Top Things for 2015 – That You Might Have Missed in 2014

Start 2015 with a review of all of your advertising materials to make sure that they are in compliance with the revised Rule 7.2 which became effective in March 2014.  The most common problem we’ve seen is the failure to include the lawyer or firm’s address in advertising.  Please be aware that the requirements of Rule 7.2 apply to all media—billboards, print ads, television and radio, websites, etc.  As there has been ample time for everyone to bring their advertising into compliance, please don’t make us have to tell you that yours needs changing.

Over 700 data breaches have occurred in 2014 according to the ID Theft Center.  See http://www.idtheftcenter.org/images/breach/DataBreachReports_2014.pdf   Of course, the numbers are most likely higher because of the probability that some breaches went undisclosed and/or unreported.  So, what does this have to do with Georgia lawyers?  Well, as we have been telling lawyers in CLEs for the past few years now, it is vitally important to protect your business and your Bar license by making sure you are not inadvertently disclosing confidential client information.  Data security and protection has been one of the top items being dealt with by members seeking resources from the Law Practice Management Program, and in 2015 we want to make sure you have what you need to protect yourself and your practice.  Contact the program for specific material and information on data security for your firm.

Cloud computing for lawyers is hot!  And even with the damper that sometimes comes with the knowledge about security concerns online (see above on data breaches), many firms are finding that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to using the power (and the space) of the Internet to store and manage documents (think Dropbox, Box, eVault, Google Drive, Mozy, Carbonite, and other online services for back up and document handling) from wherever there is Internet access.  The mobility revolution has made it possible to work from almost anywhere and the cloud delivering up solutions to get at a lawyer’s entire firm’s information and system seems to be catching on quickly.  Think about how many lawyers you know are looking for ways to minimize their computer and computer consulting costs.  The cloud services providers are delivering options that are getting more and more robust, and suitable for the daily work of law firms.  Yes, Virginia, this means you might be able to use that office back closet from something other than the server room now!

If you do decide to take advantage of the benefits of cloud storage, PLEASE also take advantage of LPM’s resources on security.  Also, it is a wise practice for you to inform your clients about how you will store their information.  Some may appreciate the convenience of access to their files, while others may strongly object.  If there is a breach, you will at least be able to show that your clients were aware of your use of cloud storage.

 

Happy Holidays from Tina and Natalie!

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Georgia Practice Advisor!

Tina and Natalie wish you a very safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!

Note:  We’ll be back with a year-end and New Year’s post soon!

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More State Bar Benefits!!!

A few posts ago, we discussed some of the main or more well-known member benefits for Georgia lawyers.  That list was not exhaustive, and because we haven’t posted in a while, we wanted to share a couple more with you. (Actually, we kept the last post up for a long time because it is very, very important!  Please read it here, if you didn’t before.)

So here goes:

1) Online Vendor Directory – On the State Bar’s website, this is known as the “Discounts/Services for Members” area under the Attorney Resources heading.  This directory is a listing of not only the hotel discounts members can receive on properties near the Bar centers – Atlanta, Tifton and Savannah, but also includes groups of products adn services for virtually anything a lawyer will need.  Office supplies, legal technology, and even legal representation is available, and many vendors offer discounts through their listings.  If you run across a product or service that you should think should be included then please send the information to our member benefits coordinator, Sheila Baldwin, at sheilab@gabar.org or give her a call at 404-526-8618.

2) Office Start Up Kit – Well, if you’re one of our earlier followers, you already know that the Law Practice Management Program offers a free kit, Starting Your Georgia Law Practice.  Just contact the program for your copy! Check out our previous post about it and other office start-up help here.

3) Consumer Assistance Program – The number you need to have handy for someone having trouble with a lawyer – and we know this won’t be you -or their legal problems is the number for the Consumer Assistance Program.  It’s 404-527-8759 or 800-334-6865 Ext. 8759!  This service assists members of the public (and lawyers, too!) by providing information and referrals to the appropriate solutions.

4) Fee Arbitration Program – The Fee Arbitration Program can help with fee disputes between you and your clients or disputes between you and another lawyer or lawyers as a result of concerns from dissolution, fee sharing or partner withdrawals.

5) Free Meeting Space and PARKING at Bar Headquarters – Two of the most popular offerings of the State Bar of Georgia is its free space for members to meet and park at the Bar Headquarters!  If you need to have a meeting for a client consultation, group gathering or deposition, you can contact the Bar’s Conference Center and reserve a space at fayef@gabar.org or 404-419-0155.  This service is first-come, first-serve, but well worth it!  And, you get to park for free any time the Bar’s parking deck is open.  Yes, even on weekends for events, etc!  Check the Bar’s website under About the Bar and then Bar Offices to get an update for special parking deck hours.

Your State Bar has a lot of valuable resources, and we both hope you take advantage of them as you need!

- Natalie and Tina

 

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Listen Up! – Important Change to Advertising Rules

Did you realize that your advertising/marketing materials that were in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct on March 20, 2014, may have violated the rules as of March 21st? No? Then please take a little time to review the amended Rule 7.2 which was approved in an order issued by the Georgia Supreme Court on March 21, 2014. http://www.gabar.org/barrules/handbookdetail.cfm?what=rule&id=147

The changes to Rule 7.2 require additional disclosures for ads directed to potential clients in Georgia. Advertisements in all media must now include the name, telephone number and full office address of each lawyer or law firm who paid for the ad and takes full responsibility for it. If you use a referral service, you must ensure that the service discloses your office location, or registered bar address, when a referral is made.

If you will refer the majority of callers to other attorneys, you must disclose that fact and also comply with the provisions of Rule 7.3(c) regarding referral services. If you use a non-attorney spokesperson, portrayal of a lawyer by a non-lawyer, portrayal of a client by a non-client, or paid testimonials or endorsements, those must be disclosed.

If you advertise a fixed fee for specified legal services, you must have available to the public a written statement clearly describing the scope of each advertised service. Any ad that includes any representation resembling a legal pleading, notice, contract or other legal document must include a prominent disclosure that the document is an advertisement rather than a legal document.

If you placed ads before the changes became effective, you will have a reasonable time (which will vary based upon the type of ad) to come into compliance. For instance, billboards rented before the changes or ads in printed phonebooks generally cannot be immediately changed. However, renewals of all forms of advertising should be done in compliance with the amended Rule 7.2.

If you have questions about whether your ads comply with the amended Rule 7.2, you are welcome to call Tina Petrig at 404.527.8720.

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State Bar Member Benefits

We’ve had you waiting long enough.  Sorry about that.  We were away attending Bar meetings and the like.  But, we are back, and we want to give you a rundown of the Bar’s member benefits, especially those that folks often tell us they didn’t know we had.

1) Law Practice business and technology consulting – Members can take advantage of free consulting sessions at the State Bar Headquarters and over the Law Practice Management (LPM) Helpline.  If you’d prefer to have a staff member/consultant from the Bar visit your office to check on how you’re doing, this service is a low-cost option and is charged based on the number of attorneys in the office.  The starting rates are $37.50 per hour for solos and $62.50 per hour for firms with 2 to 4 attorneys.  Just give LPM a call at 404-527-8772 to get going.

2) Free Ethics advice – If you ever have a question about whether or not you should or can do something in your practice; or if you need to know that you are not going to violate any Bar rules with something you’re contemplating, then make your first call -or email- go to the Office of General Counsel’s Ethics Hotline.  The number is 404-527-8741 or 800-334-6865  Ext. 8741, and you’ll be able to speak to a staff attorney about any ethics or ethics-related concerns you have.  Because the service is made available to Bar members only, you will need to provide your Bar number, but this information isn’t tracked by your number in any way for other purposes.  This service is one of our greatest member benefits, and you should use it before doing anything  in your practice that seems questionable to you.  The advice isn’t binding, but it’s well worth it to know you are practicing ethically.

3) Practice Management Resources for check out – The Resource Library of LPM has over 1,400 items available for checkout to Bar members, current law students and law office staff.  3 items can be checked out at a time and kept for 2 weeks.  You can find the link to the online checkout system at http://www.gabar.org/committeesprogramssections/programs/lpm/library/index.cfm.  Coming Soon! –  A New Online Checkout System

4) Free Fastcase online legal research service – If you are a Georgia Bar member and haven’t heard of Fastcase, where have you been?  The Bar offers free online legal research service with full access to all State and Federal case law.  The system uses advance search and data relevancy techniques to ensure you’re accessing the very latest and most accurate legal information.  Plus, the LPM staff provides training on the service every month.  Just look for sessions on the Bar’s event calendar from the main Bar website.

5) Membership Management online including checking CLE credits – Speaking of the main Bar’s website.  It’s a treasure trove!  The least you can learn to do on the site, however, is to maintain your membership information.  You can provide address and other contact updates via your member login and also submit Ethics questions (see #2 above – this is where you sumbit questions via email instead of calling in).  Check out the area to make sure your information on file with the Bar is up to date.

6) Dedicated Health Insurance Exchange – With all of the new health insurance changes going on nationally, the Bar wanted to ensure our members were being afforded the best options.  So, via our Bar-recommended broker, Member Benefits, Inc., (formerly BPC Financial), we now provide a dedicated health insurance exchange for Bar members, their families and their staff.  Check out coverage options and get quotes from our private insurance exchange at http://www.gabar.org/attorneyresources/health_exchange.cfm.

Okay, this is definitely not the complete list.  We want to give you a chance to digest these, and we’ll be back with more in our next post.  Just keep in mind that the Bar makes excellent use of your Bar dues in delivering top-notch member benefits, and if you have any questions about any of the Bar’s programs or services, please give us a call or send us an email!

Natalie & Tina

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MEMBER BENEFITS TO BE FEATURED

Stay tuned to see what we have to say about Member Benefits of the State Bar of Georgia! – Natalie & Tina

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Holiday Cheer and Our Gift to You: A Take on Social Media and Practice Management

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and not a peep from us?  Well, we’ve been hard at work in the back ground – sort of like Santa’s little legal elves – building our post on social media and law practice management.  Why, social media?  Well, it’s because we are still seeing lawyers struggle with what to do about it.  In fact, you’ve probably been wondering if you’ll ever stop hearing about social media.  Well, it’s still a pretty hot topic, and we don’t think it will be going away any time soon, and it really can be a tricky thing for practitioners.

So, what must you know about it for your law office?  Well for starters, you should not bury your head in the sand about the topic; and at best, you need to ascertain whether or not learning as much as you can will be of benefit to you and your clients.  Here’s a hint, and our first tip – you’ll need to know as much as you can about the general topic of social media.

So, where do you start to learn about social media channels?  Well, apart from any nearby teenager, you can start by reviewing information about the more popular services – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest,  and Google+; and even arguably making a comeback, MySpace.  These channels allow users to create profiles and connect, link, and share or post information online.  This “newer” medium of sharing comes with its own very keen set of benefits and risks.  To be “up” on this, you need to know what these benefits and risks are.  We’ll briefly discuss the benefits here , and get to more of the risks in a follow-up ethics-focused post later.

So for starters, the benefit of being able to reach large audiences with little to no cost for marketing can be achieved via social media.  It can begin with a business page that showcases your practice or professional career, use a channel’s built-in ability to “interact” with potential clients, and allow you to create portals to manage intake and do work on client matters.  This benefit of constant contact and convenient access for marketing purposes makes social media seem like a no-brainer.  Who doesn’t want to create business at little or at a low cost?

Whoa!  Wait a minute before you plaster your face and name on every social media channel you can think of.  What about how you present the firm and your information?  Is it accurate?  What do the Bar rules say about your having so many “Likes” or “endorsements” or “Comments” that tell in great detail, sometimes even too-telling of ways, how your service to a particular client was.  There are still some unanswered questions, but the short of it is that one of the key risks is that you might run afoul of Bar ethics rules if you don’t treat your social media campaigns as you do other marketing and advertising campaigns.  You need to be vigilant about keeping your involvement not only truthful as is required, but professional, too.  Remember, we’ll talk more about this in a follow-up post.

If you need help when you are setting up your social media campaign, don’t forget the State Bar’s Law Practice Management Program has resources to assist you.  In fact, the popular office startup kit, Starting Your Georgia Law Practice, has a new entry by guest author, Deborah Gonzalez, of Law2SM, that deals with the basics of social media as you begin a practice.

Ultimately, you definitely want to have an online presence, but just as with your website, you need to ensure that you’ve made a plan, and have weighed the risks and the benefits of “being out there!”   So with that, Go, Share, Link, and Post, but do so responsibly!

Happy Holidays from Natalie and Tina!

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