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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Fall Quarterly CLE for Solos and Small Firms Coming Back Around

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to gear up for things like pretty leaves, football (SEC is preferred down here), and cooler temps. But, it’s also time to mark your law office calendars again for the Fall CLE focused on solo and small firm practice. While the agenda will be posted at ICLE (www.iclega.org), we wanted to share a sneak peek into what’s in store for attendees. 
The CLE will mainly focus on technology this time around. Want to learn about what’s out there and how to use it in your practice? What do you do to protect your law firm’s computer systems? What are some of the latest and most useful apps and gadgets for lawyers? What the heck is “big data” and why do I need to know?
Well, you might as well go ahead and circle Halloween on your calendar. Yes, the Fall CLE is slated for October 31st, and you don’t want to miss it to learn the answers to all of these tech-based questions. Finally, don’t fret if you have children or still participate in Halloween yourself, you’ll be out of the CLE in plenty of time to gear up for early evening activities!

- Natalie & Tina

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What’s In a Name?

For a law firm or solo practice, much is in a name:  reputation, marketing, and ethical perils.  Ethical perils in a name?  Yes.  Firm and practice names must comply with Rule 7.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Names must also comply with Rule 7.1 which prohibits any misleading or deceptive communication. 

What is this Rule 7.5 of which you speak?

RULE 7.5 FIRM NAMES AND LETTERHEADS

Ethics & Discipline / Current Rules / Part IV (After January 1 / 2001) – Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (also includes Disciplinary Proceedings and Advisory Opinion rules) / CHAPTER 1 GEORGIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT AND ENFORCEMENT THEREOF

  1. A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1.
  2. A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.
  3. The name of a lawyer holding public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.
  4. Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.
  5. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if:
    1. the trade name includes the name of at least one of the lawyers practicing under said name. A law firm name consisting solely of the name or names of deceased or retired members of the firm does not have to include the name of an active member of the firm; and
    2. the trade name does not imply a connection with a government entity, with a public or charitable legal services organization or any other organization, association or institution or entity, unless there is, in fact, a connection.

The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is a public reprimand.

Comment

[1] Firm names and letterheads are subject to the general requirement of all advertising that the communication must not be false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading. Therefore, lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact partners, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” for that title suggests partnership in the practice of law. Nor may a firm engage in practice in Georgia under more than one name. For example, a firm practicing as A, B and C may not set up a separate office called “ABC Legal Clinic.”

[2] Trade names may be used so long as the name includes the name of at least one or more of the lawyers actively practicing with the firm. Firm names consisting entirely of the names of deceased or retired partners have traditionally been permitted and have proven a useful means of identification. Sub-paragraph (e)(1) permits their continued use as an exception to the requirement that a firm name include the name of at least one active member.

 

Suppose you want to name your firm or practice something catchier than “J. Doe, LLC.”  You want something bold and (you admit only to yourself) grandiose.  “Southeastern Legal Empire.” Perfect.  But you get a call from the Bar informing you that  Rule 7.5(e)(1) requires that a trade name include the name of at least one lawyer in the firm.  Reluctantly, you go with “Doe’s Southeastern Legal Empire.”  That satisfies Rule 7.5(e)(1).  You still have a problem.  Rule 7.5(a) provides that you cannot use a firm name that violates Rule 7.1.  You are a solo practitioner;  “empire” is misleading.  You are only licensed in Georgia;  “southeastern” is misleading.  Well, perhaps “Doe’s Georgia Legal Services”.  No.  Rule 7.5(e)(2) says that your trade name cannot imply a connection with a charitable legal services organization.  What’s a new solo to do?  “Doe’s Legal Emporium”—that works.   “Doe’s Law Works”.  Fine.  “Doe’s Law Shop”; “Legal Matters:  Doe Law Firm”;  “Doe’s Lawsuit Factory.”    Or anything else that percolates in your imagination, contains your name, does not mislead, and otherwise complies with Rule 7.5. 

Many solo practitioners name their practices “Doe & Associates.”  This is sometimes with the good faith expectation of expansion in the not too distant future.  It is sometimes simply a matter of wanting to project an image of being bigger than you are.  It is misleading in its suggestion that the practice consists of more than one lawyer.  Non-attorney staff are not “associates.”  A similar problem arises when lawyers who are simply sharing space use a joint name that indicates that they are in partnership.  If you don’t want to be responsible for your office-mate’s cases and potential liability, don’t use a name that suggests that you are. 

Your firm name can be imaginative, creative and even undignified if you wish.  It can project the image that you choose.  But it must comply with Rule 7.5.  If in doubt, call the ethics hotline to ask about the name that you are considering.  The maximum penalty for a violation of Rule 7.5 is a public reprimand, and while a public reprimand would give you visibility, it’s probably not the marketing edge that you want.  The maximum penalty for a violation of Rule 7.1 is disbarment. 

 - Tina

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Planning for and Recovering from Disasters

There are some things in life you just can’t control.  Well, yes, we know that we can update our blog posts more often, and can control that to some extent!  However, natural and man-made disasters just happen and there is little to nothing we can do about them, except respond.

The Law Practice Management Program has long list of resources to help with disaster planning and recovery, and is working on a comprehensive guide for Georgia lawyers.  If you find you are in need of a plan – and we recommend everyone have one regardless of firm size or make up, please contact us.

Here is a list of the articles, guides, checklists and forms, we currently have compiled to aid with disaster planning and recovery:

  •  ABA Guide to Developing and Conducting Business Continuity Exercises
  • ABA Surviving a Disaster – Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning
  • Avert Disasters – Protect Your Practice with Online Backup
  • Checklist for Closing a Law Practice
  • Cyber Insurance – Locked Down Information Security for Lawyers
  • Disaster Plan Expansion Examples Checklist
  • Disaster Planning – What We Have and Haven’t Learned
  • Disaster Planning Team Roster
  • Disaster Recovery – Steps to Take in Recovery Effort
  • Disaster Recovery for Law Firms – Essential Formbook IV excerpt
  • Plan a Disaster Recovery Plan Today
  • Questions to Ask Cloud or Online Data Storage Providers
  • Resources to Help Recover from Flooding
  • When Bad Things Happen – 60 Minutes to Save Your Practice
  • Working with Disaster Recovery Specialists

To access any of these resources, please contact the Law Practice Management Program Administrative Assistant, Kim Henry, at KimH@gabar.org  - 404-527-8772/800-334-6865 Ext. 8772 or the Program’s Resource Advisor, Pam Myers at PamM@gabar.org – 404-526-8621/800-334-6865 Ext. 8621.

We are glad we are able to help with your planning or in the event of a disaster.

Natalie

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