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Marketing Strategies for the Small Firm

It takes about two minutes in the legal realm to be able to ascertain the stark differences between the LARGE firms and the small firms. Most generally small firms offer more flexible hours, varied work experiences, less competition amongst associates, which leads to a more relaxed atmosphere. However, larger firms can offer higher salaries, a large client base, seemingly infinite firm resources (such as support staff), and an international presence. Graduating law students are often pulled in two different directions: chase the money and deal with the demanding work, or sacrifice the money for a more relaxed atmosphere.

Although we can make these generalizations, law firms come in as various of packages as law students themselves; each with their own skillsets and goals. However, the surge in law firm technology and internet accessibility is in many ways ameliorating the issues with small firms that often drive associates to Big law: namely, money and client base.

Stephen Fairley, CEO of The Rainmaker Institute, the nation’s largest law firm marketing company, conducted a survey in October of 2015 that revealed the following: 96% who seek legal advice use a search engine like Google; 38% of people use the internet to find an attorney; 62% of searches are general and non-branded, i.e. Cincinnati personal injury; and 71% of people think that it is important to have a local attorney. http://www.natlawreview.com/article/legal-marketing-stats-lawyers-need-to-know We can assume that these numbers, primarily the 38% who use the internet to find an attorney, have only grown higher as the technological generation enters their early adult years and those born prior to the revolution become more comfortable with their use. So, what does this mean for the small firm?

In another post, http://www.therainmakerblog.com/2015/06/articles/law-firm-marketing/4-critical-differences-between-marketing-a-small-law-firm-vs-a-large-law-firm/, Fairley identifies four principal differences between marketing in the small and large firms. First, small firms and solo practitioners do not have the luxury of the large firm’s support staff. Associates at a small or solo practice basically do it all from maintaining the daily operations in general to servicing clients to collecting fees, thus there time is very limited. Second, most usually a small firm or solo practice has a very small, or nonexistent marketing budget. Third, the small firm does not often institute decision-making committees, which can be unduly laborious and inefficient in developing a marketing strategy. Finally, large firms have the capability to institute a marketing strategy and wait for results; whereas the small firm or solo practice needs more immediate evidence of a positive return on investment.

Still, Fairley maintains that if a well developed, deliberate marketing plan is put into place that small firms are able to compete with the large firms in ways that they previously have been incapable. Website design that offers a view-friendly display, interactive options for the client, updated writings and firm work provided by attorneys, and keyword search optimization can make a small firm’s website compete, or surpass even the largest of firms. As previously demonstrated by Fairley’s survey, 71% of people prefer local attorneys. Social media outlets give small firms the opportunity to expand their local networks in a down-to-earth way. Social media can bridge the gap between the intimidation and formality oft associated with legal assistance and the availability of attorneys on an informal platform that everyday people understand. The ability for small firms to utilize big technology gives the small firm an opportunity at expanding their customer base and increasing their potential revenue.

There are stark differences between practice at a LARGE firm and practice at a small firm. Graduating law students have different motivations for pursuing one over the other, however many times those motivations center on the ability to make money. Marketing strategies focused on the deliberate use of the web and social media networks allow small firms to compete with big firms in ways that greatly increase their chances to obtain clients and increase profit.

Olivia Euler

A Serious Consideration of the San Bernardino iPhone Controversy

On December 2, 2015 a story unfolded that, until recent history, had been reserved only for fictional tales; unhappy ones at that. On this day in San Bernardino, California 14 people lost their lives while 22 people were injured at the hands of a married couple that targeted the County’s Department of Public Health’s employee Christmas Party. The couple later died in a shootout with the police.
After the waves of shock and grief had rolled over, the San Bernardino Shooting reemerged in the media’s spotlight when the FBI announced in February of 2016 that their attempts to unlock the shooter’s iPhone 5C were unsuccessful because of the phone’s advanced security features. The National Security Agency was similarly fruitless. Following the ineffective efforts on behalf of the government, the FBI then reached out to Apple asking them to create a version of the iOS operating system that would undermine the phone’s security features and allow accessibility. Apple refused. The FBI sought and obtained a court order directing Apple to develop and apply the requested software. Apple never complied with the order, but the Department of Justice announced on March 28th that the iPhone had been accessed through the efforts of a third party.
As an everyday, average American citizen who understood the enormous tragedy of terrorism and the government’s significant interest in the tracking of terrorist activity for the protection of the citizenry I found myself asking, “Why? What is the big deal, Apple?” The “big deal” is discussed below.
To begin, the positions: the FBI argues that this is a one-time scenario where national security interests hinge on the ability of the government to access this particular iPhone. According to the FBI there could be evidence of a third-shooter, or other valuable information. However, Apple saw things differently asserting that if they were to develop this software, the software could be used as a key to unlocking iPhones in general; a key opening the door to potential governmental intrusion on personal privacy that Apple does not want to be held responsible for.
Okay, so the dots are starting to connect in my low-tech mind: if the government had this software they could look into my phone and figure out who I’m calling, or texting. However, this is just part of it. If the government were to have this accessibility they would be able to read messages, track phone calls, track our locations with the GPS, look through the phone’s camera, or record conversations through the microphone, just to name a few! (http://www.digitaltrends.com/opinion/apple-vs-fbi-op-ed/)

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

For the time being, Apple has fended of this battle. However, as technology advances and terrorism likely continues (much to our dismay), it is only a matter of time before the courts must make a binding decision considering the competing interests involved: the government’s interest in terror intelligence and the individual citizen’s privacy interest. Both interests are worthy contenders. While any citizen will recognize the importance of tracking terrorism, average citizens like myself must seriously consider the implications of allowing government-compelled phone accessibility. As Apple CEO Tim Cook warned, if it is one phone it is all. Creating accessibility software, according to Cook, cannot be reserved to just one phone. And even for those who are not inherently anti-government, or untrusting it is critical to remember in this day in age the ability for malicious actors to hack, or interfere. What happens if this software, intended for accessibility of one terrorist’s phone, gets into the hands of the wrong people? On the frivolous side of the spectrum they get to see the text messages we send to our buddies, but on the side of the severe we could potentially be dealing with a whole new genre of terrorism that targets individuals in their most personal capacities.
As we grow into this technology-ran lifestyle where we increasingly share our most intimate details via some sort of technological connection we must consider our personal liberty interests at stake despite the government’s facially legitimate interest in protecting the citizenry. We do not want to unlock a door that can never be closed again.

Olivia Euler

The 2016 Lawyer: Pairing Traditional Formality with Technological Efficiency

June 29, 2007: I was 15-years-old. I was just about to enter into my sophomore year of high school. If I had to guess, I was either laying on the couch watching tasteless television, or playing soccer somewhere in Indianapolis. The winter before I had gotten my first cellphone: a Verizon flip phone (with texting)! But on June 29, 2007 I was not thinking that the release of the very first IPhone would have ramifications that would carry me into 2016 and throughout the remainder of my career in law.

The field of law maintains a peculiar competition: the deeply rooted historical traditions of law and its intricate, graceful formalities versus the dynamic, demanding efficiency of technology. Even though the historical player slows the technological player down, the speed and strength of the technological player cannot be overcome; the technological player changes the law game. The law field may be slower than others, but it is undoubtedly catching up. This places new lawyers, the twenty-something’s just entering the field, in a position of appeal as they apply to firms. This generation of lawyers is the first to grow up in the technological revolution; they offer profitable insights into the technological world foreign to attorneys past.

Despite all of the energy, praise, and sophistication that accompany the shift into the high-tech world, the legal practice has a number of practical concerns in the transition. Technology now extends information and documentation to ordinary citizens that have previously been available only through the consultation and hiring of an attorney. For example, Legal Zoom purports to offer a will starting at the low price of $69. Their website offers a number of tools including, but not limited to bankruptcy information, divorce forms, personal injury, bankruptcy, real estate, disability benefits, information on DUIs, trusts, immigration paperwork, and pages more.

Services like Legal Zoom “dumb down” the practice of law offering legal services in low-cost bundles that avoid the stigma oft associated with needing legal assistance, as well as, speed the process up. Time and money: two things every person wants more of.

So, where does this leave the modern lawyer? The legal practice is still dominated by the billable hour, but clearly, the efficiency that comes with the high-tech practice frustrates the traditional billing scheme. While many argue that the human element of lawyering can never be completely annihilated by technology it can certainly be cut down.

The ABA’s Law Technology Today put together the following must-have list for the 2016 law practice: First, collaboration between technologies and other lawyers. According to the ABA, the 2016 lawyer must get with comfortable becoming friends with technologies available to clients. When a client asks, “Can I just do this online?” it is crucial that the attorney is honest and transparent identifying both the pros and cons of utilizing these online forms. This displays the attorney’s knowledge and the potential risks associated with online formats. Second, the 2016 must find a legal software program that leaves room for the practice to grow. This program should include: a practice management system, a website with client portal that allows clients to interact with the firm via the web, a document drafting system with standard legal documents available to clients, and video conferencing software. (http://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2016/04/legal-technology-2016/)

The 2016 lawyer, especially those young, twenty-something’s, recognize that everybody wants more of two things: time and money. The availability of information and documents to the everyday citizen may come as no surprise, but forces legal practices rooted in historical tradition to change their game. The modern lawyer will find innovative ways to reinsert the human element into the legal framework.

-Olivia Euler

Today’s Stored Communications Act

The familiar tune of privacy protection of online information seems to play in the background of our lives at a near constant in this day in age. And although the conversation is becoming all too familiar, the scope and intricacies of online privacy protections remain unsettled. The Fourth Amendment provides, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures [.]” Although traditionally the language of the Fourth Amendment reflects a spatial, physical trespass interpretation, Fourth Amendment jurisprudence today involves a Katzian analysis of both objective and subjective reasonableness. The prominent sentiment today seems to be that since we (online users) voluntarily divulge our online information to our internet service providers, that our expectation for privacy is unreasonable. (i.e. The Third Party Doctrine) It is certainly arguable that as we move forward in this technological age, the widespread involvement of citizens of all classes and careers on online forums will most likely result in the recognition of online information as information worthy of protection under Katz and the reasonableness analysis.

In this period of transition between yesterday and tomorrow, we will take a look at the status of online information protection today under the Stored Communications Act. Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is entitled: the Stored Communications Act. The SCA “beefed up” protections between certain types of online communication services, namely electronic communication services and remote computing services. Section 2702 defines ECS as, “[A]ny service which provides users thereof the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications.” And a RCS as, [T]he provision to the public of computer storage or processing services by means of an electronic communications system.” SCA § 2702 limited the circumstances in which an ISP may divulge user information; most notably § 2702 forbids ISP’s from the disclosure of user’s contents. However, ISPs may share non-substantive information, such as the name or email address of a user with any non-governmental entity.

SCA § 2703 defines the limited circumstances that allow the government to compel ISP subscriber information disclosure. On an electronic communication service the government must obtain a search warrant (and the attached probable cause) for unopened emails that have been stored for at least 180 days. Remote computing services enjoy lesser protections where the government may compel upon either a search warrant, or a subpoena in conjunction with “prior notice” to the party.

1986 was not a year of booming social media platforms, thus the SCA is fairly outdated. However, there have been instances in which courts have attempted to fit the SCA scheme to the more modern social media generation. Consider the 2010 decision out of the Central District of California, Crispin v. Christian Audigier. (http://www.huntonfiles.com/files/webupload/PrivacyLaw_Crispin_v_Christian_Audigier.pdf) Crispin, an artist, claimed to be in a contractual agreement with the defendant, a clothing company. According to Crispin, the agreement allowed the defendant to use the plaintiff’s artwork on street apparel in exchange for a particular sum of money, as well as, recognition (the artist’s signature) included on the clothing. When the defendants broke this alleged agreement, Crispin brought the cause of action. In response, the defendants served subpoenas to four third-party businesses and websites including: Black Market Art Company, Media Temple, Inc., MySpace, and Facebook. Defendants sought general subscriber information, as well as communications between the plaintiff and a particular tattoo artist and all communications having to do with, or referring to the defendant claiming that these communications were critical to understanding the nature of the agreement.

The plaintiff fired back with a motion to quash invoking rights protected under the SCA pertaining to allowable disclosures of ISPs. The trial court judge concluded that the SCA was not applicable to the third-party websites listed because the SCA only reaches electronic communication service providers. In addition, the judge found that the SCA only applied to disclosures of information held in electronic storage, and that the materials involved in the present case were not in electronic storage.

However, on a motion to reconsider filed by the plaintiff, the District Court of Central California found that the trial court judge read the reach and definition of the SCA too narrowly. Media Temple, Inc., Facebook, and MySpace all provide private messaging services, and thus the court found that case law established these services as ECS worthy of protection under the SCA.

Although society (or maybe the courts) are not ready to readily accept online communications as private communications worthy of Fourth Amendment protection, the Crispin court’s application of the 1986 SCA to communications that were not even in existence at the time of the legislation’s adoption is a reflection of the direction online privacy protections are moving.

-Olivia Euler

You Were Fourteen Once Too: The Effect of Misguided Teenage Years on Future Employment

I was fourteen years old when I opened my first Facebook account. It was really quite adorable: my username was a combination of my last name and my fourteen-year-old boyfriend’s baseball number. He is long gone, but the username remains. The archives of my early Facebook years are memories that deserve to stay right where they are: far, far away. Whether it is the horrendous sentence structure, the mortifying vocabulary, or the expression of ideas that I would have never dreamed had existed in my own head I avoid recognizing the existence of my Facebook page 2006-2014. However, I find that to be a fairly general sentiment among young professionals; the wish to distance themselves from past decisions (no matter how trivial), which no longer reflect their position.

Rules and regulations regarding one’s social media activity after he obtains employment are largely understandable. When he or she becomes an employee of an organization their voice becomes a quasi-representation of the organization whether they purport to speak for the organization, or not. Regulating employees’ social media can be a necessary means for the protection of the organization’s reputation and values. But what of the prospective employee? What about those like myself who made poor choices in postings during their teen years? We know now that once information is out there, it’s out there and “privacy” on Facebook, or the like has serious and potentially costly limitations.

In 2014 CareerBuilder.com sponsored a poll exploring companies’ use of social media surveillance in hiring on new employees. The survey found that 43% of employers utilized social media in considering new candidates; a number that grew from the previous two years and one we can assume is higher today as social media continues to dominate. The sample included 5000+ hiring professionals. Findings that led to the elimination of potential candidates included: 41% for references to drinking or drug use, 32% for poor communication skills, 21% for unprofessional screen names, 46% for inappropriate photos or information, and more. (http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=6%2F26%2F2014&id=pr829&ed=12%2F31%2F2014).

Blurred Boundaries of the American Business Law Journal expands on the conundrum that is “social media background checks” and the right to privacy. The authors highlight the fear that, “[P]ersonal information presented out of context or inaccurately may lead employers to judge candidates unfairly without their knowledge or without providing an opportunity for rebuttal.” Further, this practice of surreptitiously obtaining candidates’ private information can, and most likely does, lead to illegal discrimination of candidates. While discrimination based on such categories as political affiliation, group membership, legal recreational activities, etc. is illegal, the covert collection of this information by employers is difficult to monitor and frankly, catch. (Abril, Patricia, Avner Levin, and Alissa Riego. “Blurred Boundaries: Social Media Privacy and the Twenty-First Century Employee.” American Business Journal (2012): n. pag. 63 Westlaw. Web.)

Traditionally, the concept of privacy is dominated by physical space. However, as our society moves in a direction in which private information is shared on more public platforms all the while maintaining the private expectation, the lines become seriously blurred. As a teenager I did not understand, nor appreciate the idea that, “Once it’s out there, it’s out there.” As I mature and become more profession-conscious, I responsibly maintain my social media activity. However, the thought of sitting in a room interviewing with a potential employer and having to answer to some ignorant, uninformed status update from 2010 haunts me. Should I reasonably expect my words, photos, likes, dislikes, associations, etc. on social media to be protected? The entanglement of privacy expectations and the right of employers to consider worthy, reputable candidates is a delicate dance.

-Olivia Euler