Category: Personal Rantings

Does Communication Overload Impact Civility in the Profession?

I have  theory, but I’m not sure I have any answers.    I’m hoping you do, and will take the time to express your thoughts.

My theory starts with a base assumption that most people in the legal environment are suffering from information-overload anxiety.  Some refer to the new forms of communication known as social media as a “sea change” in communications.  I don’t think it’s a change; meaning that these forms of communication have not replaced traditional forms of communication.  Rather, it’s more like a Tsunami.  New forms of communication have been added in addition to traditional forms.

Yes, for the most part, email attachments have replaced faxes.  And in that one respect, we’re dealing with change.  But we now must process additional forms of communication.  Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, eNewsletters, Tweets, Blog posts, Alerts, Listservs, Discussion Groups, and text messaging.  This on top of traditional business-related email, voicemail, and for some, video mail.

If I’m out of the office just one day, I come back to a backlog of 350 – 450 emails, mostly excluding spam.  That means on the day I’m back in the office I will have to go through 700 – 900 emails to stay current.  On top of all the other work waiting for me.  Yeah, right!

Even though I teach lawyers and law firm staff how to use Rules and Folders to allow the cream to rise to the top of the inbox, and follow those suggestions myself, it’s just not enough anymore.  What’s that old saying?  The faster I go the farther behind I get!

Over the span of several decades serving the legal industry, I have observed a myriad of changes.  Some have been for the good, some not.  A matured marketplace presents profitability and competitive challenges.  The pendulum has swung from flat fee to hourly billing, and back toward flat fee in many practice areas.

From my perspective, one of the most undesirable consequences of industry changes has been a considerable decrease in the civility which had been an outstanding characteristic of this profession.

Have you noticed it?  Simple courtesy seems all but lost.  One-upmanship prevails.  Competitors act more like enemies than colleagues.

I am writing an article for an upcoming issue of  The Pennsylvania Lawyer.  It’s the annual technology issue.  However, even though I am a “techie” from the perspective of most, and am always promoting working smarter instead of harder through effective use of technology, I firmly believe that the entire legal industry is being crushed under the daily onslaught of communications.  I believe each and every lawyer is trying to keep their head above water in this area.  And I conclude that this constant barrage is making a lot of you cranky . . . really, really cranky.

Tell me what you think. Are you suffering from information overload? Are your colleagues? What techniques have worked, and which have failed, to help you stay on top? Does the pressure get to you? Are you crankier than you used to be?  Or are you just cranky for a whole set of other reasons?

Please share!

Children Responsible for Parental Debt

I never heard of the “filial responsibility” laws.  Until I read about a PA resident who must pay for Mom’s $93,000 Nursing Home bill.  Now that I’ve read about it, I’m sure glad my sister has the “deep pocket” in our family.

I thought my first post when I returned from TechShow would be about one of the many wonderful lessons learned.  I was in fact going to post diligently from there.  But the Chicago Hilton has about the worst Wi-Fi access I’ve encountered.  It was tough just getting a cell phone signal.  It was fairly humorous to see so many lawyers with cell phones to their ears and bodies literally plastered to the windows like some sort of human antennae.  At night, when I got back to the room after the myriad of social events, I was just too tired to think, let alone write.

Now that I’m back I’m anxious to share, but an article in the Anderson Elder Law Newsletter entitled “Son Liable for Mom’s $93,000 Nursing Home Bill Under ‘Filial Responsibility’ Law” really caught my attention.  How could that be?  Well, it be!  And I am so shocked by this, I feel compelled to share it right now.  The article explains:

Some 29 states currently have laws making adult children responsible for their parents if their parents can’t afford to take care of themselves. These “filial responsibility” laws have rarely been enforced, but six years ago when federal rules made it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid long-term care coverage, some elder law attorneys predicted that nursing homes would start using the laws as a way to get care paid for.

And it was precisely the application of this law which caused the son to be forced to take financial responsibility.  Unbelievably, the law does not require it to consider other sources of income or to wait until a parent’s Medicaid claim is resolved.  Even more pernicious is that the law permits the nursing home to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.  In this particular case, they ignored a spouse and other siblings, and went after the apparent “deep pocket.”

Linda Anderson notes that after Pennsylvania re-enacted its filial support law in the mid-2000s, Williamsport attorney Jeffrey A. Marshall forecast that the new Medicaid law would trigger a wave of lawsuits involving adult children.  Obviously, he was correct, and this is just the beginning of what may become a tidal wave of lawsuits.  In Marshall’s blog post about this court decision he writes:

Children are often surprised to learn that they can be held responsible for their parent’s unpaid medical and care related expenses. It just doesn’t seem fair. But, whether fair or not, the Pittas case shows that the child’s support obligation to the parent is the law in Pennsylvania.  Children: be warned. If your parent needs long term care and may someday be unable to pay for it, you should find out about your potential financial liability and what to do about it.

So what is the son supposed to do, now that he has lost his appeal?  Is he to sue his father and siblings for their “fair share” of the debt?  Declare bankruptcy?  I’m just thinking out loud on this, while I shake my head in disbelief.  Our lives are already so stressful . . . raising children in a two-income household, trying to care for aging parents, trying to save for retirement in an ever-increasing financially hostile future environment, and to have some quality of life and semblance of balance in the current moment.  Is this the straw which breaks the back of American families?

I am so grateful I “strongly encouraged” my mom to purchase optional Long Term Care Insurance through her employer’s Cafeteria Plan some 30 years ago, so that it’s there if she needs it.   We found out from personal experience about 2 years ago how quickly the bills can mount after my mother suffered a fall at home.  The nursing home costs, followed by rehab at home, and then extended personal care until she was recovered enough to be completely on her own again, added up to a huge amount of money which her Medicare and additional excess policy didn’t cover.   They paid plenty, don’t get me wrong.  But there was a lot of uncovered additional expense, especially the personal in-home care, which cost a fortune.  At least the Long Term Care contributed toward some of that once the elimination period was passed.  (Although I admit I had to really duke it out with them to get her benefit paid, despite her making premium payments like clockwork for 30 years.  But hey, don’t even get me started on the topic of insurance companies!  🙁  )

If you have living parents, this is not something you can afford to ignore.  Make sure they have adequate insurance coverage, and talk to an Elder Care attorney just to see what risks you face, and how you might avoid them.  The investment to protect yourself now is a pittance compared to the potential exposure later.

 

Law Firm Layoffs Continue — Quietly — to the Detriment of Service Partners

At a recent presentation to students at a local law school, I emphasized that law firms are still downsizing, in order to deal with continuing underutilization.  The layoffs are not as spectacular as they were in the past few years, and therefore rarely make headlines like this recent one anymore.  But they continue nonetheless.

I was making this point in order to emphasize the perils of becoming a service partner.  In “olden days” this was often called a “worker bee” partner.  In the Finders, Minders, Grinders scenario, this would be a Minder as a partner, or perhaps Grinder as a partner or associate.  In short, if you are not familiar with these terms, we are referring to an attorney whose career involves servicing clients of some other partner(s).

How does one become a service partner?  Early in one’s career, one is convinced by one or more partners with heavy books of business, that they do not have to do any rainmaking on their own in order to do well, and even to become a partner; just service the partner(s) clients and that will be sufficient.

Many a capable attorney has been drawn by the siren’s call of no marketing necessity, and the ability to do nothing but practice law to their greatest capacity.  Many have made the ranks of partner, although for the majority who worked at firms with non-equity partners, that is the level of partner they achieved.  Still, even without a share of profits, and perhaps no say in management, having the title and a nice compensation package was more than adequate when coupled with the ability to ignore rainmaking responsibilities.

Here’s the problem.  It’s a lie.  Maybe a good-intentioned lie, but a self-serving lie nonetheless.  Because when a lawyer depends on someone else to fill his or her plate with work, in all likelihood that lawyer will eventually have an empty plate, and no justification for continued employment.  In some small percentage of such cases, the service partner may eventually “inherit” the desirable clients when the rainmaking attorney dies or retires.  But that assumes that the rainmaking attorney makes it a point to actively work on succession such that the relationships that matter are passed on to the service partner.  In my experience, that’s not going to happen often.  So eventually, at the point in one’s career when the attorney expects to start working less hard, he or she becomes a liability due to a lack of work, and has to start all over again somewhere else, or as a solo with no business and lots of experience.

Some firms have called me in to deliver the bad news, because no one within the firm had the ability to look the 70+ year old attorney in the face and tell him/her that the firm could no longer economically justify their existence at the firm.  The feelings of betrayal are incalculable.  The attorney feels that the “deal” with the firm required them to continue to fill his/her plate.  Why aren’t other partners, younger partners, feeding them work to make up for the partner who retired or died?  Simple:  they are going to push the work downward, so as to maximize their profit, as well as their control.  They are not comfortable pushing the work up.  They can not critique performance comfortably, and many times, the older partner doesn’t treat their clients with the same significance as clients from the more senior partner(s) who used to feed them work.

Law firms today can’t afford to elevate attorneys to true equity partnership positions unless they are also rainmakers.  So don’t be drawn by the siren’s call of alleviation of rainmaking necessity, to rocky waters where your ship will eventually crash and sink.  Stay the course.  Even if it means asserting your rights to keep some time to work on your own meager clients, as you build your book of business.  Your very existence will some day depend on it.

Goodbye Mr. Lucky Boy – Dealing with Inevitable Loss

This is an intensely personal post.  Some of you may want to skip it.  It’s not the normal type of discourse for this blog.  It’s about loss and bereavement.  But this once I am breaking my rule and thinking about the writer instead of the audience.  I need to write this.

Mr. Lucky Boy — an old dog still willing to learn new tricks!

This is Mr. Lucky Boy.  He’s a sweet old black Lab who has been a resident of “Camp Freedman” for over 14 years.  He has distinguished himself in two ways that a Lab has never done before.

1)  Lucky had his picture displayed on the front cover of the December 3, 2012 issue of The Pennsylvania Bar News.  He accomplished this because of the accompanying article I authored in that issue entitled “Meet Mr. Lucky Boy.”  I’m quite sure no other dog has ever graced the front cover of this publication.

2)  Lucky’s father appeared on the back cover of a book entitled “Legends in Labradors” which was written by Nancy Martin in 1980.  Nancy Martin was a highly regarded breeder of champion Labrador retrievers.  She produced many champions over the years, including Lucky’s father, who was one of the most noteworthy.  Not many Labs have a father who has graced the back cover of a book about Labs.

Nancy Martin was a judge for decades at many prestigious dog shows in the U.S. and abroad.  She was a gentle and loving person.  And to my great fortune, lived right in my neighborhood.  She interviewed me for about an hour on the telephone, and then in person for another two hours, before she would allow me to meet the puppies.

What a wonderful selection of yellow, black, and brown fuzzy faces, bright eyes, kissable noses, and stumpy wagging tails.   I paid attention to every single pup before selecting Lucky.  Truth be told, the selection process was mutual.   A few weeks later I picked Lucky up to bring him home.  As I left, Nancy bestowed a complimentary copy of her book, inscribed with “To Ellen and Lucky, Lots of happy days together.”   And we have indeed had more than our share of happy days.

The Superstar in Puppy Kindergarden

Lucky excelled at everything.  He was housebroken almost immediately.  He was the darling of puppy kindergarten, much to the resentment of the other owners.  The trainer always picked Lucky to demonstrate every command, because he always got it right the first time.

On his first day home, I had some perennials which had to be planted.  As soon as I started to dig the first hole, Lucky used his paws to assist, sending dirt flying everywhere.  When I took the perennial out of the pot and tossed the pot aside, Lucky stuck his head into the pot.  When he stood up with the pot on his head he could see nothing.  He starting running wildly around the yard, tail wagging, and barking, until he ran into a huge tree and fell back on his haunches.  Apparently he really liked that, because he put his head back into the pot and did it a few more times.  Every year of his life he has enjoyed carrying around and playing with empty pots as I transfer new plants to my garden beds.

He has always had a joy for life and all types of adventures.  It took him just a couple of months to learn how to leap into the air to catch a Frisbee or ball, and he always brought it back and placed it into my hand.  He had an insatiable appetite for play.  He especially loved playing tug of war with the neighbor’s golden retriever.  They were great friends.

 

A loving and indulging “father”

Bagel the Boxer was born exactly one year to the day after Lucky.  She didn’t have much of a pedigree, but was sweet as sugar.  When I brought her home, she was a mere 4.5 lbs., and Lucky was a muscular 99 lbs.  He was so gentle with her.  He indulged her by allowing her to sleep on him for warmth and security.  He constantly groomed her.  He taught her to play tug of war.  And he caused her to think she was a Lab, because to this day she always greets people with a toy in her mouth, just like him.

He was no less indulgent when Checkers the Cat was rescued from certain death at 4 weeks of age; abandoned by her mother.  About 4 years ago we added Pepper the Pug.  Shortly thereafter we made room unexpectedly for Pixel the Pug, who was in desperate need of adoption.  Both puppies were welcomed to Camp Freedman with loving licks and a warm body to cuddle.  The addition of the pugs gave both Lucky and Bagel, who were getting on in years, a newborn zest for life.  Scampering feet and tugs of war abounded.  Pixel the Pug greets everyone with a toy in his mouth, thanks to Lucky.  And he has learned to fetch and return the ball by watching Lucky.

Pepper and Pixel the Pugs cuddling Lucky

Of course, everyone loves their pets.  Everyone thinks their pets are exceptional.  But I have to say that while Lucky never got the chance to distinguish himself publicly as a champion like his father, he has been the perfect example of the characteristics prize Labradors should have.  Nancy Martin — may she rest in peace — would be so proud of the last puppy in the line of champions she bred since the 1960’s.

There is great sadness tonight at Camp Freedman.  Me and my husband are openly weeping together.  Tomorrow, Lucky will take his final trip to the vet, and he will not be coming home.  It’s his time, and I will not allow him to suffer.  As he fades into sleep he will be in my arms.  I will be stoking his head, kissing his wonderful nose, and whispering in his ear words of appreciation for all the joy and love he has brought into my life, and into the lives of the other residents of Camp Freedman, for all these years.  With his final breath he will hear “good dog” and “I love you.”   He deserves no less.

I worry about Bagel.  She is so attached to him, that I am fearful she will prematurely follow him from a broken heart.  And I worry about my husband the most.  He never had a pet before I came into his life.  He wasn’t prepared for the way pets can completely capture the heart in ways people cannot.  He has never experienced this loss.  I have had pets my whole life.  I am prepared for the inevitable loss.  I know that dying is the natural conclusion to living.  It doesn’t hurt less.  But at least I have the comfort of knowing the hurt subsides to a sweet ache over time, tempered by wonderful memories.

For those of you who have read to this point, I want to thank you.  Writing this last tribute to Lucky is the smallest first step in my grieving process.  Knowing that even one person reads this, gives me comfort.  If you would just think a loving thought tomorrow (Friday) at 11:00 am for Lucky, somehow it will be felt by him, I’m sure.  Thinking that at least one person out there will pause and acknowledge the passing of such a magnificent and loving creature gives me comfort.

Years ago, when my father passed away after a long illness, I wrote an article entitled “Stranger At the Door” which appears on my web site.  I wrote it for the same reason I write this.  Catharsis.  The article talks about the process of grieving and dealing with loss.  If you ever find you need it, it’s there for you as well.  Thank you for allowing me to share this experience with you.

 

 

Is It Time to Change Jobs?

A terrific, short article on a FindLaw Blog lists “5 Signs You Need to Leave Your Law Firm Job.”  I’ve added five more reasons to change jobs, based on experience:

6.  Banging your head against a wall.  You feel like you’re fighting the same battles repeatedlyEach time, you’ve run into the same wall, and you don’t see any change coming in the foreseeable future.  It’s probably time to throw in the towel.

7.  Kicking the dog.  Your frustration and stress level is so high you take it out on the loving creatures and people in your life.  Attorneys don’t handle stress well as it is.  If yours rises to a consistently intolerable level, move on before your family tells you it’s time to move out.

8.  Rampant paranoia.  You are convinced that hushed conversations are about you, and that you’re the punch line of a joke when you hear people in the office laughing.  Remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t really out to get you.

9.  Extreme eating.  There is no happy in-between.  You either have no appetite whatsoever, or can’t get enough Chunky Monkey to reach a level of satisfaction.  When you need safety pins to keep your skirt from falling off, or to help close the waistline gap in your pants, it’s time to make a move for the sake of your health.

10.  Hair bristling on the back of your neck.  When the mere sound of a voice — that of a partner, staff member, colleague, or client — makes the hair on your neck stand up, it’s time to pack it up and leave before you do or say something really stupid.

Care to add more based on your own experience?

 

 

IBM – Not Just About Computers

Any baby boomer like myself hears “IBM” and thinks computers.  Soon we may be associating them with a cure for deadly superbugs.  An article in CNET News entitled “IBM says it has tool to kill deadly drug-resistant superbugs” announces that IBM, working in conjunction with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, say they have come up with what they’re calling an antimicrobial hydrogel that can successfully fight the superbugs that are behind killers like MRSA.

I can vouch for the severity of MRSA.  My father picked it up in the hospital and it ate a hole to the bone in his leg within a week.  It took months of IV antibiotic treatment to bring under control.  We were fortunate he responded to the treatment.

IBM Research and its collaborators developed a remoldable synthetic antimicrobial hydrogel, comprised of more than 90% water, which, if commercialized, is ideal for applications like creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even orifice barriers.

Able to colonize on almost any tissue or surface, microbial biofilms – which are adhesive groupings of diseased cells present in 80% of all infections – persist at various sites in the human body, especially in association with medical equipment and devices. They contribute significantly to hospital-acquired infections, which are among the top five leading causes of death in the United States and account for up to $11 billion in healthcare spending each year.

This is an amazing medical breakthrough.  Ultimately it may  have a greater impact than the ubiquitous IBM computer ever did.  Bravo IBM.  Now let me call my stockbroker!

Proud to Participate 20 Years Later

A little over twenty years ago, I took a bold step.  I had participated as an active and appreciative member of the Association of Legal Administrators since 1984, having become an “official” member of the international association, and the local Philadelphia Chapter, in August, 1985.  During the following years I took increasingly responsible roles in the local chapter.  I chaired virtually every event the chapter offered.  And I spent three years serving on its Board of Directors: one as secretary and two as vice president.  I also participated at the international level; mostly by speaking at Regional and National conferences, and writing articles for the Association’s many newsletters.

During those many years of participation, I brought many new members from suburban law firms into the fold.  But those members struggled to find relevance and commonality of experience with urban, larger-firm colleagues.  So in late 1991, I, along with colleague Patricia Sierzant,  took the steps necessary to separate from the Philadelphia Chapter, and form our own Chapter:  Independence Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators.

We were worried that we would not have sufficient members to get our charter.  When our charter was issued on February 9, 1992, we had a scant 11 members.  We were loud and proud of our new-found independence; hence our name.  Within months of our founding we issued our first newsletter.  In the first year we had our first educational event, vendor expo, and managing partner appreciation event.  I served proudly as president for the first two years, and as newsletter editor for 11 straight years. 

Today, the Chapter boasts well over 50 members in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Lehigh counties.   On October 5, 2012, I attended the Chapter’s 20th Anniversary Celebration.  Ten of the Chapter’s 13 past presidents were in attendance.  A testament to the strong personal and professional relationships our participation in the ALA fostered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured, from left to right, are the past presidents:  Suzanne Cressman (2002-2003), Janet Molloy (2003-2005), Marian Law Burns (1995-1996), Patricia L. Sierzant (1993-1995), Ellen Freedman (1991-1993), Joan Wean (1998-1999), Melissa Bunch (2007-2008), Kitty Malcolm (2000-2002), Amy Coral (2008-2010) and Adelaine Williams (2010-2011).   

The Chapter’s Fall 2012 Newsletter “Patriot News” just arrived in my inbox.  Today it is completely digital.  Back when I was editor, it was a beautiful 2-color printed edition which ran 36 – 40 pages, and won awards, usually the top award bestowed by ALA, each year.  It started in WordPerfect 5.1 DOS, and I remember the struggle I had converting it to Word for Windows.  What a dream it must be to produce this new crisp full-color digital issue!  Inside the issue was a recap of the 20th Anniversary event.   But that wasn’t all.

The Newsletter had an article and pictures regarding the Bar Liaison “Lunch and Learn” educational series in August, 2012. This widely popular event is co-hosted by the Bar Associations of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh and Montgomery counties, and is held at each of the Bar Association locations.  This year’s topic was Microsoft Word 2010 – A Refresher, and I had the honor of being the presenter at each hour-long session.

The Newsletter also featured an article entitled “It’s Time to Teach Young Lawyers What They Really Need to Know: Habits Essential to a Healthy Bottom Line” which was written by — you guessed it –me!

 Here I am, all these years later, still participating in what will forever remain in my mind as one of the best professional organizations in the world.  I don’t qualify for membership in the international Association of Legal Administrators, despite my position as Law Practice Manager for the PA Bar Association, because I am also a consultant.  But I am a proud Life Member of the Independence Chapter (albeit not with all the rights of a regular member).  Although I don’t get to participate as often as I’d like, I still enjoy keeping in touch with friends and people I still regard as colleagues.  They are a family I am not willing to give up, and I am grateful they still treat me as such.

My strongest belief when I joined the Association of Legal Administrators was that I would get out more than I ever put in.  The more active I was, the more I would learn and develop as a leader in my field.  I took on whatever challenges were thrown at me, and actively sought out others.  And from my perspective, my efforts and dedication paid off in full.  For those of you who have office managers and administrators who are not active in the association, I urge you to push them to not only join, but actively participate.  Your firm will realize an enormous return on investment.  The firms I served in the past will all attest to that.

My appreciation to all of the members of the Independence Chapter, and so many members of the  international association who still remain in touch.   May your new year be rewarding personally and professionally.  And may your growth opportunities continue.

 

Dealing with Loss of a Loved One

This time of year brings the joy of the holidays, and often the devastating loss of loved ones.  Many elderly and ailing lose long-term battles at year-end.  Here in the northeast part of the U.S. we tend to think that the harshness of winter overcomes what little energy and determination remains.  But that fails to explain the phenomenon in other parts of the country.  I tend to think that there’s just a sense of closure provided as the year comes to an end.  It’s a time when those weary of fighting for their lives are willing to concede with dignity.  I was reminded of this when I received an email today from someone who lost his grandmother this past Sunday.  He writes, “I have not been the same since.  I’m back at work trying to distract myself.”

Just reading those words brought memories flooding back.  I was exceptionally fortunate to have all four grandparents in my life to the age of 27.  Then I lost one grandparent each year for the next 4 years.  The grief was overwhelming.  It was not until many years later, when I lost my father, that I explored the process of grief, in an attempt to enable me to endure and conquer it once again.  I learned much that was instantly validated based on my prior experiences when losing my grandparents.  Probably the most comforting concept, which “my people” have believed for thousands of years, is that the deceased live on in our memories.  An essential part of the grieving process includes transforming our relationship with the departed into one which is different, but can extend into the future without being harmful to our daily lives and the experience of contentment and joy.

The whole concept of sitting Shiva is designed to assist the bereaved in transforming their relationship with the deceased.  It is about undistracted time spent with relatives, friends, and loved ones in remembering and sharing the best memories about the deceased.  It is about allowing the bereaved to openly express the grief felt by their loss. 

For those of you who have recently experienced loss, or just want to understand better what friends and family members  — perhaps employees or coworkers —  might be going through, I recommend the article “Stranger at the Door.”  I wrote it after the passing of my father in 2005, to help me come to terms with the loss.  Some of you should have a tissue handy.  For most, it will educate and enlighten you about the grieving process.

Is It a Bird? A Train? Lawyers Who Leap Buildings in a Single Bound

There are so many designations nowadays for lawyers.  Super Lawyers is at the top:  those who wear a cape and are able to leap over buildings (or at least adversaries) in a single bound.  Best Of Lawyers.  AV rated lawyers.  A dizzying array of seemingly distinguishing designations.  The question of ethically advertising them, though, is still being asked.  As recently as yesterday, in fact.   And the answers are being largely ignored.  Mostly because so many attorneys have already ignored the answers, or failed to even ask the question in the first place, so that when an attorney looks at what their competitors have done, the “correct” answer seems to put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Keep in mind that just because some (many) attorneys list these designations inappropriately or improperly, it doesn’t mean it will pass muster with the Disciplinary Board.  There’s no safety in numbers.  Even if a thousand other attorneys do it wrong the same way you do, if someone makes a complaint about a particular firm, say your firm, that firm will be sanctioned.  Fortunately for most attorneys, the D-Board is so backed up with complaint investigations and hearings, they have no time to “prowl” to enforce.

I wrote about this in a post entitled “Have the PA Rules Regarding Lawyer Advertising Changed?” way back in August, 2006.  I stuck my neck out later that year in a post entitled “More on Lawyer Advertising” in which I declared my opinion that it would be best to have all attorney advertising in PA require pre-publication approvement in the same manner as in Florida.  It was not well-received, but I said it for exactly the reason set forth above, what is happening is a perpetuation of incorrect practices, simply because an overburdened Disciplinary Board barely has time to respond to complaints, let alone act on a proactive basis to enforce the PA Rules.

Let’s revisit once again what must happen in PA with respect to all these designations, under Rule 1.7.  From PA Informal Opinion 2005-188 we see this comment: 

“ . . .assuming you were voted “Best Lawyer of X County”, while the statement may be factually accurate, without an explanation regarding the basis for the designation, it could be deemed misleading and, thus, constitute a violation of Rule 7.1. . . . the inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.”

In Philadelphia Opinion 2004-10:

 “It is the opinion of the Committee that, although an attorney advertisement may state that an attorney has been designated a “Super Lawyer,” it may only do so when the advertisement contains sufficiently detailed information about that process and criteria for the reader to whom the advertisement is directed, to determine the manner and context within which the designation was made. Blanket statements that do not provide accurate and sufficient contextual information concerning ratings or other similar appellations do not comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, currently and as amended January 1, 2005.”

I think these are pretty clear.  As long as there is some notation about the process and criteria for the award, it may be mentioned.  Otherwise it is potentially misleading. 

While I am on this rant, let me remind you that you cannot use subjective adjectives or comparisons in your advertising, which includes your web site.  Words like “better, more, smarter” are no-nos.  I see them all the time.  You can’t call yourself “expert” unless it is in one of the specifically designated specialties of law where one can earn the designation, such as intellectual property.  Again, I see these statements all the time, e.g.  “Attorney X is an expert in land use and acquisition.” 

I hate to sound like the Grinch.  The reason I see these violations as problematic has not changed since I wrote about it in 2006.  Like many of you, I am seriously concerned about the loss of esteem with which lawyers are regarded by the general population.  I think that the impact which some lawyer advertising has had on the public has been responsible for some of this.  And it is exactly the general population which is so easily misled by these ratings, and what they actually represent.  Without any context, a designatiion of Super Lawyer or Best Of will most certainly create expectations.  When those expectations are not met, those designations will become quickly devalued in the eyes of the general population.  And that affects those of you for whom the designation should be meaningful.  In short, when misused on a massive scale, these designations become completely ineffective as differentiators. 

 

Would You Recommend This Blog?

Each year there are a few well-known listings of top blogs.  Probably none are a better crowning jewel than the ABA Blawg 100.  I have watched as colleagues have been repeatedly nominated.  I have been delighted to see some PBA members win a place in the distinguished final listing.  Is it my turn? 

I have never asked anyone to nominate my blog before, and perhaps that explains why I have never had a shot at being listed.  But I am repeatedly reposted, tweeted, retweeted, and contacted privately with comment or question.  And the list of subscribers continues to steadily grow.  So I have to assume that a lot of you out there feel there is value found in this blog.  If you agree, perhaps you will take time to nominate this blog.  Below is the information received, verbatim, from ABA Journal:

Dear Blawgger:

We’re working on our annual list of the 100 best legal blogs, and we’d like your advice on which blawgs you think we should include.

Use the form at this link to tell us about a blawg—not your own—that you read regularly and think other lawyers should know about. Or if you don’t have particular blawgs in mind but think blawgs from a certain practice areas should be represented in the Blawg 100, you can use this form to let us know. Send us a separate message for each blawg you want to support. We may include some of the best comments in our Blawg 100 coverage. But keep your remarks pithy—you have a 500-character limit.

Friend-of-the-blawg briefs are due no later than 7 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012

About Blawg 100 Amici

Blawggers, by all means tell your readers about Blawg 100 Amici and invite them to send us messages on behalf of your blawg. But please know that we discourage amici from:

  • Blawggers who nominate their own blawgs or nominate blawgs to which they have previously contributed posts.
  • Wives and husbands who nominate their spouses’ blawgs. 
  • Employees of law firms who nominate blawgs written by their co-workers.
  • Public relations professionals in the employ of lawyers or law firms who nominate their clients’ blawgs.
  • Pairs of blawggers who have clearly entered into a gentlemen’s agreement to nominate each other.

There is no specific criteria that a blawgger can meet to be guaranteed a spot on the Blawg 100. And we think our list would suffer if there were. A blawg’s whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and a blawg that never fails to post that daily update, has a beautiful design and an unwavering topical focus can very often have less of an impact than another blawg that is less consistent on all fronts.

That said, please keep these criteria in mind when submitting Blawg 100 amici:

  • We’re primarily interested in blawgs in which the author is recognizable as someone working in a legal field or studying law in the vast majority of his or her posts.
  • The blawg should be written with an audience of legal professionals or law students—rather than potential clients or potential law students—in mind. 
  • The majority of the blawg’s content should be unique to the blawg and not cross-posted elsewhere or cut and pasted from other publications. 
  • We are not interested in blawgs that more or less exist to promote the author’s products and services.

Regards, 

Allen Pusey
Editor and Publisher
ABA Journal

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