Could state supreme courts and state bar associations be trying to limit the public’s access to legal services?

It sure seems that way when looking at how some of them prevent the use of innovation and technology to make lawyers relevant to the 85% of Americans who don’t think of using a lawyer when a legal need arises. Let alone providing access to justice to the poor in this country.

The latest comes from the New Jersey Supreme Court, the governing body for lawyer licensure in the state, which last week blacklisted services from Avvo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer that match consumers with attorneys because of concerns over fee-sharing and referral fees.

Avvo allegedly facilitated improper fee-splitting, while LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer operated legal service plans that aren’t registered with the judiciary.

Being part of the solution that such services offer is now unethical for a New Jersey Lawyer.

New Jersey is not alone. The services from these and other companies have met resistance from any number of other states.

When these companies leveraged technology, innovation and efficiencies to bring access to legal services, something that bar associations, courts and law firms couldn’t dream of getting done themselves, states cut them off at the knee.

New Jersey State Bar President, Robert Hille, who represents health care institutions and insurance companies, seems a million miles away from the reality of average consumers in his comments about the court’s opinion.

The New Jersey State Bar Association has in recent years frequently expressed concern about the growing number of organizations that have sought to open the door to fee sharing, which could interfere with a lawyer’s independent professional judgment. The opinion provides clarity and practical guidance for New Jersey attorneys about whether and to what extent they can practice in such programs.

Through Avvo Advisers and Avvo Legal Services, Avvo enables a consumer to call a lawyer for forty dollars or to procure legal services at set fees, with Avvo being paid a marketing fee.

In addition to legal service products, LegalZoom offers a network of vetted lawyers as part of a service that receives a Net Promoter Score from its customers which rivals that of Amazon, Apple, and Southwest Airlines.

What does the New Jersey Supreme Court offer? An outdated Self-Help Resource Center web site with limited information. For further questions you call your “Local Ombudsman.” Get real.

People today expect to be able to do a quick Google search, find an app or a service and get what they need – even if it means paying a few hundred dollars. The court, by splitting hairs in their decision making to stop services they and other lawyers dislike, is ignoring reality.

Do they really think someone is going to call a law office, get vetted, be told they’ll get a call back later that day or tomorrow and then drive ten miles to sit in a waiting room before meeting a lawyer?

All this to pay many times more than they’d pay to get better service from innovative companies which have lawyers in their network (in states where they wouldnt be disbarred for participating) who actually “get it.”

Rather than dismiss services like Avvo, D.C. Attorney and long time champion for solo’s, Carolyn Elefant says:

…[Y]ou’d think that solos — who are often interrupted multiple times a day with clients who want a quick answer, and not a $175/hr consult would cheer for Avvo Advisor as well – because instead of having to act rudely or unresponsively towards these callers, lawyers can direct them to a place where they can have their question answered. Likewise, solos can also accept Avvo calls during downtime to earn lunch money and gain access to a new contact – without the hassle of performing intake, opening up a client file and then sending an invoice — because Avvo’s done all of the work for them.

The regulators’ decisions are so illogical Elefant says it’s hard to believe that they are are actually lawyers.

The percentage that Avvo retains from these transactions is no different from the service fees charged by credit card companies. Just as credit card companies collect a charge from each transaction to cover the cost of the service, Avvo’s percentage reflects the service that it provides to users – not just marketing, but also the convenience to lawyers of not having to perform intake or send out an invoice.

Lawyers, courts and bar associations talk a good game when it comes to public service and making legal services more accessible. But it’s not happening.

When businesses everywhere are seizing technology to reduce prices and improve services, bar associations and courts governing lawyers are sticking their heads in the sand and digging in their heels.

This is a real shame — for the public who don’t have access to the law and for lawyers who are increasingly becoming irrelevant to the average person in this country.

That’s not that stupid of a question. There are 100,000 lawyers in Texas, or about 99,900 more lawyers than my county bar association had when I started practicing.

I am here in Dallas for the State Bar of Texas (SBOT) Annual Meeting along with David Cuthbert, LexBlog’s business development lead extraordinaire.

LexBlog has had the pleasure of partnering with the SBOT on a lot of things over the years — their sites/publications, social media think tanks, Beer for Bloggers, LexBlog TV/SBOT TV coverage of annual meetings and more. John Sirman, Lowell Brown and all the other SBOT team members have been great to work with.

We’re doing a few new things this year. One, we’ll have a booth (rare event for us in that our work comes by word of mouth through blogging and networking online).

A booth not only allows us to support the Bar, but also to share with lawyers how LexBlog has moved on from building blogs to a managed WordPress platform for the law with options for blogs, websites, minisites, magazines, networks etc — and, in the case of some law firms and marketing agencies, the ability to license our platform so they may operate their own WordPress managed platform.

A booth also enables us to offer free advice on networking/business development through the net. I may be “selling,” but I’ve always seen helping folks first, LexBlog member publisher or not, as the most important thing we do.

I’ll also be doing some discussions on FaceBook Live with law bloggers and other folks. My friend, Brian Cuban, will be keynoting one of the tracks discussing the events that gave rise to his new book, “The Addicted Lawyer.” I should be able to get him on Facebook.

LexBlog’s tech and products teams has been working on new solutions for SBOT members. Sirman and the SBOT committee heads are pretty creative in getting valuable benefits for members. We’ve cooked up some new ideas to discuss with them.

My daughter, Ainsley tells me I just missed the Mariners playing in Texas. That’s okay. Baseball at 65 degrees in Seattle is more enjoyable than at 100 degrees in Dallas.

If attending, please do stop by and say Hi or ping me by email or text/call (206-321-3627. If nothing else it’ll get you a beer or coffee.

Too many lawyers do not realize they can’t land kudos and be easily cited without a Twitter account.

How so?

I regularly monitor sources and subjects for items of interest to me. I do it with my news aggregator, Feedly.

Many of the items I read I share on Twitter. Many of these tweets are shoutouts to the subject of the story. I am not alone in doing this.

In order to give a shutout I need the subject’s Twitter handle.

I go over to Google to look up the Twitter account by searching for the person or organization’s name and the word, ‘Twitter.’ I then include the Twitter handle in my tweet, ie, “Big kudos to @patriciasmith for…” and then include what they did.

Without a Twitter handle the person cannot see the recognition I gave them nor the recognition others gave them by retweeting or favoriting my tweet. With a Twitter account, the subject receives notice of the shoutout via an email and a Twitter notification.

This is a big deal with law firm and association leaders who do not have a Twitter account, but whose public relations people get them in headlines.

I do the same with reporters and bloggers I am citing. I am amazed when I cannot find a Twitter handle for a reporter, after all they are in the media.

Sadly far too many reporters and bloggers in the law lack Twitter handles, something that signals that they are out of touch with media today and aren’t looking to engage their readers.

How many posts are needed to launch a law blog? One. And I’m serious.

Too many lawyers and law firms take all the fun out of blogging before they even get started by working on a series of blog posts before they take their law blog live.

You know how hard it is to sit down and pen four or five articles? It’s not fun — not even for three or four lawyers pooling their efforts.

A law blog is not like penning articles, a blog can be a lot of fun.

You get to put your thoughts and insight out there, live on the Internet. No matter what anyone says, sitting down at the keyboard and then pushing the publish button for the first time is an adrenalin rush. A little angst, but a lot of excitement.

When have you had the chance to take something live to the Internet before? And minutes after you penned your piece.

You want more blog posts? You’ll get them when someone has their pride on the line.

You publish a blog post and you have ownership. That’s you out there. You’ll be looking to add more posts, if for no other reason than ego and pride.

There is no way you’re going to generate that type of excitement for your second, third and fourth blog post when you’re penning them on a Word doc over a month’s time. That’s painful.

The only thing that sounds more painful is sitting in a conference room over lunch with lawyers and marketing professionals discussing the first blog post and the upcoming ones we’ll be doing before the blog goes live.

A law blog is something which enables a lawyer or group of lawyers to enter into an ongoing discussion in a niche area of the law or locale. A blog is not the definitive resource on a subject — especially on day one.

Starting a law blog is akin to saying I, or we, are going to start networking through the Internet in a way that builds our name and nurtures relationships. Like networking offline, you begin by just getting out and networking.

A columnist in a publication starts publishing by penning her first article. You need not see four articles before you decide whether her commentary is interesting or of value.

Blogs are unique in that the content is distributed virally. By emails, by sharing on LinkedIn, on Twitter and on Facebook. When you get your first post out there, no one is looking for the next three to hit them in the face, one after another.

You need not worry about someone coming at your blog after your first post and saying I would have subscribed to this blog if it just had three more posts. No authority here, only one post — too bad for that lawyer. C’mon.

Blogs grow on people. The first post, and even the next two, are not going to wow anyone.

Know that the smallest audience you will ever have on your blog will be when you launch your blog. One post is okay.

Those who come, and it will not be too many (you don’t publicize the launch of a blog), will be interested if you’re focusing on a niche, offering some insight beyond summaries of the law and write in a conversational tone.

View the first post, as it should be viewed, as a start.

As a lawyer you’ll not write in an embarrassing way, but you’ll blog poorly, but not forever. Practice, like with anything, will bring improvement. All the good law bloggers had to start somewhere.

Sure, proof that first post. I must have sat in the coffee shop for a couple hours with a printed draft of my first post. Other lawyers will have a spouse, child or colleague proof their posts.

If you’re itching to do that next post before you launch your blog, mark it draft on your publishing platform or set it to go live four or five days later.

I see far too many blogs with four to six posts, or more, on the day the blog launches and then one or two over the next two or three months. It looks lame, and a sign that the fun was taken out of law blogging before you ever got started.

Relax, as much as you can starting a blog, and have some fun.

It felt good to walk our business loan payment over to our bank this afternoon.

I’m old school where we deposited our paychecks and made loan payments in person — especially on Fridays.

Gave loan officers, and even the president of the bank, the opportunity to get up from behind their desks to shake the hands of customers and ask how they were doing. Gave me as a bank board member an opportunity, even if second hand, to have information about who our customers and loan applicants are, as people.

When was the last time you shook the hand of a bank president so you knew they would be there if you wanted a loan to start or expand a business? Or a loan for home improvements? Or to talk to if some issues arose? And for them to know they would have the loan applications they need because of the relationships they established.

Too many business people are out chasing angel or VC money when going to a small bank for a loan may be easier — and certainly cheaper. More business people (lawyers included) should be nurturing relationships with bankers — and bankers with entrepreneurs founding and running emerging growth companies.

When we were moving to Seattle almost twenty years ago, I needed a home loan in a hurry. The finance company we were referred to dropped the ball and couldn’t close when they said they would. Not really an option as the moving truck was arriving in five days.

I told the finance company if they couldn’t close as committed, I’d go to a local bank and get a loan — and I did. I had my friend who was the president of a bank in Wisconsin fax a letter to the president of American Marine Bank on Bainbridge Island to tell him of my predicament and that I’d be a great customer. The president and his loan officer got the loan closed just in time.

American Marine has been sold a couple times over. Columbia Bank, a large Northwest Bank owns it now. No more dogs coming in for milkbones. No one coming out to greet you. And enough of an uncaring in-personal approach to lending that we’re pulling our home loan from them, something they’ve held in-house since the date of the rush loan, and all our deposits and moving to another bank.

Banking, as much as any business, is all about relationships and people. Relatonships both ways — for you as a customer wanting a good bank that knows you and for the bank who wants good customers.

If you are in Seattle, First Sound Bank is an excellent small business bank, whom I/we have worked with for the last few years. Jon Shelton, who also rides the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry, is the President and CEO.

I’ll be in San Francisco this Monday through Wednesday attending ALM’s Legalweek West (f/k/a LegalTech Show) and meeting with LexBlog publishers.

Legalweek actually runs only two days, Monday and Tuesday. The show is a smaller version of ALM’s LegalTech Show in New York City. And though legal tech is the focus, there are educational tracks covering diversity, operations and small firm management.

ALM expects to have 1,200 attendees, 100+ speakers and 40+ exhibiters.

Though not the draw of New York’s show, I’ve been attending and covering the show more years than not. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with legal tech entrepreneurs/leaders and to stay abreast of what’s going on at various companies.

I also enjoy meeting some of the folks from ALM. There has been a ton of turnover in recent years, yet ALM remains a leader in legal publishing.

It’s my belief that bloggers and legal mainstream reporters ought to have a good working relationship. Bloggers have niche expertise and certain information reporters do not. I’ve been doing my best to meet ALM’s reporters by sharing their stories on Twitter. I look forward to meeting a few of the reporters in person.

Ideally I’d like to get ALM to recognize the potential in getting legal tech companies to blog. For news, insight and for getting out the message of companies, with public relations not working as well as it used to. Maybe even do a social media/blogging workshop for exhibitors and sponsors.

I’m meeting some LexBlog lawyer and law firm publishers at the show and others at their offices in San Francisco. If you’d like to to get together, let me know. You can reach me via email, Facebook or Twitter.

New York VC and long time blogger, Fred Wilson is a big believer that blogging prepares you to speak well.

…If you have to speak publicly a lot, particularly in unscripted situations, I would suggest you write publicly regularly as well.


…Writing regularly makes it so much easier to speak publicly in unscripted situations.

Writing forces you to work out your views and articulate them clearly and concisely.

Then when you are asked a question related to those views, you have already worked out the answer.

It is in the brain, waiting there to come out crisply and concisely.

I couldn’t agree more.

Unlike many other speakers, I don’t script or overly prepare my talks.

I gather my thoughts on what I think would help and inspire the audience, outline my thoughts and reduce my outline to a deck, something I find a necessary evil for conference organizers.

After I hear others speak and get a feel of the conference, I’m prepared to share my thoughts in my talk.

The stories, ideas and what I’m thinking as I talk are all basically pulled from my blogging.

I don’t mean that I have gone back and read my blog in preparation, but that blogging represents my thinking over time. What’s between my ears is my blogging.

Like Fred, I’ve been writing (blogging or posting on Facebook) on near a daily basis for going on fourteen years. It’s a huge body of work and thinking. Not all of my writing is still relevant, but much is.

My views have evolved as well, but that’s okay. That helps me with context as a I talk to an audience.

As Fred says, blogging and speaking “work incredibly well together.”

The ABA Journal shared a list of 12 candidates for the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors as well as the candidate for President of the ABA.

I was struck that no where in the ABA Journal’s listing of the candidates did it include the personal social media accounts or blogs of the candidates. My cynical side wonders if the candidates even use Twitter and Facebook. Do they blog so as to express their passion and network with influencers with similar passions?

There was little I knew about these folks. I wondered how much other lawyers knew about the candidates. How were we going to find out about them – from them – if they didn’t use the Internet?

Today, we get to know people faster and in a more real way than ever before. It’s because of the Internet, and in particular social media (blogging, Twitter, Facebook).

We hear people’s voices in a real and authentic fashion. We feel people’s passion as they speak to us directly. We build trust with each other via immediate and personal online exchange. We even get to know people as people, outside of their professional lives.

I could look up each candidate and find out how they use social media. I fear it may only make me mad that these folks may not be doing what they can to connect with lawyers and the average people in this country. I fear it may make me mad that they are not serving as role models to American lawyers to jump on the Internet to learn, to network, engage people, build a name and advance causes important to you.

These folks are charged with advancing the causes of veteran’s legal challenges, access to legal services, innovation/technology in law practice management and human rights. To learn, connect and engage lawyers and the American people so as to truly advance these causes these candidates, more so than other lawyers, need to be using the same communication medium the rest of us use – social media and the Internet.

Current President of the ABA, Linda Klein, uses Twitter to engage lawyers (even yahoo’s like me) and the public. General counsel, in-house counsel, managing partners and lawyers everywhere use Facebook, Twitter and blogging to network, learn and evangelize causes important to them and their organizations. Nothing prevents ABA officials from using the Internet to connect and engage except fear.

I hope that the ABA Journal and the candidates will come back at me showing me and lawyers everywhere how they are indeed personally using social media. It wouldn’t be the first time I was told to kiss off by the ABA.

Want to have some fun, put your passion for social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogging and more) to work, learn a heck of a lot and become a rockstar in your own right?

I am looking for a paid intern to work full time this summer and part-time during the school year. Who knows, maybe you become a full-time team member later on, as many interns have at LexBlog.

You could be law student, journalism student or any student with outstanding communication skills. What you will be is passionate, hungry and driven to succeed and to make a difference. You’ll bring ideas we’ve not tried before and a desire to do all things different.

You’ll be working closely with me to do, among other things:

  • Shine a light on the good work being done by blogging lawyers across our LexBlog blog network
  • Highlight innovation and technology across the legal profession
  • Highlight access to legal services and access to justice causes
  • Engage and nurture relationships with bloggers, law firms, bar associations, professional associations, reporters and other influential legal industry leaders
  • Work in an around my blog and others, as well as do some blogging of your own

Ideally, I’d like a student in Seattle. Your passion and enthusiasm would be contagious in our office, you’d get to get to know some fine team members of mine and you’d learn what working, innovating and playing in a small entrepreneurial company is all about.

But who knows? Maybe you come to Seattle for part of this summer and work from your school’s home during the school year.

Drop me an email. I look forward to talking.

PS – Maybe you’re a recent grad looking to learn, get some experience and to make yourself so indesensable we hire you.

I’m a small town trial lawyer by trade.

Over seventeen years, I made it to county courthouses in cities the likes of Viroqua, Prairie du Chien, Sparta, Black River Falls, Whitehall and Mauston. Occasionally I made it to courts in Madison, Minneapolis and Chicago.

I don’t believe I was ever invited to speak to a legal industry group. And only once was I asked to pen an article for publication.

Not in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned being invited to speak in Europe to an international audience of lawyers, technology executives and in-house counsel.

Two weeks ago that’s where I was. In Amsterdam at the Lexpo legal innovation and technology conference presenting on the power of blogging and social media.

Out of the blue last fall I received a call asking if I could speak and what my fee and expenses would be. Amazing, “Could you come to Amsterdam, some place you’ve never been, we’ll pay your way and put you up. You really should bring your wife as you’re already being paid to come to Europe.”

Hey, maybe Rob Ameerun, Lexpo’s founder and organizer didn’t say exactly that, but it sounded just like that to me. It was certainly something that was going to make me a star at home – we hadn’t been to Europe since we backpacked and hitchhiked across the Continent on $10 a day thirty-five years ago.

The reason I was in Europe was simple. I blog.

Rob and the person who recommended me to Rob knew of me and my passion for blogging and social media, the subject of my talk, because of my blog publication, Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

Wilder to me still was that, as a result of blogging and social media, people from any number of countries at the conference knew who I was. Invites to speak in London and Lithuania followed.

I’m not alone when it comes to American blogging lawyers being invited to Europe this spring.

Veteran law bloggers, Jordan Furlong and Ron Friedmann, joined me as speakers at Lexpo.

Staci Riordan, long time fashion law blogger and chair of Nixon Peabody’s fashion practice, is featured today in the International Trademark Association (INTA) Daily News for her presentation in Barcelona yesterday on advocating for a brand on social media, as a social media influencer yourself.

From Barcelona Staci is on her way to Tokyo and Seoul to speak. As she tags her Facebook posts, a bit in jest, “#lifeoffashionlawyer.”

Staci was not alone in Barcelona. From long time China law blogger, Dan Harris over the weekend:

If you are going to be in Barcelona during INTA 2017, please let us know via an email to and we will do our utmost to have one of our lawyers meet up with you there. Four of our lawyers will be there throughout the conference, including two of our lawyers from our Barcelona office, Nadja Vietz and Joaquin Cabrera. In addition to our home-grown talent, Mike Atkins (world famous for his Seattle Trademark Lawyer Blog) and Alison Malsbury (who spoke at INTA last year on cannabis trademarks) will also be attending.

All of the U.S. lawyers Dan mentioned got to Barcelona as a result of blogging. Heck, in addition to a successful international practice, Dan’s firm has built perhaps the leading cannabis practice in the country on the back of the Canna Law Blog.

Crazier yet, Dan’s letting 10,000 conference attendees from 140 countries know to look up he and his colleagues while in Barcelona — via one of the most widely read international legal publications, his firm’s China Law Blog.

Then this morning I see the dean of law blogging with his LawSites blog, Bob Ambrogi share on Facebook a picture of his home for the next week. A Danube River cruiseboat leaving from Munich.

Bob’s known internationally for his expertise on the Internet and legal technology, in large part because of his blogging. As a result he’s going to be teaching at a bar association conference cruising the Danube.

I don’t share these stories to impress you, but to impress upon you the opportunity that blogging presents you as a lawyer.

Of course you need to have some expertise, blogging is not “fake it till you make it.” But blogging puts you on the map, builds a name for you and makes you an attractive speaker for conference organizers to invite. Stars attract an audience.

Know that the lawyers here have built their names with a blog. They’re not writing articles published in a section of a law firm website claiming to be a blog.

These lawyers and I sought to go out and connect and engage on the Internet with an independent publication, our blogs, and the use of ancillary social media, including Twitter and Facebook. We built a brand for a blog publication and ourselves.

Sure, prominent lawyers who do not blog will be invited to speak at conferences around the world just as they always have. But small town kids like me wouldn’t get there without blogging.