Announcing - Other Shinglers!
You'll notice an important addition to the MyShingle sidebar - a list of "Other Shingles." There, you'll find listed websites and weblogs for other solo and small firm practitioners. It's a public service that will always be available free for any solo and small firm lawyer - so if you want to join the party, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll add you to the list.
But, as we all know, there's no such thing as a free lunch. So, here's what I'm asking in return.
For those shinglers whom I've listed on the site, I'd like you to visit as many of the other shingles as you can. And I'd like you to introduce yourself to at least one of the other lawyers listed (either by email or a phone call) for whatever reason. Perhaps there's another shingler who went to your law school or one with a neat practice area or someone who practices just down the street or one with a website that's particularly impressive to you. If anything comes of this virtual meet-and-greet, please let me know the results.
Obviously, there's an honor system here in that I won't be contacting anyone to see if you've participated in this assignment. But I think that this is a task that can add value to your practice and make things just a little less isolated. So take the time and take a chance and reach out.
You Never Know When You Just Might Start Your Own Law Firm
To my readers who visit this site and dream of starting a law firm but are precluded from doing so because of your present circumstances, one's for you. Because it's never too late, as this article, More Lawyers Flee Megafirms, National Law Journal (5/31/05) suggests. Though the bulk of the article reports on large firm lawyers opting for a smaller firm, the article closes with mention of a 49 year old biglaw attorney ready to hang a shingle:
Also making a major career change from big-firm life is Andrea Wirum, 49, who is in the process of leaving 900-attorney Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman to start her own practice in San Francisco as a Chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee and a mediator. Wirum served as a member of the firm's managing board during the merger between Pillsbury Winthrop, originally based in San Francisco, and 335-attorney Shaw Pittman in Washington, and supported the deal, she said. But the time has come to hang her own shingle.
"You reach a point in life where you want to give something else a try," she said.
There may never be a perfect time to start a law firm, but some periods of one's life are more optimal than others. Even if now's not right, keep reading MyShingle and keep that possibility in mind. When the day comes, you'll be ready.
Outsourcing legal research is a topic that's made the discussion rounds on various blogs, MyShingle included. Well, what about the reverse: how about exporting your firm's expertise overseas like this Portland Maine law firm, as described in Portland law firm exporting expertise, Matt Wickenheiser, Maine Today (5/29/05). Seems that some of my fellow energy regulatory colleagues at Pierce Atwood have been advising Eastern European countries on privatization of power plants and assisting these countries in setting up a regulatory system to oversee operation of the electric utility industry.
Do you have an expertise that you can market abroad? And if so, why aren't you doing it now?
Client Endorsements Banned from NJ Lawyer Websites
And yet another stupid bar rule, this time out of New Jersey, where the Advertising Panel Lays Down Rules for Law Firm Ads on Wed: Catchy URLs OK, but not client endorsements (New Jersey Law Journal, 5/31/05). The article reports:
In two opinions published May 23, the committee says law firms are free to adopt Web addresses describing their practice specialties like "njtortlawyer.com" but may not identify themselves in ads with the Web address in lieu of the firm name, and law firms may not include in their advertising satisfied clients' endorsements about the effectiveness of representation but may include endorsements limited to the quality of attorney-client interaction.
On the topic of testimonials, the article explains:
In the intervening 12 years, many other jurisdictions have banned lay endorsements, and the committee members decided that they "do not serve the ultimate end of attorney advertising: truthful communication of factually relevant information which gives the law public a competent basis to judge whether a particular lawyer has the requisite knowledge, skill, competence and ethical qualities to better serve in a particular area of law or a particular matter."
The committee said endorsements may create unjustified expectations of the results a lawyer can achieve.
It's true, client endorsements are layperson opinions - and they don't speak to a lawyer's skill or competence. But endorsements convey something that's equally important to consumers seeking counsel: information on whether the lawyer satisfied the needs of the client. Sure, clients expect competence and skill - but that ought to be a given once a lawyer is able to pass the bar again. What's not a given is whether a lawyer will fight for a client and whether a lawyer will listen to what the client wants. And that's the kind of information that's usually available from endorsements - and the kind of information that clients seek in hiring attorneys. If the endorsements are true, why deprive clients of that information? (And if they're false, sanction lawyers on a case by case basis).
Incidentally, what's the scope of this opinion? Can a lawyer barred in New Jersey include endorsements if he's barred in other states? And if those other states don't have the same restriction as New Jersey, seems to me that the NJ lawyer, if barred from posting endorsements, will be at a competitive disadvantage to lawyers in other jurisdictions where the NJ lawyer practices.
New Shingles List
We've added names to the Shingles list, but the links are not working just yet. Stay tuned...
Proposed Disbarment of Prominent Boston Lawyers: Now, It Makes Sense
I have to admit that I was a little mystified when I read about the recent Massachusetts Discipline committee's decision to disbar three prominent Boston attorneys, whose resumes included high government posts and stints at biglaw) biglaws. Among other things, the attorneys had duped and tormented a judge's law clerk in hopes of gaining an admission that the judge he'd clerked for had been predisposed against those lawyers' clients from the outset of the case. (To learn more about the decision and the hideous treatment of the clerk, visit links at Bob Ambrogi's Legal Line blog that first picked up on the story, as well as additional discussion at Legal Ethics Forum and David Giacalone )
Still, it's not every day that the bars discipline well connected attorneys. But then I read this article Boston Legal Community Abuzz Over Disbarment (5/14/05) and it all made sense. Seems that the Ellen Carpenter, the hearing officer who painstakingly drafted the 229 page decision is a shingler with her own practice - in fact, one who we blogged about here several years ago. Could including more solo and small firm lawyers on discipline panels be what it takes to ensure that complaints against prominent attorneys are treated as seriously as those against solo and small firm lawyers? Or is this just all a coincidence?
Law Firm Alumni Programs May Offer Marketing Opportunities
Are you a biglaw expatriate who's just started a law firm or been running one for years? Either way, this article on law firm alumni programs, Nixon Peabody Starts Alumni Program, Business Review (5/16/05) may interest you. The article reports on Nixon Peabody's alumni program, comprised of 500 former firm attorneys who now work at other corporations or public bodies. Some, however, may have gone solo - and a law firm alumni network lets colleagues know about them, which can lead to business referrals. You may want to see if your former firm has a similar program - and investigate how it can benefit you.
Ways to Make Sure You Get Paid
As this article, Getting Paid, Not Played (Meg Tebo, ABA Journal, 5/19/05) begins, "Getting stiffed is almost like a rite of passage of solo practice." This article offers a couple of ideas from practitioners to avoid this rite, such as customizing and revising a retainer agreement to facilitate client payments, giving upfront estimates and collecting retainers large enough to compensate for work done if the client fails to pay any more beyond the retainer.
Why Sponsorship on Lawyers.com Is Not Worth $900/Month
Apparently, LexisNexis-Martindale haven't heard of the Internet. Because if they had, they wouldn't be hoping to trade in on their name-recognition to lawyers and charge $900 a month for a national sponsorship service available on their lawyers.com data base as reported here in Lawyers.com Courts Legal Marketers, ClickZ News (5/17/05). The article reports that:
LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell has begun selling two sponsorship products on its Lawyers.com database of legal professionals. The offerings, which debuted last quarter, give legal marketers access to users of a respected vertical search brand. Lawyers and law firms can purchase either sponsored links or content sponsorships on the site, which contains legal information and listings for approximately 440,000 lawyers [...] Martindale-Hubbell is offering three levels of coverage for the paid listings product: Nationwide, from $900 per month; statewide, from $160 per month; and by county, starting at $50 per month.
Paul Gazzolo, CEO of LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell believes that these marketing vehicles will allow law firm customers to deliver their messages directly to prospective clients.
Sounds good, except for one thing - the service won't work. The journalist wrote the article noted that in, for example, a search for medical malpractice attorneys in Los Angeles, only two paid listings showed up. If other users obtain those same results, they'll look for lawyers elsewhere on the Internet, not on lawyers.com. So anyone paying $900/month (or even $50/month) for exposure won't be attracting anyone.
The other problem with paying for a service like lawyers.com is that it won't buy lawyers what they really crave from Internet listings - wide web exposure. If you're listed in lawyers.com, try googling your name on the Internet. It's likely that your lawyers.com listing won't even show up. Even if you google your specialty - say, Maryland civil rights law - and lawyers.com appears at the top of the list, users aren't going to want to deal with a scroll through menu. Rather, they'll just go to the lawyer with the weblog on Maryland civil rights law who comes up at the top of the listing - or the lawyer who bought the Google ad words "Maryland civil rights" whose links appear in a feature box.
Maybe once upon a time, Lexis-Nexis-Martindale were the gold standard of lawyer advertising. Not so anymore with the Internet. I just want to make sure that my fellow solo and small firm colleagues realize that and don't waste money on Lexis' lawyers.com service because of the Lexis name. Instead, shop around spend your advertising dollars where you'll get the biggest online bang for your bucks.
What's Wrong With Linking to News Articles About Ethics Violations?
This article, Lawyer vs. Lawyer Over Web Site, ABA e-report (5/13/05) reports on a lawsuit by one New York personal injury law firm where the firm Moran & Kufta of Rochester posted a headline with a hyperlink on its Web site that told readers that Cellino & Barnes, with offices in Buffalo and Rochester, was being investigated by the New York State Bar Association grievance committee. Cellino claims that the link violated state civil rights law which prohibits use of a person's name for advertising without their consent. Cellino claimed that the "news item" portion of Moran's website which linked to the article about the ethics probe of Cellino constituted advertising - and that Cellino did not give consent to use of its firm name.
The case raises a number of interesting issues including First Amendment rights of speech and also whether a website is advertising. Most of those interviewed in the article were critical of the suit, believing that it would have a chilling effect on those who seek to link to items that are already part of public circulation. That's how I feel too.