Anti-Socializing The Legal Profession

snake-oilIf you are not in the legal profession and not active on twitter you have probably not noticed the growing trend of attorneys holding themselves out as “experts” in the social media realm. Not holding themselves out as experts in criminal law, bankruptcy law or other noble legal specialties but experts in social media itself .  Often claiming the ability to teach other attorneys how they can be experts in social media or become millionaire rainmakers.

What’s the end game? Money of course

So why would an attorney leave the practice of law to be a “social media expert”?  Why would a practicing or newbie attorney want to be taught how to be an expert in social media in a business that revolves around reputation and the credibility of the work product?  Because its a jungle out there!  The legal market has entered its own 30’s era depression seeing more jobs lost than at anytime in measured history.   Everyone is looking for short cut to the razor’s edge.

The real end game?  With Twitter Social Media buzz in abundance and attorneys facing declining revenue, afraid of social media or simply do not understand it, the snake oil salesman of the legal profession are coming out of the woodwork.

Here is the rub.  There is NO such thing as a social media expert in the legal realm yet.  It simply has not been around long enough to develop a body of work.   At most, everyone doing well in social media has drawn on unique life/professional experiences and if the experiences are unique enough, they have found niche to wrap basic social media principals around. Nothing wrong with that. If there is a way teaching social media is supposed to work, IMHO that’s it.  And whats more, there are no secrets.  The same information on how to use twitter and other forms of social media are there for the taking for free from high school kids posting “how-to” videos” on Youtube

So what sets the Legal-Social Media Expert apart?  One would think it’s in the ability to use those “unique experiences” and vast legal experience to show the newbie how to integrate it within their unique life/professional  experiences . To show how, during the course of their extensive legal career they have intertwined those unique life experiences with Twitter and other form of social media to make their millions.

The next rub?  Most have not practiced long enough to have unique experiences or generated revenue in any way shape or form other than billing hours.  And if they were so successful in using social media during their practice why are they not still practicing?  Seems like a fair  due diligence question.  They voluntarily left this incredibly successful practice of law making millions using social media to start over and teach you how to use social media so you can make millions?  Snake Oil tasting any better?

Bottom line before you drink?  Its all about disclosure.  If people would do the same due diligence they would certainly do in the brick and mortar world before they hired a lawyer they would find out the following:

The attorneys holding themselves out as having “superior knowledge” (I refuse to use the word expert again) to help you navigate the social media  jungle to the pot of client gold on the other end, are often attorneys who are no longer practicing because they could not support themselves, were disbarred, sanctioned or have limited practice experience and often never generated new client portables when they were practicing.

Another rub for you.  If these same attorney’s were attempting to hold themselves out on the same level to real client’s in the legal profession would they not be required to disclose much of the above pursuant to state advertising rules. If not required, would it not be logical to assume the client would want full disclosure of the above before making a decision on whether to use that attorney? ( I am making a overall generalization on the advertising rules, requirements vary state to state).

The final rub.  Advertising and Disclosure rules for attorneys generally have not caught up with the likes of Twitter.  Attorney’s who would never think of pulling such snake-oil  shenanigans in the the Big-Law , Small-law or Solo-Law world are now burying their lack of real practice experience, disciplinary history and lack of qualifications to teach anything to other lawyers in the dark Twitter rabbit hole of non-disclosure.  Preying on the ignorance of well meaning but economically scared lawyers blinded to the snake oil by the desire to pay rent.tannebaum

It has become such an issue that many attorney’s have taken to policing their own within the Twitter-Law arena.

One of the most ardent and outspoken of these attorneys and someone who is probably the Top Twitter Cop in the social media realm is Attorney Brian Tannebaum.   Brian is a partner in the firm of Tannebaum Weiss.  He also blogs at “My Law License” and The Criminal Defense Blog.  Every once-lawyer “selling the snake” cringes when @btannebaum shows up in his/her twitter stream.

If you doubt me, look no further than a recent heated Twitter exchange he had with New York attorney Kathleen Scanlon.  Kathleen has had her issues.  She was one of several individuals indicted in a NY mortgage fraud scheme. She has allegedly  pled guilty and is  awaiting sentencing.

At issue were her qualifications and credentials portrayed on her twitter profile.  Despite the fact of her guilty plea and impending sentence, none of this was disclosed on her Twitter profile which portrayed her as a  networking “real estate lawyer”   During the course of the exchange when it was apparent to her that Brian had done his homework she changed her Twitter profile and deleted most of her replies.

With the help of Google cache we can take a look at her Twitter Profile prior to her exchange with Brian and her Twitter Profile after.  The changes are self-evident.

In the end, it all comes down to common sense.

Why would you give up your good money to a lawyer without checking the person out just because its not “law”.  Don’t you want to know about who the person has actually generated revenue for?  If the attorney is claiming to help you “make rain” don’t you want to know about his experience as a rainmaker in the legal profession?  Don’t you want references from when he/she practiced?  Don’t you want to know about standing with the bar?  Don’t you want the same information the attorney would be required to disclose under State advertising rules?   Once you have all this information then you can make an informed decision.

Don’t settle for less and DON’T  let fear of starving cause you to not ask hard questions.  If you don’t get the answers you like you may still starve but at least you saved rent payment for another month or more and wont have to live on snake oil while you hope and pray for it to rain.

*****UPDATE*****

After I published the above a lawyer by the name of Sheryl Sisk Schelin took issue and defended her right and experience to sell social media to other attorneys despite any failing she may have had as an attorney. She calls herself “The Inspired Solo” She in fact has written a e-book “Twitter For Lawyers” which she is selling for $47.00 as an introductory offer going up to $67.00.

What Sheryl failed to mention in her tweets and on her website is that she has a pretty big failing.  She is currently suspended from the practice of  law in South Carolina. I somehow missed that in the “About Me” section of her web-site.   Call me crazy but I find that very “uninspiring”, how about you?

Thanks Sheryl, I could not have scripted it better if I had tried.

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17 Responses

  1. Wait.

    I’m confused. What exactly is the problem here? Do you really think lawyers lose all sense of rational thought when they’re faced with something they’re not familiar with or don’t have the time to research themselves?

    Is it that these so-called snakeoil sales people (never mind that there are accredited universities teaching social media/networking now) may have failed at a first (legal) career that you object to? Is it that you think anyone who fails at law must necessarily go work at McDonalds? Or would this all be OK with you as long as they don’t market their services to lawyers?

    Do lawyers really need that much protection?

    How curious.

  2. so your saying telling someone you can try a criminal case when you never have is ok as long as they dont ask you if you have ever tried a criminal case. No need to disclose because they can find that out if they "researched" How curious…

    What I am saying that if you never generated revenue as an attorney by networking or rainmaking you have an obligation to disclose that if you are trying to sell that service. When you throw that J.D. out there to give yourself an edge, that air of credibility you better damn well be credible! When your are not you damage the integrity of every attorney

  3. Interesting perspective of which I agree with to a certain extent. There is an explosion of people seeking clients in the area of legal marketing. Attorneys need to be educated consumers and I would think have the necessary knowledge and tools to be able to differentiate between the charlatan and the actual expert. With respect to the discussion involving myself and Mr. Tannenbaum my comments are as follows:

    1. I have NEVER posted any solicitations for business as a social media "expert" or in any role for that matter.

    2. The clients & colleagues (and I am not referring to attorneys) that I have assisted in the social media realm sought me out and I merely helped them create online profiles, blogs, linking them together for single updates and how to manage information so as not to be overwhelmed by "information overload" and the importance of providing meaningful content.

    3. The twitter profile was the ONLY profile I had not yet updated. I don't often visit Twitter directly as I access the Twitter feed through TweetDeck. I still have to change the background. Unfortunately, I do not have the photoshop file with the layers anymore so I need to redesign it from scratch.

    4. I resigned from the Bar before the plea. However, nothing is effective until an Order is entered removing my name from the Roll of Attorneys – therefore, I have not violated any rules.

    5. As I cannot obviously discuss the case and the plea as of yet I will save that for a later day. But, I did discuss that I was involved in this mess on twitter – Mr. Tannenbaum's research did not go far enough evidently.

    6. As far as business goes, I am in a position where I do not need to rely on the income from a "successful law practice". I practiced transactional real estate law – the revenues are nowhere near the income of say litigators, criminal attorneys and so forth. I represented buyers and sellers and acted as a settlement agent for the Lender. I practiced because I enjoyed it.

    What I would like to know is what happened to civility? I have never mounted a personal attack on anyone online and nor would I. I am quite surprised by the name calling and the snide remarks that flew fast and furious on Twitter as well as other sites. You would expect that kind of behavior from perhaps teenagers but certainly not esteemed members of the Bar. I find that to be more damaging to the profession then someone posting their degree after their name.

  4. Kathleen-All I know what I read about your situation is what I read after I Googled the other day. I wish you the best in resolving it. I however am concerned that there seems to be a strong correlation developing between attorneys in your situation and those moving into the social media realm without disclosing the truth of their backgrounds to the same level they would have to if they were generating legal business as an attorney. A previous commentator implied that it is Caveat Emptor, is that what we have degraded to in the legal profession? Its easy to be honorable when times are good…. The real test of character is now.

  5. Thank you Brian – I appreciate it. As you can imagine, it has been a difficult journey and your comment has been the first civil one since the other night.

    Of course the problem is the question – What next? The role nonbarred attorneys can play in the law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction with the question unsettled here in New York. I do not believe there is any such requirement concerning employment in other arenas. As far as disclosure, the questions are 1) is it necessary and if so 2) to what extent.

    I understand your concern, however these matters are public record and if the criminal action bears no relationship whatsoever to the proposed business, I have to opine that the attorney should not have to disclose without being questioned directly by the customer. A lot of good people make mistakes as well as innocents being convicted of crimes they did not commit. Many have families depending on them for support and they should be able to work. It is a difficult issue to say the least.

    I think it is up to the consumer to be informed just like in any other business venture. It is easy enough to discern the charlatan from the real deal.

  6. "I resigned from the Bar before the plea." Funny, on twitter she said she didn't know her status with the new york bar was "delinquent" and she would talk to her partner about whether her dues were paid. She also said on twitter that she was "contemplating a hiatus from law."

    How are you "contemplating a hiatus from law" if you "resigned from the Bar before the plea," unless you're just flat lying?

    I just can't keep track anymore.

  7. See Brian, here in NY a non-barred attorney can play a role in the law office to a certain extent and I am contemplating not playing that role – therefore the "hiatus".

    Further, I did not check the status of my attorney registration (which entails a form and a check) when I prepared my resignation affidavit.

    Try again.

  8. >>See Brian, here in NY a non-barred attorney can play a role in the law office to a certain extent and I am contemplating not playing that role – therefore the "hiatus". <<

    Whoa. New rule? The rule here in New York is as follows:

    >>It is clearly improper for a lawyer or law firm to employ a disbarred or suspended attorney in any capacity related to the practice of law.. <<

    In other words, you are treated differently than someone that never went to law school. Where that person could be a paralegal or secretary, for instance, a disbarred attorney cannot.

    But don't take my word for it. See this ethics opinion:
    http://www.abcny.org/Publications/reports/show_ht

    Also, you will note that the ethics opinions of the state referred to "disbarred" attorneys. I've never heard the term "nonbarred" attorney. Nice euphemism. I'll assume you just made that up because I Googled the phrase and there were so few hits returned.

    But you won't be fooling anyone if you persist with the usage. I suspect it will just make it harder for you to get re-instated one day. And it probably won't look so hot at sentencing either. You might want to get the advise of a social media expert to help prevent such flubs.

  9. I am not sure that I believe that only an attorney who has practiced law can sell on-line marketing and development programs to attorneys. In fact, I recently attended a widely known, and I believe respected, seminar for law firm marketing presented by a group of non-lawyers exclusively for lawyers. They made it perfectly clear up front and often that they were not attorneys, had never practiced law, had never worked in a law firm, etc. Nevertheless, I found the information, strategies, and approaches to be extremely useful and pragmatic.

    Of course, this is somewhat different from the premise that Cuban was originally writing about and far from the cat fighting above.

  10. I am a little confused about the "cat fighting" going on here. I'll confess, I have not checked for criminal records, bar registration status, etc. of anyone posting above, nor do I routinely check such things for people involved in some manner in the legal industry that twitter or blog. Why? Because I am not paying them any money for anything. Obviously if you are doing business with someone you should satisfy yourself (by whatever means are sufficient to you) that they have sufficient expertise or information to warrant you writing them a check. . . .

  11. . . . I echo the comment from Neil above; I recently attended a seminar for law firm marketing presented by a non-lawyer exclusively for lawyers that was incredibly useful. Lawyers don't know everything (why are we so hesitant to acknowledge that?) and can and should seek advice from qualified professionals in other disciplines to assist us on business matters outside of the realm of the actual provision of rendering legal advice and representation from clients.

    Social media is a continuing developing phenomenon that dramatically impacts the legal industry and we as lawyers should not shy away from learning more about it. I would hesitate to brand anyone as an "expert" on the field yet – there just hasn't been enough time or data to allow anyone to claim that title yet (in my opinion) – but welcome further information from whatever sources are there.

    Now, can we stop saying nasty things about each other? In the spirit of Christmas, if for no other reason 🙂

  12. Check out so-called Blawging Lawyers, who claim to be blogging experts and will sell you their insight. One of the 2 calls himself a failed attorney who quit practicing law because he was so successful blogging and now teaches attorneys. Problem is, a little google search of his name and the word disbarred shows that he surrendered his license while 7 charges were pending, including a charge of misappropriation of client funds.

  13. Well clearly it was not Carolyn Elefants's 'Solo by Choice' but 'Solo by Necessity' if she wanted to be a Lawyer, as no 'Big Law' firms in the US thought she was good enough to hold down a position as a Lawyer in their establishments, she had to go it alone, I suppose that is the route most Solo's have had to take when 'Big Law' kicks their arse out the door.

  14. Funny, "Charlie." Your name is really Brian.

    You are spamming links to your own personal vendetta site. Declasse, at best.

  15. Sorry all-you cant use this post to spam back to some "anti carolyn" web site. No further comments will be posted. Do it on your own web site!

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