LexBlog is honored to have Thomson Reuters co-hosting a Beer for Bloggers (and others) with us on Tuesday evening at ILTACON in Washington D.C.

I started Beer for Bloggers thirteen years ago as a way to meet a few bloggers when I was traveling. I also wanted to get a little publicity for LexBlog – which hardly anyone had heard of. Heck not that many had heard of a blog, let alone could figure out what a legal professional would do with one.

On the way out of town, I’d find an Irish Bar in my destination city on Google (not sure Yelp was around). I’d post on my blog that I’d be in the bar from 5:30 to 7:00 and would pick up the tab for beers for anyone who showed. There was no Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, my blog was the only way word got out.

Subscribers to my blog spread the word in their town and people showed. We had a lot of fun – and LexBlog’s name grew, probably faster than if I traveled to conferences as an exhibitor.

A couple years ago, Gretchen DeSutter, team lead in media relations for Thomson Reuters, appproached me at a Beer for Bloggers in Chicago (co-hosted by the ABA Journal) about her desire to sponsor one of my “Beer for Bloggers.”

I was thrown off a bit. One, because I had been critical of FindLaw and WestLaw over the years here on my blog and knew that made me no friends in Eagan. Second,  it sounded a little odd to call it Kevin O’Keefe’s/LexBlog’s Beer for Blogger brought to you by Thomson Reuters.

But DeSutter was the real deal. She was down to earth, straight talking and an authentic voice for Thomson Reuters.

De Sutter also knew the lay of the land in the legal publishing world – something always of interest to me. Plus she was a highly respected communications/relationships/media professional, having worked for West Publishing since Dwight Opperman was publisher and owner.

My friend, Bob Ambrogi, who also knew De Sutter, closed the deal when he told me, “Don’t be a fool, co-sponsor a Beer for Bloggers with Thomson Reuters, it’s a sign of what LexBlog has achieved.” Or something along those lines. ;)

What started out as buying as many people a beer who heard word via my blog has now grown into a gathering co-sponsored by a major multinational mass media and information company, let alone the largest bar association in the country co-hosting one annually.

Beer for Bloggers, though with a few more attendees, remains the same – an informal gathering at a local pub in legal conferences cities that I am traveling to. An opportunity to break away from the pace of a conference or a day at work for a little camaraderie and an opportunity to meet people you known only online.

You’re all invited (blogger or not, lawyer or not, attending ILTACON or not) Tuesday night at 5:30 to Beer for Bloggers at Bobby McKeys at National Harbor.

Beers are on us.

Thanks TR.

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Per Thomson Reuters’ Susan Martin at Legal Currents yesterday, Thomson Reuters is using social media to engage in customer support initiatives.

  • Two years ago an innovative customer service strategy began to emerge at Thomson Reuters that would eventually evolve into the company’s Customer Experience Operations’ use of Twitter to find and respond to customer complaints.
  • A summer associate blog renamed the West Reference Attorney Blog receives high traction today after initially being in the top 10 of the ABA’s most read blogs.
  • After the blog’s success, West turned to Twitter with the creation of @WestlawRefAtty Twitter handle to respond to customer service concerns voiced via Tweets.
  • In 2013, will look to expand the presence of blog, develop thought leadership pieces, and use Twitter to share their blog’s content.
  • New platforms—such as LinkedIn—are being considered for how they might be used to connect with customers.

I laud Thomson Reuters for using social media, but I question whether the company is really using social media effectively to engage lawyers and law firms in a real and meaningful manner.

  • Do employees tweet in their names? People tweet, corporations do not – if you are looking to build real trust. Susan Martin writes for Legal Currents, a publication I follow and from which I share pieces on Twitter. Unlike other reporters I can’t attribute something to her as she doesn’t have a Twitter handle that I can find.
  • How authentic is Thomson Reuters’ engagement? This is a company which sells blogs to lawyers and writes some of the lawyers’ blog posts for them – certainly not blogging and going to the edge of misleading consumers.
  • Invited bloggers to St. Paul for the day last month to engage them regarding new TR products and then asked bloggers not to tweet or blog during the day – very odd if you wish to engage legal professionals, both on site and offsite that day.
  • Is the company’s leadership using social media to engage the legal community? We’re no TR, but the 2 employees in our company making the most concerted effort to use social media (blog, Twitter, LinkedIn et al) are LexBlog’s President, Kevin McKeown (@kevinmckeown), and I. And we’re as busy as anyone in our company — it’s just that important in building relationships and for our learning from other leaders
  • TR may have some good people and solutions, but by and large does not have a good reputation with lawyers, especially when it comes to marketing and business development solutions. Their use of social media to date does not seem to have endeared them to their customer base as has been the case with other companies’ use of social media, ie, Dell or Microsoft with Robert Scoble.

I’m all for engaging TR on these issues through social media or otherwise. There is much to be gained both ways. Comment here, blog about the issue so we engage and draw others in, whatever you think best.

I’m also interested in what others think. Do you lawyers and other legal professionals see TR making effective use of social media to engage the legal profession?

Image courtesy of Flickr by Mike Cogh.

Attorney and media consultant, Bob Ambrogi, has a post this morning reviewing Thomson Reuters new site covering the Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term, called Case by Case: The U.S. Supreme Court. The site is part of Thomson Reuters’ (owner of Westlaw) push into enhanced legal coverage through the web.

Bottom line Ambrogi says if you want snappy visuals the Thomson Reuters site is for you, but if you are looking for substantive information, look elsewhere.

The site uses interactive graphical tools to help users find information about the court, the justices and the cases, with links to analytical and legal materials, including motions, briefs and opinions. While the graphical elements hold the promise of being useful, the site’s usefulness is quickly lost for anyone who does not have a Westlaw subscription…….

…Although the site provides links to briefs, decisions and various other documents, all links lead to Westlaw. If you want to see the petitioner’s brief in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription. If you want to see the court’s decision in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription…….

If any of this were content proprietary to Westlaw, I might understand this set up. But many if not most of these documents are publicly available online. The Supreme Court’s opinions are available directly from the court itself, as well as from any number of other sites. Briefs are available from the American Bar Association’s stellar site, Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. All sorts of background and commentary are available from the preeminent Supreme Court source, SCOTUSblog.

Joe Hodnicki, an excellent blogger at Law Librarian Blog, described the site as “…[A]nother corporate avenue to promote subscribing to Westlaw to access cited content.”

Thomson Reuters may not be alone in this tease and up sell approach.

I’ve been watching Wolter Kluwers, another of the large legal publishers, approach to new media. They have a number of blogs such as the Kluwer Patent Blog and the Kluwer Arbitration Blog.

The contributors appear to be lawyers and scholars that have historically written for Wolter Kluwers publications. Though the content may be of substance, there is little engagement on the author’s part (something it takes to be a good blogger) and I don’t see their bloggers or blogs cited on other blogs by the legal community as a whole nor the content being shared via social media ala Twitter and LinkedIn.

On the top of each blog is a bold link to ‘Related Sites.’ The related sites appear to lead to resources which require a subscription to Wolter Kluwer resources.

From one of Wolter Kluwer’s sites I was drawn to a “Manual IP iPad app,” which complements KluwerManualIP.com, an online version of their Manual for the Handling of Applications for Patents, Designs and Trademarks.

The app is little more than bulleted news headlines, which when clicked on takes you to a page where you can begin a free trial subscription of Kluwer’s Manual IP.

I don’t begrudge Thomson Reuters/Westlaw or Wolter Kluwers for wanting to sell subscriptions to their services. But to get into the blogging, new media, and app game as a fox in sheep’s clothing is likely to backfire.

Current subscribers may find the new forms of access helpful, but such an approach can turn off the legal community as a whole and do more harm than good to your brand.

Hodnicki and Ambrogi are heavy hitters when it comes to influencing the legal community. Getting them to belittle your product and imply it’s a scam to get lawyers to pay is not something you want to do. Unlike info from your new site or resource, Hodnicki’s and Ambrogi’s views are being sited and shared across the Internet.

A better approach for large legal publishers may be to support, sponsor, or partner with new media publishers who have figured out, through trial and error, how blogging and social media work.

Look at SCOTUSblog. It was started in 2003 by Attorney Tom Goldstein, before he had even made a name for himself as an advocate before the Supreme Court of the United States. Goldstein poured his heart and soul into providing a free and valuable resource on the Supreme Court.

Not only did SCOTUSblog become the most widely-read publication covering the Supreme Court, but it launched Goldstein’s career.

Rather than launch a site competing with SCOTUSblog, Bloomberg Law entered into a an exclusive sponsorship of the blog this fall. From Bloomberg Law Chairman, Lou Andreozzi, former CEO of LexNexis:

SCOTUSblog’s comprehensive and impartial examination of the Supreme Court is an important public resource and Bloomberg Law is proud to support their ability to bring this content to the public, free of charge via the Web.

Large legal publishers would be well advised to take more of the Bloomberg approach.

First, though there’s likely to be a role for professionally reported and edited legal news and information, you can simply not cover all the niches and nuances that practicing lawyers can cover via the power of blogging. With the growth of the net, blogging, and social networking, your subscribers expect and receiving information you cannot deliver.

Second, you don’t understand blogging and social media. The time and money you’ll put into it is not going to offer you the same return as partnering with new media legal publishers and harnessing the power of user generated content to complement your existing publications and reports.

An email from New York this morning to Kevin McKeown, also a lawyer and LexBlog’s VP of Client Development, reminded me what lawyers are looking for in a legal marketing strategic partner. And Kevin is the first to remind each prospective client not to look at LexBlog as a vendor, but as a strategic partner.

The email thanked Kevin for the time he took talking with them, and read in part, ‘…[Y]ou truly are an upstanding professional in a field where such traits are essential.’ Full disclosure, the professional services firm decided to go in another direction than LexBlog in their communications strategy, but we made a friend and a business relationship, things that last a lifetime.

Yesterday Mark Meranda, President of Smart Marketing which provides marketing for law firms and financial professionals, explained his company’s dilemna when finding itself in competitive selling situations with FindLaw, a company owned by the huge Thompson Reuters conglomerate (2007 revenues: 12.4 billion).

After hearing us tell [potential clients] how you build search engine ranking with a quality website and by adding significant content over time, potential clients will come back at us with: “FindLaw says they can get me to number one on Google in two weeks!”

Mark then goes to explain one of the reasons FindLaw was able to make such a claim, FindLaw was selling links from FindLaw’s website to law firm websites.

Each link is a “vote” that your site is interesting and valuable. Buying or selling links, like buying or selling votes, is a big no-no. FindLaw is apparently offering to do exactly that, selling links to other law sites for $1,000 a month.

Mark wouldn’t get involved in such a scheme of buying links or advise his clients to do so. It’s wrong, gets you penalized by Google, and is considered unethical in the SEO industry. The reputation of Mark and his company, is their life blood. How could Mark expect someone in the legal profession to trust him if Mark was doing something that was wrong?

I can remember starting LexBlog out of my garage (literally) 5 years ago. I had faith law blogs would work for lawyers looking to enhance that reputation. But when you’re getting one lead every 2 weeks and doing 7 blogs in the first year, you can feel like the farmer with a horse and plow doing one furrow at a time. Your faith in yourself and your service gets shaken every now and again.

Tim Stanley, the co-founder of FindLaw and who sold FindLaw to Thomson 7 years ago and who’s now the CEO of Justia, told me to hang in there. Tim said we’re different than the big boys like Thomson FindLaw and LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell. ‘We care,’ Tim said, ‘That makes a big difference in the long run. Lawyers want to work with people who really care about the service being provided to them, and the lawyers themselves.’

Tim’s the same as Mark. Same as a lot of companies whose leaders I have come to know. They do the best they can in helping lawyers and law firms, but are not going to step across the line and do something that’s questionable.

In deciding what’s stepping over the line, my guess is employees at good companies are guided by these types of questions:

  • Have I considered and identified other options or alternatives?
  • Is the action ethical?
  • How will my decision affect others, including our customers, shareholders, employees and the community?
  • How will my decision look to others?
  • How would I feel if my decision were made public?
  • Could the decision be honestly explained and defended?
  • Would I be happy if my conduct were described on the front page of my hometown newspaper or online news source?

Want to know the irony here? Those questions were pulled from ‘Thomson Reuter’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.’ (pdf) Yes, Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Findlaw, who pulled a rock by gaming Google and failing to disclose same to their lawyer customers.

‘When you’re faced with a decision or situation and you’re not clear as to what action you should take, ask yourself the following questions,’ the Thomson Reuters code says.

You can almost hear CEO of Thomson Reuters, Tom Glocer, saying that after reading his intro to the Code in which he says, ‘As our reputation is critical to our success, Thomson Reuters will maintain the highest ethical standards in our relationships with customers, suppliers, each other and the communities in which we do business.’

I speak at a lot of conferences and am invited to do a lot of presentations on Internet legal marketing. As much as I have been impressed with Tom Glocer through his blog and his ideas on new media, it will be a long time before I could pull myself to use reputable business practices and Findlaw in the same sentence.

That’s especially true with FindLaw ducking their selling links fiacso for over a week in the face of growing criticism from bloggers and lawyers across the net. Maybe that’s because Findlaw knows their conduct cannot be ‘honestly explained and defended.’

That’s a shame when lawyers and law firms selecting a legal marketing strategic partner are looking for people who care and whom will act with integrity at moments of choice.

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