Georgia’s Solo & Small Firm Institute is in the Works

Take Charge is a special event.  It’s Georgia’s Solo and Small Firm Institute and it is scheduled for July 14 & 15 at the State Bar Headquarters.  You can see the agenda, register at the early bird rate, and more at the official conference website, www.gabarsolo.org.

Stay tuned for conference updates!

– Natalie & Bill

ABA TECHSHOW 2017 Has Come and Gone!

So, we realize you haven’t heard from us in a while.  If we are ever quiet for long periods of time, it’s always likely for good reason.  This time is no exception.  Beyond our daily grind, ABA TECHSHOW was happening in Chicago from March 15th through the 17th, and as in years past, it was an awe-inspiring and time-consuming venture for those of us interested in law and technology.

The conference this year featured much more diversity in the plenary and educational track sessions.  What a great thing!  It was especially endearing to see our very own General Counsel, Paula Frederick, and Judy Perry Martinez, co-moderating the Keynote Panel discussion with the CEOs of LegalZoom, John Suh; RocketLawyer, Charley Moore;  and AVVO, Mark Britton.  Interesting thoughts were exchanged between the panelists as they navigated questions about the future of legal services given consumers’ changing needs and desires surrounding finding lawyers and legal assistance.  Spoiler Alert: There was no clear winner in this one!

TECHSHOW is always busy with attendees trying to get to know each other and learn and experience so much from educational track sessions and hundreds of vendors in a few short days.  There is just so much!  Yours truly, (me – Natalie), was interviewed alongside a few colleagues at the start of the show on the Legal Talk Network.  This session was well-received and hopefully allowed some new attendees to get ahead in navigating the conference!

ABA TECHSHOW 2017
TECHSHOW 2017 Legal Talk Network Interview with Dennis Kennedy, Natalie Kelly, Jim Calloway and Laurence Colletti

Well, TECHSHOW is known as the best conference for bringing lawyers and technology together, and this year’s event did just that.  If you missed it, as in years past, you can get all caught up via the ABA’s full coverage.  And, don’t forget to keep an eye out for ABA TECHSHOW 2018, which is already being planned!

-Natalie

Want to see us live? Bill & Natalie at State Bar’s Midyear Meeting CLE

Come join us on February 5th, at the State Bar’s Midyear Meeting.  Here are the CLE details and you can register on site!

TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE: AVOIDING ETHICAL LANDMINES AND MAXIMIZING TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY SKILLS AND TOOLS

9 A.M. – 12 P.M. | 3 CLE hours

Lawyers have realized they have to understand how to use technology, but knowing what they need to be wary of for ethical compliance and then learning how to best use systems can create concerns. The presenters will discuss hot ethical landmines to steer clear of when using technology; review cutting-edge technologies including an assessment tool geared toward helping lawyers understand their proficiency with commonly used software; and show attendees the new face of Fastcase. Each of the panelists will walk through some of their favorite technology solutions, showing you exactly how they work and explaining the benefits of using them. With the new skills and tools learned in this session, lawyers will be armed to use their current technology better as soon as they leave.

TOPICS:

Ethical Considerations for Today’s Technology:  William J. Cobb, Assistant General Counsel, State Bar of Georgia Office of the General Counsel, Atlanta

The New Face of Fastcase: Presenting Fastcase 7:  mSheila Baldwin, Member Benefits Coordinator, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta

Legal Tech Tools and Know-How in 7-Minutes:   Sheila Baldwin; William J. Cobb; Natalie R. Kelly, Director, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta Co-Sponsors: Law Practice Management Program, Office of the General Counsel, Young Lawyers Division, State Bar of Georgia

Unfavorable Online Reviews – What to Do (or Not)

That client said what about me! Being a lawyer representing people and organizations who could be on a winning or losing side means there will likely be someone who’s unhappy with a result, and if you the practitioner are not careful, they could also be unhappy with you personally.  Regardless of the reason for a client’s unhappiness, today a disgruntled individual can take to the airwaves online to express their displeasure.  Online sites like complaint.com and other negative feedback sites have long existed for consumers to make complaints, but with online lawyer directories with open comment areas and feedback ratings, the possibility of a negative client rating is now a reality for most lawyers.

So how should one deal with a bad rating or negative comments – true or not – when they have been placed online by your client or former client?

First, change the scenery.  Instead of responding online, simply pick up the phone and reach out to the client.  Conversation is usually better than email in these situations, and perhaps you can work out a retraction by clearing things up over a chat.  (A confrontational or defensive approach, of course, will just make things worse, whether oral or written.)  If the client or former client won’t speak to you, then move on to sending a handwritten note or letter – again, not an email unless there is no other way – discussing your position, sympathizing with their dismay about the results, and/or expressing any other sentiments which could lead to a reconciliation of the relationship.

Second, be acutely aware of your ethical duty to the client or former client.   GRPC Rule 1.6 severely limits a lawyer’s ability to respond to online criticism, because it makes presumptively confidential “all information gained in the professional relationship with a client,” regardless of the source, and with certain exceptions prohibits disclosure without the client’s “informed consent” (defined at Rule 1.0(h)). That obligation continues after the representation ends.  One exception is “to establish a . . . defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client,” but don’t rely on that.  A typical legal definition of “controversy” is “a litigated question; adversary proceeding in a court of law; a civil action or suit.”  Comments [16] and [17] to Rule 1.6 refer to legal claims or disciplinary charges.  And in In Re Skinner, 295 Ga. 217 (2014), without even mentioning the defense exception, the court disciplined a lawyer who had posted information about a client in response to the client’s online criticism.

So if you can’t disclose any information you learned during the representation, what can you say?  You might say something like, “I respectfully disagree” and/or “ethics rules prevent me from responding.”  But consider whether even that is worth it, since from an already angry client it may well trigger an additional acidic post.  The impact of an isolated criticism or two will generally fade over time (and if clients are moved to attack you more often, serious self-examination is in order).  If the criticism is false and genuinely harmful, there are civil remedies.  Pampattiwar v. Hinson, 326 Ga. App. 163 (2014)(affirming verdict against former client based on fraud, libel per se, and false light invasion of privacy).

Getting over negative reviews will take patience and restraint, and should cause you to work hard to avoid them by doing your best to ensure your clients remain happy, or at least satisfied that you did your best for them, regardless of any results they receive.  If you were to rate yourself and your service personally, what would you give yourself?  Focus on improving your client education process with more attention on client relations and satisfaction to get the highest marks before, during and after the representation!

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

– Natalie & Bill

AVVO-type Services and the Georgia Lawyer

Have you claimed your profile? Was it correctly displayed in AVVO? Did you get the rating you think you deserved? What can you really do about that nasty review? We will attempt to work through this quandary for Georgia lawyers. As other jurisdictions have opined in various ways about the proper use and peril of services like AVVO, we felt the need to address it head on. So here goes.

Can a Georgia lawyer sign on and accept their rating? Well, of course, and many have done just that and leveraged higher ratings to boot. There are rumors that higher ratings are attained when lawyers accept and fill in their profiles, and not doing so may be at the heart of some of the concerns we hear about AVVO. Where did they get my information, and what if it’s totally wrong? We’ve heard more than once that a lawyer has never worked in a practice area their AVVO listing proclaims. Likewise, claiming to specialize in certain practice areas is not something to be taken lightly, but again there are some profiles that make these claims without the lawyer even knowing about it in some cases. So, does this now mean the lawyer can be in trouble with the State Bar?

We will talk more about “false and misleading” information later, but for starters, let’s address the use of online directory services like AVVO. As already mentioned, lawyers can use the service, and in most cases, claiming the profile may well be the way to go. Not doing so could indicate the lawyer is not in step with the times. Everyone’s online and most folks check out lawyers they’ve heard about online. Why not make sure your online presence is at its very best by making sure any information out there is correct? Once a profile has been accepted, then the lawyer must decide whether to enhance the profile through add-on services or by linking in additional content. Both tend to increase the ranking of the lawyer’s profile in searches performed using the directory. Again, there are no guarantees, but generally speaking the proactive approach to the profile listing seems to get noticed in the search algorithms used by the online services. So our advice to most lawyers is to get online and check your profile and claim it and add additional content if you are inclined to use the directory as a part of your online marketing campaign. You will just want to be sure you keep up with any content provided by the listing.

Lawyers who for whatever reason do not want to claim their profiles are likely to not be entirely pleased with their options. AVVO will not take down your listing, and we have mixed reports about being able to correct your practice areas without claiming your profile. However, if you have not been disciplined by a licensing bar, AVVO will accept a request that your “ratings not be displayed.” That strips down the profile, but practice areas, years of licensure, and evidently the ability of others to post reviews of you, remain displayed.

But what about unfavorable and inaccurate information? How’s that to be dealt with without skirting or crossing any ethical lines? There are no Georgia Supreme Court decisions or Formal Advisory Opinions addressing inaccurate information on websites like AVVO, but like a lawyer’s own website, you should consider it to be advertising and therefore subject to Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (GRPC) Rules 7.1 (Communications concerning a Lawyer’s Services), 7.2 (Advertising) and 7.4 (Communication of Fields of Practice). There are a number of specific obligations and prohibitions in those rules, but the overarching requirement is that your communications not be false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading. It seems unlikely that inaccurate information in an unclaimed AVVO profile would be prosecuted as an ethics violation, since the lawyer played no role in creating or publicizing it. Once you claim a profile, however, it seems obvious that you will be responsible for assuring that its content complies with the above GRPC rules. What to do about unfavorable reviews is a topic unto itself, which we will address next time.

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

-Natalie & Bill