Monday, November 23, 2009

I Am Dumping Amicus Attorney

We have used Amicus Attorney for years. I have always loved the awesome graphics of the program, and the potential it carries. I have always loathed the technical support, and the dubious upgrade process. In my mind Gavel & Gown software, the vendor of Amicus Attorney, has a nasty habit of releasing annual upgrades with only modest little tweaks, then discontinuing reasonable support for earlier iterations of the software. They have also in the last year or two introduced a completely ridiculous annual maintenance plan. They release buggy software, then you have no choice but to spend hundreds of dollars for a support agreement. This strategy is even more offensive in that new product upgrades come with no support! Even if you pay several thousands of dollars to upgrade, you then have to pack on hundreds of dollars more to get the new software to work! That is why I have version 2008 running, even though there is a version 2009, and a version 2010.

I have put up with this shoddy way of doing business for years because of the overwhelming thought of converting to a different system. However, Gavel & Gown has finally crossed the line. We use AA in conjunction with a court rules calendaring program from Compulaw. In the first week in November I received an e-mail from Gavel & Gown that there were going to be problems with the Compulaw add-on because of changes that the Federal Courts have made regarding how dates will be calculated. The theme of the message was "stay tuned." This is important because date and rules calendaring is one of the main reasons we use case management software.

That stay-tune message came about ten days later when I got a letter from Gavel & Gown. That letter explained that date and rules calendaring in any pre-2010 version of Amicus would not work after November 30, 2009, and the only solution would be to purchase the 2010 version. Absolute Piracy! Here's a flip of the proverbial bird at you Gavel & Gown.

Last week I plunked down more than $6000 to purchase an entire new software system from Abacus Law. The software is installed, and we are now waiting for the vendor to schedule our data conversion from Amicus to Abacus. I know that is going to be a challenging and frustrating exercise, but we really have no choice. Gavel & Gown has painted us into a corner, and now we have to work our way out.

Stay tuned.

LexisNexis: Is the Empire Crumbling?

John Heckman publishes the Does It Compute blog. Today he posted an interesting article on the fading light that is the Lexis Nexis software group. Here's what he has to say:
In the wake of LexisNexis’ acquisition of Time Matters, it projected an empire-building strategy around acquired legal software. In short order, Lexis acquired PCLaw, Juris, Concordance and CaseMap to add to HotDocs, which it had previously acquired. It announced a “privileged” relation with NetDocuments. This gave it solutions to almost any legal software need.

But two years after each acquisition, Lexis canned the principles of the acquired software programs (with the sole exception of HotDocs), that is, the people with the vision who had developed the programs to the point that they were worth acquiring. In the past five years, Lexis has regularly announced new management and product champions announced that it would do better. This has all been reminiscent of the recent Mac ads about the announcement of new versions of Windows: this time all the problems are fixed, “trust me.” The fact is that the Practice Management division of LexisNexis (in its various incarnations) has not had “very effective management team in place” (to quote a recent listserv post) since they got rid of Bob Butler.

Last year, Lexis broke off its relationship with NetDocuments, which apparently had not “met its numbers.” This week, it announced it was selling HotDocs to British-based CapSoft, one of the largest providers of HotDocs solutions. Although HotDocs had for years been the market leader in document assembly, recently it has been losing ground to competing products such as Exari and DealBuilder.

In addition, in a move that left me (and a lot of other people) scratching my head, Lexis is now re-positioning PCLaw as the “entry level” practice management program. So if you call Lexis sales and tell them you are a small firm (3-5 users) and want practice management they will suggest PCLaw, NOT Time Matters. PCLaw is a great time/billing/accounting program, but this is simply weird. Does this mean that PCLaw will get additional resources (which would be a good thing) or will Lexis change its corporate mind a year from now?

Whatever all this means, it is certainly not indicative of a cohesive product strategy.
Interesting thoughts. Please click here to read the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Market Your Business With Facebook

I am just starting to experiment with Facebook. I must confess, at this point in time I don't really get it, and I am fighting a steep learning curve. None the less, I persevere because I sense a surge in Facebook marketing momentum. As I study it, I see that Facebook is not just for kids. Many of my contemporaries have Facebook pages, and I can see how it could be a productive marketing tool for a family law practice. Now to just keep learning!

The New York Times is a great newspaper. It also has a great on-line presence. Today I came across a fabulous article about Facebook as a marketing tool.
Business owner, you might want to friend Facebook.

A growing number of businesses are making Facebook an indispensible part of hanging out their shingles. Small businesses are using it to find new customers, build online communities of fans and dig into gold mines of demographic information.

“You need to be where your customers are and your prospective customers are,” said Clara Shih, author of “The Facebook Era” (Pearson Education, 2009). “And with 300 million people on Facebook, and still growing, that’s increasingly where your audience is for a lot of products and services.”

Start Small

For most businesses, Facebook Pages (distinct from individual profiles and Facebook groups) are the best place to start. Pages allow businesses to collect “fans” the way celebrities, sports teams, musicians and politicians do. There are now 1.4 million Facebook Pages and they collect more than 10 million fans every day, according to the site.

Businesses can easily create a Web presence with Facebook, even if they don’t have their own Web site (most companies still should maintain a Web site to reach people who don’t use Facebook or whose employers block access to the site). Businesses can claim a vanity address so that their Facebook address reflects the business name, like www.facebook.com/Starbucks. Facebook pages can link to the company’s Web site or direct sales to e-commerce sites like Ticketmaster or Amazon.

Facebook offers an array of tools and networks, and it’s easy to wander down too many paths. Ms. Shih recommends that newcomers start by asking themselves a simple question: What is your basic objective? Is it getting more customers in the door? Building brand awareness? Creating a venue for customer support? Once you have set your goal, you can strategize accordingly.

“You can waste a lot of time on Facebook,” said Ms. Shih, founder of Hearsay Labs, a Facebook marketing software company. “But if you’re a business, you don’t have any time to waste. Figure out your objectives first, start small and do things that help you accomplish your objectives.”

Ms. Shih suggests that businesses ask friends and family to become fans of their pages so that they display a respectable crowd of supporters when they debut. Pages can grow organically by word of mouth — the average Facebook user has 130 friends on the site — or by advertising or promotion.

You can enliven your page with photos, comments and useful information. As you grow more comfortable, you can add videos or business applications. Flaunt your personality. The page of an ice cream parlor should feel different than that of a funeral parlor. “The pages that are most successful,” said Tim Kendall, the director of monetization at Facebook, “are the ones that really replicate the personality of the business.”

It’s Not All About Selling

Art Meets Commerce, a New York marketing firm, has struck up a never-ending conversation with fans. The company uses Facebook as a crucial part of its publicity campaigns for theatrical productions. Its Facebook page for the show “Rock of Ages,” for example, has more than 13,000 fans.

Staff members constantly update the page with new photos, videos and quotes from the cast. They’ve also learned what not to do: Once they posted a video of Paris Hilton plugging the show and got negative feedback from fans who professed to be sick of her.

But it’s not just about marketing — or, at least, it’s not just about selling. “You end up moving away from being an Internet marketer and go into almost customer service,” said Jim Glaub, creative director at the agency. “A lot of times people use Facebook to ask questions: What’s the student rush? How long is the show? Where’s parking? You have to answer.”

Some basic rules: Buy-buy-buy messages won’t fly. The best practitioners make Facebook less about selling and more about interacting. Engage with fans and critics. Listen to what people are saying, good and bad. You may even pick up ideas for how to improve your business. Keep content fresh. Use status updates and newsfeeds to tell fans about specials, events, contests or anything of interest.

These interactions can take a vast amount of time — the “Rock of Ages” page has 300 to 600 interactions every week — but they can also provide a big payoff. Facebook is one of the show’s top sources of new ticket sales.

Last year, Art Meets Commerce introduced a Facebook ad campaign to promote an Off Broadway run of the musical “Fela!” The campaign aimed at Facebook users with interests like theatrical shows or Afro beat. According to the company, it generated 18 million impressions, more than 5,700 clicks and $40,000 in ticket sales — all for $4,400 spent on advertising.

“We can advertise all day, but if we don’t give them what they want they will not be a fan anymore,” said Mark Seeley, a marketing associate at Art Meets Commerce. “Even though we represent the shows as marketers, we don’t want to constantly tell people to buy tickets. You talk to them like you talk to your friends on Facebook.”

Aim at Potential Customers Only

Some guys use Facebook to find single women. Chris Meyer used it to find women who are already engaged.

Mr. Meyer, a wedding photographer in Woodbury, Minn., had had little luck with traditional advertising. A full-page ad in a bridal magazine generated zero leads and a trade show yielded only four bookings, barely covering the cost of his booth. But Facebook proved a digital bonanza.

Mr. Meyer aimed at women ages 22 to 28 who listed their martial status as engaged in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. He estimates that he has spent about $300 on Facebook ads in the last two years and has generated more than $60,000 in business. He says about three-quarters of his clients now come to him through Facebook, either from ads or recommendations from friends.

“I’d be out of business if I didn’t have Facebook,” Mr. Meyer said. “Especially with this economy, I need to stretch each marketing dollar as much as I possibly can.”

Facebook enables small businesses to engage in targeted marketing that they only could have dreamed about a few years ago. Facebook users fill out profiles with information like hometown, employer, religious beliefs, interests, education and favorite books, movies and TV shows — all of which can help advertisers deliver messages to specific demographic slices.

As you create an ad, you can add demographic criteria and keywords and see how many Facebook users fall into your target audience and modify it accordingly to get the most bang for your buck. Advertisers can elect to pay per impression or per click, set maximum budgets and schedule the ad to run on specific dates.

Thus a coffee shop in San Francisco can display advertisements only to local people whose profiles or group affiliations suggest they like coffee. According to Mr. Kendall, Facebook’s director of monetization, ads can also aim at people based on social exchanges, like a person who sends a message to a friend, “let’s get together for coffee” or who posts a status update about just having awakened and needing some java.

“We can help you find customers before they even think about searching for you,” Mr. Kendall said. “We’re very, very well-positioned to generate demand, based on the fact that we know a tremendous amount about a user.”

The Facebook ad system provides instant feedback with metrics like the number of impressions and clicks-through. This reporting allows Mr. Meyer to improve his advertising; if one ad doesn’t generate enough hits within 24 hours, he pulls it and tries something new.

Give Away Cupcakes!

Charles Nelson has an M.B.A. and is a former investment banker who owns a growing national chain of stores. Yet this 40-year-old entrepreneur checks Facebook with the frequency of a college student. Up to 30 times a day, he logs onto the social networking site via his laptop or Blackberry.

For Mr. Nelson, this is serious business. He and his wife, Candace, own Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery that relies on social media in lieu of traditional advertising. Mr. Nelson considers Facebook marketing essential. “People are out there talking about your business everyday, whether you’re looking or not,” he said. “This gives people a place to come and speak directly to us.”

Sprinkles uses Facebook to give customers a whiff of what’s cooking. Every day it posts a password on Facebook that can be redeemed for a free cupcake. Since April, its fan base has risen tenfold to 70,000.

Mr. Nelson and his wife previously worked as investment bankers in the technology sector and were keenly aware that, even for a traditional business like a bakery, social media is a crucial ingredient. His advice: make it relevant to the customer, keep it fresh and remember that the return on investment may come slowly.

“Be patient with it,” Mr. Nelson advised. “People are not going to flock to your social media site overnight. Technology is about the network effect. It takes time for those connections to build.”
Please click here for the original article as written by Kermit Pattison.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

50 Free Resources for Lawyers to Create Their Own Websites

Law firms websites have become de rigueur. However, there are still some folks working through the learning curve on this invaluable marketing cornerstone. I got an e-mail today from the folks at McIver & Associates, a personal injury law firm in Houston, Texas. They asked me to take a look at their Injury Lawyer Houston blog, which I did. Once there, I saw a great article called 50 Free Resources for Lawyers to Create Their Own Websites, which they have graciously allowed me to copy and past here:

With more and more potential clients going online to utilize search engines and third party review sites such as Yelp in order to find well-respected, reliable, and honest legal council, an online presence is an absolute necessity for attorneys. A competently designed, informative, and regularly updated website can grant those in the legal field an edge over their competitors. However, slogging through website design listings makes for a daunting, dizzying, and occasionally frustrating task. By using the free services listed here, lawyers aspiring to build or improve upon their websites can find the tools to set everything in motion from the ground up. Whether they desire to start from a template or start from scratch with basic coding, the most valuable – and free! – resources for both creating as well as promoting legal services.
    1. Wordpress: Blogs make for one of the best methods of generating content. While it is inadvisable for a legally-oriented website to exclusively build from this type of format, incorporating a blog via Wordpress can do nothing but help establish and solidify an online presence. It allows for easier access to widgets, del.icio.us, Reddit, and Digg plugins, Twitter streaming, and other features that both supplement as well as promote content. All Wordpress blogs come with a bevy of templates, but it is possible to create a customized format for better incorporation into a website.

    2. Twitter: Offering free, unlimited 140-character “tweets,” Twitter may make for a poor website, but it still operates as a very useful promotional tool. A Twitter widget on a main site can keep potential clients informed about availability in real time, letting them know if they will be calling during vacation days or hectic periods where they may be contacted a few days later. It allows for faster communication than updating a blog, and can be updated via phone for moments when a computer may not be available. Likewise, subscribers to the accompanying Twitter can be informed as to when the website is updated with new content.

    3. HTML Goodies: HTML is one of the most basic building blocks of web design, and this site offers tutorials and information appropriate for all skill levels. It constantly adapts to new trends and developments in design, offering applications and scripts to help those constructing websites better incorporate new and useful technologies such as the aforementioned Twitter. In spite of the site’s title, tutorials and tools for other coding languages such as CSS, PHP, XHTML, and Java are available as well. The security section may be of particular interest to lawyers who allow potential clients to contact them through forms on the website.

    4. Websitetemplates.org: Free and fully customizable website templates are available here for lawyers who lack the time to build a website from basic scripting and coding. Only one explicitly legal-themed template is available, however. Though with the level of customization available, it is entirely possible to pick another professional layout or color scheme and switch the pictures out to something more appropriate.

    5. Templatenavigator.com: More free templates for the harried lawyer are available here, though the sophisticated ones incorporating Flash and other animation techniques must be purchased. The corporate and company themes seem the most appropriate and professional frameworks for an attorney’s home page.

    6. stock.xchng: The internet may frequently operate as a complete affront to copyright law, but attorneys especially need to set an example if they wish to establish credibility. All of the thousands of photos on stock.xchng are free of both charge and royalty. Individual photographers may require a credit, but otherwise the licensing agreement allows for pictures to be displayed on commercial sites. However, those containing people may be subject to likeness issues and could possible require further permissions.

    7. The CSS Tutorial: CSS code can help lawyers with a little extra time on their hands clean up and streamline the HTML on their site. These quick, easy tutorials offer a valuable introduction to this useful skill.

    8. Webmonkey: One of the most indispensable web design resource available, Webmonkey offers a veritable arsenal of tutorials, scripts, browser and color charts, and even cheat sheets to help both beginner and advanced web designers create clean, innovative sites.

    9. W3Schools.com: Another necessity for the aspiring web designer, this site offers not only some of the most comprehensive and understandable tutorials on scripting and coding, but validations, editors, templates, hosting information, examples, character sets, and even certification as well. All of these amazing services are provided completely free of charge to help lawyers and other professionals develop and promote their online presence.

    10. Widgetbox: For attorneys connecting their website with a blog or social media source, Widgetbox offers over 300 law-related widgets. Some are free and some must be purchased, but all of them help create useful, relevant content to add interest and attract potential clients.

    11. Websitetips.com: More design tutorials and a list of recommended books are available through this site, but the resources section offers the most information on web design issues.

    12. Webweaver: This site offers over 3,000 free clip art graphics as well as quick code and banner generators that help build a site quickly and accurately for lawyers on a time crunch.

    13. Dzine Blog: With some of the most thoughtful and useful articles on web design available, this blog assists those building an online presence from a technical as well as artistic perspective. They also offer numerous free templates and themes. Lawyers looking to add visual interest and project a uniquely aesthetic but professional image would do well to peruse their painstaking research.

    14. Web Developer’s Handbook: This site features hundreds of links relating to every aspect of web design imaginable, with advice on technical, artistic, accessibility, and promotional issues.

    15. For Web Designers: Another excellent and exhaustive compilation of links and resources for those lawyers desiring to piece together a website from scratch.

    16. Resources for Web Design: Issues such as bandwidth theft, copyright information, and other frequently overlooked aspects of website creation sit next to the requisite coding and SEO tools and tutorials.

    17. Google Webmaster Central: The quintessential toolbox for lawyers hoping to establish a respectable online presence, Google Webmasters Central helps users optimize their websites for maximum exposure. The site offer free and absolutely necessary analytics, site maps, diagnostics, and checklists for tracking and attracting visitors while simultaneously optimizing their experience.

    18. SiteMeter: SiteMeter is one of the most popular counter and statistics trackers available, not only looking at hits in real time, but providing specific details on activity as it relates to time and location as well. Lawyers can glimpse how many potential clients in their area have explored their offerings.

    19. Javascript Kit:For attorneys too swamped to generate their own code, this site provides over 400 extremely useful Java scripts to copy, paste, and customize. It also hosts tutorials for those interested in creating their own.

    20. Access Matters:Lawyers ought to take the needs of the disabled into consideration when providing information regarding their services. This site offers a variety of quizzes and information on creating a website suitable for all users regardless of physical or mental limitations. It may take some time to fully implement some of the guidelines, but the end results eventually become all-inclusive and do not leave any individuals feeling marginalized.

    21. Usability.gov: Another excellent guide to creating a website that conforms to the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this fantastic resource lists the necessary guidelines and advice in explicit detail.

    22. Morgue File: Packed full of free and royalty-free stock photos, this website allows for its contents to be used for commercial purposes without crediting the original artist.

    23. RSS 2.0 at Harvard Law:One of the quintessential resources for lawyers desiring to establish a web presence, this site mainly focuses on RSS issues. However, it also delves into trends, information, and news regarding copyright, aggregators, and technology as well.

    24. Technorati: While Digg, del.icio.us, and Reddit rely on visitors actively promoting a website – plugging one’s own material is considered a highly gauche practice – Technorati allows the site’s owner to advertise without violating internet protocol. It is valuable marketing tool, especially for lawyers who opt to keep a blog on their site.

    25. Web Standards Group : Attorneys desiring a website that conforms not only to persons with disabilities, but users with vastly different browsers and connection speeds as well, ought to scan this essential resource. Standardizing a website maximizes the number of satisfied visitors and helps simplify, streamline, and establish long-term viability as well as lowering production costs.

    26. Web Design Resources and Tools I Use: Another extensive listing of sites particularly useful for web designers, Web Design Resources and Tools I Use offers valuable information on creation, promotion, shortcuts, and everything in between.

    27. Are My Sites Up?:Also available as an iPhone application, this service allows website owners to keep track of their domains to ensure availability. Every minute of server downtime is a minute that potential clients cannot see what a lawyer has to offer, so it is crucial to know when and why a website goes offline.

    28. wikiHow: Though not exclusively a web design resource, contributors have posted a wide variety of guides on HTML, PHP, CSS, Java, and other useful codes and scripts.

    29. eHow: In the vain of wikiHow, user-generated tutorials on website design and promotion necessities are also available here.

    30. Web Developer’s Journal: With forums, tutorials, scripts, and other tools, any answers or advice sought on the technical, creative, or marketing aspect of a website can be found in this wonderfully comprehensive resource.

    31. Open Source Templates: Free CSS and XHTML templates and vector art stand as the main draw here, with several very clean, very professional designs open for customization.

    32. PHP.net:A PHP resource for those desiring to use the scripting language to supplement their HTML, this website offers tutorials and communities for all skill levels.

    33. Javascript.com: Not only does this site offer the requisite tutorials on Java, DHTML, HTML, and other techniques, but several useful cut and paste scripts as well.

    34. Webreference: The bevy of articles, tutorials, and information on anything and everything related to web design makes this yet another useful tool for lawyers seeking to create their own site.

    35. Webdeveloper.com: While the content itself is comprised of the requisite tutorials and server information, the forums here remain active and provide those seeking to build a website with a place to ask questions and seek advice on any problems they may encounter.

    36. Web Developer’s Virtual Library: More tutorials and guides on the usual scripts can be found here, alongside resources on Ruby, Ruby on Rails, and Python as well.

    37. Flash Kit: For lawyers seeking to a bit of animated flair to their online presence, the Flash Kit features over 1,200 tutorials as well as sound effects, loops, and fonts for further customization. It is advisable to use Flash sparingly for aesthetic reasons, but the creative attorney can find several smaller uses for it.

    38. XMLFiles.com: This site provides overviews and tutorials for XML and its numerous applications for lawyers building their online presence from scratch. It also offers a validation service to check for potential errors.

    39. Design Shack: A frequently updated blog and community, Design Shack features a gallery of CSS websites offering ideas and inspiration for aspiring web developers. Beyond that, however, it also offers advice, techniques, and updated news pertaining to CSS and its place in design work.

    40. 456 Berea Street: Swedish web developer Roger Johansson frequently updates his blog on issues regarding usability, accessibility, and web standards. For lawyers concerned with ensuring that those with disabilities find ways to access their website, Johansson’s posts provide a provocative and necessary resource. He also attempts to open up awareness to comparatively more minor issues that nevertheless may make the difference between a visitor and a client.

    41. Guild of Accessible Web Designers: This international nonprofit organization dedicates itself to accessibility for peoples with disabilities, and the tips, updates, and articles provide yet another important resource on how to best optimize a website for use by everyone. Advice is free, but membership into the guild requires a one-time membership fee. An individual or corporation does not have to be a web designer to join and enjoy the benefits, but interested parties do have to support and display an adherence to accessibility principles.

    42. intensivstation: This site features some clean, simple CSS and XHTML templates for customizing a website. In addition, it also offers 16 lessons in both scripting languages to help aspiring designers add more features to the preexisting templates.

    43. CSS Zen Garden: While the graphics on the featured CSS pages are not for redistribution, copying bits of code and ideas are covered under the Creative Commons license. Some exquisite layouts can be found here, and though outright copying of code is frowned upon in this community, lawyers who find a few interesting tidbits are welcome to borrow them to fill in holes.

    44. The Web Standards Project: The Web Standards Project is a grassroots movement pushing for education in and adoption of accessibility practices, working with other businesses and organizations to create cost-effective, viable standards. Their site offers tutorials, articles, and other resources on establishing a more all-inclusive online presence.

    45. Mezzoblue: A blog for those interested in delving further into coding and scripting, Mezzoblue offers insight into the various aspects of web design that many beginners may not realize are available. There are also several posts on SEO and meta information.

    46. Basic webstandards Workshop: This website breaks down its lessons and overviews into seven parts, covering XHTML, semantics, accessibility, CSS, floats, and possible bugs. Ensuring that code is entirely free of issues not only ensures that websites flow smoothly, but it also prevents any potential issues in the browsers of potential clients as well.

    47. dafont: An excellent place to find unique fonts to add more visual interest to a website and give it a bit of character. They can be used in graphics or on the pages themselves. Not all browsers support all fonts, so the use of any specialized ones may require some extra CSS coding to prioritize replacements. Most visitors without the fonts enabled will automatically default to Times New Roman anyways, but it is always a wise idea to slip in some script just to make things run as smoothly as possible.

    48. Digital Web Magazine: The site may have quit posting new content, but the remaining articles still offer insight into internet culture, protocol, and – most importantly – the design and development of webpages.

    49. A List Apart: Their content may be protected by copyright, but A List Apart does allow web developers to copy their source code without hesitation. However, its usefulness extends beyond that, operating as a comprehensive guide to all things web design, development, and promotion. Writers take accessibility issues into consideration for their posts as well.

    50. SitePoint: SitePoint offers free videos in addition to content revolving around every aspect of web development. Lawyers can build their site from the tutorials and videos, clean it up with the art and design lessons, and market it with their tips and tricks for successful promotion. It covers everything the burgeoning developer needs from start to finish to regular maintenance.

In an age where an online presence can hold as much influence as a personal one, lawyers hoping to attract clients must establish themselves through a website and other internet spaces such as Wordpress or Twitter. With these resources, attorneys can build their business online in a way that conforms to their skills, schedule, and interests without costing any money. Each of them brings something valuable to the table, be it coding, templates, analytics, or simply useful information on accessibility or marketing.

Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Can Lawyers Use Twitter

In my mind the jury is still OUT on twitter. Sure there are many who have taken big chugs of the twitter kool-aid and proclaimed there lives to the technology. I am not one of them, yet. I do reserve the right to change my mind, but right here, right now, I am not there and neither is twitter. Jim Calloway is the the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Management Assistance Program. He also publishes the Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog. Jim recently wrote an in depth article on twitter. His answer to the question "Can a Lawyer Really Use Twitter to Market a Law Practice?" is a definite maybe. Here is what Jim has to say:

Some of you may think you have no interest whatsoever in Twitter. But if you read through this entire article, you will learn of several ways to use Twitter, even without registering for the service and you will also have my answer to the question in the title.

Can a lawyer use Twitter to market a law practice? This simple-sounding question has generated a bit of controversy which seems to have heated up recently as notable lawyer marketing consultants Larry Bodine (www.lawmarketing.com) and Kevin O’Keefe (www.lexblog.com) took opposing positions in various online forums, with Bodine being anti and O’Keefe being pro.

Twitter is a quite interesting phenomenon. By now, most everyone has heard of it. Over 7 million people have registered Twitter accounts. And the phrase “follow me on Twitter” is now more likely to be heard from TV personalities and celebrities than early technology adopters. A Twitter posting is called a tweet. Twitter is an interesting writing exercise for lawyers as the tweets are limited to 140 characters.

Late night comedians have lampooned Twitter. Recently I was in a room where a respected lawyer unleashed a tirade about Twitter and the egotistical nature of its users messaging about where they ate and other trivia. He didn’t know, of course, that several of the lawyers in the room did use Twitter.

So what’s the truth about Twitter? Is it a great technology advance or an utter waste of time? And, more importantly, can a lawyer use Twitter to market the lawyer’s practice?

To really examine this concept you have to look very briefly at the nature of online information today. Just because Twitter appears to be one of the hottest things right now does not mean it is the best for everyone.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) recently broadcast an episode of the Kalb Report on the state of American journalism. Panelists included the chiefs of the Associated Press and CNN, among others. One of the topics covered was the challenge presented to newspapers and other traditional media by the Internet.

As many of you know, the rise of blogs, personal Web sites and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been referred to as citizen journalism. Today’s Internet tools allow anyone with the time and inclination to create the online equivalent of a newspaper, radio station, wire service or video broadcast service. This is referred to the democratization of the Internet. Gaining an audience is, of course, another matter.

President of CNN Jonathan Klein may have made a larger point than he intended on the Kalb Report when he said:

“The world is changing. There are many other ways evolving for humans to commit journalism. You know, journalism, it's not really a profession, it's an obsession, you know? It's not really an occupation; it’s a preoccupation for people who want [to do it.]” kalb.gwu.edu/2009/0323/transcript.pdf.

So the question is not whether one can build awareness of practice areas or market one’s law practice through Twitter or other social media. The answer to that question is an obvious “yes,” in my opinion. The real question is whether the individual lawyer or law firm has the inclination, time, talent, writing ability and understanding to open an outpost on the frontier of citizen journalism and to support it once it has been opened.

Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that a media source, even a modest small citizen’s journalist outpost needs more than “once a month” posting of content.

So what’s your public information output currently? By that I mean information someone outside of the law firm might read. Many small law firms would truthfully have to answer that question with an answer of one (or less) press release, article or speech per month. My opinion is that if you do not already have new content that you are generating at least a few times per month, it is difficult to see how a law firm would gain any value from opening up a new social media outlet even though it is certainly true that having the outlet would encourage one to produce more content.

This does not mean the once (or twice) a month content producer is precluded from online marketing activities—quite the contrary. A new feature added each month to a “traditional” small law firm Web site or a blog can build great value over time and would put the small firm lawyer among the elites in online marketing compared with the online presence of many other small law firms. Many law firms are likely better served by a traditional law firm Web site or blog for online marketing at the present time than leaping into Twitter or Facebook.

Do not take this statement the wrong way. Using social media can be great fun and even somewhat addictive. If you enjoy it, by all means use it. It could be great if your hobby generated a little business for you.

It should also be noted that the issues are very different when applied to large law firms as opposed to solo or small firm lawyers. Even a 30-lawyer firm will likely have some lawyer or staff person with the ability and inclination to become a social media conduit and even if each of the 30 lawyers only produces “publishable” content three or four times per year, that aggregates to a lot of content. And, of course, if a law firm is large enough to have a marketing/communications/PR department; those staffers will be looking at communicating through all forms of social media.

Twitter is certainly hot. We hear about it all the time. There are several ways to “consume” information from Twitter. Most with an interest have a Twitter account. They follow those other Twitter users with content that interests them. (Subscribing to receive the content of another is called “following.”) One could follow only those you know personally. One could follow celebrities. One could follow news outlets or particular journalists. One could follow only those who tweet about your favorite sports team. One could register with Twitter and never post a single tweet, but just use it to read what others have posted. You can learn more background information about Twitter by reading a pair of articles we published on our Oklahoma Bar Association Web site earlier this year at www.okbar.org/news/onlineexclusives/twitter.htm.

If you do post tweets, then people will follow you so that they can read all of your tweets. I tweet primarily about law office management and technology issues.

You can follow me if you like. I am @jimcalloway

But you can also use Twitter without ever registering with the service because, by default, Twitter content is published to the Internet.

So in your web browser, @jimcalloway can be found at twitter.com/jimcalloway.
The Oklahoma Bar Twitter feed, @OklahomaBar, is found at twitter.com/oklahomabar.
OBA Continuing Legal Education’s Twitter feed, @obacle, is twitter.com/obacle.

But that’s not the only way one can use Twitter. Earlier this year, the Twitter home page, twitter.com, was changed to make it look a lot more like Google and other search engines. It has a search box and displays the most popular topics of the last week, day and minute. You can click on a popular topic to read the most recent tweets or you can search through what the millions of Twitter users are posting about right now. Tom Mighell, @TomMighell, gave a good example of how that would be useful when he spoke at the OBA Technology Fair. His Gmail account wasn’t working and he wondered if it was system-wide or just something with his account. He did a search on Twitter for Gmail, found many recent complaints and new ones being posted every second and knew it wasn’t just him. As opposed to Google or Bing, Twitter search is more about what is popular right now than links to comprehensive or authoritative information.

Certainly a lot of what is tweeted to Twitter is nonsense or of interest only to one’s close friends.

Lawyers who wished to promote their law practices via Twitter would be best advised to tweet about something related to their law practices and profession, in my view. Others would disagree. Certainly a lawyer who loved archery and tweeted about it frequently, mentioning he or she was a lawyer only infrequently, could pick up some legal business or referrals from other archery enthusiasts who use Twitter. But that’s not really using Twitter as a law marketing tool. That’s enjoying Twitter and picking up some business as a result just like one might do from coaching little league or participating in a civic organization.

My view is that you are not likely going to convince anyone to hire your law firm tweeting every mundane detail of your life. And those who follow you may soon un-follow you.

I know there are many ways to market, but here’s one concept of how a small firm lawyer could use Twitter to market his or her practice.

  1. Set up a Twitter account using either your name or your law firm name, possibly with the word law included. Post your picture and a link to your law firm Web site on your profile. Twitter accounts are personal and you need a picture.

  2. After you have posted several tweets, send an e-mail out to your tech-savvy friends announcing that you are on Twitter and giving them the web address, e.g., twitter.com/myfirm. Those already using Twitter will understand they can follow you at @myfirm. Those who don’t use Twitter can click on the link.

  3. Do some searches in Twitter to see those who you might want to follow. When you find them and follow them, also look to see who they are following and who might be following them for more prospects for you to follow.

  4. Try to tweet at least weekly, but no more than 4 or 5 times a day. (The Twitter evangelists have given me grief over this expressed opinion before and others are free to use a different business method. To me, there’s a great danger for a practicing lawyer to give the appearance on Twitter that they are not all that busy and have lots of free time to tweet.)

  5. Follow almost everyone that follows you. (Many people view this as a hard and fast rule of Twitter etiquette. I do not and I do not do that personally right now. But for this business model, I believe it makes sense.)

  6. Check your followers every now and then and block the few with inappropriate profile pictures or other salacious content.

  7. Be very, very, very careful not to violate attorney-client privilege or your client’s privacy with tweets. Don’t post negative things about opposing counsel or judges. You will regret it later.

What do you tweet about? News relating to your community, your practice areas and the legal professional in general. The people I follow on Twitter are those who provide me links to great articles online that I might otherwise have missed. To me, the best thing about Twitter is the fact that it provides me with a large group of friends, professional acquaintances, some total strangers and some technology superstars who all voluntarily serve as a clipping service for me with links to news articles, blog posts, product launches and more. They also toss in their own unique and personal content.

But the main thing to remember is that Twitter is a tool. There is more than one way to use a tool. If you have fun following everyone’s comments about your favorite sports teams and never post a tweet, that is great, and if you build a national practice representing archery enthusiasts, that’s great, too.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal Oct. 10, 2009 - Vol. 80; No. 26. Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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