“Non-lawyer” is NOT a word. More fallout from Opinion 642.

For a profession that can literally live or die by the comma, the word “non-lawyer” is tossed about to describe anyone without (or in some cases with) a JD  working in any capacity within a law firm. Yet “non-lawyer” isn’t a word.

Not only is it not a word, it is not a labor category via the EEOC.

Not only is it not a labor category, I can’t find it as a job title via Monster.com or CareerBuilder.

Yet, time and time again, those of us working in the legal industry as business professionals are lumped together as “non-lawyers.”

Once again this “non-lawyer” has reared its ugly head, this time with the Texas Center for Legal Ethics’ Opinion 642.

I wrote about the opinion on Friday, Dammit. We’re a BUSINESS, Texas Center for Legal Ethics. Not just a profession, and you need to know about this whether or not you are a lawyer or a “non-lawyer,” and whether or not your firm has offices in Texas or not.

In short, Opinion 642 bans all references to “officers” in titles, and bans any type of bonusing based on fees generated.

This is a serious issue, which could have dramatic unintended consequences, yet humorous in a sad way. As captured by 3 Geeks and a Law Blog’s Ryan McClead in The Depths T’Which Ethics Reaches: or, The Origin of Opinion 642:

Dewey said to Cheatum, “What ever shall we do?
Our book is getting slimmer and I haven’t got a clue
How to run a proper business, you know, one that still makes money?
We can’t just raise our rates… stop your laughing. It’s not funny!”

“Oh silly Dewey, how you worry!” chortled Cheatum through his drink.
“There’s no problem we can’t tackle with a good and proper think.
We’re the brightest and the smartest and by far the best paid too,
We’ll just put our heads together and we’ll figure what to do.”

The business of law has far surpassed the profession of law. From the recently released 2014 AmLaw 100 results, each of the top 23 firms’ revenue was between $1 billion and $2.5 billion. This is no small profession, but a full industry to be supported by educated and well-trained professionals in their specialized departments.

For my department, marketing, the industry “standard” is to hire a full-time, in-house professional by 40 attorneys, and then another FTE for every 20-40 more. Even at that size of a firm, we’re oftentimes looking at businesses with revenues of $50 million or more. Once again, not a small business to be run without full-time, sophisticated, professional assistance.

The whole “non-lawyer” topic reminds me of an article written by Jeffrey Brandt at the beginning of this year: “Name Shame. You don’t need a bar ticket to be a legal professional.”

Jeffrey was objecting to a legal consultant’s use of the term “nonprofessionals” in a Legal Technology News article, “Culture Shift, Technology Lead to Staff Cuts,” to describe, well, people like me:

Boston-based legal consultant Jeff Coburn was quoted as saying, “The ratio of nonprofessionals to professionals is going to continue to go down. It’s all part of law firms becoming businesses.”

I’m not going to debate that culture and technology are impacting job roles inside law firms. I’m not going to comment on whether ratios are changing or should change (at least not now). But I am certain that I am not the only reader who took issue — severe issue — with the term “nonprofessionals.” Even without the context, I knew exactly who Coburn was referring to — the nonlawyers. Other less offensive phrases in the post included “traditional clerical functions,” “nonlawyer staff,” and “support staff.” As part of my disclaimer, I should say I don’t know Jeff Coburn. I sincerely hope it was just a poor choice of words on his part and not representative of an attitude or belief that he holds.

The new normal is changing the way law firms do business. The article itself argues that culture, technology, desire for greater efficiencies and higher profits are changing the roles of law firm employees. But last time I looked, in addition to lawyers, law firms require technologists, Help Desk staff, library specialists and researchers, litigation support teams, marketing personnel, financial experts, paralegals, secretaries, human resource staff and other administrative experts in order to run.

Merriam-Webster defines “nonprofessional as “being such only for recreation” or “lacking or showing a lack of expert skill.” It offers up synonyms of amateur and unskilled. It goes on to define professional as “relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.”

I could kiss you, Jeffrey.

Lawyers practice law. Something I do not do. But unless they are a solo with no support at all, their business operations are being handled by professionals. The CFO with a finance degree from UCLA. The COO who is a Harvard Business School grad. The CMO with an MBA from Wharton. The CTO from MIT. Not to mention all the non-practicing lawyers who are running and managing these multi-million or billion dollar operations.

So can we please retire the term “non-lawyer”? But, at the same time, we need to recognize the sophisticated nature of the business side of the business.

One of the fears raised by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics is that it will be misleading to provide a “non-lawyer” with a title that includes “officer.” That by tying compensation to revenue you would create an environment where the non-lawyers would interfere “with a lawyer’s independent judgment in practicing law.”

Once again, if you can show me where a non-lawyer was able to interfere with a lawyer’s “independent judgment in practicing law,” we need to have a conversation. If you can show me one situation where a client was misled that a Chief Operating Officer or Chief Marketing Officer  or Chief Diversity Officer was a practicing attorney working their files, there’s a comment section below.

Every one of our clients’ top executives receive bonuses based on revenues and performance. I don’t think these non-lawyers and lawyers running these Fortune 500 companies really care how the COO, CMO, CTO, CDO are compensated. They really just care that their bills are timely, and that they receive value for the money that they spend. Something over which we “non-lawyers” have little control, and, when we do have influence, it is in the clients’ best interest. We WANT our firms and lawyers to provide better services at a better value.

I will say that the business environment of many, many law firms keep the best and brightest business professionals away.  If this latest ruling, and our inability to move past “non-lawyer” when discussing executive professionals within the legal industry, prevents us from recruiting the best and brightest of the business world to our firms, then that is truly the unethical business practice.

That very day they wrote the rule that Howe had recommended.
Though sometimes even good ideas have pieces unintended.
Their non-attorney staffers all packed up and walked away.
Leaving Dewey alone with Cheatum to await their dying day.

Dammit. We’re a BUSINESS, Texas Center for Legal Ethics, not just a profession

I was having a perfectly pleasant Friday afternoon until a member of the LME posted about the Texas Center for Legal Ethics’ Opinion 642:

CONCLUSION

Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, a Texas law firm may not use “officer” or “principal” in the job titles for non-lawyer employees of the firm.

The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct also prohibit a Texas law firm from paying or agreeing to pay specified bonuses to non-lawyer employees contingent upon the firm’s achieving a specified level of revenue or profit.  A Texas law firm may, however, consider its revenue, expenses, and profit in determining whether to pay bonuses to non-lawyer employees and the amount of such bonuses.

What is the problem that the Texas Center for Legal Ethics is attempting to correct?

While most likely a plaintiff’s firm or SEO marketing company pissed somebody off, the following questions posed could apply to any corporate law firm:

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

1.  May a Texas law firm include the terms “officer” or “principal” in the job titles of the firm’s non-lawyer employees?

2.  May a Texas law firm pay or agree to pay specified bonuses to non-lawyer employees contingent upon the firm’s achieving a specified amount of revenue or profit?

In other words, let’s just prevent a law firm from, gasp, attempting to act like a business.

Continue reading

Controversial Clients and Social Media: The Donald Sterling Edition

As an LA Clippers fan, I am disheartened and disgusted by Donald Sterling, his wife, and everyone associated with the franchise who have stood by and co-signed this racist crap.

However, just as his wife is currently being represented by counsel in her attempt to retain her ownership of the team, Donald Sterling deserves the same, controversial or not.

Yet, in our social media warfare world, TMZ is reporting that eight major law firms have rejected his attempts to retain counsel. Donald Sterling is “radioactive.”

Our sources say partners in the firms feel representing Sterling would alienate both their African American clients and corporate clients that are hyper-sensitive to controversy.

One source closely connected with Sterling tells TMZ … it’s especially galling for the Clippers owner, because a number of partners in these firms have called him from time to time asking for favors, including tickets to games.

They are reporting major firms in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which brings to mind several AmLaw 100 firms who are not shy or meek when it comes to their client base.

I am sad to say this, but I told yo so.

Mad Men, Lawyers and the Drudgery of Business Development


In the most recent episode of Mad Men we meet up again with our protagonist Don Draper, going through the motions of showing up to work. On time. Saying the proper hellos, then walking into his office and shutting the door.

Don has lost the trust of his partners. He has no work. He is bored. He sits in his office  and waits. For something. Something to happen. Waiting for the phone to ring.

When the call comes, from Peggy Olson, his former underling — not a mentee — he is insulted. He is being asked to do a job several rungs down the ladder.

But Don has yet to rehab his reputation. He is still on the outs with his partners who are unwilling to fire him. So he just sits in his office collecting a very large check.

Don, being Don, scoffs and gets rip roaring drunk. He causes chaos.

The work he wants, he cannot get. He has not earned back the right. He can see the future, it’s computers, but he cannot touch it.

Freddy Rumsen, his sober friend and ghost copy-writer, who has yet to repair all the damage he caused in his drunken days, tells Don to “just do your job.” Continue reading

Mad Men, Lawyers, Ego and Trust

mad-men-season-7-poster-featuredA new season of Mad Men is in full swing, and once again, I continue to find themes that translate from a 1960s fictional advertising agency to a new millennium legal industry (for more posts, click here).

Our protagonist Don Draper was a bad boy last season. Getting drunk at the wrong time. Sleeping with the wrong wife (the neighbor’s). Telling his truth at the wrong time.

He sacrificed his employees trust, and his partners faith, for his own selfish and self-centered reasons.

Oh, sure, at the time Don surely thought he was right and justified to tell the truth. But he didn’t pause. He didn’t temper it against, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

Don was wrong because his truth, at that moment, wasn’t necessary. It was selfish and self-centered.

Oh, Don. How I relate to you.

You see, dear readers, I have a secret of my own. I too can be consumed by my ego, as well as my self-centered and selfish impulses.

I can say things out of turn that hurt others, including myself, all under the guise of “truth.”

But when I pause, reflect, find that moment of self-awareness … when I find my true truth, I have to not only apologize for my actions, but I have to mend my ways.

And how Don did that last night was masterful.

  • He opened up and humbled himself to his daughter and wife.
  • He accepted the consequences of his actions.
  • He humbled himself in the office where he was once the named partner.
  • He accepted his penance with a simple, “Okay.”
  • He did not argue.
  • He did not justify.
  • He did not beg.
  • He left his ego at the door.

As a leader, Don now has to rebuild the trust of his partners, his team, his friends, and his family.

Each will take a different path.

But if he stays the course, Don will hopefully rebuild trust where it can be.

He can, without ego, let go where he cannot.

And he can move forward, a changed man, either way.

Making the case for JD Supra, Lexology, YouTube and so on

While I might play an uber-techie at work, I really depend upon much smarter and techier people than me to make sense out of all this stuff flying at me on a daily (hourly) basis. For instance, one of my go-to smarties is Jayne Navarre for all things digital technology in the legal space.

Via a LinkedIn Group that I scan, Eric Peter Hoffman posted the following video on the new (now implemented) algorithms of Hummingbird and Penguin (sounds like a couple of Batman villains) that finally makes sense.

It is also a simple explanation as to why law firm blogs really must use the services of JD Supra, Lexology, YouTube, Wikipedia, and the like to push our content to the top search results pages. SEO alone ain’t gonna get you there alone.

Want attribution? Make it easy.

Don’t camouflage your Twitter address if you want attribution

We had an interesting conversation at the LMA Annual Conference about attribution while live-Tweeting at a conference. Nancy Myrland very nicely captures the discussion in her post, Who Said That? How to Live Tweet a Conference.

To aid attendees at our session on Generational Marketing: Strategies and tactics for engagement with Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials, Jonathan Fitzgarrald and I deliberately included our Twitter addresses not only on the opening slide, but in the footers. (Click here for the slides)

If we wanted the attribution, we didn’t want to make you work for it.  And it worked. The Twitter thread was incredible, lots of attribution to us both. Lots of feedback. And many new followers.

I just realized today, however, that for those reading this blog and wanting to share it on Twitter, it’s not as easy to find my Twitter address for attribution.

It hit me because I was reading a post from Lloyd Pearson while on my commute this morning, Chambers USA 2014-15: Get Organized via my reader. The post was easy for me to share from my iPhone, but his Twitter address didn’t auto fill. I was about to hit the tunnel, so I sent it off without attribution. Not really like me.

I have become so accustomed when using Bitly or Tweetdeck for the app to auto fill the name, but it doesn’t do so always, making it difficult to attribute on the fly unless you already know the person’s Twitter address, or are really determined.

To make things easier, I just updated my blog image that you see on the desktop to hyperlink to my Twitter profile, and added my address in the caption, and I urge you to do the same.

And when you do the update, check your mobile app version. My image doesn’t show up, so I have updated the subtitle of my blog to include it as well.

Not as pretty, but this is about engagement, conversation, and attribution.

 

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