- Consider a company that maintains your website for you.
- Do not use your nephew or niece (insert relative or friend of your choice) who does it in his/her spare time.
- Obtain a domain name. Check GoDaddy. GoDaddy has a template website building feature that is reasonably priced. If you do not have time or the knowledge on how to set up and maintain a website, then you should look for a company who does this for a living.
- Set a budget.
- Get a professional e-mail account. Do not make my mistake. My first account was [email protected]. How often do you think I did not get an e-mail due to entry errors from others? I regularly would ask people for their e-mail and I would send them an e-mail so they could copy it.
- Obtain Twitter account.
- If you are going to use Twitter. Get 2 accounts. Separate your personal comments from your business. Check out this post on what to do and not to do.
- Before you send out something on Twitter, pause. Are you sending out something that you want to represent your firm? Your political views will most likely alienate one-half of the population today. Learn what the hashtag is all about. Include other entities in your Tweet such as @ICLEF, @INDIANASTATEBAR OR @RAMATTORNEYS. If they like or retweet it you have just been exposed to all of their followers too.
- Have a disclaimer on all accounts.
- Do not follow everyone who asks. Many may be bots. You should look at their profile. When I check a profile I look to who they follow and who follows them and decide if these are people I want to associate with professionally.
- Avoid claiming you are an expert or specialist unless you are and then say it properly.
- Rule 7.4 (d) states “A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist in a particular field of law, unless: … .”
- Are you violating this rule by saying you are a “Criminal Law Attorney”?
- Do not make claims that are not true. While a used car salesman can use puffing and the courts may allow it, you cannot. Do you want the puffing coming back to haunt you? I have read a web site where the lawyer claims to have 27 years of experience in civil litigation but had only been a lawyer for 7 years.
- Currently Indiana only recognizes 5 specialties.
- Write a Blog.
- Do your research first. Check out and subscribe to Lawyerist. See Hunter v. Virginia State Bar, where the court held that the blog constituted advertising and is, therefore, subject to the state bar advertising rules. The dissent had an excellent argument you should read.
- Are you disclosing client information in a blog if you write about one of your cases? Do you need the client’s consent to discuss the case? Can you publish publicly available information about the case?
- Respond quickly to contacts.
- I have a website through Findlaw which has an e-mail contact form. I generally respond in some way as soon as I receive the e-mail. Since I began doing this, I have found an increase in the number of clients we obtain from these contacts. I do not give them legal advice, but I ask for the opposing party’s name for running conflicts and if close to a computer I run a conflict check through our system. If it is an area of law we practice, I then direct them to our forms section of the website and ask they download and upload to us the intake form and appropriate questionnaire. I also inform them if they return these and other necessary documents such as leases, court orders, contracts, etc. that the attorney can review them in advance of the appointment and it will make the appointment intake and process more streamlined.
- If they are asking about an area we do not handle, then I inform them of such. If it is the Prince from Saudi Arabia with oil wells or the woman from Japan who has a million-dollar divorce agreement she wants enforced, I have a stock response saved to my computer that politely sends them away. I do not ignore such contacts as I know a lawyer who received a case to enforce a large divorce agreement this way.
- Do not have a website that allows web reviews. If you have Facebook you can disable this.
- Avvo allows web reviews. A lawyer in Florida had someone review that lawyer claiming to be the lawyer’s client. The lawyer sued Jane Doe and then subpoenaed Avvo to disclose who the person actually was. A federal law exists protecting websites from disclosing commenters. You can only force the web site to turn over the information about the person if you can show a substantial likelihood of obtaining a judgment against the person. Avvo also has a choice of laws which requires you to sue in Washington, or it did at the time of that suit. They challenged turning over the information and were successful. The case is Thomson v. Doe. For an interesting but a different situation in Florida is the case of Blake v. Ann-Marie Giustibelli, P.A., 2016 BL 1940, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist., No. 4AD14-3231, 1/6/16. Read the Bloomberg news article which discusses the issues.
- My website has reviews but they are selected by us. These reviews come from clients who have made such comments unsolicited. We obtain their permission before posting them and we do not identify the client. Other comments are comments by our peers and others that have been posted on our LinkedIn page or other sites.
- Use the information your websites give you and keep the website up to date.
- Findlaw and I am sure most companies give you monthly traffic reports. I have used these over the years to alter out marketing. A few years ago, I noticed that many of the searches that ended up on our site were landlord-tenant. I adjusted the website promoting one of our lawyers in that area. We now have landlord-tenant business that accounts for approximately $7,500 to $10,000 a month. We represent both landlords and tenants. That makes the conflict check very important as we screen by client name as well as owner, property manager and complex.
- I do not understand SEO nor am I sure what it means. I am told that Google and other search engines check to see if your site has changed and so it is important to change your site on a regular basis. This does not mean you need to rewrite it but you can update with changes in the areas you practice.
- Use free marketing but have everything lead you back to your main website.
- LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Google +, Google My Business, Avvo, and Facebook are all free. In Facebook, be wary of their settings. Even though you set them they change periodically. If you use Facebook Messenger, the default is to allow Facebook to read your messages. If you do not change this, you or your client may be waiving privilege. You should either not use this method or make sure you change the default to encrypted. These messages are different than posts such as say happy birthday to someone. For other issues on ethical challenges an excellent article appears in the Touro Law Review. You can also submit articles to your local newspaper. Most newspapers have websites and they have cut budgets for reporters and are always looking for content.
- Warn your clients about posting and sharing your communications with others. The US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in Lenz v. Universal Music Corp, 2010 WL 4780900 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 17, 2010) that the client’s postings on social media, chats with friends, blog postings and e-mails to friends discussing the attorney-client communications was sufficient to waive the privilege and, therefore, the court required the attorney to provide those communications.
- Be careful when contacting or being contacted by other parties or people involved in your case.
- Can you friend or have your staff friend someone represented by counsel? NO. You would think is an easy one but read Robertelli v. The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics. Also, see Rule 4.2 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct. In the above case the firm had their paralegal make a friend request of the other party after that party had made his page private. They had the paralegal friend him as some random person. In addition to violations of New Jersey’s version of 4.2 they were also charged with violation of New Jersey’s version of Rule 8.4 (c) Rule 8.4. Misconduct “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: …(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;….
- Even contacting unrepresented people including witnesses can be an issue. Could you have a clerk ask to friend someone who is not represented as above without disclosing that they are employed by opposing counsel? I think not. See Rule 8.4 Dealing with Unrepresented Persons. “In dealing on behalf of a client with a person who is not represented by counsel, a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is disinterested.”
- In addition to the issues of your client waiving privilege you should warn them about the effect of postings on their case.The Indiana Court of Appeals has allowed Facebook posts into evidence. For an analysis of the case see my articles on Facebook and Twitter posts being used in cases as evidence.
Prepared by Richard A. Mann of Mann Law, P.C. Attorneys at Law, www.rmannlawoffice.com
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