12 News logoI regularly report on the activities of Lawyers on Call, a State Bar public service program hosted at the ofices of 12 News, the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. At the events, volunteer lawyers answer consumer questions on various topics. On Tuesday, March 31, the event focused on tax laws. In a moment, I’ll share the names of the generous volunteer attorneys. But first, it’s worth noting that this version of Lawyers on Call included a new development: the use of a streaming video app, Periscope, to better address some consumer questions. To add to the functionality, this past month’s event also includes a video recap (see it at the end of this post). I am very impressed by the video’s quality, achieved via free apps. That makes me think I should try my hand at some videos myself! State Bar of Arizona SBA_Logo_ColorThe Lawyers on Call news comes, as always, from my innovative colleague Alberto Rodriguez: Five attorneys volunteered their time and expertise on March 31, 2015, to offer legal advice on tax law. The attorneys were:

The lawyers answered 118 calls, 23 questions via Facbook, and a handful on Periscope, a streaming video app that had 55 participants. Sample consumer questions:

  • How do I report on gaming winnings?
  • How does the Affordable Health Care Act affect my file/return?
  • What are the penalties if I file late or file an extension?
  • How does filing bankruptcy affect my 2015 file/return?

Several callers reported scam activity—receiving phone calls from individuals claiming to be an “IRS” representative who request personal information and payments. Facebook continues to be a successful component of Lawyers on Call, as attorney Derek Kaczmarek answered 23 questions posted on the 12 News fan page. In addition, the 12 News social media team launched the use of Periscope, an interactive streaming video app where participants could ask their questions live. Four out of the five attorneys were first-time volunteers. All volunteers were extremely satisfied with the quality of the questions overall and were excited to have participated in the Lawyers on Call public service program. Here is a terrific video recap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n83m1ZbclBs&feature=youtu.be

Facebook knows its members may die or become incapacitated ... and is now offering solutions.

Facebook knows its members may die or become incapacitated … and is now offering solutions.

The other day I was informed by Linkedin of a friend’s “work anniversary.” That was jarring, as I know she died last spring.

Even more unfortunate, that kind of social media interaction happens quite a bit—and there’s rarely a systemic change that would reduce its occurrence.

For example, for a few years around 2010, Facebook would invite me to “connect with someone you might know.” Fair enough. The selection of options was good, including a lawyer friend whom I had known for years, and even written about in Arizona Attorney Magazine. Sadly, though, she had died the previous year. I tried to alert people whom I thought were closer friends, but they had no leads on who might have access to her social media accounts.

Those were simply more opportunities for social media to remind me of sad times—and to highlight the need for post-death decisions about social media accounts.

That’s why I was glad to see a story that attorney Michael Tucker shared. The article by Geoffrey Fowler is titled “Facebook Heir? Time to Choose Who Manages Your Account When You Die,” and it is a welcome read. It opens:

“You can finally decide what happens to your Facebook account when you die. In a change of heart, the world’s most popular social network will begin allowing its members to designate someone—what they call a ‘legacy contact’—to manage parts of their accounts posthumously. Members can also choose to have their presence deleted entirely.”

Is making this change to your Facebook account something you’ll consider?

blogging annual report 2014-page0001

The drone-y little stats monkeys at WordPress have done it again, providing a wealth of detail about this blog’s performance in the past year. You can read the complete report here.

Here’s a little of their overly kind blogbabble:

“Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it. There were 623 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 183 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per day.”

Nice, right? But as I am committed to transparency, I must admit: The numbers disappoint me. And that is because blog readership is down.

I can hear your jaw hitting the floor, your disbelief is so palpable: “A nichey law blog, in Arizona, not garnering readers? Get out!”

(You can click to see the annual reports from 2013, 2012, and 2011 to see for yourself.)

Setting aside your hurtful snark (yes, I can detect it), there are a few reasons for the decline (from a high of 130,000 views in 2012 to last year’s 66,000):

  1. Not enough puppies and kittens
  2. Low-quality posts (or maybe too much law-ishness)
  3. Busier, less curious readers
  4. Facebook sucks

I am wagering my money on options 2 or 4. As a writer, I always have to be willing to look to myself first for reader disengagement. But then there’s Facebook …

Facebook’s own little algorithmic bots constantly vary the processes by which they prioritize and make visible people’s posts. I have heard from many mere mortals such as myself who have seen their readership plummet: Posts that formerly would garner 300 views now result in 17, or 11, or 4. And because Facebook is one of the places I post my blog every day, the impact has been severe.

The “solution” offered by Facebook’s dark lords is pay for play: Facebook paid ads will get us all back where we were, they claim.

Well, for those of us with little budgets and even less inclination to participate in the FB scam, I’m back to my other solutions: Ever improving my writing and composition, and, of course, more puppies. Here you go, and Happy New Year.

Legally speaking, these Corgis are not law-related at all. You're welcome, Facebook.

Legally speaking, these Corgis are not law-related at all. You’re welcome, Facebook.


Keep up with what’s happening at the State Bar Annual Convention by following us on Twitter! Get short, timely messages (including photos, speaker presentations and more) from Arizona Attorney Magazine’s staff. If you, your firm or employer are active on Twitter, just insert the hashtag #azbarcon into all of your Convention tweets to allow them to be read and searched by fellow attendees and the entire legal community.

The Twitter links will take you to updates in our Convention Daily—news items and photos that will appear on the magazine blog, Facebook and Tumblr pages, and in our News Center:

For more detail, click on the image below for gigantification.

Twitter at Convention flier 2014

“Pima County Jail Parking Lot” by John Levy, a photography category winner of the 2013 Arizona Attorney Magazine Creative Arts Competition

“Pima County Jail Parking Lot” by John Levy, a photography category winner of the 2013 Arizona Attorney Magazine Creative Arts Competition

Last fall, I wrote about the pleasure I take in Facebook’s then-new broad profile photo. I argued that it could especially be useful for businesses on that social media channel.

The question of whether to keep your message’s delivery unchanging and rock-solid, or to alter it in ways permitted by Facebook, is not an easy question. I pointed out that, as an editor on a monthly magazine, I like to visually feature a snapshot of each month’s cover story.

This is May, though, and I faced the dilemma of representing our arts competition winners. Last year, I decided to curate my own shot (see below). The result was a mass of art supplies surrounding our May issue. I still like it (though opinions may differ).

Arizona Attorney Facebook Screen shot May 2012

Arizona Attorney Facebook Screen shot May 2012

This year, though, I tried something else: featuring some of the great visual work that won our prizes.

Therefore, if you go to the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page this month, you will see that the broad cover image changes about six times throughout the month. Those changes give us the chance to display a variety of great work in the categories of photography and painting.

Our page is at http://www.facebook.com/ArizonaAttorneyMagazine

I just changed the image this morning, so it now displays John Levy’s photograph “Pima County Jail Parking Lot.”

To see all the photos, past, present and future, be sure to “Like” us on Facebook. And stop by our photos page to see what else we’ve shown.

About a month ago, I wrote about a workshop on social media I will help lead. Thank you to those who provided their general insights about the topic.

cool new facebook features

But now, in a week, is when the rubber hits the social media road. And so I’m asking for your insight again, specifically on the topic of new(-ish) and advanced Facebook features that you appreciate.

That is the topic for which I’ve been tasked at the National Association of Bar Executives, and I am trying to winnow down a list of Facebook fan page features that I think bar associations should consider and maybe adopt.

Here are a few of the features I appreciate on Facebook business pages. Have you used any of them on your personal Facebook page? And would they add to your experience of bar pages?

  • Bigger Facebook profile photos
  • Improved SEO via updated Facebook URLs
  • Better using of the “About” box & “Info” tab
  • Use of “Like” boxes to increase inbound links
  • Incorporating your blog content into Facebook
  • Adding Google Analytics to your Facebook page
  • Posting (more) multimedia on your Facebook pageFacebook Like thumbs up

Of course, it’s possible there are Facebook features you love that have entirely omitted. Let me know what you think.

Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Yale Law School Library Reading RoomOver at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, reporter Sam Favate asks the question, Are you looking for a law school to fit your politics?

The rather atonal question arises because The Princeton Review has now included among its many categories the odd terms “most liberal” and “most conservative.” You can read Favate’s article here.

I may sound naïve when I suggest that I’m not sure what that means. I know the phrases never were part of my decision-making when I selected a law school back in 1989 or thereabouts.

My “blindness” on that score may rankle some readers, who instead recall law school as a time of struggling through their days as one-sided ideology was crammed down their throats. The law school they suffered was a curricular version of one political platform or another.

Sorry I missed all that. I was too busy thinking that the faculty were hell-bent on their mission to obfuscate what could have been clear. Through the fog, I completely missed the indoctrination. (Except, of course, the pedagogical imperative that we accept as normal and right the status quo—in business, and law, and public policy).

Should prospective law students select schools based on politics? Probably not—but what do I know. I think being around folks who think differently from you may be a good thing.

Recently, I read some commentary about the news sources we all select. No more must we all imbibe from the network nightly news fountain; instead, there are multiple streams from which to drink.

That’s great, but it has a downside. If we shun sources that don’t agree with our worldview, are we just insisting on being a choir that is preached to?

This fall, another media critic pointed out a common phenomenon on Facebook: As “friends” offer views that others find disagreeable or worse, people “unfriend” each other. Pretty soon, our Facebook feeds are cleansed of contrary views—especially in an incendiary presidential election year.

I don’t argue that any of us should have to weather a storm of offense in Facebook—or in law school. But a little diversity of opinion can’t possibly be a bad thing. Can it?

Do you change your Facebook page every month?

A lawyer asked me that this week, when he noticed that the Arizona Attorney Facebook page had a unique profile image.

Doesn’t everyone do that? I answered. But no, I guess not. And that’s a shame.

Changing your Facebook image for your business or product is not a no-brainer. Some may argue that keeping your brand constant and recognizable—never changing—is the most important thing. Until this past spring, I generally agreed with that.

But then Facebook got all Timeline-y up in our grill, forcing a new look onto all of us. And the result has been … pretty good, if you ask me. It has allowed us to vary that large image to relate more closely to every month’s cover content.

So now we have our magazine cover (the current one every month) as our smallish image to the left side of the screen. And Timeline opened up a broad swath of real estate to us. What could we do with that big screen-wide space?

Quite a bit, I decided.

So when you look at our current page, remember that the photo collage—materials in regard to ASU Law School—is not everlasting, but just there for the month. It relates to our cover story, which this month is a Q&A with Law School Dean Doug Sylvester.

Below you’ll find a few of our other profile images. The small photo of each cover is your hint about what the larger image “means.”

And in case you’re wondering how we create the image: It’s a mad dash in my house in the days (hours?) before the new issue “rolls out” on the first of the month.

“What do we have in the house that’s British?” I asked my beleaguered daughters as I mused on our July/August cover (about the history of legal language).

“Quick, haul out your art supplies!” I barked, as our May Creative Arts issue was about to land in the cloud.

“That huge coin bucket—where is it?” I hectored, thinking about how to illustrate our annual Top Verdicts issue.

A little staging, some bad (natural) lighting, and we had a new image for the month. It takes a village, or at least a few dragooned villagers.

Maybe all of it doesn’t matter much. After all, most people interact with businesses they have “Liked” through their own news feed; they may rarely go to the brand’s Facebook page. But I just see that page as another opportunity—to communicate our content and tone, and occasionally to interact with readers who appreciate our involvement in all parts of their brains.

Coming up this fall: magazine covers on the historic Tombstone trial and on lawyer happiness. Ideas welcome.

Here are our recent pages, which you can click to enlarge (for Change of Venue Friday fun, can you spot the barnyard animal? Comment below if you find it). Have a great weekend!

Facebook Screen shot April 2012

Facebook Screen shot May 2012

Facebook Screen shot June 2012

Facebook Screen shot July August 2012

Facebook Screen shot September 2012

This morning, I am staring at a dollar bill on my desk, trying to decipher what it “says.”

Legally speaking, it’s quite likely that it’s saying something, since the U.S. Supreme Court held that in the campaign-contribution context, that dollar is speech.

So if a greenback can talk up a storm, how is it possible that a Facebook “Like” holds no communicative value?

That was the ruling at a federal district court that had to determine whether employees were fired for exercising their free-speech rights. As the Washington Post tells the tale: 

“Daniel Ray Carter Jr. logged on to Facebook and did what millions do each day: He ‘liked’ a page by clicking the site’s thumbs up icon. The problem was that the page was for a candidate who was challenging his boss, the sheriff of Hampton, Va.

“That simple mouse click, Carter says, caused the sheriff to fire him from his job as a deputy and put him at the center of an emerging First Amendment debate over the ubiquitous digital seal of approval: Is liking something on Facebook protected free speech?”

Read the whole article here.

Risky behavior, certainly, especially given how tetchy elected sheriffs can be. But the court ruled that a simple click of “Like,” without commenting, is not speech.

The sheriff’s office is likely ecstatic. But the ruling puts that office in a strange conceptual box: The office fired people for taking a speech position contrary to the top official’s position. And the court sustained that employment decision because there was no speech involved.

Confused yet?

Oddly enough, would the court have had to rule otherwise if the employees had dropped dollar bills off at the opponent’s campaign headquarters without a note attached, rather than signal support via a digital thumbs-up?

Now, of course, the appeals roll in. As this article explains, Facebook, the ACLU and a number of amici have briefed the issue of how a Like certainly is speech.

It all makes me wonder how much the court understands social media. I wrote on Friday about a promising survey that shows judges are growing warmer to social media. But anyone who has ever worked hard for a “Like” for their business’s Facebook page understands inherently that a Like is speech. And among all the difficult-to-grasp concepts in technology, “Like” is just what it sounds.

Feel free to Like this post; I’ll know it means something.

If comments are “advertisements,” should we just go back to chatting?

Not to be overly dramatic, but the conversation may be the heart of social media, its very lifeblood.

Anyone who has ever launched a Facebook page, blog, Twitter handle or Pinterest board knows that what they really seek is engagement, a dynamic involvement by readers and other posters.

To social media, the comment is a nutritional daily requirement.

But what if that comment were both sustenance and a poison pill that could undermine your entire site?

Lawyers who have created their own websites or Facebook pages should be interested in the evolution of the following important question: Are comments “advertisements”?

A ruling by an advertising standards board—in Australia—ruled that the two are essentially equivalent, at least on Facebook pages of companies that sell products.

Here is how a recent article on the topic opened:

“A ruling that Facebook is an advertising medium—and not just a way to communicate—will force companies to vet comments posted by the public to ensure they are not sexist, racist or factually inaccurate.

“In a move that could change the nature of the social networking site forever, companies could be fined or publicly shamed for the comments that appear on their Facebook ‘brand’ pages.

“Last month the advertising industry watchdog issued a judgment in which it said comments made by ‘’fans’’ of a vodka brand’s Facebook page were ads and must therefore comply with industry self-regulatory codes, and therefore consumer protection laws.”

Read the whole thing here.

A few factors suggest to me that lawyers need not be too concerned about this quite yet.

First, there’s been no such ruling stateside, so this may be an outlier.

Second, the reasoning underlying this ruling applies to products. There may be such a thing as legal products, but a law firm Facebook page is more along the lines of communicating its services, a different thing entirely.

Third, we already know that posts and comments may cause legal problems, and so we look out for that.

Finally, most firms get substantially fewer comments from readers than, say, Target or (ha!) Chick-fil-A. The process of reviewing recent posts for appropriateness likely doesn’t take very long.

But all of us who enjoy that give-and-take with readers should be aware that comments may take on even more legal significance in the future. Keep those comments coming—at least as long as they’re not advertisements.