5/26/11

Elephant Post: Should Non-Lawyers Be Promoted on a Law Firms Website?

We seemed to have asked about a hot topic issue this week when we wondered if non-lawyers that work at a law firm should be visible through the firm's website. This actually may be the Elephant Post with the most contributions (18 total), and although most answered "Yes", it wasn't even close to a unanimous response. One noticeably missing profession from the contributions, however, were lawyers. Lots of non-lawyers (actually some are lawyers, just not actively practicing for their respective law firms) chimed in to give their votes for or against (and a couple that were very close to "I voted for it, before I voted against it" type of endorsements.

I did get a personal message from one lawyer that claimed that it may actually be a bar violation to present non-lawyers on the firm's websites. The thought was that it knocks up against the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) issue. I talked with a couple more people that were familiar with various Bar Associations and they assured me that as long as it was clear that the non-lawyers were clearly identified as not being lawyers, that this wouldn't violate the UPL guidelines. When I brought this answer back to the lawyer, however, she scoffed and said that she wouldn't want to take the chance. If anyone wants to clarify the UPL issue, please feel free to set all of us straight.

Enjoy the contributions. Thank you, everyone that contributed. Once you've digested these, scroll on down and take a look at next week's post which asks if a two-tiered Associate system will be the make up of law firms in the near future.


Kate
Sales/Marketing
Yes

When my former law firm re-did their website, there was a page for administrative managers with their contact information, and if those people spoke, wrote articles, etc., they received equal promotion on the firm website as the attorneys.

See: http://www.saiber.com.  Under "Publications and Articles" the fourth article listed is written by the Director of Finance.  And on the "Firm News" page, the first item under "October 2010" is from the Executive Director.


Vivian
IT
Yes

It's more friendly and personal, less imposing and intimidating to prospective clients.


Sarah Mauldin
Librarian
Yes

Absolutely!  If I might appear on your bill, you ought to be able to find out a little more about me and why I am qualified to perform work you should have to pay for.  I think this extends to paralegals, lit support folks, etc.


Elaine Knecht
C-level Librarian
Yes

Particularly in this social networking age, every opportunity that a firm has to make a connection is a good one.


Julie
KM
Yes

Non-lawyers should absolutely be promoted on a law firm's website.  First, such promotion helps improve morale within the firm, particularly in the case of a substantial administrative staff with a wealth of talent and expertise.  Second, law firms stand to benefit from educating clients and potential clients about their administrative infrastructure.  We are all aware of the dramatic shifts in the legal economy in the last decade.  More than ever, departments such as KM, LPM and Pricing/Finance are actively involved in matter management.  Clients have taken a keen interest in law firm resources extending beyond the capable and talented lawyers that many law firms can claim they can offer.  Promotion of non-lawyers is, I believe, critical to successful law firm business development from now on.


Jason
IT
Yes

It takes more than the lawyers to make a law firm work and so senior non-lawyers should be included. After all a website is as much about selling to customers as providing information to all interested in the company, providing details and CV's of your CFO and CIO's can tell you a lot about the running of the firm.


Andy
IT
Yes

Because they provide value to the client.


Scott Jaffee
Controller
No

The purpsose is to attract clients who pay for legal services.  The website should focus only on that.


Anonymous
Marketing
Yes

We post some on our site- we draw the line before paralegals, but those admin folks (almost always billers) which the practice leaders feel give us a competitive advantage get listed. This includes patent agents, admin directors, etc. I think it's a good policy- if these people make our client service stronger and will come into direct contact with the client, we should list them.


ThatTech
IT
Yes

Look, at the end of the day, Law Firm's are businesses. Businesses in general have a lot of moving parts to make it successful. It's almost silly, or unwise to think that it wouldn't be in the firm's best interest to show off their talent.  Frankly, if I knew so and so was working at XYZ Firm, I might be more inclined to join. Like any other job, people are attracted to other talent too.

So speaking from an IT perspective only, why not showcase your superstars that back the wheels run smooth?


Dave Rigali
CIO
No

We aren't the reason why people come to the Firm's web site.  We don't provide legal services to clients.  There are obviously exceptions to this, but I think this is generally true.

Law firm web sites need to stop being shrines to the Firm and to their attorneys, let alone administrative staff.  They need to make it easy for clients (or prospective clients) to find information about the specific experience and expertise the Firm and its attorneys have.  I've never understood why so many sites have news tickers and profile generators on their home page as if someone has the time to read random blurbs about the Firm.  Promoting administrative staff would simply add to the noise.

I would make an exception for COOs.  They are usually part of the executive board and often bring pertinent background and experience that might influence a general counsel's decision as to whether to engage the Firm.

This is not to say that staff can't be promoted on the site at least indirectly.  Staff may be involved in the Firm's diversity program or community service activities for example, and these are increasingly important factors in hiring decisions.  But I don't think that individual bios for staff (for example) are necessary or even advisable.


Christopher Fryer
IT Director
Yes

IT expertise is a great marketing tool.


Andrew Collier
CIO
Yes

Of course, the non-attorney staff supports the professional staff; however, is the impact of this support even really acknowledged, other than when it misfires or is unavailable?  In Many cases, the impact of the support staff manifests itself as a force multiplier.  Paralegals and business analysts perform the research that can be the defining aspect of making or breaking a case.  When clients are impressed with the appearance of the office reception or conference rooms, it is pretty clear the partners and associates were not up late with the spit and polish.  When the concessions and catering make a war room remain productive, who ordered the food, presented it, made sure the coffee was hot and plentiful, and soft drinks cold? When the documents that have to be submitted by 5pm on a Friday are dropped on a secretary's desk at 4pm, who ensures the attorneys work is properly formatted, spell checked and cited before letting it out the door?

We are constantly telling our people that they are the greatest resource the firm has to wield over its competition, yet rarely do we sing their praises in an open forum.  Occasionally, you will see a reference on a website about the "team" that backs up several individually named attorneys.  You may see the occasional reference in a staff meeting or firm "all call". However, like the names that turn heads among attorneys, in many areas of legal support, there are individuals that stand out as "go to" guys/gals among our peers.  Just look through the ILTA, ARMA or ALA rosters, and many other groups) and you will find those folks that transcend the firm they are currently employed because of their skills, professionalism, experience and personality.  I consider many of these fine people role models and (unbeknownst to them in most cases) mentors that I glean information and guidance with many of these individuals being well below the C-level.  It is in the firm's best interest to promote these folks to demonstrate their competitive edge and to build the firm's brand through the achievements of the exceptional support staff.

It is about time that we promote the entire firm, not just the attorneys.  Without doubt, it is the attorney's names on the door.  They do take the responsibility of face of the firm, there is no denying that.  We all need to remember that we are all under the employ of the billable hour.  When an attorney writes an article for a business journal or gets interviewed as commentary for a national trial, these should be marketed and publicized.  And the same should be so, when your Controller  writes for the ALA Legal Management, your Records Clerk is sourced as an authority on retention in news story or your IT Security Specialist gives a standing room only presentation at the ILTA Conference.  The firm has invested handsomely in the non-legal staff, they should see it as no question when asked to market their single greatest resource.


Shirley Crow
CIO
Yes

We're professionals who contribute to client service and a law firm's success.


Anonymous
Librarian
No

How far would this extend - someone mentioned the people who keep the place clean and orderly.  Valuable work indeed but what would the rationale be for putting these people on the website?  Are clients/others going to want to contact anyone other than attorneys?  Would the law firm want people to directly contact professional staff such as the librarians?  Even though we make a substantial contribution as well as do IT people, paralegals, records managers and others whom I am going to offend by not including them here , we never get the recognition we really deserve. I'm not sure what the goal her is but if it is for recognition, the website isn't really the place for that.


Anonymous
IT
Yes

Won't really matter, no one reads law firm websites anyway.


Clare Brown
librarian
Yes

1. We are as professional and as qualified as lawyers
2. Networking opportunities - It is good for other librarians to find out where friends/ex-colleagues are
3. Demonstrates that law firms care about/ respect their business support staff


Ayelette Robinson
KM
Yes/No/Maybe


To be honest, I wish Greg had given a 'maybe' option. A part of me feels strongly that all the hard-working and skilled professionals who support a business should be promoted on a website -- for all of the reasons already mentioned above. But when I asked myself what I look for on a company's website, I had to admit that I wouldn't really care about seeing the people who make the business run. To be honest, I just assume that any good business has good people running it.

And my question to everyone who said "yes" on this post is: when you go to gap.com, cnn.com, or ey.com, would seeing the biographies of the IT, accounting, and marketing professionals truly affect your decision about whether to purchase or use the company's services? Or in your heart of hearts do you feel the same way I do, that - unless proven otherwise - you assume the company is providing its employees with appropriate IT equipment, managing its financial strategy soundly, and marketing itself well to ensure future business? Even (perhaps especially?) if you don't make that assumption, would seeing the biographies of those professionals on the company's own website really make a difference or would you assume that those biographies are spun to sound great regardless of whether or not the professionals are strong?

In other words, if you don't question how the business is run, you don't need to see the biographies. If you do, you're probably going to do research in places other than the company's own site.


Next Week's Elephant Post Question:
Is a Two-Tiered Associate Track the way of the Future for Law Firms?
Most of us have read the New York Times article on how firms like Orrick, WilmerHale and McDermott Will & Emery are experimenting with creating positions of "career associates" or "permanent associates" and starting them out at around $60,000 per year. I found it interesting that some of the people I know that gasped when newly minted Associates' pay jumped to $160,000 a few years back, and now are gasping at the non-partner track Associates' pay of $60K.

So, what are your thoughts? Good idea? Bad idea? Done deal?? I'm sure that in this time of law students coming out of school with no prospects and $100K + in loans, maybe this is exactly what they need. Could it be a win-win for both those students and the law firm, or is this second-tier system going to diminish the prestige of the law firm and the associates that take these positions?





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1 comments:

Greg Lambert said...

Thought I'd share one comment that showed up on a list serv:

Seemingly everyone wants their name in lights but there are enough forums out there for legal support staff to tout their accomplishments. Firm web sites are for the purpose of promoting the law firm and their lawyers, not the credentials of their support staff.

I'll play Devil's Advocate here and respond by saying:
1. This is "old thinking" about how a law firm's website is only for the lawyers because clients only care about them.
2. Clients look for ways a firm stands out from the competition. Touting only your lawyer's actions really doesn't separate you from the crowd, does it?
3. Over the past two years, many firms saw profits, not because lawyers were pulling in more work, but because admin teams worked to cut overhead. Admins learned that business as usual doesn't fly anymore. Perhaps lawyers need to think outside the box as well.

Time to get out pre-2008 thinking and stop limiting yourself and the way your promote your firm.

 

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