Ten Tips for Building a Law Firm Publishing Culture

If your firm is like mine, chances are there are a lot of great people with really fantastic ideas. But the outside world knows nothing about them, because there’s no coordinated strategy to sing their praises.

I can’t say it any better than Steve Matthews at Stem’s Legal’s Blog:

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the zeitgeist of legal web marketing the last couple years, you know that producing and publishing content is the best possible way to grow your online reputation. But “content, content, content” is so much easier said than done. Firms need specific strategies for building an internal publishing culture.

Steve has come up with ten tips to building a law firm publishing culture. So what are those ten critical tips that can move you from being unkown to going viral (ok, lawyer publications rarely go viral, but I can always hope….)? Read on…

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What if there were a better way to hire lawyers?

The College of Law Practice Management recently announced its 2012 InnovAction Award Winners. The InnovAction Awards recognize outstanding innovation in the delivery of legal services. The College conveniently not only declared a winner, but helpfully made available all the entries received. There are some excellent projects here (not surprisingly, many of them incorporate some aspect of knowledge management and/or legal project management).

One entry which caught my eye (and kind of scared me) is from LawyerMetrics, which claims to have developed a “Data-Driven Lawyer Hiring Method”.  I’m not entirely clear on what this (it sounds suspiciously like math) but because I just spent a week slogging through over 200 articling student applications to winnow the field down to one eventual hire, I was intrigued. Imagine – enter all the info into LawyerMetrics blackbox program and – voila!- your perfect lawyer.

The company says it uses a “Moneyball analysis” to…well, here, let them tell you how it works:

Research shows that the most popular hiring tool in law firms―the one-on-one interview―ranks only slightly above a coin-toss in its ability to separate good from poor prospects [really? I could have just flipped a coin??]. Simply hiring someone because of a shared favorite sports team works just as well. Using a data-driven, scientific method called a Biographical Inventory, Lawyer Metrics increases a law firm’s ability to identify high performers and weed out low performers during the interview process. Also known as a “Moneyball” analysis, this methodology examines the pre-hire traits such as grades, clerkships, and pre-law work that can be used to predict a candidate’s likelihood of success at a particular law firm. Other industries have proven similar hiring methods to be three times more effective than one-on-one interviews. By adapting the methodology to the legal industry, Lawyer Metrics has helped several law firms increase their probability of identifying A players by 10-33% and eliminating C players by 50-60%. By leveraging a law firm’s own talent data, Lawyer Metrics enables the firm’s leadership to hire and retain the lawyers who are best suited to service the needs of their clients….

Fascinating. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m still wedded to the face-to-face interview – even though I can’t muster any scientific or statistical analysis to support my preference. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that billions of dollars of business are done every year over lunch….which suggests to me that there might be some merit in this vague and sloppy method. On the other hand, data-driven selection might have the advantage of curbing the most egregious incidents of discrimination (“Really? You went to Old Money U., too? And a cottage on the same lake as well…..you’ll fit in just fine!”).

 

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Law and the Undead

I love writing. And research. It’s not at all surprising that I’m in legal research/knowledge management/thinky stuff.

The other thing I love is when I find someone who can do any of that better than I can. And with that, I give a tip of the hat to Adam Chodorow of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law for what may possibly be one of the best academic paper titles of all time:

Death and Taxes and Zombies.

This is particularly impressive since taxes and taxation policy have never really grabbed me. But Adam is no fool – he has correctly surmised that by adding “and zombies” to something will suddenly make it more compelling.

What is his paper about?

The U.S. stands on the precipice of a financial disaster, and Congress has done nothing but bicker. Of course, I refer to the coming day when the undead walk the earth, feasting on the living. A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead. The government’s failure to anticipate or plan for this eventuality could cripple its ability to respond effectively, putting us all at risk.
This article fills a glaring gap in the academic literature by examining how the estate and income tax laws apply to the undead. Beginning with the critical question of whether the undead should be considered dead for estate tax purposes, the article continues on to address income tax issues the undead are likely to face. In addition to zombies, the article also considers how estate and income tax laws should apply to vampires and ghosts. Given the difficulties identified herein of applying existing tax law to the undead, new legislation may be warranted. However, any new legislation is certain to raise its own set of problems. The point here is not to identify the appropriate approach. Rather, it is to goad Congress and the IRS into action before it is too late.

You bet I’m going to read it. You can too: Death and Taxes and Zombies

(note that his best material is in the footnotes, including a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse blog [who knew?]. See? I told you it was worth reading)

 

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Sentencing idiots

There are days when I really regret going into a career that requires so much research. On the other hand, it’s because of my research duties that I’m aware of cases like R. v. Smickle  – kudos to Molloy J. for knowing how to write a lede:

At just before 2:00 am on March 9, 2009, Leroy Smickle was engaged in a very foolish act. He was alone in the apartment of his cousin, Rojohn Brown, having elected (because he had to be at work in the morning) to stay in while his cousin went out to a club. Mr. Smickle was reclining on the sofa, wearing boxer shorts, a white tank top, and sunglasses. Thus clad, he was in the process of taking his picture for his Facebook page, using the webcam on his laptop computer. For reasons known only to Mr. Smickle, and which arguably go beyond mere foolishness, he was posing in this manner with a loaded handgun in one hand. Unfortunately for Mr. Smickle, at this exact moment, members of the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force and the Guns and Gangs Squad were gathered outside the apartment preparing to execute a search warrant in relation to Mr. Brown, who was believed to be in possession of illegal firearms. They smashed in the door of the apartment with a battering ram, and Mr. Smickle was literally caught red-handed, with a loaded illegal firearm in his hand. He immediately dropped the gun and the computer, as ordered to by the police, and was thereupon arrested…..

Not surprisingly, Leroy Smickle was convicted. The next step was the sentencing hearing, from where this excerpt originates. The interesting part of this decision, and the reason it should be read (apart from literary flair), is because of Molloy J.’s refusal to impose the mandatory minimum sentence. Molloy J., knowing she must impose a fit sentence, finds that a three year mandatory penitentiary term  is cruel and unusual punishment, finds the legislation unconstitutional and and strikes it down. This will not sit well with a federal Conservative government heavily invested in a tough-on-crime, law-and-order agenda.

Molloy J. does not condone gun-related activity. Just the opposite. However, she is clearly dealing with a known quantity in Leroy Smickle:

It took three smashes from the battering ram to break down the apartment door.  Mr. Smickle testified that when he heard the first bang, he thought it was thunder.  Upon hearing the second blow, he wondered if it might be the police.  Then, with the third blow, the police entered, ending all speculation….

[…]

….Mr. Smickle is guilty of colossally bad judgment. I might also question his sense of values if he believed posing with a gun would enhance the image he wished to project to his friends on Facebook. However, apart from this one lapse in judgment, he is not a criminal.”

Having regard to the lethality of his particular brand of poor judgment, she also notes that his possession of the gun was brief, there was no indication he actually owned it, he lacked any criminal intent, there was nobody else present, and no drugs were involved.

In short, Leroy Smickle wasn’t being a criminal; he was being an idiot.

As is usual, she canvasses the case law to determine what range of sentence is typically handed out in these circumstances. Interestingly, she cites the case of R. v. Snobelen, a businessman and former Conservative cabinet minister in the Provincial Legislature, who was charged with possession of a Colt 22 semi-automatic, together with accessible ammunition. Mr. Snobelen, having been charged in 2007, had the benefit of escaping a mandatory minimum or he, too, would have been facing a three-year penitentiary term. Noting that Mr. Snobelen actually owned the gun, and he was in possession of it far longer than Mr. Smickle, Molloy J. finds that “if it was appropriate for Mr. Snobelen to come through the process with no criminal record at all…, then principles of parity cannot support a three year penitentiary term for Mr. Smickle.” (R. v. Snobelen (25 April 2008), unreported, S.D. Brown J. (Ont. C.J.).

If this decision wasn’t political enough, this is sure to attract some attention. Particularly since the Conservative’s omnibus Bill C-10 — currently facing scrutiny in the Senate — combines nine different pieces of legislation, covering everything from drug and sex crimes to young offenders, criminal pardons and the issue of Canadians jailed abroad. It also creates new mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and child sex crimes, sharply reduces the use of house arrest, toughens the treatment of young offenders and those seeking criminal pardons.

What about Leroy Smickle? Having struck down the offending mandatory minimum, Molloy J. sentenced him to a term of five months (after credit of seven months for time served and time spent on bail), to be served conditionally in the community.

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Social media: measuring results

Social media use amongst lawyers and law firms seems to be a trending topic these days. Two things of note:

Vizibility and LexisNexis recently conducted a survey of US firms to help shed light on the use of social media in legal services marketing. They put together an announcement, but I’m a big fan of their snappy infographic (click to enlarge):

The survey found that a clear majority of participants consider social media an important part of their overall marketing strategy, with nearly half (48.5%) reporting that social media is “somewhat important” while another 31% believe the tools are “extremely important” to their total marketing efforts. However, the survey also found everyone is measuring social media use differently, and “use” is no reliable indicator of “results”.

Speaking of results, the other item that caught my eye speaks to that directly. In an article titled Does Your Law Firm have Klout? in the Febuary 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer, author Jim Middlemiss talks about measuring the impact a firm’s social media has. Hundreds of tweets or cadres of followers doesn’t provide any useful information – instead, the article talks about Klout scores. Klout is a web site that purports to measure an firm’s online influence in the digital universe. The thinking is that if you have influence (a higher Klout score), you are more likely to be a thought leader. He makes some interesting observations about the firms – size isn’t a guarantee online influence. Gowlings, for instance, a top tweeter, and ranked first in terms of the number of followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, had a Klout score that placed them in the middle of the pack.

(Full disclosure: I have a Klout score of 10, which is the social media equivalent of having a heartbeat….)

The lesson? Social media is important, but its use should be focused and rationalised. Mere presence in the digital world will just equate to digital static. If no one is retweeting or mentioning or liking you, you aren’t influencing anyone, and unlikely to stand out from the noise.

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Not all law firm marketing is equal

According the National Post, which summarized Altman Weill’s 2011 Chief Legal Officer Survey, some forms of legal marketing are more effective at catching the attention of potential clients:

… “personal contacts” is the most effective tactic, rated at 6.7 on a scale of one to ten, followed by free seminars, webinars & CLE (6.2); written material demonstrating legal expertise (6.1); industry event sponsorship, presentations and attendance (5.8); committee work, community involvement and board memberships (5.0); website content, firm brochures and advertising (4.3); direct mail and e-mails about the firm (3.8); directory listings and ratings(3.6); and invitations to social events. Despite the hype about its importance, social media activity ranked a distant last, rated at 2.0.

Respondents were also asked to identify and rate other marketing efforts found noteworthy. The two top responses were spending time to understand the client’s business, rated at 9.3; and recommendations and reputation came in at 7.8.

Interestingly, their observations mirror the stats in February’s Lexpert, which show that Canada’s ten largest law firm’s are tweeting, liking and connecting furiously….but not to all that many people. The average number of LinkedIn followers was around a thousand, and the number of Twitter followers varied but was rarely more than thousand. Interestingly, the majority of the big firms didn’t have a public Facebook presence (reflecting perhaps that LinkedIn is really Facebook for grownups). Despite the numbers, the Lexpert article still caters to the hype, suggesting a firm who doesn’t buy in is somehow being left behind.

Social media plays a role, but it seems that expertise and quality personal service aren’t going to be replaced any time soon.

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It’s the Virgos who are the real problem…

You can take your poverty stats, criminal recidivism analyses and your fancy socioeconomic indicators – the local police department in Chatham-Kent has figured out a more straightforward and less thinky predictor of criminality: your astrological sign.

Aries don’t come off too well in this analysis (you’re an Aries, and possibly a sociopathic serial killer, if you were born between March 20 – April 19).

It’s worth noting, however, that this chart only reflects the stats of the people actually in police custody. So it’s conceivable that Aries aren’t predisposed to criminality so much as they are predisposed to getting caught.

The National Post, from whence this story hails, sought a number of professional opinions on the stats, including the opinion of their own horoscope writer who, after describing the characteristics of a typical Aries,  noted “A lot of people in the newsroom are Aries.” The article also notes that she lives on an island of the BC Coast, far, far away from the newsroom.

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