Should You Take a Cue from Uber?

Getting your “side hustle” on is Uber’s way of suggesting that you join their team to earn extra money. Lawyers sometimes face this dilemma when first transitioning into private practice – giving up a regular paycheck is a high price to pay in exchange for the uncertainty of going solo.

For other lawyers, the practice of law is a second career.  Does this mean they are required to relinquish their first?

Not necessarily.  However, practicing on the side or in addition to another career, does raise some red flags.

Conflicts of Interest

Assuming your employer agrees to let you “moonlight” (and that’s a big assumption), you must address potential conflicts.  At first blush, you might think this concern applies only to lawyers who currently work in a law firm and wish to “work on the side” in a solo practice.  Not true!  If your other job is working as a real estate broker, mortgage broker, financial planner, psychologist, mediator, arbitrator, etc., you must also screen for conflicts.

In her article, Multidisciplinary practice: When Wearing Two Hats May Get You Burned  Helen Hierschbiel points out:

Recognizing and avoiding conflicts of interest is one of the more common concerns for lawyers who have side businesses, particularly when their clients do business with those other companies. Oregon RPC 1.7(a)(2) provides that a current conflict of interest exists if “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer…” Thus, when there is a significant risk that a lawyer’s personal or other financial interests in a non-legal business will materially limit the lawyer’s responsibilities to a client, that lawyer has a conflict under RPC 1.7(a)(2).

In addition, when a lawyer’s side business is doing business with the lawyer’s client, consideration must be given to the limitations set forth in RPC 1.8(a), which provides more stringent requirements for obtaining client consent than those under RPC 1.7(b). RPC 1.8(a) provides:

A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless:

1. The transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;

2. The client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and

3. The client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer’s role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.

Note:  Learn more about this issue and other common conflict traps by attending Limiting Exposure to Conflicts on October 25, 2017.

Other Ethical Concerns

A “side practice” coupled with another job also raises potential concerns about advertising, solicitation, and fee sharing.  Here are Helen’s comments:

Advertising
“Oregon RPC 7.1 generally provides that any communication about a lawyer may not be false or misleading. Determining whether a statement is false may be simple, but assessing whether it is misleading can be more difficult. The cautious approach in making that assessment requires considering how the statement is likely to be interpreted by an unsophisticated consumer. Thus, OSB Formal Op 2005-108 concludes that a lawyer who has an active mediation practice may advertise the practice under “counselors — marriage, family, child and individual” sections of the yellow pages as long as the advertisement reflects the lawyer’s status as a lawyer offering mediation services.”

Solicitation
“Lawyers should also take care to observe the ban on in-person solicitation of legal business when providing non-legal services. The non-legal business may not be used to solicit clients with legal needs in a manner that violates RPC 7.3… (L)awyers would be wise to exercise extra caution when confronted in their non-legal business with an individual who has legal needs as well.”

Fee Sharing
“… (L)awyers should be mindful when setting up an ancillary business, not to allow non-lawyers any control or influence over their law practice.”

Employment Law and Liability Implications

Before you set up a side practice, check your employer’s policy and personnel manuals.  Some employers prohibit moonlighting altogether, others require preapproval of “outside employment activities.”  If you are a contract lawyer and a true independent contractor you should be completely free to have your own solo practice and perform contract work for other lawyers.  Be sure the principal lawyers who hire you agree.  Contact the OSB Professional Liability Fund for more information on setting up a contract practice.

Query:  If a lawyer commits malpractice in the course and scope of his or her “side practice,” could the lawyer’s primary law firm employer be held vicariously liable?  (Food for thought…. as clients have attempted to hold firms responsible for the negligence of “sole practitioners” who were leasing space in the firm’s office suite.)

Professional Liability Coverage

Lawyers engaged in the private practice of law in the State of Oregon are required to carry professional liability coverage through the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund.  This requirement applies equally to full-time and part-time practitioners.  In other words, if you are a lawyer in private practice in Oregon (as defined in the PLF plan), it does not matter whether you provide legal services 50 hours per week or 10 hours per week – coverage is required in either case – and the cost of coverage does not vary based on the hours worked.  With that said, liability coverage in Oregon is complex.  Your best bet is to contact the Professional Liability Fund for more information.

Is it Worth it?

It may not be.  If you are not an active member of the Oregon State Bar, it will be necessary to pay bar dues.  If you intend to engage in the private practice of law and require professional liability coverage, the cost is currently $3500 per year (assuming coverage is not prorated and no discounts apply).

To assess whether a “side practice” makes sense, go through all the steps you would normally follow to set up a full-time law practice.  This includes forming an entity (or not), naming your business, choosing a space option, developing a business plan and budget, opening appropriate bank accounts, consulting with a CPA, creating (and implementing) a marketing plan, and establishing office systems.  If it sounds like your proposed “side practice” is getting more complicated by the minute, it is.  Don’t assume setting up a “side practice” is any less work than committing to the full-time private practice of law.

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis
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Lawyer Websites: The good, the bad, and the ugly

What goes into a well-designed law firm website?  A photo of the city skyline? A copy of your latest legal brief?  Your phone number in 6 point font in the footer?  Probably not, and here’s why.

Don’t Be the Prototypical Lawyer Website

The best law firm websites have bold, modern, eye-catching designs.  Ditch the city skyline and leave the gavel and courthouse imagery behind.

Give Clients the Content They Want

Eighteen months have passed since The Rainmaker Blog published Legal Marketing Stats Lawyers Need to Know.  Remember what we learned:

  • 25% of people researching legal topics visit YouTube during the process.  Use video to answer the most common questions that arise during initial client intake.
  • Post substantive content, but not your latest legal brief.  The information you share should be understandable to a lay person.
  • Offer resources, including apps like Our Family Wizard, a shared parenting tool.

Clients Want to Talk to You – Now!

Clients are ready to act when they visit your site.  Don’t bury your phone number in teeny, tiny font in the footer of your website.  It should be prominent – above the fold, easy to find, and presented as a call-to-action.  74% of prospects beginning a search online end up contacting lawyer’s office via phone.

Offer Maps, Directions, Parking, and Transportation Links

Eighty-five percent of clients use online maps to find legal service locations.  Ask your web designer to add a Google Map with a marker to your website.  Offer directions and links to parking and other transportation options.  Include a photo of the outside of your building and surrounding businesses.  This will make your address easier to spot.

Other Important Tips

  • Get expert help with SEO – 62% of legal searches are non-branded (“Your city” “divorce attorney.”)
  • Mobile is increasingly important.  A Google Legal Services Study in 2013 found 69% use both a smartphone and a PC for research.  Ownership of mobile devices has grown exponentially in the last four years.  In 2015 a Pew report suggested that one in five Americans access the Internet only on their smartphones.  If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re missing out.
  • Focus on local.  A FindLaw survey in 2014 found that 71% of people looking for lawyers think it is important to have a local attorney.  Clients don’t want to travel if they can avoid it; they may also assume local attorneys know the local judiciary better.  Whatever the case may be, follow these tips from Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites.
  • Use Google analytics to learn everything you can about your web traffic: how you acquire visitors, how they behave once they land on your site, and how many you “convert.”  (A measurement of the latter would be how many visitors actually complete an online contact or intake form.)
  • As Lawyerist suggests, ban interstitial pop-ups.  They’re annoying (particularly on mobile) and likely to be blocked anyway by your potential client’s browser.
  • Do include proper attorney profiles.  Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites suggests including practice areas, a unique differentiator, newsworthy legal issues you’ve resolved, and of course your experience and education.  What else can you include: how about community involvement? Interests? Hobbies? Something, anything that will personalize you a bit more.
  • Yes, you need a headshot and Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites mentions this too.  Opinions abound about dos and don’ts, and if you’re like me you can usually pick the lawyers out of a headshot lineup.  Try Googling “modern headshot examples.”  Pinterest is a good resource.   Here are some suggestions from a digital photography school.
  • Incorporate social media and link to your blog.  These are pretty much no-brainers.
  • Consider online intake, contact forms, and online scheduling.  While most clients would rather call you, there is an audience who prefers web-based contact and online does have its advantages. If you use practice management software, intake may be built into your product.  Otherwise, look at Lexicata. Scheduling options include Setmore, FlexBooker, and TimeCenter among others.
  • Secure your site – for you and for your visitors. If you collect personally identifiable information, you must have compliant privacy policies.  (A simple contact form is enough to trigger this requirement.)

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

Cost per Case Analysis and Your Firm’s Marketing Decisions

The following is a guest post, courtesy of Deanna Powers, eGeneration Marketing.

There are more than 12,000 attorneys in the state of Oregon. Many firms, particularly small firms or solo practitioners, may not be able to hire someone to handle all marketing efforts. If you’re in charge of marketing for your law firm, it may be challenging to know which channels are most profitable. TV ads usually lead to a lot of claimants calling your office, but is this marketing option overall more profitable than simply spending more time optimizing your firm’s social media pages?  Fortunately, there is a way to accurately compare every marketing venture to one another. A cost per case metric will help your firm make better-informed spending decisions by examining the profitability of all current marketing efforts.

What Is Your Cost Per Case?

A cost per case (CPC) analysis examines the profitability of a particular marketing venture by taking the total dollars spent on that advertising effort divided by the new clients signed because of that effort.

Marketing Effort Budget ÷ New Clients Signed = Cost per Case

It’s unlikely that your marketing channels will all yield the same CPC. Some new clients will have a CPC of $0. This happens when past clients refer your firm’s services to their friends or family members.  This is perhaps the most beneficial marketing avenue for your firm, since it cost you nothing in terms of advertising dollars.

Unfortunately, no matter how strong your firm’s reputation, not all new clients can be signed from referrals. A CPC metric gives you the data you need for a thorough analysis of every paid marketing effort, which in turn puts stronger marketing budget decisions well within your reach. Some profitability can be calculated for you—Google AdWords gives your firm a wealth of data on how your campaigns are performing if you use PPC ads. Unfortunately, non-digital marketing efforts are a little more challenging to evaluate, but the CPC calculation still comes into play. We can use billboard pricing as an example as how you would calculate your firm’s CPC through a traditional marketing channel.

Billboard Ads: High Exposure Generates Greater Leads

When considering marketing avenues for law firms, high exposure is a key factor. Many firms choose to use billboard marketing because it gets you the most views for the lowest price. Outdoor ads have a crucial place in a well-devised marketing strategy according to the Arbitron Out-of-Home Advertising Report, a national survey that examines advertising and spending habits in relation to the increasingly mobile lifestyle of Americans. According to this report, eight of 10 Americans make buying decisions while out of the house and many of these decisions are made in the car. About 75% of travelers see billboards, and about 50% internalize the messages viewed, often later acting on them.

Lamar Advertising, one of the nation’s biggest billboard and other outdoor advertising firms, offers a range of marketing locations in Portland, Oregon and the surrounding communities. Prices vary, based on ad size, location, and whether messages are static or digital, but this means your firm has ample choices for remaining within an established marketing budget. For example, Lamar offers a billboard on Mt. Hood Highway, near Haley Road, which receives more than 92,000 views during an average week. This 14’ x 48’, permanent billboard rents for $7,500 per month.

It’s very hard to know how many clients you’ll sign from a billboard, as the overwhelming majority of commuters won’t need your legal services. Conversion rates for billboards can be as low as 0.002%, and this is simply the number of people who call your firm, not the number of cases you take! You may only think one of 10 claimants who reach out to you have a pursuable case. If you sign a respectable two new clients per week due, your CPC for this example will be $938.

Is This a “Good” Cost Per Case?

Some firms may be thrilled with a CPC of $938, while others will be horrified. It all depends on how much return you’re expecting from your claimant.

If your firm specializes in divorce and family law, for example, then you’re likely to see fees of $10,000 or more per complex case, which would make the spend of $938 for signing a new client profitable. On the other hand, if your firm specializes in Social Security disability law, then the $750 spend might be a bit steep. The average Social Security attorney only receives $3,000 per settlement, with a maximum of $6,000. The profit margins would be too slim for Social Security attorneys to pursue any marketing channel with a CPC that high.

Ultimately, if your firm realizes a CPC of about 15% of the fees earned per claimant, then the marketing effort is considered a profitable advertising venture.

Getting the Facts Needed for CPC Analysis

A CPC metric only works if you have the appropriate data to complete a reliable analysis. With many of your online advertising efforts, you can easily determine how and where clients learn of your firm. When a new client calls or walks through your doors though, you’ll only discover the data you need if you pose the appropriate questions, and the most important one is:

“Where did you hear about us?”

A new client’s answer lets you construct a reliable CPC. This in turn allows you to evaluate accurately your current marketing efforts. It additionally offers the data necessary for developing profitable marketing plans for the future. Regardless of whether you use TV ads, billboards, digital marketing, or are simply working to build a name in your community, calculating your CPC can all you to pinpoint your marketing inefficiencies and invest more into your most successful campaigns.

Deanna Power

eGenerationMarketing

SEO Your Website Using Free Directory Listings

With so many good marketing folks to follow on social media, who should you choose? I previously featured two of my favorites here.  Another great contender is Edmund Yan of Yan Media.

seo

I like Edmund because his posts are concrete: he gives you specific content you can act on now. For example, Free Legal Directories Every Law Firm Should Exploit for SEO.

Boost Your Website Ranking

In this post, which is an update of an earlier piece, Edmund talks about how you can boost your website ranking on Google by creating free profiles on legal directories. You may have heard this before, and true enough some of the directories will be ones you already know like Avvo or Findlaw.  But others were new to me.

As Edmund points out, Google’s ranking system is all about popularity.  Add your link to a popular site and ta-da!  You’re popular in Google’s eyes too.  Or at least more popular.

The more popular you are, the more credible you’ll appear in the eyes of Google and the higher you’ll rank on organic search result pages. It’s that simple.

Read the full post on using free legal directories for SEO here.  At the end are six suggestions for must-include content in your directory profiles.

Why You Should Claim Your Directory Profile Even if You Don’t Care About SEO

Even if you don’t need an SEO boost from online legal directories, you should still claim your profile.  Notice I said “claim.”

Whether you set up a profile or not, I can just about guarantee that Avvo has a listing for you.  The same is true for other popular online legal directories.

  • If you want to control what is being said about you, claim your profile.
  • If you want to remove inaccurate information or scurrilous reviews, claim your profile.

This worked for at least one Oregon lawyer who Googled herself and was shocked to discover a bad Avvo review.  She was shocked because she’d never set up an Avvo account.  By claiming her profile she was able to get the information removed.

Thankfully this experience isn’t a recurring one.  Nonetheless, this is one lesson that many lawyers have yet to learn: you need to control (and know) what is being said about you on the Internet.  You may have Google reviews, Yelp reviews, Facebook reviews, or other reviews you don’t know about.

Set Up Alerts When Your Name is Mentioned

A good place to start is by setting up Google Alerts for your name and your business name.  This allows you to receive an email anytime you or your business is mentioned on the Web.

You may also want to try some of the alternatives to Google.  In recent years users have complained that Google Alerts wasn’t working as well for them.  Some prefer Yahoo! Either way do something to learn what is being said so you can take better charge of your online presence.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

The Ethics of Social Media and Online Marketing

Last weekend the Oregon State Bar held the first ever Solo & Small Firm Conference in Bend, Oregon.  The lineup included nationally recognized speakers and Oregon-based experts, including the incomparable David Elkanich of Holland & Knight.

David gave two great presentations at the conference, and I promise to blog about both. Today I start with a subject near and dear to my heart: The Ethics of Social Media and Online Marketing.  Here are a few tweets to give you the flavor of David’s presentation:

A complete compilation of David’s tips can be found here.

Over the next days and weeks I will share other gems from the conference, including “best of” tips from:

  • Exchanging Documents Electronically
  • How Clients Can Win with Your Small Firm Resources
  • Tame the Digital Chaos
  • 60 Legal Tech Tips
  • and more!

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis