Bar Associations

Keith Lee

Earlier this week, Carolyn Elefant questioned the value of joining bar associations. Particularly their value in generating business for solo and small firm practitioners. Elefant found bar associations lacking in regards to business development, and generally seemed sour on participation in bar associations for smaller firms. Though she did note a few exceptions:

“I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Elefant regarding the operation of small firms most of the time, in this instance, I have to disagree….

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Conventional wisdom says that solos and smalls should join a bar association — either the American Bar Association, a state or local bar, or a practice-specific bar (such as an association of telecommunications or criminal defense or real estate lawyers) — as a way to generate clients. Here’s but one recent article that recommends pounding the pavement at bar events to find clients.

I disagree.

I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits, including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice. But if lawyers think that they’ll find business through bar membership, most are sure to be disappointed….

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“But otherwise you’re good to serve on this jury, right?”

* What’s a good excuse for getting out of jury duty? Apparently not “having a heart attack RIGHT NOW!” [Lowering the Bar]

* The hits from the CATO amicus brief keep on coming. They commit a footnote to mocking Chief Justice Roberts. [Election Law Blog]

* The Attractive Convict is suing over the use of her mugshot in banner ads. Your redemption is coming, Scumbag Steve! [IT-Lex]

* David Healey, formerly of Weil Gotshal and currently of Fish & Richardson, is filming a movie based on his earlier book. And it stars Sean Young! That’ll work well. [Times of Sicily]

* Does a public-school donor’s request to thank God in an inscription constitute an Establishment Clause violation? [Chronicle of Higher Education]

* Supreme Court will hear the case of the NC Dental Board’s efforts to limit the teeth-whitening industry to dentists. Will this ruling spell trouble for state bar associations applying a death grip to all legal services? [WRAL]

* Baseball is trying to ban home plate collisions, because why have any aspect of the sport be exciting? Here’s an exercise in statutory interpretation featuring the new rule. [PrawfsBlawg]

* Former judge forced to resign at age 40 under a gathering cloud of sexual harassment allegations now collects $65,000 a year in pension. And it looks like he may be claiming “sex addiction” as a disability. Bravo. [WDSU]

* Should legal writing professors be treated like nurses? [Dorf on Law]

* The world’s top Bitcoin exchange, Mt.Gox, just shut down, and millions of real dollars worth of fake money is missing. I’m excited to see the bevy of Libertarian Bitcoin fanatics who praise the decentralized “new Gold standard” and publicly trash its critics explain this one. [Valleywag]

* Are bar associations moving online? [Law Sites]

* Forget your cell phone, the feds have been spending millions to warrantlessly collect your very breath. [Jalopnik]

* Twitter account posting every frame of Top Gun lands user in the danger zone. [IT-Lex]

* Our own David Lat did some speculating about who the next Supreme Court justice might be. [Ozy]

* That hope that the government would deport Justin Bieber? Here’s why that just isn’t legally going to happen. Video after the jump… [Bloomberg Law]

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Social media is no longer new. This month, Facebook turns ten, joining LinkedIn, which hit the decade mark back in May. Lawyers have been blogging even longer than that, with the earliest lawyer blogs launched fifteen years ago. Even the book on Social Media for Lawyers that I co-authored with Nicole Black has been out for nearly four years.

Yet after all this time, social media still has limited traction in the legal profession, with few firms using social media for its “best and highest use”: engaging and interacting with colleagues and clients. Instead, large firms treat social media as another marketing channel to disseminate firm news and press releases, according to a recent ATL study, while solos and smalls treat social media as a poor man’s search-engine optimizer.  It’s no wonder that many practicing lawyers deride social media generally as a waste of time and counsel their colleagues to focus on traditional in-person networking, like meeting colleagues for lunch or getting involved in bar associations, to generate visibility and referrals.

Still, I wouldn’t give up on social media yet. The fact that so few lawyers understand how to use social media correctly makes it a powerful tool for solo and small firm lawyers. Here are three ways to use social media to get the most out of traditional, in-person networking, and to create new opportunities for yourself:

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We don’t cover a lot of international happenings on this website, and for good reason. The world is filled with people who are either boring or lunatics and who, besides all that, don’t speak good English. How many songs has Lee Greenwood written about other countries? Probably none. None songs.

But piercing this aggressive indifference was a story in the Washington Post this weekend that spoke of a group of lawyers in Pakistan
who have said enough is enough. Except, these Pakistani lawyers knew that I wouldn’t understand them if they said enough is enough with their mouths because I don’t speak Pakistani. Like, at all. Nope, these Pakistani lawyers said enough is enough with their fists. And probably their feet. Maybe a crowbar or a pipe or brass knuckles even.

The Washington Post article says that these lawyers have gone from heroes to gangsters. Like that’s a bad thing…

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A retail business owner asked me why I don’t believe in pay-per-click advertising or spending money on SEO strategies for my practice, as it has worked well for his stores. So I asked him: “What would you do if you needed a lawyer?” “I would call someone, get a name, and then look that person up,” he said. “You wouldn’t just do a Google search?” “No, never. After I got a name, I would check out the lawyer’s background, maybe see if he’s written anything that gives him credibility.”

No kids, he’s not talking about cute tweets or postings with links on a Facebook Fan Page. He’s talking about real writing, and he’s talking about getting your name from real people.

Now I know that I’m wrong, don’t know what I’m talking about, and am facing a sure death of my practice by suggesting that there are other ways of getting your name out there besides vomiting all over every social media platform, but it’s okay. When it all dries up, I’m sure I will have plenty of job offers from the wildly successful lawyers of the commentariat.

For those wondering if the life of a lawyer will ever be anything more than keeping track of your Google prowess by taking calls of, “I found you on the internet. How much do you charge?,” I have good news — it can be. There are actually real people out there that are looking for quality. It’s not that they found you first; it’s that they found you after a little research. If you’re going to be the type of lawyer that is found after someone gives your name, you might as well have something on the internet that evidences you have done more than just listen to some unemployed lawyer’s advice on building a practice.

My ideas are all free, and if you’re not afraid to use your real name, you may get some benefit from using them….

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I was never a huge fan of firm mentoring programs. In the days after firms started cracking down on using mentoring funds for hookers and blow, mentoring became distinctly less exciting. For the male associates, it seemed to revolve around mass quantities of red meat and booze. For the female associates, it was a lot of talk about “feelings,” and “glass ceilings,” and figuring out how to get a manicure on the firm’s dime. And while pretty nails are always nice, it was just one more billable hour that I’d have to make up at night.

But perhaps creative mentoring isn’t dead after all. It seems as though the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association might be trying to bring some fun back to its mentorship program. The MHBA recently distributed fliers on the University of Minnesota Law School campus that bear images of some pretty questionable-looking foliage.

Was this just an innocent mistake, or are Minnesota Law students being offered a chance to expand their horizons in more ways than one? You be the judge, after the jump….

UPDATE (6:30 PM): We’ve added statements from a board member of the MHBA and from the president of the Latino Law Student Association at the University of Minnesota, also after the jump.

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Some of you will recall that in my manifesto, I expressed the view that we need more clearinghouses for information on small law firms. Well, it turns out I’m not the only one hoping for a gathering of small law practitioners.

Over at MyShingle, Carolyn Elefant posted a great piece about the need for a stronger voice from solos and small law practitioners. While we are both trying to rally this group to a cause, I’ve been approaching the efforts of this column with an eye toward the need to get information out to law students and lawyers looking to transition into a smaller practice. Elefant, meanwhile, tackles the idea from a political clout perspective, issuing the following call to action:

[A]s someone who has been tracking the institution of solo practice for nearly eight years, I urge you to hear me out about why it’s more important than ever that we solos and small firms demand that the “powers that be” (in this case, the state bars, the ABA, the mainstream legal media and law schools) start regarding us as the main event.

Small law firms as the “main event”? I’m skeptical, but certainly interested. After all, the vast majority of lawyers in the U.S. are working for small firms or as solo shops. Why aren’t we the main event already?

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Earlier this week, I interviewed Darrell Mottley and Laura Possesky, the two candidates for president-elect of the DC Bar. Motley is a shareholder at Banner Witcoff, LTD, and Possesky is a partner at Gura & Possesky, PLLC.

Running for president-elect of the DC Bar means they are running for president as well, because the president-elect automatically ascends to the presidency after a year. This leadership structure is very common in most bar associations, including the ABA.

I thought this would be valuable for ATL, since many attorneys who read this blog are DC-licensed, regardless of whether they reside in the DC area. Many others are eligible to waive into DC, if they are already licensed in another state or jurisdiction. The process is pretty simple. In order to waive into the DC Bar, one has to do the following:

  • Score at least a 133 on the multistate portion of the of the bar exam;
  • Fill out a lengthy bar application, which you can do online;
  • Not kill anyone; and, most importantly,
  • Pay all applicable fees.

By all indications, this race is anything but a knock-down, drag-out fight. Bush v. Gore this is not. However, it’s what they agree on that’s very telling about the direction the DC Bar will go. It seems the Bar is well on its way to embracing the ways of the World Wide Web…

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