Monthly Archives: December 2011

Spontaneous Exclamations: A brief holiday piece on padding your stats

Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held, LLP.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or akatz@harrisonheld.com.  Comments on all posts are welcome!

Almost every attorney, at one point in their career, feels the itch.  Especially in this economy, when every hour counts towards job security, there’s a pressure to reach above and beyond stated goals.  Many attorneys work hard and hit their targets, while other attorneys may flounder or simply not receive enough work to bill the minimum required hours.  The itch to pad your stats a/k/a bill for extra time you did not work on a matter can be quite tempting.  On one hand, nobody may ever find out and you’ll get paid and bonused on hours you only worked in your wildest fantasies.  And what boring fantasies those would be.  On the other hand, you can fake hours and get caught, sanctioned, sued, and/or become a case study for all aspiring attorneys to examine in their dreaded mandatory ethics classes.

In honor of the holiday spirit, I’ll make this quick and easy for you:  DON’T DO IT.  If you choose to and get caught, you’ll end up with more than coal in your stocking or lose all of your Hanukkah gelt to poor dreidel spins.

It’s a simple weighing of benefits versus the consequences.  As an associate, if you pad your stats, you may hit your minimum hour requirement and be eligible for that lockstep raise and standing to move up a class year.  If you double-pad your stats and hit top bonus thresholds, you may receive a couple extra zeros on your bonus check and be the envy of the office, but at the end of the day you’ll have to not only live with yourself, but live with the fear of getting caught.  After you get busted, you will likely be sanctioned by your state bar, fired from your job, potentially blacklisted from your legal community, and (worst case scenario) featured on a slightly more famous law blog.  As a partner, if you pad your stats, say goodbye to your clients, and I shouldn’t need to remind you of this.

To all those who ignore this post, start with the (wo)man in the mirror, and as Michael Jackson aptly sang, “Take a look at yourself and then make a…CHANGE.”

With that in mind, here’s to a happy, ethical, and BlackBerry-free holiday season.

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Leveraging Your Reputation: Two ways to be an expert online

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has about 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

There are various ways to become an expert through speaking, media appearances, and writing. Here are other two ways that you can become an expert, which will enhance your reputation even more:

Use LinkedIn. Join a LinkedIn group in the area in which you specialize and get involved in discussions and answer group members’ questions. And here’s something that will make you really stand out: start a discussion where you offer some proprietary information to the members. For instance, if you’ve published an article about how a particular law will help your members in their profession, or you’ve published an analysis of legal trends, then share that with the group.

An even more effective way to connect with group members and to raise your LinkedIn profile is to make a Top 10 list of something that will help them. If the information that you’re offering is specific and beneficial, they will want it. After you’ve created your list, let the group know by starting a discussion thread, and tell them to email you if they want a copy.

I’ve seen it work effectively: Several months ago, someone posted a message in a group that I belong to, saying that she created a checklist for fundraising, and asked people to e-mail her to get it. So many people contacted her and made comments below her post, that she is one of the most influential people in the group, and her profile has been at the top of the page as a key influencer for several months.

Create Videos. Many people post videos on YouTube or Vimeo and gain a following if their content is helpful. Think of tips or insights that you think people need to hear. First look at other videos and see what people are searching for and watching, and come up with effective search terms and content that will make your video attractive. If you’re not sure about how to create quality videos, see my tips that I’ve shared here before.

Overall, think about how the information and experience that you have can help others, and find the best outlets to express your expertise so that people will see that you’re an attorney to whom they should turn.

Inside Perspective: Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Holidays

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also immediate past president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Last year’s holiday column addressed the challenge faced by in-house counsel in balancing their personal religious beliefs against the need to be (and perceived to be) unbiased for or against another’s belief system (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/inside-perspective-balancing-personal-beliefs-against-corporate-responsibility/).  Not much has changed since I wrote that column and I expect that the same discussion will be relevant 20 years from now.  Interestingly, this year Congress has been specifically admonished not to use taxpayer funds to send holiday greetings that include the words “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” (although they can say “have a happy new year– referencing the time period of a new year, but not the holiday”).

I have to admit that this is probably a good idea.  Although there is no mention of a restriction on extending good wishes for a Happy Hanukkah or Kwanza, I expect that such blessings fall within the general prohibition against sending “holiday wishes” and are similarly excluded.  Although some have suggested this prohibition is anti-Christian, in my opinion it falls squarely within the First Amendment.  To use taxpayer money to send any greeting furthering a message associated with a religious theme should not be allowed.

The in-house world faces no such prohibitions, but in-house lawyers must always be sensitive to others’ perceptions about their personal beliefs.  The last thing any in-house lawyer wants is a Client’s employee to believe that he or she has been treated unfairly because of a religious bias on the part of the general counsel.  Generally speaking, the prevalent religious traditions and principles practiced by adherents are consistent with good corporate practice: treat all as you would like to be treated; do not lie, cheat or steal; practice moderation; assist those who require assistance; treat those for whom you work and those who work for you with respect and dignity: and, give a fair day of work for a fair day’s wage.

These canons of good behavior do not have exceptions for those who do not believe as you do – they apply to all, at every level within the organization and regardless of their religious faith.

All of this seems fairly simple.  The nature of the attorney’s job requires the skill to be able to separate oneself from the emotional aspects of the job to make objective observations and decisions.  However, we all have personal biases and certainly there may be attorneys who have a bias in favor of people who share their faith.  Even so, those attorneys must have the emotional intelligence to recognize that bias and consider it as potentially influencing everything they do in connection with their job.  The very fact that the emotionally intelligent lawyer recognizes the potential for bias will do much to mitigate the effects of such a bias in connection with his or her job.

Beyond recognizing the potential bias and adjusting for it, in-house counsel must ensure, through their actions, that they are not perceived as having a bias.  Of course, we cannot control everyone’s perception of us, but we can certainly behave in such a way that assures the reasonable majority that our actions are taken without regard to our religious affiliations.

Since I am not a member of Congress, I am pleased to be able to close this year’s “holiday” column with a wish for you and your families – that you have a very Merry Christmas, a very Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year and a prosperous and fulfilling new year!

Overcoming fear of rejection

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick is experienced in law, business, entertainment, public relations and his Secured Solo Practice™ agency model. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition.

Something about law school changes our attitudes as we turn into lawyers. We often maintain a need to take a position and zealously defend it, regardless of its weight. This can cause us to work extra hard to avoid losing. We can learn how to take calculated risks and accept “no” without imputing failure; the lawyer might otherwise avoid potentially losing positions and might miss a great opportunity.

There are a few confidence situations where we need to remember to bring our “A” game:

Job Hunting – you can’t say the wrong thing if you’re honest.
Do you really want to work somewhere you have to lie about your values or belief systems? Why would you agree or disagree with an interviewer just to get a job? Smart lawyers recognize pandering and it serves no one well. If the job is not a match, keep hunting. It is OK not to fit with everyone.

Networking – if you are a friend first you make an easier referral.
People do business with others they know, like and trust. Spend time getting to know people at networking events as friends first. Likeable people are more likely to receive follow up phone calls. Balance your time in networking conversations between what you do and who you are and vice versa.

Volunteering – even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you still win.
Don’t shy away from volunteer and pro bono opportunities simply because you don’t have a mastery of the subject matter. If organizers expected perfection they would have hired experts. Volunteer experience also allows us to break away from our daily roles, which creates a good environment to meet others and get to know them in a neutral atmosphere.

Collaboration – none of us knows everything so roundtable your issues.
The smartest person is often the one who asks the most questions. The best lawyers know the limits of their knowledge and experience. We all benefit from floating ideas around and hearing some fresh input. By including others and seeking collective intelligence you will always come out on top.

Personality – help people remember you among the competition.
You don’t have to be dry, even despite your practice area. Some of the most dynamic attorneys work in otherwise stale practice areas. The dynamic person makes their work seem interesting. People with passion for their work get noticed. So much of life as a lawyer is a confidence game.

Media relations to benefit your practice (with tips)

Jim Martinez, a former reporter and editor, has spent years working at some of the world’s largest public relations firms atoning for the crises he caused.  He can be reached at jim@rightstorygroup.com.

The media can be a powerful marketing tool for attorneys, but they don’t seem to know how to use it.

Many law firms have launched blogs and other social media channels to give their attorneys a voice, on the “field-of-dreams” theory that if you build it they will come.  Sadly, they probably won’t.

On Dec. 5, Nielsen’s Blogpulse reported there are nearly 179 million blogs on the Internet – and that almost 99,000 had been created in the immediately preceding 24 hours. The likelihood of one law firm’s blog getting attention in all that clutter is miniscule.

But there is a more efficient and cost-effective way for attorneys to get attention: build relationships with traditional trade media.  Trade journalists continually seek fresh perspectives and expertise about the industries they cover – and they write for an audience that’s hungry for it.  So, attorneys experienced with the issues confronting different industries can become valuable sources for these journalists and reach an audience of receptive parties.

The advantage to working with trade media is that attorneys can avoid the expense of creating blogs, producing videos or printing and distributing brochures to publicize their points of view.

As I mentioned in the last post, consumer media outlets tend to benefit clients because the court reporters who work there cover pending litigation.  However, trade media tend to offer real opportunities for attorneys.  But, as with all media relations, there are some guidelines to follow:

  • Begin by focusing on real expertise.  Determine what experience qualifies you as an expert.  Do you know the steel industry, pharmaceutical industry, tax law or something else? Polish your resume to reflect that expertise and send it (or have your marketing staff send it) to a few media outlets that cover those industries, offering to arrange a meeting to share your point of view.
  • Offer commentary on the issues.  A quick way to raise your profile is to offer yourself as an expert commentator on issues confronting an industry.  Do not discuss specifics of any case, but talk in general terms about things like regulatory issues, merger and acquisition trends, the future of intellectual property protection, etc.  This raises your profile with prospective clients.
  • Become a legal observer.  When legal issues arise in an industry, offer your perspective on how such cases have successfully been handled in the past – or discuss the issues that are really at stake.  This ties your expertise to industry news, virtually guaranteeing that you’ll be noticed.
  • Offer to contribute a regular blog.  Most trade outlets have online channels, including blogs.  Contributing to a publication’s blog offers greater value than producing your own because the publication’s readers are a built-in audience.  And, by becoming a regular contributor, the readers will recognize you as an expert.
  • Merchandise your coverage.  Whenever you are quoted in trade media, post a link to the article on your firm’s web site.  Consider sending a link to clients and prospects.  And don’t forget to make copies of the article available for download.

By building real relationships with a few trade reporters, you can distinguish yourself quickly – and more effectively than you could by producing your own channel of communication.

Communicate & advocate: A winning process for witness prep

Theresa Zagnoli is a founding partner and CEO of Chicago-based litigation consulting firm Zagnoli McEvoy Foley LLC.  From her 25-plus years in the field, she shares the communications insights, advice, tactics and skills that litigators can use to effectively advocate for clients and communicate critical information in the courtroom. Reach Theresa with thoughts or questions at tzagnoli@zmf.com or 312.494.1700.

In my 26 years as a jury and litigation consultant, I’ve helped nearly 1,500 witnesses prepare for depositions, trials, arbitration and hearings. From those hundreds of hours of sitting in rooms with witnesses and their counsel, I’ve learned that the strongest, most effective lawyers – about 50 percent of those I’ve seen in action — are also the best at communicating the need for preparation.

Lawyers who prepare their witnesses generally follow a similar pattern – they show respect to the person testifying, they insist on the truth and they instruct the witness to talk to the jury or audience instead of to the lawyer.

Perhaps most importantly, they share with witnesses their case strategies, proposed themes and arguments. Doing so gives the witness context of how his or her testimony will strengthen the lawyer’s argument.

A consistent process for prepping witnesses results in strong witnesses. Happily, witnesses of all sizes and shapes want to succeed in their task. Rarely do we meet a personal, professional or fact witness who wants to be embarrassed, lose face, get tongue-tied or otherwise fail the team.

Based on my experience, a good witness preparation team follows these steps:

  1. Limits the number of people in the room.
  2. Provides outlines of direct and cross examination questions.
  3. Schedules multiple sessions, time permitting.
  4. Allows the witness to do most of the talking.
  5. Encourages the witness to find his/her own words.
  6. Takes time to consider visual aides.
  7. Keeps the witness focused on trier-of-fact.
  8. Does not denigrate the judge or the jury.
  9. Videotapes at least one session with the witness. (This step is frequently sacrificed in deposition preparation with the answer “yes” and “no” instruction which is not an issue unless the deposition is being videotaped. There is a fine line to walk between being cooperative versus responding succinctly to the question being asked. If the balance is not found, the witness will seem reluctant and unbelievable on video.)
  10. Provides honest and critical feedback.

When a witness leaves a session with a good team of communicators he or she will be a little nervous, slightly relieved and will have a bundle of homework. Time constraints aside, people are willing to practice as long as we are willing to teach them something of value.

Communication is not an art, it is proven scientific theory. Smart and successful lawyers employ the science of communication to enhance not only their witness prep, but their practice overall.

Your Client Wants to Talk To The Press: Ethical Considerations in High-Profile Matters

Debra Pickett is President of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that your client is NOT Rod Blagojevich.

Still, if you handle issues that get public attention, whether over the neighborhood grapevine or the national news, you’ve probably been faced with clients chomping at the bit to get the facts out and tell their side of the story.  Your first priority, of course, is the legal issue at hand.  And your next, quite naturally, is avoiding any trial publicity that might threaten the fairness of the proceedings in the matter.  So, your instincts (and experience) might tell you that it’s best to keep your client away from reporters and social media entirely.

Certainly, there are plenty of good reasons to be concerned – you don’t want or need to see your legal strategy laid out in a public forum before adjudicative proceedings even begin.  But there are also some great advantages, for your client and you, in keeping some channels of communication open.  How can you best advise your clients in these situations, while still doing your most effective and ethical work?

First, know the relevant codes of professional conduct and understand how they come into play.  What information is off-limits in extrajudicial statements?  If there has been recent adverse publicity – not initiated by you or your client – Illinois’ rules of professional conduct do allow you to make public statements that protect your client from the prejudicial effects of that publicity.  In other words, silence is not the only ethical response.

Second, consider your client’s temperament and how you can help mitigate risks and limit exposure created when he or she speaks publicly.  Does your client need a “minder” to be present during media interviews or should someone offer coaching in advance of a conversation to clarify what needs to be kept confidential?  These services might be available to your client through a public relations firm already on retainer or through resources connected to your own marketing department.

Third and finally, take a moment to talk with your client about the long-term and strategic impact of the public statements they wish to make.  Are there implications for their relationships with customers, employees and neighbors?  While the immediate instinct to respond to negative publicity by “fighting fire with fire” is certainly understandable, there are probably more productive ways to engage in civic conversations about important matters.  Finding ways to promote your client’s overall image in the community and nurture key connections can go a long way towards mitigating the damage done by rumors and concerns over a contentious matter.

After giving some attention to these three considerations, you’re in a great position to help your client make good decisions about how to communicate with all the various stakeholders and constituencies interested in the high-profile matter you’re handling.  Now, of course, if our first assumption wasn’t valid and your client actually IS Rod Blagojevich, well, that’s an entirely different advice column!