The Insider’s Guide to Event Organizers: 10 Questions You Can’t Afford Not to Ask Yourself

The Business of Law Guest Blogger this week at the National Law Review is Wendy Tyler of American Conference Institute who provides some valuable insight on what to look for in an Event / Conference Organizer:  

A traditional component of business to business marketing strategy is utilizing conferencing and trade show solutions. Ever an increasingly competitive business, the conferencing and trade show industry has witnessed significant market shifts as demand from attendees, exhibitors, speakers and sponsors have changed with the business climate. Marketing budgets remain closely scrutinized as decision makers need to justify their investments to a higher standard than ever before, which means the pre‐qualification process for an event is more vital than ever.

At any given moment, no less than two dozen event organizers simultaneously compete for your business.  With this volume it’s not uncommon to find yourself unable to fully vet each and every event opportunity that comes your way, and in return, it’s possible that valuable opportunities are being overlooked while poor opportunities may inadvertently be selected.

Evaluating an event opportunity starts with asking the right questions.  There are ten essential questions that every event purchaser should ask every conference or trade show organizer when reviewing an opportunity to participate at any level.   Each of these questions acts as a guidepost in effective qualification.   Naturally, the list of questions you might want to ask doesn’t end at ten; but these ten will help you narrow your event search and potential involvement.  Once you have these answers, any good event account manager should be able to guide you through your additional questions clearly and concisely discussing the marketing capabilities, overall event strategy, and brand development opportunities that may be available to you.

1.  How many total attendees do your events average?

This question will help you evaluate the size of the event so you can determine if the opportunity presented is for support of a conference or trade show. Due to the cyclical nature of live events, attendance does vary so it’s important that you ask what the high/low range of attendance has been so you can better assess the risk of an underperforming event.

2.  How many events do you produce a year?

This question will give you a good sense of the event organizer’s market penetration. The fewer events produced per year generally indicates that the organizer does not consider conferencing a major part of their business. For some purchasers this may not make a difference in their buying strategies but for others, there is a high degree of comfort knowing you are investing in a business whose primary business function is the delivery of the service you’ve procured.

3.  How many of your total attendees are feepaying delegates?

Quite often, event organizers lump all participants as “attendees” – this can include speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, guests, exhibit floor walkers and press. Paying delegates are the highest value prospects because they are investing money in the information presented at an event. Consequently, the greater number of paying attendees will lead to a greater quality of a pre-qualified audience for your needs – even at the sacrifice of quantity – and provide your organization with a better chance of meeting the right decision makers. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never more apparent than here.

4.  When can you show me a list of attendees?

An event organizer should be able to show you a list of attending companies no less than two days prior to an event in order to substantiate the quality of the attendees. In some cases, and with certain levels of sponsorship, you may have the opportunity to receive an update on registered attendees several weeks prior to the event. The bottom line is that two days prior to a conference, any organizer that doesn’t release some information on the confirmed attendees may not have confidence in their event thus placing your investment in jeopardy.

5.  Does this list include speakers, guests, sponsors, etc.?

Similar to any purchase of significant value, it is important to carefully review what it is you will be investing your dollars in. A sample attendee list, even one from a related event is a great way to get a feel for the expected audience. As the event nears and you receive an attendee list, be sure to find out whom exactly is included. While speakers, guests and even other sponsors can represent strong business development opportunities for your organization, it is important to know where the attendees are coming from so you can plan accordingly, manage internal expectations and have better metrics for measuring your return on investment.

6.  Would you let me speak to a former speaker or attendee?

Similar to a “word of mouth” campaign, a great way to pre‐qualify a conference organizer is to speak with a former or current speaker, attendee or sponsor. This will provide your organization with an opportunity to get a first‐hand account of the event; and the organization you’re about to allocate marketing budget to.

7. How would you define your organization’s reputation?

It is important to determine how an organization defines its reputation. It is especially important to see if their self‐definition matches the definition offered by previous attendees, sponsors & speakers. An organizer should know how it is perceived in the marketplace, for better or for worse and be able to convey this to any potential client honestly and transparently.

8. What is your competitive advantage?

Similar to reputation, a company’s competitive advantage will help an event purchaser clearly define what they can expect from the organizer. This answer will also provide a purchaser with a benchmark for evaluation after the event concludes. For example, if an event organizer is known for attracting press, you will be able to judge your return on investment based on how much press your organization received.

9. How can you help my company with your go to market strategy?

As an event purchaser, it is important to challenge the organizer to provide a comprehensive solution to your business objectives as opposed to having them simply provide a “one size fits all” product. We live in agile times and most solution providers should provide custom solutions tailored to meet your specific needs. The exception to this rule is if you are working with a trade show organizer because the volume of sponsors and exhibitors sometimes prohibit high degrees of customization.

10. Can you explain your process of program development and speaker recruitment?

Program development and speaker recruitment are to an event organizer what research and development is to a pharmaceutical company. The process is as important as the product. Through greater understanding of where content is derived and speakers are recruited from, an event purchaser is provided the opportunity to evaluate the product in its entirety. With greater content and speakers comes a higher quality of attendee. Understand the source of the content and speakers and an event purchaser will be able to better judge the chances of meeting the right audience.

The questions provided above are intended to serve as guidelines for those evaluating event sponsorship and exhibition opportunities. The answers you receive are contingent upon a number of factors including the type of event, the product intelligence of the sales executive and the corporate culture of the organizer. As with the nature of live events, the ability to accurately predict a successful event experience is more art than science however; armed with these ten basic questions, you will be given every possible advantage in making the best decision for your company.

© 2010 AMERICAN CONFERENCE INSTITUTE, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

About the Author:

Ms. Tyler has been with American Conference Institute (ACI) since May 2005. Her responsibilities include managing the U.S. sales team, forging strategic alliances and identifying emerging growth sectors and topics. www.AmericanConference.com / 212-352-3220

ABA Consumer Financial Services Law Basics -Sept 20 – 21 Boston, MA

Hey Boston – the National Law Review  wants to bring to your attention — The American Bar Association Business Law Section, the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education, and the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law of Boston University School of Law will host the 1st presentation of a one-and-a-half day introduction to the regulation of consumer financial services (“CFS”) products and the financial institutions that provide them. If you need a primer or a refresher on the law governing consumer loans and deposits, the program will provide a jump start.   11.75 hours of CLE have been applied for. 

Program Focus

The program will explain each of the major sources of regulation of consumer financial products in the context of the regulatory techniques and policies that are the common threads in a complex pattern, including:

  • Price regulation and federal preemption of state price limitations
  • Disclosure and transparency serving consumer understanding and market operation
  • Regulating the “fairness” of financial institution conduct
  • Privacy and security of consumer data and the problem of ID theft
  • Fair access to financial services
  • Remedies: regulators and private plaintiffs
  • Regulatory reform: CFPA and beyond

Rapid change is occurring in CFS law on several fronts. First, Congress and the Administration have proposed significant changes in CFS law, with the Credit CARD Act and other changes going into effect almost immediately and proposed new regulators on the horizon. At the same time, the long-time federal CFS regulators (FRB, HUD, and FTC) have promulgated new regulations of the CFS industry and its products at an unprecedented pace, in response to a financial crisis that began with toxic consumer assets and the perceived failure to regulate adequately in the past. Finally, states continue to impose their individual, local solutions on CFS industry problems. This multi-pronged approach results in, among other things, constitutional issues of federalism that the Supreme Court and Congress are currently tackling in the area of federal preemption of state CFS laws.

This program presents these new developments in the context of the complex, overlapping and often inconsistent federal laws and regulations that have developed over the past 40 years.   September 20 -21 Boston University School of Management For More Information and to Register Click on: http://dld.bz/vCjC

What's Hot in Marketing Technology for Law Firms?

The National Law Review’s Business of Law featured blogger is Kristyn J. Sornat of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) – who was a panelist at ILTA’s recent annual conference in Las Vegas.  Kristyn recaps some of the valuable information she picked up at the conference.  Read On:  

Lessons learned from the International Legal Technology Association’s Conference – ILTA 2010

For the past several years, the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) has included a one-day marketing technology track at their annual conference. While the track originally focused on client relationship management (CRM) software (namely InterAction), it has grown to include all things related to marketing technology. This year there were four sessions:

I.   Web Analytics and Search Engine Optimization: Smart Strategies

II.   Using Technology for Successful Events

III.  ERM and CRM: Compare and Contrast

IV.  Marketing Technology Roundtable

I. Web Analytics and Search Engine Optimization: Smart Strategies

In order to stay competitive it is important that law firms utilize a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to help improve their rankings in both branded and non-branded searches performed on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. This session focused on changes firms can make to their websites to support their SEO goals, including:

  • Eliminate pages with duplicate content
  • Name URL’s rather than using numbers
  • Add metadata to all pages
  • Create links between pages on your site and use meaningful phrases to describe the content to which you are linking (not just “click here”)
  • Seek inbound links to pages on your site from reputable sources
  • Push out your content as much as possible through e-mail distributions, RSS feeds, social media and syndication services – such as the National Law Review.

Also, the session covered the importance of using web analytics to track how your website is performing and whether the changes implemented are successful. Several free web analytics tools are available, including Google Analytics, Yahoo! Web Analytics and Piwik.

At the end of the session, the panelists provided the audience with 10 Questions about SEO and Web Analytics That You Should Know How to Answer.

II. Using Technology for Successful Events

This session focused on the increasing importance of e-mail communications for events and tools available to manage those communications. Two e-mail platforms were mentioned that link directly to CRM software: Tikit eMarketing andConcep. The Tikit eMarketing solution requires your firm to have in-house resources to design and send e-mails through your own server. The Concep solution involves a third-party vendor that aides in template design and uses its own servers to distribute your e-mails.

Important things to remember regarding invitations and RSVP forms:

  • Include disclaimers, the firm’s address and an unsubscribe link (important to comply with CAN-SPAM).
  • Apply alt tags for all images.
  • Use a combination of images, background color and text, rather than one big image for your invitation.
  • Link to a survey in your invitation to find out what people are interested in hearing about.
  • Link to a survey in your post-event follow-up e-mails to gauge the response of the audience, find out what else they would have liked to learn and their interest in future events.
  • Cross-market events in appropriate client alerts and other news-like e-mail distributions.
  • Personalize the e-mail with the recipient’s name in the subject line or body of the e-mail for a better response rate.
  • Use social media to promote the event to an audience who may not already be familiar with your firm.

 III. ERM and CRM: Compare and Contrast

This topic turned into a hot debate among the panelists and drew a large crowd of enterprise relationship management (ERM) and CRM vendors who were anxious to hear how their solutions would be discussed. There were three panelists from different law firms, one with only an ERM solution, one with only a CRM solution and one with both solutions in place. One of the main functions of both ERM and CRM software is tracking “who knows who” among your clients, prospects and referral sources. ERM gathers this information by monitoring e-mail traffic and possibly phone calls of your employees and brings that information into the system automatically. Most CRM systems pull this information from address books in Outlook (and other e-mail systems) and require more active participation from attorneys to be successful.

The message from the panel was that every firm is different, and selecting one or both solutions depends on the culture of your firm and its needs. If you have attorneys who won’t take the time to share their contacts through CRM software and will not object to the information being pulled automatically, an ERM solution may work for you. If you have attorneys who are concerned about privacy and want to be able to do more (such as track business development efforts, e-mail marketing lists and client information), the CRM option is the way to go. If you have a combination of needs, you might look into implementing both solutions.

During the presentation, the panelists were careful not to mention what vendors they used, but did supply the following list of ERM and CRM providers that to cater to the law firm market.

CRM Vendors

LexisNexis – InterAction

Versys Corporation – IntelliPad

Client Profiles/Microsoft – CRM4Legal

Cole Valley Software – ContactEase

Hubbard One – Contact Manager

ERM Vendors

Cole Valley Software – Relationship Discovery

LexisNexis – InterAction IQ

Hubbard One – ContactNet

BranchIt Corporation – BranchIt

 

IV. Marketing Technology Roundtable / Hot Trends in Law Firm Marketing Technology

In the fourth session, all panelists from the previous sessions returned to answer audience questions about marketing technology. The first thing discussed was what’s hot or new in the market. Below are some of the advances that are happening now or may be coming your way in the near future.

Websites: Looking at the future of law firm websites, the group saw many changes on the horizon.  One panelist described a recent demo she attended from Saturno Design that featured a new tool that essentially sets up a “mapping” feature to deliver customized content to each visitor based on what they viewed during prior visits to your site. Several panelists also predicted a blurring between the traditional law firm site and social media. Examples included pulling content from LinkedIn profiles for attorney bios or replacing the traditional newsletter and alert sections with blogs.

Video: Video was a hot topic throughout the sessions. Many firms have already begun to use this medium on their websites and in their electronic communications, adding a human element that was not possible before. Mary Tomaro, Web and Interactive Marketing Manager for Jones Day, said videos on their website have become quite popular. An important note, if your firm is comfortable using YouTube to host its videos, there are two benefits to this approach: 1) you can save the cost of purchasing software to host them yourself, and 2) you can increase the reach of the videos, as they can be spread virally and are more easily found by search engines.

Mobile AppsTo date, only a select few firms have released applications for use on mobile devices. The panelists saw this as an increasingly important trend as users move away from traditional desktop computers and use their mobile devices and other tools, such as iPads, to search for and read content. Read a blog post describing the recent success of Morrison & Foerster’s iPhone app.

Social Media: Although social media may not be a new tool, many firms have yet to establish a usage policy or firmwide strategy. As you iron out how your firm will utilize social media, keep in mind that relevance is more important than reach – it doesn’t matter if you have 2,000 Twitter followers if the content you give them doesn’t resonate.

© 2010 International Legal Technology Association  

About the Author:

Kristyn is Marketing Technology Specialist at Chicago-based Much Shelist. She is responsible for the firm’s CRM database (InterAction), electronic marketing campaigns (from basic HTML design through distribution and analytics) and social media strategy. She also has various duties related to the firm’s Web site, including search engine optimization and Web analytics interpretation. Kristyn was recognized by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) with a 2010 Distinguished Peer Award for outstanding achievements in marketing technology at the organization’s annual conference. She has nearly five years of marketing technology experience in a law firm environment.

www.muchshelist.com / 312-521-2125

 

Social Media Policy Drafting: What are the Ethical Risks & Pitfalls?

The National Law Review’s featured Business of Law Guest  Blogger Meredith L. Williams of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC outlines some very real concerns for lawyers and law firms related to social media and state bar assocation guidelines.  Ms. Williams also offers some very concrete Do’s and Don’t on how to address these concerns.  Read on….

Today, social media encompasses a broad sweep of online activity, all of which is trackable and traceable.  These networks include not only the blogs you write and those to which you comment, but also social networks.  Each day brings new online tools and new advances introduce new opportunities to build your virtual footprint.

As a law firm, social media can help drive business initiatives and support professional development efforts. In basic business terms social media can be considered the least expensive form of large scale advertising. However, social media is not exclusively used for business by law firm employees.  When it comes to expressing opinions about anything having to do with the law, firm employees are in a position that requires limitations and have certain limitations. Statements in public forums may inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship, and they may also violate the rules prohibiting law firm advertising.  The wrong communication can be construed as exposing firm or client secrets; invasion of privacy and defamation; trademark violations; and may even lead to wrongful termination claims. Therefore, a law firm must attempt to provide reasonable guidelines for online behavior by members of the firm.

The following are five (5) ethical areas that all law firms should address when drafting internal social media policies. These can also be utilized by law departments when dealing with lawyer and non-lawyer employees.  All of these rules are simply an extension of model rules of professional conduct & state rules of ethics.  The over arching principles should remain the same as new social media sites and technologies emerge.

Advertising (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2)

Marketing and advertising are key functions for any business survival. However, lawyers, especially in law firms, are held to a higher standard when advertising through electronic means. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2[1] states a lawyer or law firm may advertise through written, recorded or electronic means.  This includes all social media sites.

  Quick Reference
  Do

  • Have any personal or professional social media site as desired.
  • Use appropriate disclaimers as needed.

Do NOT

  • Use the organization’s name or email address on a personal site unless using the appropriate disclaimers.
  • Use the organization’s assets to update personal sites.
   

Example: A law firm creates a site on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. using the firm name.  Is this advertising?

Example: An employee of a law firm uses the firm name or firm email address on their personal Facebook site.  Is this advertising? 

State ethics boards consider the true crux of the advertising issue to be not who creates the site or the intent of the site but rather whether or not the site can be considered to be used for professional use.  If being used for professional use, social media presence and communication can be considered to fall within the advertising rules. 

Below are a few guidelines to include in firm policies to teach your employees (lawyers and non-lawyers) how not to create a professional site unless intended.

  • Employees should not associate the firm name or firm email address with the site unless it is intended for professional use.  This includes stating they are an employee of the law firm. 
  • Do not use firm assets to update personal sites.  This includes any law firm owned laptop or computer, I-Phone or blackberry, firm IP address and email address.  Using the firm email address implies the employee is acting on the firm’s behalf. 
  • Create an advertising disclaimer to help employees specifically state their use is personal or professional. 

This subject is difficult to approach with employees. Many will argue it is the same as verbally telling someone they work at a specific law firm. However, state boards have compared the online activity to a law firm website vs. verbal communication.  The best approach is helping employees understand how not to blur the lines of professional/ personal sites for their own protection.  As an employer, you want employees to continue using social media sites to broaden and help promote the firm brand.  However, you only want them to do it in the most ethical way.

Attorney-Client Relationship (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1 Series)

The attorney-client relationship is one of the oldest legal ethical standards.  It creates a certain set of duties the lawyer owes the client. The model rules of professional conduct set forth a series of guidelines that help regulate the creation and existence of this important relationship. In the electronic world, especially when utilizing social media, the important issue is whether any electronic communication creates an attorney-client relationship inadvertently. 

  Quick Reference
  Do

  • Post non-legal comments, blogs, etc. on any personal or professional site.
  • Use appropriate disclaimers as needed.

Do NOT

  • Post legal advice.
  • “Friend” anyone on a professional site unless previously corresponded or known.
  • “Friend” a Judge on a professional site.
   

Example: A lawyer of firm ABC is blogging on a social media site regarding new tax laws. A non-client comments to the blog inquiring about his specific tax situation. The lawyer in turn comments again discussing how the new tax laws apply to the non-client. Has an attorney-client relationship been created?

Law firms presently use disclaimers for emails and firm websites to verify no implied relationship is created.  But how do we instruct employees to this standard when social media sites are interactive by nature? Below are a few key policy guidelines to help employees navigate this difficult area.

  • Employees should never post legal advice.  This does not mean employees cannot comment or post to social media sites. It only relates to publishing or posting that could be construed as legal advice or opinion.  If the subject matter is related to a legal or ethical situation, attorneys and staff may only discuss the legal standards but not apply those standards to any particular fact situation. 
  • Firms should provide a disclaimer for employees to utilize when posting or commenting on professional social networking sites. 
  • When using social networks with firm e-mail and professional identification, employees should not “friend” anyone they do not know and/or with whom they have not previously corresponded. 
  • Some states have even gone so far as to also state that lawyers and judges cannot be “friends” on any professional social media sites. State ethics rules should be consulted prior to drafting any policy.

Client Confidentiality (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6)

Client confidentiality and business privacy are two of the largest concerns of employers when dealing with social media communication. Generally, a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.  In addition, privacy of the organization, the business processes, the firm brand and the IP of the firm are key for business continuity.

  Quick Reference
  Do

  • Discuss job generically
  • Avoid uncontrolled forums.
  • Be respectful of other’s and the company’s privacy.
  • Get approval when responding to negative requests.

Do NOT

  • Discuss job specifics.
  • Use the client’s name.
  • Disclose specifics related to the business.
  • Disclose confidential information.
  • Upload law firm contacts onto a social media site.

 

   

Example: A lawyer begins discussing a case he is handling on his personal Facebook blog.  Although not referencing the client name, details of the case are discussed. Has the client confidentiality been broken?

Example: A law firm employee tweets about a firm staff meeting discussing salary and new hires.  Has the privacy of business been destroyed?

Law firms must address confidentiality and privacy standards in social media policies.  In addition, consequences for breaking these standards should also be detailed. Below are a few policy considerations to navigate this area. 

  • Employees should never use a client’s name unless written permission has been received.
  • Employees should never disclose confidential or private business information.  Sharing this type of information, even unintentionally, can result in legal action against the employee, the firm, and/or the client.
  • Outside the workplace, rights to privacy and free speech protect online activity conducted on personal social networks used with personal email addresses.  However, what is published on personal online sites should never be attributed to the firm and should not appear to be endorsed by or originated from the firm.
  • Employees should avoid forums where there is little control over what is known to be confidential information.  In the world of social networking, there is often a breach of confidentiality when someone emails an attorney or posts a comment congratulating him/her on representation of a specific client or on a specific case. 
  • Respect the privacy of other employees and of the opinions of others.  Before sharing a comment, post, picture, or video about a client or other employee through any type of social media or network, his/her consent is not only a courtesy, it is a requirement. 
  • Get Marketing/ PR departments involved when responding to certain inaccurate, accusatory or negative comments about the firm or any firm clients.

Expertise (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4)

  Quick Reference
  Do

  • Allow recommendations.
  • Review and monitor all recommendations carefully.
  • Edit or hide recommendations as needed to remove any verbiage that states you are “better”, “the best”, “expert”, “specialized” or “certified”.

Do NOT

  • Be false or misleading in online credentials.
  • Use the words “better” or “the best” in credentials or when recommending others.
  • Use the verbiage “expert”, “specialist” or “certified” to describe experience unless certified by an organization that is accredited by the ABA or the state bar. 
   

Many lawyers are considered experts or specialists by their peers in select areas of law.  However, using the expert designation can only be done with appropriate approval. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4 generally states that a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law.  In addition, a lawyer may promote the engagement in specific areas of practice.  However, a lawyer shall NOT state or imply that a lawyer is an expert or a certified specialist unless the lawyer has been certified by an organization that is accredited by the ABA or the state bar. 

This model rule affects the use of credentials and recommendations on social media sites.  What are the key areas to include in law firm policies?

  • Employees should never be false and misleading in online credentials.  All employees should maintain complete accuracy in all online bios and ensure no embellishment. 
  • Recommendations should be used carefully. Employees should review all recommendations created for them for any embellishment (i.e. use of the words better or best) expertise, certification or specialization listing.   Edit or hide recommendations as needed.
  • Employees should not include the words “expert”, “certified”, or “specialized” in their credentials unless authorized to do so.

Expertise and specialization is heavily regulated at the state level.  Some states have gone further in their restricted verbiage. State rules of ethics should be reviewed prior to any policy drafting.

General Communications (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7 Series)

The final social media ethics concern revolves around general law firm and lawyer communication. In personal and especially professional communication, all communications must be truthful and accurate. 

  Quick Reference
  Do

  • Credit appropriately
  • Fact check
  • Spell & grammar check
  • Correct errors promptly
  • Be transparent
  • Follow firm policies
  • Obey the law

Do NOT

  • Personally attack, become involved in an online fights or hostile communication.
  • Solicit or use commercial speech.  The content must be informative only. Nothing should propose a commercial transaction
   

Law firms and law departments should consider the following general policy guidelines when drafting social media policies. 

  • Identify all copyrighted or borrowed material with citations and links.  When publishing any material online that includes another’s direct or paraphrased quotes, thoughts, ideas, photos, or videos, always give credit to the original material or author, where applicable. 
  • Ensure material is accurate, truthful, and without factual error prior to posting. 
  • Spell and grammar check everything.
  • Correct any mistakes promptly.
  • When participating social media sites in a professional manner, disclose identity and any firm affiliation.  Never use a false name, alias, or be anonymous.  Many courts have looked poorly on law firms and lawyers using alias names while on social media sites.
  • Follow all firm policies and procedures regarding online communications.  Be respectful and do not make statements that are defamatory; racially, sexually, or otherwise insensitive or offensive; or otherwise improper or likely to conflict with the interests of the firm, its employees, clients, affiliates and others, including competitors. 
  • Follow the site’s terms and conditions of use.
  • Do not post any information or conduct any online activity that may violate applicable local, state or federal laws or regulations.
  • Avoid personal attacks, online fights, and hostile communications. 
  • Employees should never solicit or use commercial speech.  Employees should not use a site as a way to directly solicit business for the firm.  While a blog itself is not subject to the limitation on commercial speech, the content of a blog can be.  The content must be informative only, and nothing in the content should propose a commercial transaction or be for the purpose of directly gaining a commercial transaction.

Conclusion

As discussed in this article, there are many ethical considerations when law firms and their employees decided to use social media sites.  Similar to email emerging as the main form of business communication ten (10) years ago, social media is now the communication wave of the future. This new format is how the next generation of leaders presently lives and communicates day to day.  The legal community must embrace the new technology and the opportunity to educate employees.


[1] Model Rules of Professional Conduct are professional standards that serve as models of the regulatory law governing the legal profession.  However, each state board of professional responsibility has additional or supplemental states rules of ethics. State rules should be considered prior to policy drafting.

©2010 Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author:

Meredith L. Williams is Baker Donelson’s Director of Knowledge Management.  Although trained as a lawyer, she is not actively engaged in the practice of law.  Instead, she oversees BakerNet, the Firm’s industry-leading intranet, and coordinates strategic growth on behalf of the Firm in knowledge management, competitive intelligence and technology.  Ms. Williams is widely recognized as a leading authority in knowledge management issues for the legal field, and is a frequent presenter and author on knowledge management and competitive intelligence. 

Ms. Williams is a member of the Association of Women Attorneys and the American, Tennessee and Memphis Bar Associations. In addition, Ms. Williams is Conference Vice President for the International Legal Technology Association 2010-2011. She is a recipient of the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award from the University Of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School Of Law for her volunteer work.   901-577-2353 / www.BakerDonelson.com

Law2020™ The Future Starts Now

The National Law Review is a proud supporter of the ILTA (International Legal Technology Association) and their upcoming 2010 Strategic Unity Conference in Las Vegas August 22-26.  National Law Review guest blogger John Alber of the ILTA and Strategic Technology Partner of  Bryan Cave LLP examines the epic changes going on in the law profession.

Law2020™ The Future Starts Now

We approach temporal landmarks — the turn of a millennium, a century or sometimes even a decade — rather as we approach a precipice like the Grand Canyon, feeling both exhilaration and dread. At the turn of the millennium, we encountered both extremes. These were the end-times, according to some; and the future was about to begin, according to others.

For the law business in the coming decade, this sort of geologic comparison seems especially appropriate. Taking it perhaps a bit too far, the preceding decade was, at least until its waning 18 months, a high plain indeed. That decade marked unprecedented revenue and profit growth, the latter driven by annual price increases that for some firms reached double digits. The year 2007 was, for many in the AmLaw 200, the best year on record.

We all know what happened next. The mortgage crisis hit in 2008, then the credit markets collapsed, and global equities began a months-long decline. The Great Recession rose up like a storm cloud and everything changed, perhaps forever.

Exhilaration or Dread?

Until the recession turns, not much is certain. The law business is as stressed as it has been at any time in the last 50 years. But what will come of that stress? Should we be exhilarated, or full of dread?

Commentators such as Richard Susskind believe the coming decade will be one of dramatic change:

When the storm lifts, the terrain is going to look wildly different . . . Those who think the techniques they must adopt to survive over the next few months will be irrelevant to the future are fundamentally mistaken. They are with us for life.

Implicit in such pronouncements is a certain kind of mortal dread: Some firms will fail. Only those that adapt will succeed. Susskind’s last book did not leave his conclusion implicit, by the way. It was titled The End of Lawyers. Point taken.

At the other end of the spectrum are those curmudgeons, including, apparently, a number of law firms, who think that we have experienced a disruption, not a major shift, and that everything will soon be just peachy again. In a recent Altman Weil survey, for example, 75 percent of corporate chief legal officers (CLOs) reported that, in spite of unprecedented pressure for change, law firms had “little or no interest” in changing the traditional law firm model. Implicit in that position is the assumption that, given enough time, the industry will get back up on its high plain of profitability and continue happily onward.

So, which will it be — exhilaration or dread? What will the coming decade bring? We will begin to answer that question in this article by comparing the legal industry’s current position with that of another industry — the newspaper business. A decade ago, it too stood on a precipice. What happened next is a lesson in the costs of complacency in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace.

Following that object lesson, we will begin addressing the questions that relate to a rapidly changing marketplace. How can we manage profound change and do so not only to cope with the stresses it imposes, but to positively thrive in the coming decade? What skills for lawyers and professional staff will be imperative for the firms that will emerge as leaders? What technologies will be paramount? What will the law firm of 2020 look like and how will it differ from the firm of today? In coming months and years, we will explore these and other critical questions as part of the ILTA’s Law2020 initiative. But before we look forward, let us first look back, in the spirit of Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stop the Presses

John Morton, an observer of the newspaper industry, wrote this in the American Journalism Review in October 1994:

Newspapers are renowned, and sometimes vilified, for their high profits. Even during recessions, when the profits of many other businesses fall sharply or disappear, newspapers usually still post more-than-respectable earnings.

The 1990s bore out that prediction. Newspapers and media companies the world over seemed to manufacture cash. Perhaps foremost among those, at least in the eyes of the investing public, was the Washington Post Company. Warren Buffet, recognizing the cash potential of the media business, first began investing in The Washington Post in the ‘70s. By the mid-‘90s, it had become one of the best in a long series of spectacular Buffet investments, one he often proclaimed a stellar choice.

Newspaper and media company shareholders, board members and executives had every reason to be optimistic as the new millennium approached. The euphoria was bolstered by a history of revenue growth and increasing returns that few other industries could match. What possibly could go wrong?

The first decade of the new century killed that euphoria. Advertising revenue, by far the main source of revenue for newspaper and media companies, peaked in 2000. But as the new decade progressed, those revenues began to oscillate, and then they crashed. By 2009, newspaper advertising revenues had fallen, in real dollars, to 1965 levels, as illustrated in the chart below (source: Columbia Journalism Review).

The cause for this decline was twofold. Changing demographics undercut circulation, as younger and more suburban consumers migrated from print to online media. But the key factor undoing print media was the migration of classified advertising to online outlets. As much as 80 percent of a newspaper’s ad revenue comes from classifieds — new and used car ads, real estate ads, employment ads, and the like. Advertisers in most of those areas have now shifted the bulk of their advertising dollars online. Between 2000 and 2009, nearly 70 percent of classified advertising shifted to online outlets. A good example is auto advertising. The following chart from MarketingCharts.com illustrates the problem. eBay now dominates automotive advertising, and other major sites siphon off still more print advertising revenue.

As a consequence of these steep declines in circulation and ad revenue, the newspaper industry has become an ongoing tale of woe, of death by the proverbial 10,000 cuts. Newsrooms have been double- and triple-decimated, major dailies have perished the world over, and even flagships such as the New York Times have suffered the indignities of the changing marketplace. The shape of a centuries-old industry has shifted dramatically in the blink of a decade.

It is interesting to note that even in the midst of all this woe there were hopeful moments and those who, with almost all evidence to the contrary, seized on that hope. The first waves of staff and other expense cuts in the industry did indeed restore some papers to profitability. But the detrimental impact on editorial content of all those cuts merely exacerbated long term declines in readership.

The Rise of the Realists

The newspaper industry in particular and traditional media in general suffered greatly over the last decade, but there were winners. Some media companies anticipated the coming shift in demand among readers, the fall of circulations and the flight of advertisers. Those few exhibited great flexibility and agility in shifting their businesses into areas such as cable and online outlets where demand was growing. These companies made realistic assessments of market conditions. They sought ways to syndicate content across media formats, and invested in new outlets, even entire new lines of business. Epitomizing such forward-looking businesses are companies like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which now has stakes in all forms of broadcasting, cable and satellite TV, new media outlets, as well as a small remaining stake in newspapers. Many of the top media companies have moved almost entirely out of the traditional newspaper business.

It is also worth noting the impact of entirely new lines of business on the habits of news consumers and advertising cash flows. What media company has grown the most over the last decade? Google. It is the world’s largest “content mediator” (note well, the term is not “publisher”). Its ability to connect content with consumers enabled it to generate nearly $23 billion in advertising revenue in 2009, an amount roughly equal to the combined newspaper advertising revenue for the top 100 media companies in the world.

All Along the Watchtower

Many signposts in the legal industry point to a coming transformation of significant magnitude, perhaps even one as deep and dramatic as that which befell the newspaper industry. Principal evidence of such change is the pivotal shift of attitudes among the people who are responsible for hiring and paying law firms. In a recent LexisNexis survey, 58 percent of corporate counsel believe that law firms are too profitable.

*Source: http://blog.larrybodine.com/2009/12/articles/current-affairs/58-of-corporate-counsel-say-that-law-firms-are-too-profitable/

That “too profitable” message is not, on its face, terribly nuanced. However, a broader look at the marketplace adds a gloss. Many law department lawyers and CLOs say that they are happy to see firms profit from their activities. But they want firms to maintain or increase profits through innovation and changing the value proposition for their services, not through regular price increases. This reality has prompted one leading law industry consultant, Hildebrandt Baker Robbins, to observe:

The fact is that the extraordinary prosperity of the legal market in the 1998-2007 period was largely driven by one factor — the ability of firms to raise their rates 6-8 percent every year. If, as we believe, the era of such easy year-on-year rate increases is over, then the implications for the economics and structure of law firms are quite serious. (Source: 2010 Client Advisory)

So, large and regular price increases may be a thing of the past. However, what may become the central impetus for a shake up in the legal industry is both deeper and broader than “mere” price resistance. There is emerging now a powerful formalization and organization (using “organize” in the sense it might be used by, say, a union) of the discontent now widespread among clients. That formal response is a collective and highly structured initiative called the Value Challenge, which is engendered by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) — “the world’s largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations and other private-sector organizations around the globe.”

Firms Under the Microscope

The ACC’s Value Challenge is founded on the premise that year after year of price increases with no increased innovation and efficiency has severed the connection between the value of legal services delivered by most law firms and the price of those services. The Value Challenge is an effort to restore balance between value and cost.

As part of the initiative, the ACC has also kicked off a project of key performance measures. Its Value Index, launched in October 2009, endeavors to compare law firms based on simple post-work assessments by in-house counsel. Participants rate the firms from 1 to 5 with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent — and then indicate whether they would use the firm again. There is a spot for comments, and respondents can choose whether to keep their name and information anonymous. By the end of 2009, the ACC had collected 1,800 evaluations of 600 different law firms. Consumer Reports for law firms has arrived.

The Value Challenge initiative has been accompanied by a number of vocal pronouncements by leading CLOs concerning the need for law firms to change their ways. These CLOs and others are also putting their money where their mouths are. Recent surveys have noted a significant uptick in the number of fee arrangements based on something other than the billable hour. (Sources: Altman Weil, Inc. Report to Legal Management, January 2010; Altman Weil, Inc. 2010 Billing Rates Survey). And some companies have gone still further. For example, in late 2009, Levi Strauss & Co. allocated all of its legal work (except IP work) to a single firm for a flat monthly fee, and other companies are following suit by outsourcing entire legal functions to single firms.

Both as a consequence of the Value Challenge and of the underlying dissatisfaction that necessitated it, the legal market has over the last year and a half seen a significant shift in buying habits. A number of surveys now show a sharp rise in demand for non-hours-based fee structures. (Sources: Altman Weil, Inc. Report to Legal Management, January 2010; Altman Weil, Inc. 2010 Billing Rates Survey). A recent ACC survey reports that four out of five in-house lawyers expressed a desire to increase their spending on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs). Companies have also accelerated already-established trends toward reducing the number of law firms approved to provide services and toward introducing purchasing disciplines (such as RFPs) into the buying process. Law departments have also considerably elevated pressure on rates over the last year, with the result that rate increases have slowed considerably.

Law firm responses to these signals of marketplace change have been very . . . um . . . newspaper-like. They include radical reductions in force at all levels within law firms as well as other aggressive cost-cutting measures. These bar charts from Hildebrandt Baker Robbins capturing metrics from over 100 leading law firms illustrate the extent of those cost-cutting efforts and, at least for the year 2009, the immediate beneficial impact of those cuts on profitability.

What law firms have not done in response to the very clear messages emerging from their customer base is engage in widespread or radical innovation. There are pockets of innovation, and some new business models are emerging. Indeed, these may become the seeds of success for the firms that will thrive over the next decade. But what is striking is how pervasive passivity is as a response to such challenges — passivity remarkably similar to that exhibited by newspapers facing the eradication of their business model.

The Client’s the Thing

Those media companies that survived and even thrived through the first decade of this century did so as a consequence of extraordinary attention to both the preferences and needs of their customers. You could argue that the shift in preferences in the newspaper industry was easy to miss because no one understood new media and its emerging users, but in the law business we have customers who are in no way subtle about expressing their preferences. The ACC Value Challenge is tantamount to clients grabbing us by our lapels, shaking us and saying, “Pay attention to us!” It is hard to imagine that in the wake of such ardent lapel grabbing the law business will simply resume its old path.

It is a very safe prediction to say that those firms that thrive through the next decade will pay extraordinary attention to clients’ preferences and needs. Now, most lawyers will respond to such a pronouncement by saying something like, “I already pay attention to my clients’ needs. That’s what I do every day.” And that is doubtless true for most lawyers. But it misses the point of the Value Challenge. Our clients are telling us that we charge too much for the value of the services we deliver. They are asking us, quite pointedly, to rethink how we structure, price and manage our services.

The firms that will thrive over the next decade are beginning to understand that request and move in that direction. For example, some firms are restructuring the delivery of e-discovery services in order to completely revise existing price and effectiveness models. These firms understand that fulfilling client needs means more than just returning phone calls. It can mean changing your business.

Institutional Agility and Flexibility

The media companies now dominating the media marketplace did not lie back and wait to see what others were doing. Most were extremely aggressive in expanding into online, cable and other new markets both by means of acquisitions and through original creations. They showed great agility in acting on opportunities and great flexibility, especially in terms of how they viewed their core businesses. Those whose view of themselves was defined by what they had always done and who therefore could not adapt with flexibility and agility are now gone, or nearly so.

The “horizontal” structure that characterizes law firms can often be an advantage. Individual lawyers themselves can sometimes act with great flexibility and agility. But the challenge to “rethink how we structure, price and manage our services” is an institutional one, the meeting of which will require institutional agility and flexibility. Abundant business school case studies examine how various corporate businesses responded to marketplace challenges with agility and flexibility. It’s safe to say that there are not so many studies concerning law firms.

The horizontal structure that proves such an advantage in some circumstances does not lend itself to rapid movements in new directions. Perhaps by 2020, there will be some inspiring and instructional case studies of the firms that have managed to overcome the limitations of horizontal structures and answer the new demands of this decade’s legal marketplace. Of course, there will likely be case studies of the firms that failed to overcome such limitations.

Process Improvement and Quality Assurance

The newspaper industry and the law business both have elements of the guild about them. Apprenticeship features strongly in their professional development cultures — whether it is the cub reporter becoming a journeyman journalist or the associate becoming a partner, learning is most often accomplished in very small group settings and through close interpersonal relationships. That is an advantage in both settings, and part of the charm of each.

Those guild-like working relationships continue into the main of legal practice. Most legal projects have been and continue to be managed through small teams that interact without a lot of what lawyers like to call “corporate” hierarchy. In the environment of the last several decades, such relatively informal working relationships have functioned well. The billable hour certainly adds some cushion to such a work environment, which has been fairly tolerant of inefficiencies.

All that changes significantly as legal projects increase in scale and especially when they must be done for a fixed price or in a manner that otherwise shifts considerable risk to the law firm. Inefficiencies become expensive in such a setting. Couple that with increasing demands by clients that firms be able to not just budget but to schedule as well, and law firm work begins to look much more like work in mainstream industry.

The ACC’s President, Fred Krebs, is fond of pointing out that many law firm clients have taken project management, process control and quality assurance to a high art. Can you imagine, he asks, building a transport airplane or a skyscraper using the management and pricing approaches of law firms? It is a rhetorical question, though the follow-up question is not: Why can’t law firms adopt the very same controls that their clients use?

Adoption of client business management techniques has increased in the legal industry. Some firms are very sophisticated in how they manage, for example, advanced technologies. Law firms now regularly appear in rankings of the top IT organizations in the world. And you can bet that those organizations have taken, say, project management to an advanced state, at least within the IT organization.

By 2020, however, we will see a number of firms that have thrown open the doors to their project management offices and applied the techniques that have let them manage IT so well to their own legal services. Indeed, we might expect IT executives to exert leadership influences outside of their traditional domains. They know valuable things. Law firm economics are now shifting so as to provide incentives for recognizing and fully utilizing such skills.

Incentives are also increasing toward the use of process control and quality assurance. We have already seen at least one U.S. firm adopt elements of the Six Sigma discipline. (Source: Value Practice: Use of Tailored Six Sigma Methodologies at Seyfarth Shaw). By 2020, we can expect to see much more of that.

Expanding the Service Platform

As the decade continues and some law firms adopt staffing, project management, process control and quality assurance innovations from mainstream industry, we might expect them to expand their service offerings beyond traditional legal services. Indeed, we have already seen some of this as firms reposition IT services and, more recently, e-discovery services as stand-alone service organizations.

We have already seen and can expect to see more of the “cost center” phenomenon that was especially evident in industry through the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, many businesses sought to convert cost centers within their companies into revenue generating entities. Most efforts folded under their own weight because companies underestimated the resource and financial commitments necessary to turn an internal service organization into one that stands on its own.

But then there were the exceptions. Foremost among those is what used to be known as Andersen Consulting and is now known as Accenture. It grew out of an internal IT consulting service and, after splitting with Arthur Andersen and Company in 1989, has grown to become one of the largest consulting organizations in the world.

By 2020, we may well see a significant percentage of law firm revenues coming from nontraditional realms such as IT consulting, strategic consulting, e-discovery and due diligence services as well as other areas. Indeed, some firms are already very active in these areas.

By the time of the split, Andersen Consulting’s per partner profitability far outstripped that of Andersen proper. Indeed, that was a factor in the split (as well as the liability that arose from Andersen’s audit activities). We see some firm e-discovery consulting arms already moving toward extraordinary profitability while, at the same time, radically lowering the cost of e-discovery and otherwise much improving service levels for clients. This is also true in other areas, such as legislative consulting.

Firms that manage to create such entities either within or alongside their organizations will be in a much better position to endure an environment of increased downward pressure on rates. Indeed, over the next decade, one might predict the demise of firms that, like some since-lapsed newspapers, could not diversify their revenue sources. Those perished papers clawed ever deeper into expenses trying to maintain historic levels of profitability, without ever touching their 100-year-old business model. It is not at all difficult to imagine a similar picture in our industry.

The Telescope and the Crystal Ball

We can go much further than we have here in raising our hand to our forehead and squinting at the horizon in an attempt to identify productive paths to the future. ILTA’s Law2020 initiative will continue this effort, but we can also be hopeful that through the proven “power of the crowd” that is inherent in ILTA’s peer-to-peer model, Law2020 will bring to the task both a “telescope” of foreseeable events and a crystal ball to portend the future. The content in this issue of Peer to Peer will amplify these explorations in various ways. And the Law2020 sessions at ILTA’s annual conference in August will continue the effort. But expect much more in the years to come. Whether standing on a precipice or climbing out of a valley, we will look with clear vision at the path that lies ahead.

This article was orignially published in the June issue of Peer-to-Peer , the quarterly magazine of ILTA, and is republished here with permission.

——————————————————————————–
Endnotes

[1] Note how limiting the term “reader” is. Newspapers cultivate “readership,” which brings to mind a paper spread out on the kitchen table, an image that has become — almost — an anachronism.

[2] See for example, these articles by CLOs: Drive Better Alignment in Legal Services
Mark Chandler, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, Cisco Systems, Inc. (April 2008); Value-Based Staffing Practices: Focus on Communications Skills and Tools At AmerisourceBergen Corporation, John Chou, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, AmerisourceBergen Corporation (March 2010);Yes, ‘Small Law’ Can: Alternative Fee/Value-Based Arrangements at Wolverine World Wide, Inc.
Ken Grady, General Counsel and Secretary for Wolverine World Wide, Inc. (January 2010); Achieving Alignment Inside and Out: Portfolio of Legal Services on Flat Fee and Disciplined Internal Planning Process, Christopher Reynolds, Group Vice President and General Counsel for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. (September 2009); Creating Value By Selecting Strategic Practice Area Providers – Practices at GE Canada, Bruce Futterer, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, General Electric Canada (July 2009); ACC Value Challenge: The Driving Force Behind Value and Change, Jeffrey Carr, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for FMC, Technologies (February 2009); ACC’s Value Challenge: Re-Connecting Legal Costs to their Value, Laura Stein, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for The Clorox Company and ACC 2008 Board Chair, (October 2008)
© 2010 International Legal Technology Association

Authored by:

John Alber is the Strategic Technology Partner at Bryan Cave LLP. John leads the firm’s award-winning client technology group, which develops innovative web-based, client-facing decision support, training and client communication tools. The group has also become widely known for developing leading-edge internal decision support, knowledge management and client intelligence systems for Bryan Cave.  John has written and spoken widely on legal technology subjects and received a number of technology awards, both in the legal field and in information technology generally. Among other awards, he was named American Lawyer Media’s first ever ‘Champion of Technology’ in 2004, and recognized as one of the ‘Top 25 CTOs’ by Infoworld in 2007. John can be reached at:  314-259-2144 / www.BryanCave.com

Outgoing ABA President Carolyn Lamm Discusses Next Steps to Achieving a More Diverse Legal Profession

The Business of Law Guest Blogger this week at the National Law Review is Vera Djordjevich of Vault Inc. with an interview of outgoing ABA President Carolyn Lamm Discussing the  Next Steps to Achieving a More Diverse Legal Profession. 

 On July 30, 2010, Vault and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) held their 5th Annual Legal Diversity Career Fair at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. More than 1,000 law students and lateral associates registered for the event, where hiring partners and recruiters from some 30 law firms, government agencies and corporate law departments were on hand to meet with candidates, review their resumes, offer advice and answer questions.

The event kicked off with a special breakfast where Brian Dalton, Vault’s managing editor, unveiled the company’s 2011 Law Firm Diversity Rankings, the result of Vault’s annual Law Firm Associate Survey. Vault also honored the Top 20 law firms—led by this year’s overall winner, Carlton Fields—who were the most highly rated by their own associates for their commitment to hiring, retaining and promoting diverse attorneys.

The event’s lunch featured Carolyn Lamm, outgoing president of the American Bar Association and a partner at White & Case, as the keynote speaker. Recently named one of “Washington’s Most Influential Women Lawyers” by The National Law Journal, Ms. Lamm has, during her tenure as ABA president, established a Presidential Commission on Diversity as well as a Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs. On August 10, 2010, Ms. Lamm turns over the helm to President-Elect Stephen Zack, a partner at Boies, Schiller and Flexner and the first Hispanic American to serve as ABA president. 

Before her address, Ms. Lamm sat down with me to discuss the state of diversity in law firms, highlight some of the ABA’s goals and initiatives, and forecast what a truly diverse profession will look like.

VAULT:  How would you characterize the state of diversity in the legal profession today? 

In a word: evolving. In 2009, the ABA conducted an extensive national assessment of the state of diversity in the legal profession, including hearings held around the United States—with practitioners, academics, corporate counsel—whose results were synthesized into a report, “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps.” We found that, although our profession today is more diverse and inclusive, and has made significant advances, many obstacles to free and equal professional success remain. For example:

  • While women make up just over half of the U.S. population and half of the entering classes in law schools, they represent one third of the lawyer population, about 18 percent of law firm equity partners and 20 to 25 percent of the judiciary.  
  • Racial and ethnic minorities make up approximately one third of the U.S. population, but they represent only 10 percent of the lawyer population, less than 16 percent of judges and 6 percent of equity partners.

These numbers do not nearly reflect the diverse range of talent in our profession. Our lack of diversity runs counter to the promise of fairness and equality that is our profession’s bedrock, depriving the community of a bench that reflects the community and of legal advice that is a product of diverse views.

VAULT:  What are the principal challenges to increasing diversity at law firms?

First, through what are known as “pipeline programs,” we need to get more racial and ethnic minorities into law school. We must do all we can to encourage young people of all backgrounds that a career in the law can be fulfilling, and that we welcome them to the profession. Through educational and scholarship programs, we must make it easier for qualified people of diverse backgrounds to pursue legal careers.

Then, once people enter the profession, we must work on retention. An ABA report from the Commission on Women in the Profession, titled “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms,” revealed startling realities about the experiences of women of color, including anecdotal evidence that nearly half of women of color have been subjected to demeaning comments or other types of harassment while working at a private law firm (compared with only 2 percent of white men reporting the same experiences). A substantial number also report being passed over for desirable work assignments, being excluded from networking opportunities, and having received at least one unfair performance evaluation. These and other disparities allow us to better understand why women of color have a nearly 100 percent attrition rate from law firms at the end of eight years.

Another challenge facing law firms—especially those that have been addressing diversity issues for a while now—is to evolve from the traditional idea of diversity to understand and embrace inclusion. Diversity basically speaks to the numbers: proactively doing things to increase the numbers of diverse persons in the firm. While that is absolutely essential, it’s not enough. We now must focus on building inclusive work environments that demonstrate that we value diverse perspectives and understand how they benefit the organization overall.

VAULT:  Has the current state of the economy further exacerbated these difficulties? 

Yes. The ABA’s “The Next Steps” report found that the “recession is drying up monies for diversity initiatives and creating downsizing and cutbacks that may disproportionately and negatively affect lawyer diversity—thereby undoing the gains of past decades.”

The American Lawyer’s annual report on diversity confirmed the anecdotes that have been voiced throughout the legal community. Its 2010 Diversity Scorecard reported that for the first time in 10 years the proportion of lawyers of color has decreased, based on a survey of the country’s 200 largest firms. While big firms lost 6 percent of their attorneys between 2008 and 2009, they lost 9 percent of their minority lawyers. Some experts fear that this could be the start of a new downward trend, given a climate of slower law firm hiring, fewer African-American and  Mexican-American law students, and law firm layoffs.

VAULT:  Where are you seeing the most improvements?

Both the quantity and quality of pipeline diversity programs have improved in recent years. The ABA, in collaboration with the Law School Admission Council, has an online Pipeline Diversity Directory. In the past year, the number of entries in the directory has almost doubled and it now includes over 400 programs across the country that work to improve diversity in the educational pipeline to our profession, such as the judicial clerkship program.

Collaboration is another area of noted improvement. More firms, bar associations, law schools, corporate law departments and other groups are pooling their resources and building partnerships to address diversity and inclusion. 

VAULT:  Tell us about some of the ABA’s diversity initiatives and goals.

Nearly all entities throughout the ABA work to foster greater diversity in the legal profession. The ABA’s Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity is a centralized resource for many of these activities. Within the Diversity Center, there are three groups that each addresses a distinct area:  

In addition, the Commission on Women in the Profession works to secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system. The Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law addresses disability-related public policy, disability law, and the professional needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities. The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity seeks to secure for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons full and equal access to and participation in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system.

This year I appointed a Presidential Commission on Diversity, which produced the “Next Steps” monograph. The report gives recommendations for next steps to increase diversity in the different sectors of the legal profession, recognizing the different challenges within each one: law firms and corporations, the judiciary and government, law schools and the academy, and bar associations. The commission is working with the ABA’s existing efforts to provide practical resources and guidance for women lawyers, lawyers of color, disabled lawyers, and lawyers of differing sexual orientations and gender identities to help pierce the glass ceiling. Central to the commission’s efforts is a series of distance-learning CLE programs to help diverse lawyers advance their legal careers. The programs are available on the ABA website as podcasts.

VAULT:  What do you think about the reporting of diversity metrics and rankings, such as the Vault/MCCA Diversity Survey and Vault’s Diversity Rankings, as a means of encouraging law firms to step up their commitment to hiring, retaining and promoting diverse attorneys?

It can be an effective tool if it is used properly and in conjunction with other tools and incentives, and if it is transparently done. If reporting on diversity metrics or rankings is used only to prod and push law firms to engage in diversity  efforts, those efforts will not be sustainable. But we must know the statistics in order to know where we are and where to devote resources in order to move forward. If we can help more firms understand the value diversity brings to every aspect of their operations, metrics and rankings will become a welcome opportunity to showcase how well they are doing with hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys.

VAULT:  How do diversity-focused events like this career fair help advance diversity objectives?

So much of hiring involves networking and word-of-mouth referrals—hardly just help wanted ads. In such a difficult job market, it is great to bring excellent candidates together with organizations that want to hire from diverse candidate pools. It’s important for employees and employers to get out there, network and explore career options—face to face whenever possible. Events such as these are especially useful when employers are hiring out of a regular recruiting schedule. But even if such leads don’t lead directly to job placements, they form the basis of career exploration and ideas that can, and do, produce results.

VAULT:  What will success look like? 

A diverse profession that reflects our community. A diverse legal profession is more just, productive and intelligent, because diversity often leads to better questions, analyses, processes and solutions. We are committed to see a Supreme Court that reflects our population and a profession in which each lawyer, no matter what their gender, racial or ethnic background, sexual orientation or disability, has the opportunity to achieve all they are capable of.

The only way we will see success is if our profession is a true reflection of our communities—even if it’s one person in one position at a time.

© 2010 Vault.com Inc.

About the Author:

Senior Law Editor, Vault.com

Vera Djordjevich is senior law editor at Vault.com, where one of her areas of focus is diversity in the legal profession. She oversees the research and publication of information about law firm diversity initiatives and metrics for the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database. She also edits Vault.com’s content related to law practice in the UK and co-authors Vault’s law blog, which provides career news, advice and intelligence to the legal community.   publicity@vault.com 212-366-4212 www.vault.com

For Health Care / HR Professionals ASHHRA's 46th Annual Conference & Expo Sept. 25-28 in Tampa, FL

For Health Care – HR Professionals – the National Law Review wants to remind you that the Advanced Registration Discount date in August 25th  for the 46th Annual ASHHRA Conference in Tampa, FL.  The  conference runs from September 25th – 28th.  For more info:    http://dld.bz/rBN8