“Every entrepreneur knows that first impressions are important, but you may not know just how little time you have to actually make one. Within the first seven seconds of meeting, people will have a solid impression of who you are — and some research suggests a tenth of a second is all it takes to start determining traits like trustworthiness,” according to an article by Forbes contributor Serenity Gibbons.  Seven seconds.  I’ve been waiting over 7 weeks for a law firm to return a phone call and email – suffice it to say, I’m not impressed.

I guess I’m fortunate to say that I’ve never had to hire a lawyer for a personal matter.  Throughout my career, I’ve worked with a lot of lawyers on a variety of business-related matters, and now, of course, my business is primarily related to lawyers and organizations that serve lawyers. But I’ve never had to go through the process of hiring one on my own.

A few months ago, I reconnected with a friend who I hadn’t seen or talk to in a few years. In the time that we lost touch, he had been through a harrowing experience, to say the least. After experiencing  horrible headaches, doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor. While of course the news was jarring, he was comforted by the very high survival rating for this particular type of tumor, and he was given the impression that once the tumor was removed, if all went well, he could resume his day-to-day to life.

Unfortunately for my friend, one surgery led to another and then yet another, and in total, he heroically had to endure 11 brain surgeries in the course of 12 months.  Yikes.

Two of the 11 surgeries didn’t go as planned.  During one surgery,  he developed “hospital acquired bacterial meningitis,” which meant a 6-week hospital stay.  In a separate surgery intended to clean up scar tissue and other damage from previous surgeries, his doctor shared with him that something had gone awry. As a result, he lost most of the function in his right arm and leg, significantly impeding his ability to live independently.  Amazingly, his mind and cognitive processes remain unchanged.

When we reconnected, I encouraged him to talk to an attorney.  I didn’t know if there was a “there, there,” but in all my time working with lawyers, I’ve learned that it never hurts to ask. At first he was hesitant, knowing that no compensation would ever allow him to go back to his life pre-brain tumor, but I encouraged him to let me tap into my legal network and at least find someone for him to talk to about his situation.

My first email went to the “go-to” high-profile personal injury lawyer in San Diego, who I had worked with when he served on the San Diego County Bar Association Board of Directors.  He very promptly called me directly (A+ for intake protocol and  good will) to tell me that there was a better fit – a firm that specialized in medical negligence and malpractice and had a lot of experience with brain injuries.

I directed my friend to that firm.  He filled out a form on their website and sent them an email.  I also sent an email, hoping that perhaps name recognition or the mention of the PI attorney’s referral might “warm up” this lead.  He followed up his email with a phone call a week later and was told “the attorneys have been away on vacation”  and will respond shortly.  Seven weeks later, neither of us has heard a word.

I tapped deeper into my network and sought referrals from other lawyers and I contacted several firms directly.  In total, between the two of us, we reached out to 8-10 law firms.  In response, two firms sent formulaic emails, saying the firms were either too busy to take the case or not interested.  The majority never responded.

Only two firms offered to  have phone conversations with my friend to assess his situation.  The lawyers at both firms – both small firm/solo practitioners – spent significant time talking to my friend, explaining the statute of limitations related to medical negligence, the nuances of his particular matter, recommending resources and thoroughly explaining  his options from a legal standpoint.  They shared that if he had a case, it wouldn’t be a “slam dunk” – time had passed and his surgeries were very complicated, and there would be a considerable cost to engaging experts.  They spent a lot of time talking to my friend, and when he got off the phone with them, he not only felt heard, but he felt as though they knew enough about his matter to provide proper counsel.

Whether or not he can or should pursue litigation is still up in the air, but through this experience, I have certainly learned a lot.

Awhile back, I shared in an ABA Bar Leader article that my network means that I often get asked where to find a “good lawyer.” Next time I’m asked for a referral to a medical malpractice/negligence attorney, there are only two firms I will recommend.

 

 

Lately, in my professional and personal-professional online life, I’ve run into some significant barriers.  Like most of the world, at this point, I believe, I get a lot of my news from social media.  Admittedly, I am the person who is click-baited into reading a lot of  very useful and also completely useless internet content.  While I’m never locked out of finding out which of the Bachelors would be my best match or which season of Love Island is the most iconic (obviously, season 3),  I feel like I can never get to the “good” stuff.

Perhaps it is because I am that person who has to reset my password for multiple sites multiple times a day, virtually every time I come across a paywall.

The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, San Diego Union Tribune and many other news outlets only offer access to a certain number of free articles a month.  The Daily Journal, a paper that covers the legal profession in California, doesn’t let anyone in without a subscription.

As I believe many of my bar associations colleagues can corroborate, a lot of a bar’s website discussion centers on what content should be offered after members log in as a privilege of membership, and which content should be made available to the public.

Serious question: have you ever come across a paywall and really felt like it was a privilege to have to dig up your password?

As a PR professional, I believe the “privilege” of getting behind the paywall can be a total pain, and putting too much behind the wall might actually impede your public relations efforts.  Bars are (and want to be perceived as) forward-thinking thought-leaders, providing relevant information at the right time.  From a PR perspective, this works best if information is easy to find and access.

While a lot of bar content naturally tends to serve as a megaphone to promote all that the organization is doing, bars are also working really hard to create killer content. By allowing everyone to access it, they can not only provide great guidance, but also perpetuate their importance

Here’s a great example. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) recently released a comprehensive guide to social media and ethics for lawyers. This isn’t behind a paywall, it’s here:  https://nysba.org/2019guidelines/.   This is an awesome resources – one that other bar associations might even want to share  with their own memberships.  By making it accessible to all, NYSBA gets to be a bar that is seen as a leader in this area across the country.

The Boston Bar Association publishes a Parents’ How-To Guide to Children’s Mental Health Services in Massachusetts, intended to assist in navigating and understanding the mental health system and “help parents in Massachusetts find the child mental health services and resources their children need.”  This too, is  an incredible resource that is accessible for all.

A U.S. News & World Report story  on “The Perks of Professional Organizations” highlights much of what the American Society of Association Executives focuses on when it comes to the true reasons people join associations -community, education, networking and job opportunities.  In other words, nobody claims to be joining an association for the privilege of reading the articles.

Another paywall approach I like is one employed by the Association of Legal Administrators, which recently released the results of its Annual Compensation and Benefits Survey.  While you need to pay in order to get the full survey results, their Executive Summary, which provides a lot of important survey highlights, is completely free.

There are a lot of things that do belong behind a wall for obvious reasons – documents, committee contact lists, pictures of the dodge ball tournament at the board retreat – but if your articles and other content can create a buzz for your association, why would you want to keep them behind the wall?

On my third or fourth day working for a bar association, I was invited to attend a “Law Week” planning meeting. In the meeting, one of the committee members was talking about a “fluffier” community outreach initiative – an elementary school poster and essay contest or something of the sort.

I suggested sending some information to our local media – either before the contest to garner interest or post-contest to celebrate the winners and generate some feel-good publicity for the Bar. The Law Week Committee Chair pondered the idea for far too long before saying (and I am quoting verbatim),

“I’m not sure about that, maybe we should talk to a media relations professional.”

With nearly a decade of experience working in media relations locally and nationally prior to joining the bar world, I was dumbfounded.

Wasn’t I the media relations professional?

While I didn’t fault the committee chair for his comment – he barely knew my name at the time let alone my credentials – this is a story that I have told countless times throughout the years to illustrate part of the experience of being a bar professional.

Ellen Miller (@emillerprogress), former Executive Director & CEO of the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA) and now a part of the new California Lawyers Association (CLA), initiated a significant transition in how bar employees were viewed by bar leaders by changing SDCBA staff titles to include the words “expert” or “specialist” where appropriate.

More notably, however, Ellen changed the common law firm moniker for non-attorneys of “staff” to “internal team” when talking about the Association’s employees, a practice that has since been adopted at several different state and metropolitan bar associations.

In an interview with the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader magazine, Ellen explained the reason for the change, saying, in part, “We wanted to create titles that sent a signal to the member that the person they’re talking to at the bar is not their staff member. We’re exposing them to experts in their areas.”

Bar professionals, in general, are very fortunate. We work with a highly educated and intelligent group of people who are in a profession where they can make real changes, and if they are involved in bar leadership, are usually committed to doing so.

Sometimes, however, I found myself wanting to remind them that bar professionals are also fairly well educated and intelligent.

Though I’m sure my fellow bar pros could tell war stories of insults from “lawyers behaving badly” for days,  most of the bar-related attorneys who I had the opportunity to work with were respectful and courteous, and valued the experience and expertise of the internal bar team.

I was lucky to work with some incredible lawyers and make some extraordinary friends who truly made me feel like we were working together and not solely at their direction. And though I value those relationships, some of the best people I have ever met are my fellow “bar people.”

Earlier this month, while attending the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) Annual Meeting in San Francisco,  I  was reminded of how truly unique the bar professional community is in the greater business and association world.

For starters, there are a lot of really, really smart people in bars all across the country.  Innovators and creative thinkers and strategists who are driven by the desire to satisfy their members’ needs and exceed their expectations, and who are collectively working towards the betterment of the profession and our justice system.

Bar professionals, while leaders in their own right, are rarely the ones who are in the spotlight – instead, they are teeing up their leaders so that they can shine and are happy to be standing behind the curtain cheering them on.

Volunteer bar leaders change year-to-year, leaving the resilient bar staff to ensure that projects get completed, that the balls left in the air by various volunteers get carried through to the following year, and are also charged with keeping the organization’s strategic plan on track.

Often times, they do the same tasks and run the same events over and over and over again each year, and yet they always find a way to do something a little bit better, find a creative new take on an old program, or rearrange everything to better line up with their current leadership’s vision.

Undeniably, one of the best qualities of “bar people” is the kinship and collegiality we all share with other bar people. Since bar associations largely don’t compete with one another, it is not uncommon for bars to share not only ideas and concepts, but actual policies and materials with one another.

Rather than letting a colleague “reinvent the wheel,” bar professionals will generously offer up all of the guidance and insight they have on a particular issue or project – sometimes related to common bar initiatives such as providing education on judicial independence or enhancing diversity and inclusion efforts – or on more tactical matters, like how to implement new online communities within your association or how to kill your print directory and move it online.

In my experience, bar pros are also always willing to talk through any bar problem with one another until they find a solution – particularly over a few cocktails or a nosh at NABE meetings.

As bar associations are generally thinly staffed,  there is usually only one person in any given association who performs a particular function. We recognize that our bar colleagues are the only people who do what we do day-in and day-out, and we lean on one another for ideas, empathy, advice and other support.

In one of my all-time favorite (and not-at-all related) articles about weight loss, writer Emily McCombs talks about her experience of being overweight and the perspective it gave her once she lost weight, ending the article by saying, “I hope I always stay fat on the inside.”

As my career continues to transition, I keep thinking about this sentiment, and how no matter where I end up, I hope I will always be a “bar person” on the inside.

 

Many moons ago, when I was a junior level associate at a public relations firm, I learned that I could create an entire legal marketing career just in submitting survey and award nominations. Over the years, it seems as though “best of,” “top” and “super” lawyer contests have multiplied like Gremlins, leaving lawyers and legal marketers scrambling to not only make deadlines, but also to ensure the selection process for nominees doesn’t cross any of the firm’s political lines.

In both my former role as the local bar association’s Communications Director and in my current role as a law firm and bar association consultant, I have been asked many times which awards are the most impactful (i.e. when is the juice worth the squeeze).  My answer varies depending on who I am speaking to, what they are trying to accomplish, and the selection process used to determine who is the “best.”

In exploring a publication or organization’s methodology, you will find many obvious “pay to play” award opportunities, awards that are handed out like free toothbrushes at the dentist’s office in exchange for ad revenue, and awards evaluated by judges who are clearly not well-suited for the position (i.e. some of  the “ego accolades” Jordan Rothman refers to in his recent Above the Law article). Those are the opportunities to steer clear of, in my opinion, if you don’t want to risk your own credibility. My understanding, however, is that peer-to-peer evaluations, such as SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers, carry more weight with lawyers who are looking to refer their clients to other lawyers, both of which were deemed reputable by  consulting firm Firmwise on their comprehensive list of “spammy awards.”

For general law firm awards, your need to participate may depend on your client base. I believe that sophisticated global business clients with in-house legal departments may reference sources like Chambers, U.S. News and World Report, Martindale Hubbell, and others, while consumers may be more impressed with a Best Lawyers or SuperLawyers badge in their lawyer’s
e-mail signature.  Local “40 Under 40” and “Top Attorney” awards are only prestigious if those inside your legal community and outside of the legal community think they are relevant.

For larger firms, I sense a fear of being absent or omitted from some of the bigger lists, but the more I write award submissions and nominations, the more I realize that the true impact is what the marketing team does once you have received some recognition. Celebrating success via social media (and/or through your firm or bar’s newsletter) is a really simple way to highlight some of your superstars, get more mileage out of some good news, and potentially get some recognition or engagement from your target audience (see Kevin O’Keefe’s piece on the importance of using Twitter in this instance).  Of course, many of these lists also come with significant pay-to-play publicity opportunities, which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

At the bar association, I often joked that I didn’t know whether or not we did good work or just submitted good award nominations.  I’ve come to believe that it was a bit of both. We successfully submitted nominations for a lot of awards – nationally for the National Association of Bar Executives, and locally with the press club and local Public Relations Society of America chapter.

Bar association staff, believe it or not, is often an underappreciated bar asset.  By winning awards and then publicizing them broadly, I could ensure that the “behind the scenes” bar team would receive some visibility, which was ultimately my end goal.  I wrote about my process for writing winning award entries here, and the Legal Marketing Association’s Southern California Chapter also offers some good guidance here.

With so many awards out there, which ones do you think are worth the effort?

Seriously, bar associations have a lot of stuff.  No matter how unique bars may be, I know there is a shared  struggle to get a lot of information out to members, leadership, the public, and other key audiences all at the same time.  When I served as the Director of Communications for the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA), one of the biggest challenges the communications team faced was consistently competing with ourselves — marketing myriad programs and initiatives to the same groups, using the same channels, and trying to cut through our own clutter.  Message fatigue in the bar world world is real, and we’re never quite sure that our most critical messages are the ones that are the most visible. Am I the only one who would visibly cringe when a member would say “I didn’t know we did that?”

In an attempt to organize all of our content, and provide a guide for our internal team of “what goes where,” we created a content management framework, as a supplement to our three-year Communication Plan. For the purpose of our framework, we considered our content to be anything from run-of-the-mill CLE announcements to legal ethics opinions and substantive articles from our publications. Though there are formalized and mechanized content management systems, what we used was incredibly rudimentary — as in, it is a series of excel worksheets in one workbook. Seriously, that’s it. But it worked for us at the time.

What Do We Have?

The first step in drafting the framework was listing and categorizing all of our content – creating an “inventory” to draw from for our different communications mediums.  Next, we worked to determine which content was most relevant and spoke to the association’s bigger goals and objectives.  Our communications plan called for positioning the SDCBA as San Diego’s legal information “hub,” while also positioning the organization as a thought-leader in different areas of the profession that are most meaningful to  members.  For the SDCBA, at the time, critical content content talked about the following topics: Technology for Lawyers, Social Media for Lawyers, Basic Information on Different Areas of the Law (for members and the public), Law Practice Management, Legal Ethics, and Current News/Trends.

What Do We Need?

After reviewing our inventory, and the content categories where we were looking to be more vocal or demonstrate leadership, we made a list of the holes we need to fill and how to get the kind of content we are seeking.  While a lot of the content we were wanted had been generated by volunteer writers, we recognized that there are also a plethora of bloggers, journalists, law professors, and others who are writing on these topics constantly, and who we often turn to for reprint permission when their content is in line with our goals and strategy.

What Goes Where?

Our next step was to define which channels we were using for which messages.  For example, we determined that the Twitter feed would be used for “substantive articles both created by the SDCBA and culled from the internet. (With an) Emphasis on SDCBA serving as thought leaders, curators of important information, and a filter for highlighting content that might be meaningful to members, adding value whenever possible and logical.” Whereas the Facebook feed would be used for “information best displayed visually. Events and pictures from events, member recognition and community service. (A) place to showcase the ‘good’ lawyers do and the diversity and reach of various bar programs.”  Thus, this became the venue to show pictures from special member events, like our annual Shred/Recycle Day, our signature events, and Bar Center amenities, and a place to thank our sponsors and highlight our member benefit partners.

When Does It Go Where?

Finally, we created a “flow.”  This showed where premium content (in each of our categories) first appears and where it goes after its debut.  For example, our technology column first appeared in San Diego Lawyer, then is edited to become a blog post, which is then promoted on Twitter, and then used in our daily Lexology e-blast as our Tuesday “Tech Tip.”  Another example: an “Ethics in Brief” article appears every other week in our weekly e-publication, This Week at the Bar, which is distributed every Monday.  The same article is then highlighted in our daily Lexology e-blast the following Thursday, and then posted to our blog the same day, and then finally makes its way to our online ethics article archive.

Of course, as is the case with any bar association-related plan, flexibility is key, as priorities and programs are consistently changing.  When we created this framework, we had no doubt that we would be asked at times to promote a particular program “everywhere.”  Our strategy wasn’t rigid — it was intended to serve as a guide for the Association’s internal team, to provide some structure and lessen “clutter,” and to give greater visibility to the initiatives that were most important to the SDCBA at any given time.  No “cookie-cutter” content strategy will work for every bar association, but this method gave us greater control of our content overall.