Monthly Archives: July 2010

Lawyers & Technology

I was having lunch with a colleague on Tuesday at a nice little spot in Carlsbad here in San Diego, and amongst other things we were discussing how she made her mark as a young attorney.  She began her practice in the mid ‘90’s and she has been practicing for over ten years now and the key way she distinguished herself at her first firm was her use of technology.  Whether it was helping with technology at trial or storing documents online, she had made her mark in the firm by being the one person in the firm that the partners could depend on when technical advice and help was need.

Of course, this goes hand in hand with one of my favorite observations – many lawyers still fear technology.  Look no further than Chief Justice John Roberts who had the audacity to ask, “What’s the difference between email and a pager” during oral arguments in the Quon case which involved policeman sexting with company phones.  And unfortunately it’s not just the Chief Justice.  I had to deal with a support call yesterday with a person who didn’t know what a ‘scroll bar’ or a ‘browser’ is. Hello!!! Welcome to the digital millenuem!

My running joke is that most of us would have been doctors except for the fact that science and math kept most of us out of medical school.  Unfortunately, many attorneys aversion to science and math has also followed them into the realm of technology.  When embarked on my journey into online CLE over five years ago I was amazed at how something like E-Discovery was just getting attention – when we have had computers and digital devices for decades now.  Now that almost every attorney has a smartphone and with Facebook at 500 million users, I would have to say that technology is here do stay. But have attorneys attitudes towards technology changed at all?

After surveying the online legal environment and taking a look at the latest statistics from the ABA’s 2010 Technology Survey Report, I would have to say that many attorneys have made substantial progress in the last few years:

  • Lawyers who use a social network – nearly quadrupled since 2008.[1]
  • Lawyers who use smartphones –  almost doubled since 2007.[2]
  • Lawyers who use web-based software –  nearly doubled since 2008.[3]

From finding new clients and networking with other professionals to managing your office and doing research online, I think that many attorneys are starting to realize that the ostrich approach just won’t work anymore (burying your head in the sand an hoping technology just goes away). I came across this quote which sums things up nicely,” This is where technology is taking us, and you have a clear choice. You can either jump on the bandwagon…or end up chasing it!”[4]

I know that (see Moore’s Law) technology will only continue to increase exponentially in the future and it will only continue to shape the law.  Law firms and attorneys must continue to exploit new and developing technologies.  Whether you need to make your mark in your new firm or you need help running your practice more efficiently, technology presents so many avenues for attorneys.  It just takes a little time to find and understand new technologies.

One great way to learn what’s going on out there is to follow various experts. One great website I just came cross is lawsitesblog.com which is run by Massachusetts attorney Robert Ambrogi.  I read some great posts this morning and came across some slides he posted on How Technology is Rewiring Lawyers’ Brains .. and What It Means For CLE. The slides came from a presentation he gave earlier this week at the annual ACLEA conference in New York.

We also have some great resources on our Attorney Credits website, including our law, ethics, and technology series which focuses on the ethics of online legal advertising, e-discovery, and email & electronic storage.  We also have an excellent MicroSeminar on the legal ethics of websites that has been our most popular MicroSeminar.

And I also really enjoy Kevin O’Keefe and LexBlog – especially the best in law blogs. If you need help with your social networking skills, there are many resources available on his website at lexblog.com.


[1] 15% in 2008, now 56% in 2010

[2] 38% in 2007, now 64% in 2010

[3] 13% in 2008, now 20% in 2010

[4] http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/survstat.html

Law Firm Websites: Still A Long Way To Go

As Director of Legal Education with Attorney Credits I spend quite a bit of time cruising through cyberspace.  Whether it’s looking up attorney information on the Cal Bar website or researching a new potential topic, I have become something of an ‘Internet rat’ in the respect that I have gotten quite good at finding very useful, credible legal information online about continuing legal education and other pertinent legal topics.

I am also amazed at the amount of pure crap that’s out there – especially from lawyers and legal sites (I even ran into an Asshat lawyers blog, no kidding!).  I guess at the top of the list would be PI websites and blogs.  This is something that social media guru Kevin O’Keefe at LexBlog rails on quite frequently because many PI blogs aren’t blogs at all – they are thinly veiled direct solicitations to accident victims and their families.

While attorneys have finally begun to foray into social media and Cyberspace, and legal websites have improved dramatically over the last few years, there are still a few times a week where I think out loud to myself, “What was this guy thinking?” Like this week for example when I came across this attorney website when I was looking for some information.  This Florida attorney has a billboard size picture of himself on his website, why would you ever post a picture of yourself anywhere, let alone on your business website?  A small headshot to personalize your site is great – but that is just taking it to the extreme.

Spend about an hour looking at law firm and lawyer websites and you will soon realize that it runs the gamut out there – from finely crafted websites to the “billboard” websites of the solo practitioners with everything in between.  And just because you are a large mega-firm doesn’t mean you are going to have a great website, I have seen plenty of websites from big law firms who simply got ripped off for the money they paid.

It’s also very important to remain ethical when crafting your website.  From the pictures that you choose to including links and online submission forms for potential clients online, there are a number of ethical landmines that can take you from simply being tasteless to being downright unethical.  This also poses a number of problems for state regulators as well. Florida and New York updated their state ethics codes to address online advertising – much to the chagrin of the FTC and many lawyers who practice in those jurisdictions. Texas lawyers beware – you are next!  The Texas Bar has got into the act and they will be the next State Bar to over-regulate causing confusion and headache amongst attorneys who want to advertise online.

One of the main problems recently addressed by New York and Florida was the content of legal websites and the use of testimonials, nicknames and monikers.  Many attorneys in these states called the new regulations draconian and felt that they went way to far in regulating online legal speech and trampled on their First Amendment rights.  However, legal advertising must be truthful and regulators in these states felt that nicknames, monikers, and guarantees posted on some legal websites were somehow untruthful and false.  In some states you aren’t even allowed to post your past results from previous cases because this ‘misleading’ tactic creates an unjustified exception in the mind of the potential legal consumer.

Aside from the content that you post on your site there are also two other main issues. First, maintaining a legal website can get you an unauthorized practice of law claim. If you are a licensed attorney in New York, you can’t stop legal consumers from California, Texas, Illinois or any other state from accessing your website and think that you are offering them legal service.  I even read a few months ago that the Virginia Bar was sending letters to California attorneys informing them to change their website or risk fines and sanctions.  Here, it is key to include the appropriate language on your website that geographically limits your practice and the clients that you wish to serve.  Listing where you are licensed to practice and that you only wish to serve clients in these jurisdictions.

Second, a legal website could possible get you disqualified from representing clients.  Many firms include email submission forms for potential clients to submit information about their possible claim.  One could imagine a scenario where a firm was already retained to represent one part and the adverse party could easily submit information about the same claim through the law firm website.  Just about all law firm websites try to disclaim the confidential nature of the information – but this just doesn’t fly with courts and regulators.

Especially with the recent advent of Twitter, Facebook and social media, attorneys may forget about the importance of their websites – but you cannot because it is the bedrock of your online reputation.  Even if it is just a ‘billboard’ site, this is how clients, colleagues, and peers are going to get their first impression of you – and it’s also how you can run into trouble with your state regulatory regime.

If you need a little help revamping your website, Attorney Credits has some great resources for you. First, we worked with Jose Rosa of WebJuris in November to put a great course together on selecting the right web development firm that fits with you and your firm.  We also have a really great 3-hour course on law, ethics, and technology that focuses on advertising and legal websites.  And if you just don’t have the time to sit through a one hour or three hour course, then you might want to check out one of our most popular MicroSeminars on the legal ethics of attorney websites.

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Online Continuing Legal Education (CLE): Knowledge for the 21st Century

I am not usually one to brag, but I am going to take this time to toot our own horn because I am so proud of what the Attorney Credits team has built over the last few years.  To go from beta to where we are today is an amazing accomplishment, and a testament to the skill and experience of the Attorney Credits team.  In one of the worst economies in the last ninety years, our website has only managed to flourish and grow while decades-old institutions falter.

One of the main reasons for our success is that we truly make an effort to communicate with our clients.  Instead of trying to hide behind our website, we have tried to utilized new digital technologies to communicate and stay in constant touch with our clients.  Whether through social media, support calls or emails, we make an effort to return calls and emails as quickly as possible.  We know that most of you are in a crunch because you have waited until the last possible minute to complete your MCLE requirement from your home state. Everyday we get calls from attorneys in New York, Illinois, California, and many other states that Attorney Credits offers CLE.  Some attorneys just have a few questions about our website, while others have some in-depth questions about the CLE format around the country.

And one of the reasons I have chosen to do a little bragging is the particularly warm response that I receive from almost every one of our clients – the people that matter the most.  Just yesterday a New York attorney told me “since you guys do such a great job you won’t be going anywhere for a while” and it seems like everyday I get compliments from attorneys who I speak with over the phone, or whose support tickets I answer.  They love the courses that we offer and they love the convenience of completing the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement online. From Texas to Florida, New York to California, thousands of attorneys have benefited from the practical education that we strive to carry on our website.  And I am constantly putting together new deals to enhance the quality of our online continuing education courses that we have to offer for our Attorney Credit’s clients to complete their minimum continuing legal education requirements.

In our new Digital Age, the true beauty of online CLE is two-fold.  First, completing continuing legal education online allows users to complete courses wherever they want.  Whether it’s the home, office, train, or Starbuck’s patio – these are all places that you can now fulfill your MCLE requirement.  Our excellent online CLE offers attorneys across the country – from New York to California – extreme convenience.  Second, with Attorney Credit’s online CLE you can take courses whenever you want. I have even seen users sign up in the middle of the night and have half of their minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement completed by the time I wake up the next morning.  And most importantly completing your continuing legal education online should be much more cost effective.  We have leveraged technology to bring you a great product at a great price. Where else are you going to get CLE units for less than $5 – and get great courses and great customer support?

In today’s technical age continuing legal education has become so much more than just 15 or 25 required courses that you have to rush to complete by some obscure deadline.  Everyday I see attorneys signing up to take our Hearsay Seminar or Cybersleuthing for Legal Practitioners or one of other extremely courses with timely topics like Short Sales, Email in Litigation, Consumer Bankruptcy & Taxes, Law Ethics & Technology – the list goes on and on.

While we are attorneys and we are all extremely knowledgeable, you can definitely learn something new everyday in our Digital Age, and continuing legal education online can offer you an excellent forum to learn the latest treads in the law and society.  Online CLE is truly education for the 21st century, and Attorney Credits is happy to be here as your MCLE partner in the Digital Age.

Bias & Discrimination: What Can Be Done?

Elimination of bias in the legal profession – what does it mean to you? Is it a just another required course in some states? What are your thoughts on the ABA and state bars trying to actively eliminate bias and discrimination in the legal field? As you probably aren’t surprised to find out, these rules are predominantly aspirational and they carry much more bark than bite.

In California we are required to take 25 units every 3 years to fulfill our CLE requirements including four required courses in legal ethics, one on elimination of bias, and one on the prevention, detection, and treatment of substance abuse. Just glimpsing at the required courses, it’s easy to see what regulators and the State Bar of California find important – ethics, substance abuse, and bias and discrimination. Now, I know everyone complains about having to take CLE because attorneys know everything, but there must be a reason that we are mandated to take these required courses.

I think that not too many people could argue with the requirement of four ethics courses. These courses are meant to keep attorneys out of hot water with the State Bar and unhappy clients. Legal Ethics represents the baseline conduct that you can get away with and not get an ethics violation or complaint – many of which form the basis of malpractice claims. Substance Abuse – it’s easy to see why that’s required course.  Nearly 60% of all ethics complaints and malpractice claims stem from problems with drugs and alcohol. It’s pretty simple – the practice of law is stressful, and instead of taking care of themselves many attorneys tend to self-medicate with booze, weed, pills, or others drugs of choice.

However, the question remains – should the ABA and state Bars regulate eliminating bias in the practice of law? If so, how should they go about regulating this conduct? Don’t we already have state and federal protection for certain classes of people already, isn’t this regulation duplicitious?

My answer: if there wasn’t a problem, there would be no mandatory elimination of bias requirement. Unfortunately, while the rest of the United States has become a more diverse place – especially in the last generation – the practice of law can still look like roll call at Augusta National Golf Club. For those of you unfamiliar with golf, Augusta National has a men-only policy – and just about every one of those men is white. My guess is that in thirty years, once America has become even more diverse, eliminating bias and discrimination will not be a problem.  But take a look at the statistics and you will find that women, attorneys with disabilities, and attorneys from minority groups still qualitatively lag behind “the majority.” While quantitatively the numbers have increased over the years, according to the ABA minority representation among law partners remainsless than 3 % in most cities.[1] And with the downturn in the economy, these diversity efforts have taken a beating because ‘diverse’ attorneys were some of the first cut loose at the firm and firms are not putting resources into these programs.

If you want to know more about the subject we have some great topics on the subject. I hate to plug myself, but …. I just got done filming a course on point this week entitled Bias & Discrimination in the Legal Profession – What Can Be Done? Some of the topics I discuss include the unique position of attorneys and their influence on society, the changing legal workplace, examples of bias and discrimination involving attorneys and judges, ABA and state regulation, and whether the private sector is better suited to promote diversity within the legal profession.

We also have another great course on the subject from dynamic speaker and Deputy District Attorney Wendy Patrick Mazzarella entitled Leveling the Playing Field: Eliminating Bias in the Legal Profession. In Leveling the Playing Field, Ms. Mazzarella starts by defining bias and then details the state and federal laws that outlaw bias and discrimination in the practice of law – including Title I, V, and VII. Ms. Mazzarella wraps up the presentation by pointing out who is not protected and presents numerous case examples, including an attorney who was asked by a judge to take his turban off.

What do you think?  I want to hear your opinions on the subject …

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