaking up those unofficial franchises nonetheless.

“It’s getting to be so hard to define what the practice of law is,” said Thomas C. Grella, chair of the management committee at the Asheville, N.C., firm McGuire, Wood & Bissette. “So it’s going to be even harder for state bars to regulate in the future.”

Grella was a participant on a panel entitled “The Once and Future Firm: Fact v. Fiction,” sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. According to Zahorsky’s post, the panel concluded that:

“For firms to succeed and flourish in the future, there needs to be strong leadership among law firm management, a willingness to innovate with regard to technology and billing methods, and concise plans of succession that address the compensation squabbles that plague many firms when it comes time for senior partners near retirement to transition high-revenue generating clients to junior lawyers.”

Mind-blowing, provocative stuff, right?

It might not have made it into the panel wrap-up, but at least one panelist clearly gets it:

“Lawyers need to ask: ‘Why are [clients] hiring me?’ said Mark Robertson of Robertson & Williams in Oklahoma City. ‘Can they hire someone else and not have a law firm do it? What is involved in putting together the paperwork of an M&A transaction that requires a lawyer, other than an opinion?'”

Ask not what the guild can do for you, but what you can do for your client.

My State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting Wrap-Up

Last week I had the great good fortune to participate in the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, and live blogged on Twitter — hashtag #sbot11 — a goodly amount of interesting comments and insights from the sessions I attended . It was topically diverse, engaging, well-curated and well-run, with a lot of strong, actionable content.

Since my interest is marketing and business development, I spent my day Thursday in a series of sessions called “The Adaptable Lawyer Legal Innovation/Computer and Technology Track,” and Friday in the Law Practice Management track. While it wasn’t billed or consciously framed as such, the content of those sessions aligned with one or more of four basic subject areas:

  • Mobile computing
  • Social media platforms
  • Content marketing
  • Niche marketing

Mobile Computing

The standing-room-only crowd for the “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” session made it clear. From iPads and productivity apps to cloud-based research tools and practice management systems, mobile computing is transforming the way that lawyers work. While the iPad was still something of a novelty for “geeks” at last year’s annual meeting, it has quickly evolved into an essential operational hub. As Tom Mighell pointed out in his fast-paced and useful presentation, the depth and breadth of applications specifically for lawyers has made the iPad the de facto mobile computing platform for lawyers.

Social Media Platforms

Facebook was clearly the shiny object this year, with Twitter and LinkedIn tied for a distant second. Last year’s belle of the ball — blogging — was hardly discussed. That probably sounds snarky, but it derives from disappointment about missed opportunities. The presenters who discussed the various social platforms could have framed them in an integrated context, drilling down further into one or more and offering actionable guidance and specific counsel about how use cases can differ by social platform, firm size and practice area. Instead, the overall impression was “here are all the social media sites you need to join.”

Content Marketing

As mentioned above, legal marketing tends to focus on the channel rather than the product. In other words, the social media platforms themselves rather than a merchandising strategy for content. While no one discussed content marketing directly, several presenters showed an inchoate sense of the “create once, publish everywhere” axiom of social media marketing. A simple example of this would be to write a blog post, tease it on you Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, cross-post it on LinkedIn groups and link to it on Facebook.

I was excited to hear several speakers mention JD Supra, an online content distribution service for legal topics (articles, white papers, presentations) that is woefully underutilized and deserves serious consideration as an organic search/social signal amplifier.

As a practical matter, law firms are likelier to see quicker, more direct results from JD Supra as a content marketing platform than from Facebook — and with  a lot less effort.

Niche Marketing

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there were several good niche marketing case studies, but you had to really dig for them under generic social media palaver. For example, instead of discussing how focusing on a niche expertise — the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act — led to a thriving international business practice, one panelist spent his time extolling his narrow and idiosyncratic understanding and use of social media.

Since the number of solo and small firms chasing after a declining pool of general business and family law opportunities is increasing, next year’s program would benefit from a session with practical instruction on how to leverage specific interests and expertise into unique value propositions that attract clients.

Summary

I’ll give the last word to Kevin O’Keefe, who tweeted, “Is there a better State Bar Annual Meeting than Texas? Great people, presenters, and connections.”

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/4/11

Sometimes the best ideas in legal marketing are hiding in plain sight.

I think that’s the case with MCLE training. Practicing lawyers have to complete it to stay licensed, and judging by their bios, it seems like all of them have given a session at one time or another. So where are the firms that have made speakers bureau services and CLE training a distinguishing characteristic of their brand?

If you’ve already created a CLE presentation, why aren’t you tweaking and publicizing it for use with business and civic audiences? And if you have an inventory of general speakers bureau presentations, why aren’t you tuning them up into accredited CLE content?

CLE maven Tim Baran is one of the most visible and persuasive evangelists for leveraging CLE’s nexus with marketing, and in a Lawyerist post this week he reinforced how developing and presenting CLE content directly benefits the presenter, not just the audience. I was particularly pleased to see that he called out in-house training as an underutilized CLE opportunity, and he helpfully included a link to  Law Writing‘s excellent state by state guide to rules for in-house courses.

Here’s an idea starter: MCLE-palooza.

Nothing concentrates the mind on MCLE like the looming fulfillment deadline. And as with filing taxes, every year there is a sizable cohort of procrastinators scrambling to finish — or even start — their MCLE. Seems like some enterprising firm, local bar association or LMA chapter could turn that confluence of supply and demand into a great publicity event.

Imagine a Saturday of back-to-back MCLE sessions. Donate the space, have vendors underwrite the lunch, tie it in with a local charity, get a local TV station to cover it and — Voila! — marketing gold.

One successful example is the Austin Bar Association’s People’s Law School, which offers free informal courses taught by lawyers to the general public on topics like family law, wills and estate planning, criminal law, credit repair and the legal process. Why not an MCLE version for the lawyers themselves?

I’ve been flogging this idea for years now, but so far no takers. I hope this time someone grabs it and runs with it — and gives me credit, of course.

Columbus Explores Online Social Marketing for Lawyers

Update: The State Bar of Texas recently rolled out its new site design and user experience. The site’s architecture cleanly and evenhandedly reflects the duality that all bar associations face: providing optimal value and utility to both members and the public.

(Originally posted 4/23/2010) In yesterday’s post about online social networking and word-of-mouth marketing for lawyers, I commented that bar associations were likely to leverage their credibility and experience to create innovative services for members and the general public.

John Sirman at the State Bar of Texas kindly directed me to the Columbus (Ohio) Bar Association’s ColumbusLawyerFinder.com site, which was created to provide a reliable online source of local lawyers and Ohio legal information.

I spent some time on the site last night and this morning, and found it to be a very good user experience. If cultivated and publicized properly, it could develop into a formidable marketing platform. It has a lot going for it.

Easy to use: There are just two large tabs across the top of the home page: “Find an Attorney,” which sorts and searches by various criteria, and “Legal Tool Kit,” which offers printer-friendly lists, questions, links, and information about legal issues. Each tab has the same 15 practice categories in the dropdown menu (e.g. “D.U.I./Criminal and Traffic Defense,” “Small Business Law and Litigation,” “Family Law, Divorce, Support and Custody”), so one click gets you to directly to the page you need.

The attorney profiles are standard “tombstone” fare, but they include a nice personalizing touch through the Q&A format “Get to know me” tab. Lawyers can add color and context to their profiles by including answers to questions like:

  • Why did you decide to become an attorney?
  • What experiences (work and personal) help you to be a better attorney?
  • What makes your law firm unique?
  • Describe your ideal client.
  • What made you choose your primary area of law?
  • Describe your personal interests and hobbies.

“Business casual” look/feel: It’s clearly a professional site, but the Twitteresque appearance — the bird image, the “mod” rounded sans-serif type in loose blocks against a white background — helps makes the serious content feel accessible and not intimidating.

Local: No one wants to have to drill down through a national — or even state — search menu to find a local attorney.

Trustworthy: Come on, it’s the bar association. Even the most brazen hucksters and charlatans likely would not try to screw around with the bar. A link on the home page takes you directly to the criteria used to screen participating attorneys

To be listed on Columbus Lawyer Finder, attorneys must meet high standards:

  • They must be in good standing with the Ohio Supreme Court and be free of any pending disciplinary investigations or proceedings.
  • They must alert the Columbus Bar Association if they are notified that they become the subject of a professional investigation at any time in the future.
  • They must be approved by the Columbus Bar Board of Governors.
  • They must be a Columbus Bar Member.
  • They must carry at least $100,000 in professional liability insurance for all areas but Injury and Accidents which must carry at least $500,000.
  • They must agree to use and provide a written fee agreement to every client.
  • They must agree to participate in fee arbitration with a client if necessary.
  • They must show a personal commitment to professionalism and sign the nine “Commitments to Clients.”

Those commitments are:

  1. To treat clients with respect and courtesy.
  2. To handle their legal matters competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession.
  3. To charge a reasonable fee and to explain in advance how that fee will be computed and billed.
  4. To return phone calls promptly.
  5. To keep clients informed and provide them with copies of important papers.
  6. To respect my clients’ decisions on the objectives to be pursued in their case, as permitted by law and the rules of professional conduct, including whether or not to settle their case.
  7. To work with other participants in the legal system to make our legal system more accessible and responsive.
  8. To preserve the clients’ confidences learned during our lawyer-client relationship.
  9. To exhibit the highest degree of ethical conduct in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The biggest drawback, of course, is the lack of user-generated content like ratings and reviews. Some moderated conversations for the general topic would be interesting, too.

I wish them good luck, and I look forward to seeing how the platform evolves in Columbus — and is emulated elsewhere.

Party Ideas for Social Media Geeks

Forget game night. Forget LAN parties. And certainly forget paintball and laser tag.

As the content marketing tsunami builds in size and force, there’s not enough time in the work day to stay on top of what you need to — never mind the silly c**p that keeps you sane.

If you want to put a new spin on training, team building — or even event marketing — try organizing a “Webinar Night” for friends, colleagues and Tweeps. Of course, you’ll want to name it something more fun and inviting than that — maybe something with “Lounge” in it — but the premise is simple. Curate a playlist of webinars and videos you’ve seen/liked or have been “meaning to” watch (e.g. TechShow Ignite and  TED Conference presentations on YouTube) then have them play while you socialize, converse or create your own version of internet meme karaoke.

Note to lawyers: If you play your cards right, you might even be able to work a CLE angle into the evening.

Create Once, Publish Everywhere

Sun Microsystems‘ dictum  “Write once, run anywhere” (WORA), or sometimes write once, run everywhere (WORE) works as a metaphor for publishing social media content as well it does as a slogan to illustrate the cross-platform benefits of the Java programming language.

Today Foster Pepper PLLC tweeted out a link to their upcoming speaking engagements, and it reminded me that most law firms do not fully merchandise online the content they create and distribute free to the general public through events.

If you are going to the trouble of creating a Powerpoint deck for a keynote, why not get some SEO goodness out of it  by posting it on slideshare? And while you are practicing, why not add an audio track to it?

Maybe record a rehearsal on video, break it into short segments and create a YouTube channel for all your external presentations?

Of course, put it up on your Web site, blog it and tweet it out.

And make sure to automate the “create once, publish everywhere” process through the plugins that work best for you. Patrick Kelly recently posted some helpful observations for automatically posting your blog content on your Facebook page.

Working smarter AND less work.