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Letterpress BlogAttorneys looking for a strategic edge in a tough economy should take a few minutes to read how some New Hampshire lawyers are enhancing their practices and raising their profile.

Their solution? Blogging. And the lawyers interviewed by the talented Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar Association share the reasons that a law blog makes the difference. Here’s part of the story opening:

“‘I thought [blogging] was a great idea, but I figured other people must already be doing it,’” says [attorney Kysa] Crusco. ‘When I went home and did a web search, it turned out that there weren’t many, if any, family law blogs. The nhfamilylawblog.com URL was available, so I reserved it and contacted Lexblog. They got my blog up and running, and I started writing. I was able to see an immediate effect in articles that I posted and the potential clients that were calling for a consultation.’”

Kysa touches on what continues to be a surprise to me, 15 years after the first law blog was launched (though there’s debate on who was first): The surprise that, all these years later, relatively few lawyers write a blog. And that is a missed opportunity.

Let’s examine the necessary elements:

  1. There are 26 tools—if you count every letter of the alphabet.
  2. There is some modicum of writing ability.
  3. There is some practice knowledge.
  4. There is a small (and shrinking) technology aspect.

We already know that lawyers avoid math, not words, and every lawyer I know possesses a large amount of practice knowledge. So … what’s the boggle?

Typically, it comes down to a misunderstanding of strategy or—more particularly—differentiation. Here’s what I mean.

You probably think that potential clients can distinguish you from other lawyers in your practice area because, um, you went to a good law school. Or because you were in the Order of the Coif. Or served as Assistant Managing Editor on your law journal.

Of course, none of that distinguishes you (except to your mom, who always asks what was up with that “Assistant” in your title).

What does distinguish you is something that is wholly unique. No, not your fingerprint or hair whorl. I mean—writing.

The “creating content is hard” worry may be a significant one to you. But remember that more and more people will gauge your abilities not by your resume, but by a smidgen of content on your website. And they will devour that content; if it’s helpful stuff, they will come to you for more.

New Hampshire Bar Association logoThose who want to buy legal services are not seeking a terrific writer, so don’t let that put you off. But they do seek a person behind the website. They want to hear how you think.

A blog can do that. Sure, it takes a commitment of time. But at least it’s not math.

I was particularly intrigued by some of the findings of the New Hampshire Bar:

“To research this article, Bar News reached out to Bar members to submit information about their blogs and we have compiled a selective list. We also have conducted numerous searches on Google—just as many potential clients do—to find New Hampshire lawyers’ articles and blogs. The results were disappointing. There are only a few freestanding blogs offering timely advice that showcase the ability of lawyers to plainly explain current questions of law. Unfortunately, many blogs or articles on law firm websites are either out of date or populated by content designed not for readers, but for search-engine robots.”

blogging cartoon via AMP

Blogging: It’s just not that hard. (click to enlarge.)

I wonder what my results would be if I were to search for Arizona lawyer blogs. This past year, we did start a Blog Network on which any Arizona lawyer may add their link (and where we currently have more than 60). But there must be more out there.

And before you abandon blogging plans as a fad or idea that doesn’t gel with the profession, remember, as Dan Wise writes, “While SEO techniques are helpful in the 21st century world of digital marketing, certain old-fashioned values still apply: Success comes to those who prepare carefully and commit themselves to a strategy for the long haul.”

Sound like you? I thought so. Now, go back and finish that New Hampshire story.

Please contact me if you ever want to talk about blogging. I’m curious how it affects your practice.

pro bono gavelFans of lawyers and the service they provide (count me in) always look forward to Law Day. Traditionally close to early May, Law Day helps cement the important connection between members of the public, attorneys, judges and the rule of law.

Searching for “law day” in my blog leads to a surprising number of hits over the years. Clearly, I am taken by the pro bono value attorneys provide (here is last year’s post). And this year is no exception.

Like last year, the State Bar of Arizona’s approach will be to offer free legal advice clinics, in the Valley and in Tucson. The clinics will cover a wide variety of legal topics, including landlord and tenant; bankruptcy and foreclosure; immigration; and divorce, child support and paternity.

Volunteer lawyers will conduct the 90-minute “information sessions.”

State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_Color“Guests can participate in one or more sessions at one of the five partner locations.”

The events will be held on Saturday, April 26. Please spread the word and share this post with anyone you think might benefit from some free legal advice.

All the detail, including times and specific locations, can be found here.

Later this week I will share another Law Day event, hosted by an independent legal organization. The more the merrier.

beam replicator cat on TV

Here’s what happens when you let engineers near the Interwebs: A beam replicator cat sees into your soul.

As you read this, I’ll be attending the annual conference of the ABA Litigation Section. Yes, it’s at the Phoenician Resort, so it’s not exactly digging ditches. But you and I still deserve an easy-squeezy Change of Venue Friday.

How about a video?

It comes to us from the folks at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Why am I looking at IEEE content?

I often find that the best ideas I can steal borrow for Arizona Attorney Magazine come from other industries. So I routinely plunge into the offerings of those in fields like hospital design, construction, high technology and more.

I recommend that approach for everyone, no matter what you do. It gets you off the homestead, and out amongst people who do things differently.

One thing that other magazines (with larger staffs – sigh) is able to pull off is great video content. And I suspect you’re going to enjoy this one. As the hilarious narration says in the video, “Hold onto your spinny chairs, people.”

Hilarious, right? And how brilliant to do that sideways-doorway thing. Trippy.

Be sure to see what else is going in the engineering world by going here.

Have a great—and well-engineered—weekend.

April Fool's hoax taillights for horses

Would you believe your horse requires a taillight? Many did.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Yeah, I know it was yesterday. But only amateurs prank on the day everyone expects it.

In fact, I have no pranking plans today. But two fools-related elements looked too good to wait another year to share. And yes, they are connected to the law, for the diehard legal fans out there.

The first element reminded me of an old trick: convincing the unwary that a ridiculous new law has been passed.

A hilarious one you’ve probably heard is that an Italian city now requires taillights on horses. As a result, gullible Milanese residents dutifully trotted over to repair shops to affix the required luminary.

(More “stupid laws” are categorized at the Museum of Hoaxes.)

In defense of these folks, have you ever viewed what comes out of legislative bodies? Sure, we occasionally get a Clean Water Act or universal suffrage. But there are some howlers too.

Anyway, here is the second item I enjoyed related to April Foolss Day—this one even more closely tied to lawyers.

This story details how Ska Brewing is suing fellow Colorado firm Oskar Blues. The offense? Using Ska’s “s-k-a” right in the middle of the name “Oskar.” The nerve. Clearly infringement.

Here’s the opening of the Times-Call story:

“Ska Brewing and Longmont-based Oskar Blues teamed up on an April Fools’ Day press release Tuesday, announcing that Ska would be pursuing litigation over Oskar Blues’ use of the Durango-based brewery in its name.”

“‘They’re using our whole name,’ wrote Ska president and co-founder Dave Thibodeau in the made-up press release. “It’s right in the middle of their name, like we wouldn’t notice as long as they put an ‘O’ at the beginning and an ‘R’ at the end. Well, we’ve noticed now.’”

The reporter noted that the prank even included a Photoshopped picture of the “ska” being blacked out of an Oskar Blues sign.

April Fool's hoax Ska Brewing

Thanks to a Photoshop gag, letters are being blotted out of a competitor’s sign. April Fools.

Of most charming impact to attorneys, though, is this comment from the “plaintiff”:

“‘Once we figured out what those guys had done, we didn’t want to let another day pass without paying some lawyers,’ said Thibodeau. ‘Obviously bringing lawyers in immediately is the only way to resolve any conflict, so we hired a bunch of them. Hopefully they did too.’”

 Be sure to read the whole article here.

Let’s hope all your pranks are as cooperative as this one. And next April Fools’ Day, if you get a call from a client with a big promised payday, why not wait a day before expending resources on your conflict check? You’ll be glad you did.

Happy non-prank Wednesday.

Practical Art Buffalo Girl Dinner April 10 in Phoenix

So who is up for an opportunity that combines, food, drink, art, maybe taking art home, and lively conversation—all in a setting that was originally established by an Arizona Attorney?

Yeah. Me too.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. On our casual day, I am pleased to share news about an April 10 event at Practical Art in Phoenix. The event is called “Buffalo Girl Dinner,” and you should read here to see where the quirky (and highly appropriate) name arose.

Practical Art, a Phoenix shop and gallery, is going as strong as ever, just as it was envisioned by former Lewis and Roca attorney Jane Reddin. (The shop is located at 5070 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85012)

Jane_Reddin 1

Jane Reddin, founder of Practical Art, Phoenix

Back in 2008, I was intrigued when Jane decided to move away from the legal arts and focus on the real arts. I covered her grand adventure here, and have kept up with the amazing shop since—even after her death three years ago.

As you’ll see in the description, the evening is also a fundraiser for the Phoenix Art Museum.

If you’re curious what artworks will be available in the evening’s silent auction, get to following the Practical Art blog here. Those talented owner/organizers promise to reveal all soon.

The $35 ticket price gets you in the door, as well as “a $25 donation to the Phoenix Art Museum, a meal voucher for use at the food trucks, eligibility for participation in the art auction, live music by Pick N’ Holler, and drinks.”

Any idea what a good deal that is?

Buy your ticket here. And if you come, prepare to battle me in the silent auction

Enjoy your practical and artful weekend.

A nose for news could be turned to other pursuits wine

A nose for news could be turned to other pursuits. True?

Writing a daily blog yields many advantages. You’re forced to read widely, listen intently, and converse often with readers near and far. And sometimes, you feel compelled to travel overseas.

Well, not often. But I’d appreciate your insight on that last element.

Happy Change of Venue Friday, a day a legal blogger might fantasize about taking a wine tour of France. No, I probably won’t be going. But the idea has a great nose.

My usual invitations are along the lines of a lawyer CLE staged in a wood-paneled conference room: “Nuts and Bolts of Administrative Law,” “What Attorneys MUST Know About the New UCC Changes” “Everything They DON’T Want You To Know About the Revised Securities Regulations”

You get the picture. Important. Significant. A bit drowsy.

So when I received another note headed “Press Invitation,” I did not expect much.

But then I spied the words “international wine competition held in France.”

It’s on April 5. And did I mention it’s in FRANCE? Could I go? Dare I go?

Here’s a piece of their marketing.

wine competition invitation for Bourg, FranceBut … How could I miss the administrative law extravaganza? The insurance business coverage limits analysis? And that panel discussion on employment law tips for the feedlot industry? How could all of that odorous content remain uncovered? Sacré bleu!

Ah, how beautiful Bourg, France, must be in the spring. Don’t we all deserve a junket?

Here is my analysis thus far. I would like you to chime in on whether a legal commentator should travel for a wine competition:

  • Pro: A wine competition and the legal industry both relate to the work of judges. I mean, that’s super-obvious.
  • Con: A junket of this sort might lead a writer to consider other paths and to desert equally deserving “serious” (“non-wine”) professions.

So you see my dilemma.

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I will use the weekend to develop my nose on a variety of vintages and varietals. I await your counsel.

wine animated: Developing a new writing beat requires dedication, discernment.

Developing a new writing beat requires dedication, discernment.

ReInvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State: You've heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they've got some bad news.

You’ve heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they’ve got some bad news.

Sometimes—especially on Twitter—uttering a great witticism can prove irresistible. Tossing out a touch of snark may even be appreciated. But it may also miss a bigger picture.

Three days after I posted a heartfelt and humorous (I think) tweet, I’ve come to reassess it.

A Funny But Misleading Tweet

Here’s the sitch: I had just arrived at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute on Thursday. I landed at Chicago Midway and took the subway in (oh how I miss reliable mass-transit—the Orange Line to Roosevelt, change to the Red Line, walk three blocks from the Grand station, 25 minutes total!). But that meant I strolled into a session about halfway through.

The speakers’ subject was “Opportunities for Innovation in a Changing Legal Landscape.” And the style was unique: Each of the seven speakers got about 8 to 10 minutes, TED-talk-style.

Arriving late, I got to see about two and a half of the presentations. But that meant I did get to see the amazing Will Hornsby, of the ABA, as his presentation closed out the session.

Will is a smart and talented man. In fact, I had met him when I had been in the editor job for only about five months. Back in 2001, I decided to host a roundtable on lawyer advertising. Much to my pleasure, Will agreed to travel from Chicago to Phoenix to participate (yes, it was in February; what are you getting at?). You can read the result here.

Personally effusive and digitally adept, Will and his humorously delivered insights carried the audience along on a very engaging stream. And so I tweeted:

Great innovative ideas at #BLI14. Someone call the police, cuz @willhornsby is stealing the show! http://t.co/PUU1zRM8i6 #closer

— Tim Eigo (@azatty) March 13, 2014

Was I wrong? No, for Will spoke eloquently on that changing legal landscape we’ve heard so much about.

Rethinking Engagement (and Law)

But then I got to thinking—maybe the tweet wasn’t entirely fair. I mean, you can’t review a movie if you walk in halfway though. So this weekend I started looking at the handouts of others in that session.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

That takes me (and you, finally) to the work of a lawyer named R. Amani Smathers. Though I stand by my assessment of Will as a primo closer, I am very impressed by the vision and approach of Amani. Here is a video of one of her presentations (similar to the one she delivered in Chicago, which I missed).

That video drew me in and made me interested in the work of the ReInvent Law Laboratory, where she has the job title “Innovation Counsel” (yes, I’m jealous). I had heard about ReInvent Law, but it took her video to make me explore further.

What is unique about this effort, sponsored by the Michigan State University College of Law? Well, let’s start with the website, which is designed with curious legal innovators in mind, rather than law-journal-loving traditionalists. So from the get-go, they are signaling a new day.

Building a New Legal Profession

Others may have their own favorites, but among the Lab’s action words is my number-one evocative verb “Build.” Here’s what the organization says about build:

“Law firms should have research and development departments, but they don’t. ReInvent Law fills the R&D gap for law firms, in-house legal departments, and other legal service providers. We conduct experiments. We beta test new products. We engage in market research. We take risks. We question. We explore. … Learning by doing, learning by building is what we do. Talk is cheap. We build.”

A little in your face, right? Well, what part of “everything in the profession is changing” did you not understand?

What To Do, Who To Follow

Here’s how I can spot a compelling vision for our shared legal future: When I see another of their verbs is “Join Us,” I want to. But short of an offer to take an energetic work sabbatical in East Lansing (which would be pretty cool), I have opted to sign up for their email updates—which is what you should do, as well.

And if you want more news from the Lab, follow them on Twitter here. You should do the same with Amani Smathers here, and for good measure, take a look at her own site, which explains more about her “search of what it means to be a 21st-century lawyer.”

So in my defense: Will did steal the show, at least the part I saw. But more shows are a’comin’, folks, and I look forward to seeing how Amani and her colleagues bring the legal house down.

Amtrak writing writer residency

On offer: The chance to ride the rails and write about it.

How many of you would like to engage the creative process while never having to consider acquiring life’s annoying essentials, like food and shelter.

If so, there may be a few opportunities for you (and me).

The news stories I link to today not only engage the artist in most of us; they also are perfectly matched to Change of Venue Friday, that casual day when no one really wants to read about the new rules of arbitration (or whatever else is cooking in the legal profession).

So I invite you to kick back and enjoy a vision of yourself as an artiste, accompanied by your own financial backers.

The first story is one you may have seen: Amtrak is looking for writers. That’s right; your benevolent backer would be none other than America’s passenger-railway system.

Here is a news story that explains Amtrak’s plan to plop writers into a cozy berth from which they will trip the light linguistic.

If you’re ready to board that train, here is a link to Amtrak’s own blog, where you can get more information and complete their application. And yes, there is a dining and adult-beverage car (we are writers, are we not?).

(And for you attorneys still hesitant about blogging: Amtrak is blogging, which is the sound of you officially becoming a super-late-adopter.)

Here’s the serious skinny:

“Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.”

“Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.”

Sign me up! (And yes, that means I’m applying.)

If a less rollicking journey is what your writing arm requires, consider Detroit. That’s where a nonprofit called Write a House is creating a unique “writer’s residency.”

As this news story explains, the organization is repairing vacant and blighted homes to give them to writers.

I was intrigued to see that it was an editor at the marvelous Curbed, the real estate site, who was one of the founders of Write a House. Well, if an editor is involved, it must have been well vetted! (No kidding, we editors have got it goin’ on.)

Pertinent info:

“Write A House will accept applications from working, “low-income” writers in the spring, who will be asked to send writing samples and a letter of intent. The judges include former National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, poet Major Jackson, writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton and editor of the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing house Sean McDonald. Writers from all over the world, or living just a few miles away, are all encouraged to apply.”

Well, if my Amtrak train makes a stop in Motor City, I’ll stop by your house and we can trade writing stories. In the meantime, let’s apply ourselves!

Have a wonderful—and writerly—weekend.

chicago bar association cba logo

When I find myself in a city other than Phoenix, I like to look around at what the area’s legal community has to offer. My stomping grounds this week are in Illinois, specifically Chicago. So let me point you to some law-practice-helpful content from two great bar associations.

First, I recommend some content related to law practice management technology (say that three times fast), available on the website of the Chicago Bar Association.

The lawyer-friendly material includes some how-to videos by the talented Catherine Sanders Reach. Now THERE are some ideas worth borrowing! (Follow Catherine here.)

Here, for example, is a video on editing or removing Linkedin endorsements:

And over at the Illinois Bar Journal (published by the state bar), I recommend a few things.

Illinois State Bar Journal 2014First, their magazine includes a series of short articles the comprise “Law Pulse.” In it, the author is able to cover a variety of compelling and timely legal topics, all without straining your patience with massive length or endless footnoting.

Good examples of their form are here and here.

Like most bar journals, the Journal focuses on state laws and cases. But in the magazine’s feature story area is an article that may catch your attention, no matter what state you’re in. Titled “The Ratings Game,” it examines the world of Avvo: “Sites like Avvo that rate lawyers and encourage consumer reviews are evoking reaction positive and negative in the legal community—and posing interesting ethical challenges.”

The article includes a useful sidebar that explains how Avvo says its formula works.

Illinois State Bar Association ISBA logoMany of you may belong to multiple bars. If so, I’d love to hear from you about what content from varying bar publications you’ve found helpful to your practice. Maybe we can borrow some ideas from fellow bar magazines!

State Bar of Arizona logoHere is a follow-up to a State Bar event, by my colleague Alberto Rodriguez:

The State Bar of Arizona, azcentral.com and 12 News hosted the Lawyers on Call public service program on Tuesday, February 4. Results were phenomenal, considering the smaller than normal volunteer base.

The following is a recap of the program, which focused on tax law.

tax law magnifying glassThe volunteer attorneys were: James E. Bielenberg, Jr., Nathan Carr, Joseph Lunsky, Lawrence “D” Pew and Kathryne Ward.

Phone lines were busy, and volunteers answered an impressive 110 calls on tax law. An additional 18 consumers were assisted via social media, which gave us a total of 128 people who were helped.

Here are a sample of consumer questions:

  • Tax implications on short sales, student loans, social security benefits, investments, etc.
  • What should I do if I have failed to file taxes–back taxes?
  • What can I deduct?
  • What tax implications do estates have? Inheritance? Death?
  • Where do I start if I’m going to be audited?

Eighteen consumers asked their questions via the 12 News Facebook page, and attorney Nathan Carr responded with his recommendations and advice.

Four of the five attorneys were first-time volunteers. James Bielenberg of Prescott made the two-hour drive to Phoenix so he could volunteer.

Next month, Lawyers on Call volunteers will answer employment and labor law questions.

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