Weblogs

Can lawyers ethically blog about their cases?

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Can lawyers ethically blog about their cases?"

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Can lawyers ethically blog about their cases?

When blogging first became popular years ago, lawyers were often reluctant to participate due to ethical concerns. Even today, that hesitancy remains despite the large scale adoption of blogging by lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

Hopefully, a recent Virginia decision, Horace Frazier Hunter v. Record No. 121472, handed down in February of this year, will quell some of the remaining concerns. According to the decision issued by the Virginia Supreme Court, not only can Virginia lawyers ethically blog about their cases, they can even list the names of their clients when doing so, as long as their blog includes an appropriate disclaimer.

In this case, the Virginia State Bar had determined that criminal defense attorney Horace Frazier Hunter had violated client confidences by discussing information about closed cases, including discussing favorable case outcomes and including the client’s name when doing so. Hunter appealed the decision, which ultimately reached the Virginia Supreme Court.

Among the issues considered by the court were whether his blog posts were considered to be commercial speech and whether he could ethically discuss public information about his clients without their consent.

First, the court addressed the issue of whether Hunter’s blog posts constituted commercial speech and thus were subject to regulation by the Virginia State Bar. The court concluded that the posts were commercial speech because, among other things: 1) Hunter admitted that his motivation for posting was, in part, economic; 2) the posts served as an advertisement since they highlighted favorable results obtained on behalf of clients; 3) Hunter referred to his lawyering skills in the vast majority of his posts; 4) the blog was part of his law firm’s website rather than a freestanding blog; and 5) the blog was not interactive since it did not permit comments.

Next, the court moved on to the issue of whether Hunter had violated client confidentiality by discussing the outcomes of closed cases and including client’s names in the blog posts. The court concluded that First Amendment protections applied since the cases discussed on the blog were closed: “It is settled that attorney speech about public information from cases is protected by the First Amendment, but it may be regulated if it poses a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing a pending case.”

“The VSB argues that it can prohibit an attorney from repeating truthful information made in a public judicial proceeding even though others can disseminate this information because an attorney repeating it could inhibit clients from freely communicating with their attorneys or because it would undermine public confidence in the legal profession,” the court explained.

“Such concerns, however, are unsupported by the evidence. To the extent that the information is aired in a public forum, privacy considerations must yield to First Amendment protections. In that respect, a lawyer is no more prohibited than any other citizen from reporting what transpired in the courtroom.”

However, although the court held that Hunter’s posts were protected by the First Amendment, it also concluded that the bar could regulate the speech and require disclaimers, since the speech had the potential to be misleading. The court reversed and remanded the case for additional considerations regarding the issue of appropriate disclaimers.

All in all, I think this was a good decision, with one exception. I disagree with the court’s assertion that the failure to allow commenting on blog posts is evidence that a blog is intended for commercial purposes. That is simply not the case.

Permitting comments on blogs has fallen out of favor among many bloggers, myself included, due to the massive amounts of spam comments that are posted. So I, like many other bloggers, have simply decided to no longer permit comments in order to avoid spending unnecessary amounts of time moderating comments from spambots, marketers and self-promoters.

But, aside from that one area of disagreement, this was, overall, a good decision. My hope is that decisions like this one will have the effect of encouraging lawyers to learn more about blogging and other opportunities to interact online.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Win a copy of "Solo by Choice" or "Social Media for Lawyers"

Social media book cover
Each month at the MyCase blog, we hold a giveaway. Last month two Geminus Genius iPad cases were up for grabs. This month, don’t forget to enter to win one of two books:

If you’d like a chance to win, head on over to the MyCase blog and sign up!

And, while you’re at it, check out my past posts there about law practice management and legal technology issues, including mobile computing and cloud computing for lawyers.

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Tips and tricks to get your legal blog started

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Tips and tricks to get your legal blog started."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Tips and tricks to get your legal blog started

Recently, I’ve had a number of lawyers approach me for career advice and during the course of our conversations, I sometimes suggest that the lawyer consider starting a law blog. Oftentimes I’m met with a somewhat terrified look or am peppered with questions about how to go about doing so. So, I figured it was high time that I wrote an article about the process of creating, and maintaining, a legal blog.

First things first, make sure that you enjoy the writing process and that you can decide on a topic or topics about which you are passionate. This is important because if you don’t enjoy writing or the topics about which you write, your blog will fall flat.

The next thing you’ll need to do is determine your goals. Why are you writing the blog? To showcase your writing skills and your expertise? To meet and network with other lawyers? To attract media attention? To reach potential clients? To improve search engine optimization for your blog and/or website? To expand your online presence? Or perhaps a combination of some of these goals?

Next, once you’ve established your goals, you’ll need to decide which topic(s) you’d like to write about. Obviously, your chosen topics should further your goals. So, for example, if one of your primary goals is to reach potential clients, then your topics should be of interest to them and written on a level that is understandable to them.

Alternatively, if connecting with other lawyers and showcasing your knowledge are two of your goals, you should focus on topics of interest to lawyers who may ultimately become referral sources.

Once you’ve settled on a few topics, you’ll need to choose a blogging platform. Many people use WordPress (wordpress.org), a free and easy-to-use blogging platform. My preferred platform is Typepad (typepad.com), which costs just $8.95 per month for a single blog. It’s intuitive, is easily customizable, and integrates well with other Web-based tools and platforms.

Next you’ll need to create a daily reading list of sites that post about content relevant to your chosen topics. That way you can keep up on the topics you’ve decided to write about and will thus have fodder for your blog posts. The easiest way to do that is to use an RSS feed reader. RSS feed readers are Web-based applications through which you can subscribe to the RSS feeds of various websites and blogs. Feed readers are important because they simplify your life and bring information relevant to your interests directly to you, in one place.
Many people use Google Reader (google.com/reader). I prefer Feedly (feedly.com).

Feedly is a browser add on. Once installed, you are able to subscribe to blogs (and/or import your Google Reader subscriptions) and can then organize your subscriptions into different categories. Your chosen content then appears in an easy to read, magazine-like interface.
And, as you open up each item you have the option of sharing it across your various social networks. Also helpful is that Feedly “learns” as you interact with it and serves up the most relevant content based on your usage habits.

Another option is to use a mobile app, such as Zite, which imports your Google Reader subscriptions and then, like Feedly, provides you relevant content in an easy to use magazine-like interface based on your interactions with the app.

The last thing you’ll need to simplify your blogging experience is download Zemanta, a blog publishing aid (zemanta.com). Zemanta is a browser add-on that is designed to supplement and assist bloggers.

Once you install the app, it appears as an overlay to your blogging platform and suggests images with understandable license details (obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Flickr and various stock photo providers), links, tags and related articles. The suggestions made are based on based on a contextual analysis of the text of your post.

That’s it! Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll be all set to blog. Best of luck and I’ll see you around the blogosphere!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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New York addresses legal blogging ethics

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "New York addresses legal blogging ethics."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

New York addresses legal blogging ethics

Although blogging has been around for well over a decade now, our profession was late to jump on the bandwagon. Nevertheless, the ethics of legal blogging has been an issue from the get go. For example, when blogging first reared its ugly head, there was much debate about whether a legal blog constituted an “advertisement” as defined by the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Although some time has passed since blogging first emerged upon the legal scene, intriguing ethical issues still abound. For example, the most recent ethical inquiry arose last month when the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics wrestled with this rather interesting legal blogging ethical quandary in Ethics Op. 912: Whether the rules prohibit a lawyer from “hosting or participating in a blog dedicated to publishing factually accurate criticism of another lawyer’s professional conduct.”

In other words, may a lawyer talk trash about another lawyer on a legal blog, as long as the allegations are “factually accurate?”

Before diving into the committee’s analysis and conclusion — two observations.

First, I find it hard to believe that one attorney has such animosity toward another attorney that s/he feels the need to: 1) establish a blog criticizing that attorney, and 2) had foresight to seek the committee’s ethical blessing prior to doing so. If nothing else, the convoluted and time consuming nature of this undertaking makes me wonder what kind of world we’re living (and practicing) in?

Second, I take issue with the wording of the inquiry itself because I disagree with the underlying assumption that “allegations” can be “factually accurate.” Sure the underlying factual allegations may be true, but the conclusions or “allegations” based thereon are neither accurate nor inaccurate. Instead, aren’t they simply one person’s opinion drawn from an analysis and interpretation of the facts? I don’t see how an interpretation of the facts can be “factually accurate.”

That being said, before I go too far astray, let’s delve into the committee’s analysis of this inquiry, shall we?

First, the committee noted that the rules forbid lawyers from criticizing judges, but are silent as to criticism aimed at other lawyers:

“Although Rule 8.2 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”) expressly addresses lawyer criticism of judges … there is no comparable provision that specifically addresses public criticism of a lawyer by a lawyer. Therefore, any ethical restraint on such expression would, under the rules, necessarily derive from the more general provisions of Rule 8.4(c), prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentations”, or Rule 8.4 (d), prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that is “prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

The committee then turned to its analysis of Rules 8.4(c)and (d), and said analysis was surprisingly perfunctory. Without much discussion or explanation, the committee essentially concluded that as long as the criticism was “accurate,” all was good:

“Assuming that the blog criticism is sufficiently accurate and in context not to run afoul of Rule 8.4(c), the question is whether there are any limitations arising from Rule 8.4(d) on a lawyer’s factually sustainable public criticism of another lawyer.”

The committee then tempered its conclusion by applying the restrictions of Rule 8.4 (d) and then adding that critical lawyers should keep in mind that pursuant to the “Standards of Civility” adopted by the Uniform Court System, attorneys “should avoid vulgar language, disparaging personal remarks or acrimony towards other counsel, parties or witnesses.” Finally, the committee also observed that pursuant to Rule 8.3(a), lawyers are required report the misconduct of other lawyers to the appropriate tribunal.

In other words, feel free to trash talk your colleagues online, but keep it clean. And, trash talking is a double edged sword: if you insist on blogging about your colleague’s malfeasance, you’ll also have to turn your unethical colleague in — or risk facing a disciplinary claim yourself.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, a powerful and intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com. 

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Are bloggers journalists? Courts are catching up

DR logoThis week's Daily Record column is entitled "Are bloggers journalists? Courts are catching up"

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Are bloggers journalists? Courts are catching up.

I wrote my first article about blogging in 2007. Back then, hardly anyone had heard of it, least of all my fellow lawyers.

At that point, I’d been blogging for over a year at my law blog, Sui Generis. I started that blog in late-2005 on the advice of my cousin, Rochester attorney David Rothenberg. I’d had lunch with David, seeking his advice on my return to the legal field after a 3-year hiatus. As the lunch concluded and we were heading out of the restaurant, he offhandedly mentioned “Oh, by the way, I heard about this thing called blogging on NPR this morning. You might want to check that out.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I started Sui Generis a few weeks later and everything that I’ve accomplished to date has been, in some way, tangentially related to the body of work that I created on that blog.

Fast forward 6 years, and now everyone knows what a blog is, even if they don’t blog themselves. And, even lawyers started jumping on the blogging bandwagon in droves just a few years ago.

Blogging is now mainstream. So much so that for many people, blogs are one of their primary news sources. Think Huffington Post, for example. For that reason, bloggers have long tried to obtain status as journalists whether for the journalistic protections provided by the First Amendment or for the ability to have access to newsworthy events, such as trials.

It’s been an uphill battle and many efforts by bloggers to obtain the same rights as journalists have unsuccessful. However, the tide is slowly, but surely, changing, as evidenced by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to enact a new rule which will allow “citizen journalists” to photograph courtroom proceedings.

The new Rule 1:19 (www.universalhub.com/files/rule119.pdf) addresses electronic access to the courts and expands the definition of “news media” so that it now includes “organizations that regularly gather, prepare, photograph, record, write, edit, report or publish news or information about matters of public interest for dissemination to the public in any medium, whether print or electronic, and to individuals who regularly perform a similar function.”

The rules allows judges, at their discretion, to allow the “photographing or electronic recording or transmitting of courtroom proceedings to the public by the news media for news gathering purposes or for the dissemination of information to the public …”

The devices permitted to be operated include “still and video cameras, audio recording or transmitting devices, and portable computers or electronic devices with communication capabilities.”

The rule gives judges wide latitude to exercise discretion in allowing or disallowing the use of devices by media and wisely prohibits recording or transmission of, among other things, voir dire, bench and side-bar conferences and frontal or close-up views of jurors and prospective jurors. The rule also allows minors and sexual assault victims to be photographed only upon consent of the judge.

In other words, the rule allows judges to control the proceedings and protect the privacy of those involved to the extent needed to ensure a fair and impartial trial — one that is unaffected by the media coverage, whether by traditional media or “citizen journalists” such as bloggers.

The passage of this new rule gives me much needed hope. It is one more indication that the legal field does not consist of a bunch of clueless curmudgeons stuck in the 20th century. Instead, our profession is agile, forward-thinking and willing to change with the times and acknowledge the inescapable effects that technology is having upon our society as a whole, and, as a result, upon our justice system.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court: thanks for making it easier for me to sleep at night. I salute you for a job well done.

Nicole Black is the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is a Rochester, NY-based attorney and a GigaOM Pro Analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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Legal Technology Predictions for 2012


Dr
This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Legal Technology Predictions for 2012."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Legal Technology Predictions for 2012

If 2011 was the year that lawyers finally took notice of Internet-based and mobile technologies--if only because these tools affected evidentiary issues in their practices--then 2012 will be the year that most lawyers not yet using these tools will make a conscious decision to put off using many of them in their practice. 

This is because for many lawyers, the continued economic recession will cause increased financial pressures and competition for clients, requiring lawyers to work harder just to make ends meet. Accordingly, emerging legal technologies will be a low priority since the time and monetary investment needed to learn about and implement these tools into their law practices will deter them from doing so.

That being said, 2012 won’t be a technology vacuum for the legal field. Lawyers will become increasingly mobile and the use of iPads and other tablet devices will continue to increase dramatically. iPads will be the tablet device of choice since the iPad offers the best selection of work-related apps thus making it particularly appealing to lawyers.

Smart phone use will also continue to rise, with the iPhone leading the way, in large part due to its compatibility with iPads. The use of Android devices will come in at a close second, with Blackberry use declining rapidly.

However, when it comes to cloud computing and social media, the future doesn’t look so bright in 2012. I believe that attorneys’ use of cloud computing tools will rise very slowly over the next year, while social media use will remain nearly stagnant as some attorneys currently participating will drop out and will then be replaced by a nearly identical number of attorneys looking to test the social media waters.

Specifically, regarding cloud computing, I predict that there will be a cloud backlash as a number of ethics decisions are handed down in 2012 which will discourage the use of cloud computing tools. Nevertheless, some lawyers will still choose to use cloud computing in their law practices, but most will likely choose to use these tools for non-confidential information, such as billing or the storage of forms and other less sensitive data in the cloud.

The good news is that the cloud backlash will reverse itself in mid-2013, much like what occurred with the email backlash in the 1990s. Rest assured, mass adoption of cloud computing tools for the processing and storage of confidential information is the future, it will just take the legal field a while to realize the inevitability of that fact. 

Regarding lawyers’ use of social media in 2012, the numbers will generally remain stagnant.  

LinkedIn will be the most active in terms of new participants, but the participation will generally be limited to the creation of profiles with no further interaction. 

The use of Facebook will also increase slightly in 2012, as lawyers join with the primary goal of keeping in touch with family and friends. 

The percentage of lawyers with active legal blogs and Twitter accounts will likely remain stagnant, as the number of lawyers abandoning their blogs and Twitter accounts will be nearly identical to the number of lawyers creating new legal blogs or Twitter accounts. 

There will be a sizable increase in the number of AmLaw 200 firms participating on Twitter and publishing legal blogs, although their Twitter participation will be mostly promotional and their blogs will consist of bland legalese and will be devoid of personality. For the most part, AmLaw 200 firms’ social media participation will lack the essential element that makes social media use worthwhile: personal interaction. For that reason, their social media participation will be mostly ineffective.

Finally, by the end of 2012, Google Plus, Google’s new social network, will finally come into its own. Currently, Google Plus is in its infancy, but the Google development team is in the process of integrating Google Plus into all aspects of Internet users’ day-to-day online interactions, from search and media consumption to communicating with friends and family. As Google Plus begins to compete with the already established social networks and becomes increasingly mainstream in late 2012, lawyers will begin to take notice and the number of lawyers using Google Plus will begin to rise. 

So, those are my predictions. I feel fairly confident about them, but hope I’m wrong about some of them--in particular the cloud computing backlash. I truly hope that, come this time next year, I’ll look back and breathe a sigh of relief that the backlash I predicted never occurred. If that’s the case, I’ll truly be proud of my profession and the ethics committees for their forward thinking adoption of a technology that is undoubtedly the future the of computing.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and GigaOM Pro Analyst. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in late 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com. 

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A Look at Lawyers' Use of Technology in 2011

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "A Look at Lawyers' Use of Technology in 2011."

A PDF of this article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

A Look at Lawyers' Use of Technology in 2011

The results of the American Bar Association’s annual legal technology report, the 2011 ABA Legal Technology Survey, were released over the summer and include some interesting statistics. Apparently lawyers, although historically slow to adapt to change, are increasingly using emerging technologies in their law practices.

This is because the impact of certain technologies cannot be denied. Specifically, Internet-based and mobile technologies, including cloud computing and social media, are profoundly affecting both our personal and professional lives. For that reason, lawyers are now incorporating these new tools into their law practices at rates never before seen.

First, let’s turn to cloud computing. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it simply means that data is stored on a server owned by someone else and the data is then accessed from any device with an Internet connection. Popular examples include web-based email such as Gmail or Hotmail, document creation and sharing via services such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365, and online document storage through such services as DropBox. There is also an increasing offering of cloud computing platforms developed specifically for lawyers.

According to the ABA’s 2011 survey, 23.2% of lawyers use online platforms to create and share documents, 22.8% use online services for messaging and communication, 17.2% for invoicing and bill payment, and 15.3% for scheduling and calendaring. Another interesting statistic:  23% of responding lawyers now offer clients access to information relating to their case via a secure online portal, a practice that I believe will be commonplace within the next few years.

The reason attorneys are moving toward cloud computing? Convenience. 70% of attorneys that use these services cited the ability to access data from anywhere as the main incentive, while 55% stressed the importance of 24/7 access to data. Simplicity and affordability were also cited as important factors. Low cost was important to 49%, quick start up time was a factor for 44% and 43% appreciated the ability to eliminate IT staff and software management requirements.

The main reason lawyers are reluctant to use cloud computing technology? Lack of familiarity. Hopefully my book about cloud computing, which will be published by the ABA this fall, will help to alleviate that problem. Other reasons cited by those concerned about using cloud computing in their practice include confidentiality and security concerns (47%) and the lack of control over data due to outsourcing it to a third party (41%).

Next up, mobile technology. Like the general population, lawyers have quickly adapted to this revolutionary change. Smart phone use rose from 79% in 2010 to 88% in 2011, with 46% of lawyers using Blackberrys, although that number drops to 33% for small firms with 2-9 attorneys. Interestingly, since 2010, iPhone use increased dramatically and is now at 35% overall and at 46% for small firms with 2-9 attorneys. Android phones also have a respectable showing and are used by 17% of responding attorneys.

Tablet use is also on the rise, even though the iPad was just introduced 1.5 years ago in April of 2010. The iPad is used by 89% of those lawyers who use a tablet device for work-related tasks and 15% of respondents used a tablet to conduct work while outside of their primary workplace. For firms with over 500 attorneys, that number increased to 26%.

Finally, let’s turn to social media.  LinkedIn was, by far, the most popular site used by individual lawyers, with 62% using that site, followed by Facebook at 22% and Twitter at 6%. 73% of respondents reported using social media sites for career development and 71% used them for networking. Although 53% of attorneys participating in social media reported using it as a client development tool, only 12% obtained a client directly or via a referral as a result of their participation in social media.

The bottom line: lawyers are doing a respectable job of learning about new technologies and incorporating them into their practice. I believe the reason our profession is keeping pace so well is because lawyers realize that these new tools make their job easier and provide a level of convenience and flexibility never before seen. Most lawyers now recognize that these newfound technologies aren’t the enemy. Instead, they are simply innovative, affordable tools that allow lawyers to better serve their clients. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s most important?

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer.

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer.

The legal blogosphere has been atwitter lately over the results of a survey conducted by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The goal of the survey was to determine how people go about finding a lawyer to handle their personal legal matters. This simple survey resulted in a surprising number of spirited blog posts on a range of different topics.

At the blog “Lexblog”, Kevin O’Keefe, the CEO of Lexblog, Inc., a company that provides legal blogs and social media consulting to lawyers, took issue with the ABA Journal blog’s reporting of the survey, in a blog post entitled “How People Find Lawyers: Referrals Are Popular, Blogs Not So Much, Poll Finds.”

Attorney Carolyn Elefant, at her blog “My Shingle,” was unhappy with a conclusion--reached in the comments at Lexblog  between Kevin and Will Hornsby, staff counsel for the ABA—that solos and small firms were somehow to blame for the low standing of blogs in the survey results.

Meanwhile, Venkat Balasubramani, a Seattle attorney, expressed his disbelief at his blog, “Spam Notes,” that the survey was conducted using landline phones.

And, at his blog “Simple Justice,” Scott Greenfield, a Manhattan-based criminal defense attorney, concluded that if lawyers want to get clients the best way to do so is to focus on becoming a better lawyer.

(Bob Ambrogi also offered up his take on the survey at his blog, LawSites, as did Susan Cartier Liebel at Solo Practice Univerity--after I'd submitted this article to my editor).

I figured now that the dust had settled I might as well chime in and add my 2 cents on the issue. That being--they asked the wrong question.

The stated goal of that section of the survey was to determine the effectiveness of online platforms in assisting consumers in finding a lawyer. Respondents should have been asked to outline the process that they would undertake to find an attorney using the Internet. Instead, they were asked the following question: “If you needed a lawyer for a personal legal matter, how likely would you be to use the following resources to find one?”

Respondents were then asked to rank the utility of the following online platforms: A lawyer’s website, an online directory, a website where you can ask lawyers legal questions, a website where people post their problems and lawyers interested in representing them follow up, a website that rates lawyers, blogs, social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Listservs.

The choices ranked as most likely to be used were lawyer websites, question and answer websites and lawyer rating websites. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and listservs fared the worst.

Of course those were the results. This outcome was predictable and largely predetermined by the poorly framed question.

The question format fails because it doesn’t square with reality. Sure, respondents would prefer the idea using the knowledge-based online platforms when searching for an attorney using the Internet. The problem is that most legal consumers don’t even know that these platforms exist and would only stumble upon a particular site as a result of a Google search

Generally speaking, unless there is a universally well known online vendor such as Amazon, Zappos or  eBay, people turn to Google (or other search engines). Most of the time, the sites that appear on the first page of the search results and provide quality information are the sites used by consumers.

When consumers search for lawyers, depending on the terms of the search, the results take consumers to any number of websites, including those listed as a response to the ABA’s original question. Consumers then choose whether to call a particular attorney based on the quality of information contained on the site, not based on the type of site providing the information.

Whether that’s the best method for choosing an attorney is another question for another day. The stated goal of the survey was to determine the effectiveness of online platforms for client development—something the survey simply did not do.

The survey was successful in that it ascertained how people would prefer to go about choosing an attorney using the Internet. Unfortunately, it failed to determine how people actually find lawyers using online tools. And, isn’t that what lawyers who choose to invest their time and money into these tools really need to know?

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.


Legal blogging isn't dead, it's just changing.

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Legal blogging isn't dead, it's just changing."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Legal blogging isn't dead, it's just changing.

I’ve written quite a bit about legal blogging over the years. Since 2006, I’ve been following legal blogs, tracking the trends and predicting the future of blogging for lawyers.

Last summer, I concluded that legal blogging, while not dead, was changing, in large part due to the influence of social media. Social media sites have replaced some of the functions of blogging, since many such sites are more effective at achieving some of the benefits blogging used to offer, such as professional networking. On the flip side, social media sites provide newfound and very effective forums for promoting blog posts.

A recent report (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Generations-2010.aspx) issued by the Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center supports my conclusions. According to the report, for the younger generation, blogging is being replaced by posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In comparison, the older generations, always the last to latch onto new trends, are finally beginning to blog.

The statistics regarding blogging from the report indicate that between 2008 and 2010:

  • Blogging dropped 2% for 18-33 year olds
  • Blogging increased 6% for 34-44 year olds
  • Blogging increased 5% for 46-55 year olds
  • Blogging increased 4% for 56-64 year olds
  • Blogging increased 2% for 65-73 year olds.

These statistics are striking for any number of reasons. First, for the older generations, the increase in blogging is only between 2-6%, which is, all things considered, a fairly small increase for a 2 year time frame. This is so especially given that the use of social networking sites increased between 12-32% for those same age ranges during the same time frame. 

Also significant is that blogging is decreasing for the younger generation. This matters for two very important reasons. 

First, this generation’s behavior is predictive of the general trends regarding the use of technology in the future, so more likely than not, two years from now, blogging will decline amongst the older generations as well.

Second, 18-33 year olds are the consumers and business people of the future. For that reason alone, their habits and choices are important. Businesses need to understand this generation and will want to be present online wherever this generation spends its time.

Of course, just because members of generation are choosing not to blog, doesn’t mean that they’re not reading blogs. As I’ve oft repeated, blogging is not dead, it’s simply changing. People will continue to read and consume blog posts.

However, one trend that I think will become more evident over the next year or so is that individual blogs will decline and group blogs will become the blogging standard. Many individual blogs will continue to succeed, but group blogs will dominate. This is because group blogs provide more varied content, different viewpoints, and draw in more eyes, since the individual bloggers can promote the group’s blog across their own social networks.

For lawyers, the most effective group blogs will consist of blog posts from geographically diverse lawyers focusing on the same practice area, such as criminal law, environmental law or personal injury law.

Generally speaking, group blogs from lawyers within the same firm are far less effective, in my opinion. Often, these types of group blogs consist of posts drafted by associates who are required to post and thus have no true passion for their subject matter. For that reason, these types of group blogs tend to fall flat.

And, it’s passion that separates the good blogs from the bad. If you enjoy writing and have a passion for the topic about which you are blogging, your blog, whether it’s a group blog or an individual one, will be a success.

Passion is the key element; if your passion shines through, people of all ages will want to read, discuss and share your blog posts. And, after all, isn’t that the point of blogging in the first place?

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

 


Lawyers and New Social Media Platforms, Including Quora

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Lawyers and New Social Media Platforms."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Lawyers and New Social Media Platforms

Social media is a rapidly changing phenomenon. New platforms are introduced all the time and old ones quickly fade away. Even for so-called “social media gurus,” it can be difficult to predict which ones will have staying power and which ones are mere fads.

It’s clear that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t going anywhere, while one-time bedrock MySpace is rapidly losing ground.  Friendfeed and GoogleBuzz, once the darlings of social media pundits, disappeared in the blink of an eye.

So when a new social media platform comes along that generates a lot of online buzz, some believe that it makes sense to jump into the fray early on in order to take fully take advantage of the opportunities that it presents.

The latest and greatest social media platform that’s the talk of the (online) town is Quora (www.quora.com), which is self-described as a “continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.”

This site essentially allows users to ask questions related to any topic; other users then submit answers to questions that interest them. The format is intended to create a knowledge base of information provided by people uniquely able to answer the questions due to their very specific areas of expertise.

For the most part, at this early stage, the questions asked tend to revolve around technology issues, ranging from software development to social media to cloud computing. This is because the site is frequented primarily by the Silicon Valley set, developers and social media advisors galore.

So, the question remains: Does it make sense for lawyers to be among the first to use this site? Do lawyers who are so-called “early adopters” of Quora stand to benefit?

In my opinion, the answer is “no”—for most lawyers, using Quora at this early stage of the game would simply be a waste of time. I say this for two reasons.

First, I’m not convinced that Quora will be around for the long haul. The user interface is clunky and confusing. Questions from topic threads that you subscribed to appear on your “home” screen, seemingly at random and you have to click through to read the answers provided. There is no search function, which makes it difficult to sort through the vast amount of data and locate those questions and answers that are particularly relevant to your interests. The bottom line: it’s difficult to navigate the site and after spending about 5 minutes on it, I tend to experience information overload.

Second, for most lawyers, participation on Quora is pointless. Quora only makes sense for a minority of lawyers, including those lawyers whose target client base consists of technology geeks, software developers, or social media consultants. Lawyers who live in or near Silicon Valley would also benefit from participation.

But for the vast majority of lawyers, participating in Quora at this early stage in the game would be a huge gamble and an enormous time sink, with the likelihood of minimal returns for the time investment.

Sure, the Question and Answer format is a comfortable one for many lawyers. But that doesn’t mean that Quora is necessarily a good site for lawyers. In my opinion, for the time being, lawyers who prefer this type of format would be better served showcasing their expertise by answering questions LinkedIn or Avvo.com.

If, six months down the road, Quora is still alive and kicking, it might be worthwhile to consider participating on it. At that point the user interface should be drastically improved as well, making interaction on the site a more user-friendly and enjoyable experience.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com

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