Unbalanced Scales – Weighing Marketing Options for Your Law Firm

The past few years have not been kind to any business, and law firms have, by and large, been no exception to the rule. People still need attorneys even in a down economy, but the fact of the matter is that they are less willing to spend money on attorneys fees when they have less money to begin with. None of this should come as any surprise, but it is surprising how often law firms and attorneys are at a loss when it comes to ways to find new clients. Unfortunately, this is a class that never gets taught in law school.

If you own or operate a law firm and haven’t had as much new business as you would like, then I want to introduce you to the concept of search engine optimization (commonly known as ‘SEO’). SEO is not the only way to market a legal practice, and although it’s one of the best ways, there are certainly situations where other forms of marketing may work better. Here’s why more law firms should pay attention to search engine optimization:

  1. Inbound Marketing: In the marketing industry, there is a common distinction between inbound and outbound marketing. In general, outbound marketing is an effort by the company in question to reach out to a potential client and initiate a client-relationship (think, for example, of calling a contact who you know might need your legal services). On the other hand, inbound marketing is marketing that aims to make a company visible to any potential clients who are actively looking for services or products offered by that company. The distinction is not always clear-cut, but it’s important for a law firm. In general, attorneys think about going out and networking (which is always an excellent idea), but the results are limited. Search Engine Optimization allows you to reach more potential clients more quickly.
  2. Efficiency: Let’s be frank – your law firm is your business, and you want to control costs like any other business. Advertising – even in print, but especially on TV – gets very expensive very fast. Advertising online is a good and attractive option, but I would argue that the money is better spent on a long-term SEO solution for your law firm. The rankings and traffic that result from good SEO can last for a very long time and can continue to benefit your law firm down the road.
  3. Competition: In today’s market, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate your legal services from those provided by the attorney or lawyer down the street. Consequently, it’s prudent to take a different approach to marketing than the guy or gal down the street. There are law firms that already engage in SEO, but there are not as many as there could or should be, and you can take advantage of that fact.

Practicing law is not an easy profession, and the demands of the job have only increased over the past few decades. However, finding clients doesn’t need to be the most difficult part of your legal practice. As I mentioned above, search engine optimization is by no means the only way to get your law firm in front of more potential clients. It’s a method that we have helped many firms use to find many new clients on a ongoing basis.

If you want to get started, it probably makes sense to seek the help of a professional, although many SEO tactics can be tackled yourself if you have the time. In any event, I urge you to get started today, even if it’s with a different type of marketing. Your legal practice and career will greatly benefit down the road.

Dram Shop Law

In the past the only person that could be held liable for damages when a drunk driving crash occurred was the intoxicated individual driving. After the accident, the drunk driver could face criminal charges as well as subsequent civil charges for damages, both physical and emotional. But many states felt that the current law at the time which only targeted the driver was not adequate enough to truly reduce the rates of drunk drivers. Legislators felt that more than one party should be responsible in certain cases of serious car accidents involving alcohol. As a result, current dram shop laws were passed in a number of states.

“Dram shop” is a hold over term from colonial times when alcohol serving establishments (called shops) used units of liquid measurement called drams to serve alcohol. The earliest laws came about in the 19th century in conjunction with the temperance movement. Current dram shop laws make it possible for bar owners and bar tenders alike to be held financially liable in certain DUI crashes. The law is such that if a bartender allows someone to become grossly intoxicated at their establishment and that individual leaves the bar and injures someone or causes property damage with his or her vehicle, the bar and bar tender can be sued for damages.

Individual States and Dram Laws

Today there are currently 43 states (and Washington D.C.) in the United States that have enacted dram shop laws. These laws vary from state to state, as does their actual enforcement. Some states use these laws to focus more on establishments who serve alcohol to minors who then cause accidents. In some states, minors even have the right to sue the establishments themse4lves for injuries sustained while intoxicated.

The idea behind dram laws was to protect the general public at large from minors who are served alcohol or adults who are served large amounts. The enforcement and enactment of many of these laws was mainly driven by the non-profit group Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD.

Shop laws have experienced intense criticism from organizations and individuals advocating the role of personal liability. Bar owners and bartenders have also argued that it is near to impossible to accurately judge the extent of an individual’s intoxication before they leave the bar. They feel that any liability they have what drunk patrons do after they leave the bar is unjust.

Jury Nullification Protects You Against Bad Laws – Part 15 in The Right Response?

You have a Right to Protect Yourself

Across the world, government bans on their people’s right to protect themselves with firearms is increasingly widely ignored. The enormous outcry against the gun bans proposed by President Obama, Senator Dianne Feinstein and their Democratic allies demonstrates how such bad laws are widely seen as unjust.

Some US states, such as Wyoming and Texas, are even considering laws making it a state crime for anyone to enforce new federal gun laws. Country-wide, sheriffs publicly proclaim their refusal to allow federal agents to enforce such unconstitutional restrictions.

How to Eliminate Bad Laws?

But when there’s a bad law, how do you get rid of it? Most politicians seem to think both they as well as every single one of their untested, badly thought out ideas are infallible. Unfortunately, there’s no built-in review process ensuring a law’s effectiveness is evaluated so corrections can be made and ill-considered ideas abandoned.

Nowadays, politicians have put so many laws and regulations on the books that Alex Kozinski, a US appeals-court judge, has authored a provocative essay with the title “You’re (probably) a federal criminal.” You can be jailed for breaking a regulation you’ve never heard of.

This suggests a possibly very effective yet so far untried solution: all laws should have a shelf-life, from five to twenty years, and automatically fall away unless renewed…

Juries protect you from government tyranny

Since it makes no sense for a jury just to rubber-stamp a judge’s findings, jury nullification was originally introduced in England to deliver justice and to protect citizens – you – from arrogant government officials and oppressive governments.

In 1670, the first case in which a jury nullified a law, the jury members refused to convict two Quaker activists of unlawful assembly, a peaceful meeting. The judge was incensed at their refusal to obey his direct orders and sent the whole jury to jail – ordering them to be locked up without food or water! Their imprisonment was adjudged illegal on appeal and the judge forced to accept the jury’s verdict.*

One of them, William Penn, later came to America, where King Charles III of England ceded him the territory now called Pennsylvania (Penn’s wood) to establish a Quaker colony free from oppressive government.

Jury Nullification in America

Jury nullification has a long and proud tradition in America, starting with the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger published a weekly journal in which he often criticized New York’s corrupt Governor Cosby. At the time, seditious libel laws prohibited any criticism of the King or of Cosby as the King’s appointed officer, no matter whether it was true or not.

Governor Cosby made various attempts to silence Zenger, such as requesting a Grand Jury to indict him for seditious libel, which was declined on two separate occasions. Cosby then had Zenger’s initial lawyers disbarred for objecting to the two man court he’d set up to rig the trial’s decision in his favor. Cosby even made an outrageous attempt to rig the jury selection, which was rejected by his own two hand-picked judges.

The prosecutor contended that Zenger printed “false news and seditious libels.” Yet the chief Justice denied Hamilton the right to demonstrate that Zenger’s statements were true, on the grounds that the truth is irrelevant.

Fortunately, Hamilton was able to persuade the jury that Zenger could not be guilty since his published articles were demonstrably true. The jury took little time to nullify such a bad law and find Zenger not guilty.

America’s great tradition of freedom of the press was entrenched by the jury nullifying the oppressive British government’s seditious libel laws.

State Constitutions explicitly allow Jury Nullification

Some state constitutions, such as the Georgia Constitution of 1777 and the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 state specifically that “the jury shall be judges of law, as well as fact.” In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court explained in 1879 that “the power of the jury to be judge of the law in criminal cases is one of the most valuable securities guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.”

Various Chief Justices of the U. S. Supreme Court, from the first in 1789 to Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1902 to the 12th Chief Justice Harlan Stone in 1941, have all explained that the jury should judge both the law as well as the facts of the matter.** But, unfortunately, judges can choose whether or not to inform a jury about this crucial duty. “The law itself is on trial quite as much as the cause which is to be decided.”

Jury Nullification Specified in the Bill of Rights

In Maryland and Indiana, the law explicitly allows judges to inform a jury of its right to nullify the law. The Maryland Bill of Rights states: “In the trial of all criminal cases, the Jury shall be the judge of Law, as well as of fact… “

Despite this, some judges simply ignore it, some even mendaciously inform the jury that its job is not to judge the law, but only to determine the facts. But since it’s not the judge’s job to judge the law, who does? If the jury doesn’t judge a bad law as unjust, who carries out this crucial task?

Former federal prosecutor, law professor Paul Butler explains that juries have both the right and power to use jury nullification to protest and eliminate unjust laws.*** During prohibition, some juries refused to convict for breaking alcohol laws, today judges recuse themselves from marijuana trials.

Jury Nullification is a well established constitutional doctrine giving juries the right to acquit defendants who do not deserve punishment as well as to judge bad laws as unjust. The jury’s responsibility is not to uphold the law, but to deliver justice.

Food for Thought

“I was summoned for jury duty some years ago, and.. the attorney asked me whether I could obey the judge’s instructions. I answered, “It all depends upon what those instructions are.”… I explained that if I were on a jury back in the 1850s, and a person was on trial for violating the Fugitive Slave Act by assisting a runaway slave, I would vote for acquittal regardless of the judge’s instructions. The reason is that slavery is unjust and any law supporting it is unjust.”

Dr. Walter E. Williams, influential African-American economist, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.

© Copyright worldwide Cris Baker, LifeStrategies.net Republishing welcomed under Creative Commons noncommercial no derivatives license preserving all links intact. All rights reserved.

* William Penn’s acquittal by the first jury nullification in 1670 can be found at 1215.org

** Jury nullification by U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justices is described at:

http://www.personal.psu.edu/jph13/JuryNullification.html

*** Former federal prosecutor, law professor Paul Butler’s New York Times article is at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/opinion/jurors-can-say-no.html

“Reformed” Personal Bankruptcy Law of 2005, Now Broken, Should Urgently Be Truly Reformed This Time

Time, once again, to reform the new 2005 reformed bankruptcy laws, and to reform the new reformed Chapter 7 bankruptcy? Or even the Chapter 13? On October 17 2005, amidst the highly charged atmospherics of high drama, robust promises and expectation, the new bankruptcy law, the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act or BAPCPA, which had been enacted by Congress largely at the prodding of the Credit and financial industries, among other special interests, was promptly put into effect. Generally called the “reform” bankruptcy law, the law had been touted as something of a bankruptcy cure-all that was going to fix a “broken” bankruptcy system in America, most especially, reverse or drastically reduce the high volume of bankruptcy filings and the increased use of bankruptcy by American consumers in resolving their debt problem. The overarching, dominant argument and premise expressed by the banking and financial industry advocates and supporters of the reform law, and by its sponsors in the Congress, was that the growth in bankruptcy was due to “fraudulent bankruptcy filings” by consumers and the “excessive generosity” of the old bankruptcy system which, it was said, encouraged “abuse” and allowed a great many number of debtors to repudiate debts that they could quite well pay, at least in part.

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the matter summarizing the “Legislative Goals of [the] Consumer Reform,” summed it up this way:

“The high volume of consumer bankruptcy filings during the 1990’s fuels the argument that the current law is too lenient, i.e., ‘debtor-friendly’ bankruptcy. Proponents of consumer bankruptcy reform cite many reasons in its support. The legislation is intended, among other things, to make filing more difficult and thereby thwart “bankruptcies of convenience”; to revive the social “stigma” of a bankruptcy filing; to prevent bankruptcy from being utilized as a financial planning tool; to determine who can pay their indebtedness and to ensure that they do; to lower consumer credit interest rates; and, to maximize the distribution to both secured and unsecured creditors. To effect these goals, the proposals implement a “means test” to determine consumer debtors’ eligibility to file under chapter 7.”

That was in October 2005 that the new law came into effect. Fast forward to today in March 2009, however, only less than 4 years after the passage of the new rules of the 2005 BAPCPA law that toughened the system for bankruptcy filing and made it far more costly (it more than doubled the legal fees charged by attorneys for bankruptcy filing) for debtors to file for bankruptcy. And we find that American debtors, once again, are fast returning to the same rate of bankruptcy filing as the pre-2005 levels. And the informed expert projections are that we’ll land right back pretty soon at the same old “square one” in bankruptcy filing – back to the old “bad” high pre-2005 bankruptcy filing levels which the 2005 “reform” law just enactment by Congress was meant to cure and reverse. For the month of February 2009, for example, there were over 103,000 bankruptcy filings nationally. Spread over the 19 business days of February 2009, the filing rate is 5,433 filings per day – which represents a 22.0% jump over the January 2009 filing rate, and a year-over-year increase of 29.9% as compared to February 2008. In deed, by some expert predictions, the nation will register a rate of 1.4 million bankruptcy filings for the current 2009 calendar year.

Clearly, the “reformed” BAPCPA law has woefully failed in its avowed fundamental mission and purpose – discouraging American debtors from using the bankruptcy system in settling their debt problems by making the process tougher and more expensive and hassle-filled, and reversing the escalating or high volume trend in bankruptcy filings.

WHY THE 2005 LAW FAILED

The fundamental reason why the 2005 law has come crashing down so soon, can be traced directly to one basic reason: the whole BAPCPA scheme had been based on a premise that is badly flawed, in deed false, and totally unsupported by facts or evidence or research, but based largely on mere raw emotions and ideological thinking. Essentially, Congress, while conspicuously discounting the independent research-based evidence of scholars such as Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren and others (see, for example, Sullivan, Teresa A., Elizabeth Warren, and Jay Lawrence Westbrook. As We Forgive Our Debtors. New York, Oxford University Press, 1989), ultimately bought the more emotional argument of the banking and financial industries that rampant “fraud and abuse” was to blame for the high volume of consumer filing, and that to stem that tide the law needed to be made more stringent so as to curb “bankruptcy of convenience” by debtors.

That fundamental premise happens to have been totally false and grossly in error, however. At the heart of it, the notion that most American debtors file bankruptcy because though they really have the means to pay up their debts, they just do not wish to pay and merely want to cheat to get out of their debt obligation, is directly contradicted by so many studies and empirical evidence on the subject. But, even more closely today, it is directly contradicted by current events. Americans have, again, turned around and resumed flocking to the Bankruptcy courts in record numbers precisely today at a time of clearly serious national economic downturn, joblessness, financial distress and depression, for a great deal of them. Why? Because they wish to or love to cheat? Clearly, NOT that! Clearly, the 2005 reform law failed woefully to take into account the central role that the overall health and soundness of the “fundamentals,” or, even more accurately, the lack of it, involved in the nation’s as well as an individual debtor’s economic and financial condition – his employment, overall financial obligations, etc – could often play in whether or not the debtor ultimately pays back his or her debt.

“After October, 2007 [marking the two years anniversary after the new 2005 law], there was very little ‘inventory)” of consumers ready to file for bankruptcy relief,” explains Etaoin Shrdlu, one analyst on the subject, writing in Credit Slips, an online bankruptcy forum. “The Code [the bankruptcy law] changed, but the economic factors leading to bankruptcy have not. If anything, they’re getting worse. [That’s why] I think that within the next couple of years we’ll be back at the same filing levels we had in 2003 and 2004.”

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor and author of several books on bankruptcy, probably sums up the point best, this way:

“The credit industry did its best to drive up the cost of filing [for bankruptcy] but when families are in enough trouble they will fight their way through the paper ticket and higher attorneys’ fees to get help,” adding that “The word is now leaking out [once again] that the bankruptcy courts are open for business.”

In sum, today, as we now see, the 2005 bankruptcy law is clearly badly flawed, if broken, right from the beginning. Congress, it’s now obvious, needs urgently to completely redo this law to truly reform the egregious flaws of the 2005 “reformed” law – this time correctly, we hope.

Among many other important considerations that the new, truly “reformed” law must include, perhaps the most critical of them all is this: AFFORDABILITY OF BANKRUPTCY; finding low-cost bankruptcy. Whereas the 2005 law sought to arbitrarily restrict or exclude qualified bankruptcy candidates from filing for bankruptcy largely based on false premises by making it more difficult and expensive for them to file, such new law should provide effective mechanism that enables virtually EVERY honest American debtor, once clearly economically unable to meet the debt obligations but overburdened with debt and otherwise qualified, to have low-cost bankruptcy filings. Even finding non-lawyer pro se alternative to lawyer. American debtors should never be forced to have to forfeit their sacred constitutional right to bankruptcy as Americans, to seek the relief of bankruptcy from their debt burden and get the rehabilitative fresh start that bankruptcy offers for a life after debt – AFFORDABLY.