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    How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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May 17, 2005

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Comments

Taco John

A lot of bad things in the legal industry seem to attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the billable hour, but this one is a no-brainer. If the idea was just to get results, in the most efficent way, then this wouldn't be a discussion. I think the actual inner monolouge goes something like "How are we going to bill extra hours on this client if Schaeffer is posting essays on his weblog?" instead of "Great, we can charge a little more because this guy does great work and still has enough time to post essays to his weblog. So we can pitch that to a client."

MK

I chewed over this during my morning run (the podcast). I know at least a handful of superb attorneys who speak at more than a half dozen seminars a year. Just flying there and speaking takes 2 full days. That's 2 weeks a year minimum for these guys.

So, do I avoid sending a case to someone like "Gary" a superb attorney in TN b/c I think he is "lecturing" too much? Substitute "blogging" for lecturing in that question. Of course not.

For any attorney to conclude that I'm not busy enough because I'm blogging ... well, that poses a fundamental problem with that counsel, doesn't it?

Evan

Taco John: I get your drift, but I rarely bill hourly. I fund the costs of my cases with myself or others and work on a contingency fee basis. The client pays a percentage of the recovery if I'm successful. In class actions, my fees come directly from the defendant.

Evan

MK: I accept that my reasoning might be wrong and I don't want to argue with you. But I think there is a big difference between lecturing and weblogging.

As for your rhetorical question, "that poses a fundamental problem with that counsel, doesn't it?"--I repeat what I said before, that as long as this is how I earn my living, the customer is always right.

transmogriflaw

I posted a much longer response to Evan down in his previous post, but the upshot of it is that I agree with him: I think a lawyer, or any professional, who blogs in such a manner that he or she is humanized is at risk of losing business. I liken it to the widespread (and proven by studies) perception of mothers as stupid. We may like to pretend that we're above it, but we're not.

Aaron

I think MK makes an interesting point - which is that it seems to be the best and busiest lawyers who make time for things like attending CLE - and for the much more time-intensive activity of teaching CLE (and preparing the associated course materials), often on a completely volunteer basis.

I have never heard anybody say, "Any lawyer who has the time to spend hours writing complex course materials, then attend and present a CLE program, perhaps on more than one date and at more than one location, has far too much time on his hands to be a good lawyer." But then, a lot of lawyers seem to think that preparing course materials and presenting in a CLE seminar is effortless (while perceiving blogging as too time consuming?)

Gagarine

I agree with Evan: I think blogging probably may have a negative impact, in marketing terms. That is why I chose to stay anonymous.

Friends who know about my blog (and don't run a blog themselves) tend to tell me that they wished they worked in a law firm where they would have as much free time, not understanding that I am writing my posts in the evening or during lunchtime.

Brian Bellamy

I think that, at least sometimes, blogging can hurt a lawyer's business. I say this because I would avoid giving business to a lawyer who runs a popular political/legal blog that's very well known. Though I often disagree with his very conservative views, those alone would not keep me from sending him business. However, the fact that he often resorts to insulting childish attacks in responding to commentators on the blog has turned me off of him for good. He may be a good lawyer, but I would never send a client to someone who conducts themselves in public that way.

Whether this attorney is necessarily harmed by this I don't know. But I think it does demonstrate the potential for harming your business. It's just like if you went to a bar meeting and acted like an ass, it's going to hurt you. If you go out in public on the net and act like an ass, it can hurt you the same way.

Kevin Grierson

There have been a number of comments here about how "humanizing" a lawyer somehow has a negative marketing impact. I think the point that Evan makes, that some here seem to miss, is that his blog is a MARKETING tool, not a tool to "humanize" Evan, make him look cool, or anything else. Take a look around the world of legal marketing (or just about any other marketing, for that matter): people don't advertise their business by saying "hey, I'm an interesting guy, bring me some business." What people want to know, first and foremost, is whether you're good at what they are thinking about hiring you for. If their first impression of you is that you spend a lot of time writing, and that writing doesn't tell them much about your legal acumen (as it might if you regularly posted updates on the law in a particular area), then the odds increase that they'll pass on you and look for someone who conveys the impression that they'll get the job done. Of course, people like to hire lawyers that they also like as human beings. But the first criteria--which is critical to convey in any marketing setting--is that you are a person who can fill their legal needs, not that you're somebody they'd like to invite to a cookout. People will put up with a good lawyer they wouldn't have over for dinner; the converse, however, is not true. By and large, legal blogs convey the impression that their authors are really interesting folks, but really don't give a lot of information that a prospective client would find useful in a hiring decision.

Gerry Carmody

I think Evan has finally faced-up to the fact that he's an addict. I mean, running three blogs and posting to a significant amount of other people's blogs so consistently? I don't know why he feels the need to post so much. Some of it is interesting, but why the need for a "roundup" of other websites?

I think those of us in the legal community need to applaud Evan for taking a break to scale this back and evaluate his personal problems--which no seem to be hurting his professional life as well. Good luck, Evan. Godspeed. AMDG.

Evan

Gerry: Thanks for the comment, but you're overstating things a bit. It's a marketing issue, not a personal crisis. And the firm's doing better than ever, thank you. (Meanwhile, I'm also thinking that if a long-time member of the St. Louis legal community like you, Gerry, who I know only by reputation, is taking the time to read this weblog and speculate out loud about my "personal problems"--well, I don't know what to think. It's interesting, though. I realize you were probably being sincere and not attempting to rip me--but with defense lawyers, I'm always a little unsure. Just wanted to set the record straight.)

Gerry Carmody

Evan, I'm quite flattered. Frankly, I didn't think that many lawyers would be aware of my reputation after working as an insurance defense paralegal in Crestwood for the last 25 years. Sometimes, I feel like I'm working in anonymity--and everyone typically is. But every once in awhile someone notices the positive contrubutions I make, I suppose.

Evan, I'm glad to here you and the firm are doing so well. It's a shame that the blog can't continue in the fashion it has. It is stimulating. I'll take your word that you are doing fine, but your interest in literature and writing indicate that you're conflicted. I guess that's not the case. AMDG.

Evan

Gerry: I don't know why a lawyer can't have other interests without being "conflicted," but that's just my opinion. I certainly can't be critical of you for providing your opinion--that's why I've got the comments turned on. I appreciate the fact that you're reading.

Scheherazade

What is "AMDG"?

Are all blogs written by lawyers whose names are associated with their websites necessarily "marketing tools?"

Was this blog originally conceived as a 'marketing tool'?

Is there a legitimate benefit to a blog about the law and the life of a lawyer that is not intended to be a marketing tool? Who benefits from such a blog?

How widespread is the impression, like Gerry's, that a lawyer with outside interests beyond the legal practice, is "conflicted" or in personal crisis?

Fascinating conversation here, and on the blogs linking to the news of your change, Evan.

Richard

Evan,
I listened to your podcast and read your posts on the topic. In the end, I don't think the negative marketing concern is legitimate. After all, how many lawyers, judges and even Supreme Court law clerks (read the recent bios of the new crop for example) talk about their marathon training and races? Does the practice really look down on those who indulge vastly more time to running and competing as legal failures? I don't think so.

Nevertheless, thanks for raising the issue; it was (and is) thought-provoking.

Damien

Blogging doesn't have a negative impact towards your intended market. First, blogging can be considered one of your hobbies (most lawyers have hobbies..don't they?); second, your blog allows others--potential clients--to see how you think; third, it affords you the opportunity for creative writing.

Dwayne

Evan, my advice:

Nobody should ever explain themselves. Friends will understand anyway and enemies will look for any excuse, no matter what. As soon as you compromise what you want to do, because of your percieved notions of what the audience may want, then you're no longer the person they originally came to read.

This advice has gradually sunk into me after about three years of writing comedy that many people love and some people hate.

Sincerely, "Dwayne"

noah

Hi Evan,
It's your blog, and you can change if you want to.

Have you actually experienced a negative client reaction to your blogging, or is it enough that such a negative reaction is possible?

Thanks

Gerry Carmody

AMDG stands for Ad Majorem Dei Glorium, Latin for "For the Greater Glory of God." Evan, being Jesuit-educated, knows this.

And this is the root of his conflict. For he has made himself believe that he is doing a service for his clients, often the poor and struggling. However, he makes ungodly amounts of money off of them. This is very poor (behavior) in my opinion. But that conflict (and others) make this blog interesting.

Carolyn Elefant

Evan,
I think the problem is when a lawyer weblog covers a topic not directly related to the lawyer's specialty. I don't think I've ever told any of my energy regulatory colleagues about MyShingle for the reasons you suggest - I'm concerned that they'd wonder if I'd have enough time to do their work or that I was flaky. It's always been a very subconscious division but your posts have made me realize that it's actually a very conscious effort.
I don't think the problem is the same, for example, for someone like Howard Bashman who blogs directly on point to his specialty. There, the blog reinforces that he's on top of things and enhances his marketability and credibility. But for blogs like Legal Underground which cover a range of topics or MyShingle, neither of which directly relate to substantive law, I do agree that there can be an adverse impact on our "bread and butter" business. Of course, since I view MyShingle as a business on a separate track - and not a way to build my current law practice, it's something I can live with.

Evan

Carolyn: Thanks for your comment. I personally think it's not a content issue but an amount of content issue. The type of content also matters too, but not as much in my opinion--if I had nothing but a long comical essay about lawyers on here every two weeks, I don't think anyone would think I was spending too much time on it.

As for your energy regulatory colleagues, what will they say when they do learn about your weblog? That was my issue, in part--it's what I mean when I said that I used to be able to fly under the radar, but that's harder for me now as more people find out about this weblog.

Finally, I realize that many lawyers with weblogs would not want to talk publicly about these issues, so I appreciate your comment.

Gerry: It's nice of you to be looking out for the poor and struggling, but I thought that my conflict was that I liked literature. That's what you said in your last comment. Now you've given me another conflict!

I do hope you stick around and comment more often though.

Abnu

Evan should kill this puppy and spend more time writing anonymously on his blogspot blawgs. :-)

Gerry

Evan, believe me, I don't pretend to be looking out for the poor and suffering.

And although you think that I am speaking of two conflicts you have, they are really just one. When you left law school you hated your job. You wondered if you really wanted to be a lawyer. It lacked meaning.

Then you tried to trick yourself into giving your job a purpose by taking on the poor and suffering as clients. You felt this was more consistent with your ethos and brought a greater good to your community, and by extension, the world.

Setting out into the life of the plaintiff's lawyer was your way of answering the calling to do something more meaningful. I believe you were tempted by a life of creative writing or journalism. But that was too much of change for you. Too risky.

The conflict remains. Deep down, you realize that what you take in your large settlements is far more than what you put in. You are probably still not satisfied with being a lawyer, probably feel a bit restless. I think that is part of the reason you write this blog.

So, there one essential conflict you are confronting and you have been confronting it your entire life. Remember, Evan: AMDG.

noah

I think the blog's tagline should be changed to indicate that this is where you can get expert psychoanalysis and career counseling in the comments. Can I go next?

Gerry

How about this, Noah: You're a jackass.

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