LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE
by Cynthia Price
Many attorneys face the challenge of making themselves stand out from the pack in a competitive marketplace.
According to Victoria Vuletich and John Reed, who presented last Friday at a Continuing Legal Education seminar hosted by the Grand Rapids Bar Association (GRBA), social media can help.
The session is part of a series GRBA?has started to keep local attorneys’ skills and knowledge sharp, which Executive Director Kim Coleman says they are aiming to hold once a quarter.
And according to GRBA Vice President Patrick Geary of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, who led off Friday’s seminar, the next CLE session will be on “demythologizing the appellate practice.” He asked the over-30 participants at last week’s event to keep their eyes open for the dates.
Geary then introduced program chair Rebecca Smith, a litigation associate at Rhoades McKee, who in turn introduced the speakers.
Victoria Vuletich, who is an associate professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School teaching Professional Responsibility, came to her position directly from the State Bar of Michigan (SBM). There she advised attorneys on ethics and professionalism as the Deputy Division Director of the Professional Standards Division, and was responsible for development of the Practice Management Resource Center, which she then managed. She also staffed the SBM Client Protection and Unauthorized Practice of Law programs.
After receiving her J.D. from the University of Denver School of Law, Vuletich worked in private practice until 1999, followed by her SBM career, before joining Cooley in 2008.
Vuletich chairs the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility Continuing Legal Education Committee, and writes extensively on legal ethics. Due to that expertise as well as in-depth familiarity with court rules, Vuletich’s role in the seminar was to comment on ethical aspects of social media use and
indicate what Michigan’s Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit.
The practical aspect of social media use, as well as touting its advantages and warning about its disadvantages, fell to John Reed of Rain BDM.
Reed has an interesting background, starting out in marketing at an advertising agency, then attending Michigan State University College of Law to get his J.D., graduating cum laude.
He worked for Plunkett Cooney’s litigation department before starting on a career in the legal information area, working for Thomson Reuter Westlaw until 2009, when he left for a brief position at a legal PR firm, and then founded Rain BDM.
The presenters touched on several social media sites but concentrated on LinkedIn, which they feel is the most beneficial for attorneys. Indeed, Reed added, so many law firms and practicing lawyers use LinkedIn that absence from the site alone might be construed as a negative. He pointed to a survey that showed 77% of corporate counsel who are looking for outside assistance are on LinkedIn every day.
An amusing and engaging speaker, Reed used his own LinkedIn profile at the session to show participants exactly how to change what is shown and, indeed, what can be changed and why to change it.
His approach is typified by the first line of his LinkedIn summary: “Because no one ever went to law school to study sales and marketing, I started Rain BDM – a consulting firm dedicated to helping attorneys and law firms build outstanding client relationships.”
Both Vuletich and Reed told participants that they were lucky to be practicing in Michigan, because many other states — notably Florida — have very stringent rules regarding advertising, making it easy to run afoul without intending to.
But Vuletich cautioned, “From a legal ethics point of view, any statement you post — any — is considered advertising for purposes of the ethics rule, so it has to comport with them.”
They discussed endorsements on LinkedIn as an example. In some states, all endorsements are forbidden; but in Michigan the rule turns on the truthfulness of the endorsement; that is, the LinkedIn page owner is responsible for making sure no endorsement is the equivalent of false advertising.
So what happens, then, when some kind soul endorses an attorney for expertise he or she does not really have? It is entirely possible for others to do such a thing, since in addition to choosing a “skill” endorsement from a list LinkedIn provides, they are able to suggest skills. Reed said humorously, “Victoria could endorse me for pet grooming even though I myself didn’t list it as a skill.”
Fortunately, people can control that through tools LinkedIn provides. Page holders are able to click on settings for how they want endorsements to be displayed on their pages, and Reed showed participants how, using the Edit Profile menu.
Another tricky area is in listing community service, but it poses a dilemma not because of ethics but because of marketing. It is clear that for most attorneys, being active in charitable work is a plus, but there are instances where listing organizational involvements may reveal personal details, such as ethnic origin, that could act as a deterrent to attracting some clients.
Vuletich, Reed, and one of the audience members who had struggled with the question all came down on the same side: “You are who you are,” as Vuletich put it, and should be cautiously honest about community work.
Reed also recommended adding logo links to the “Experience” section, which, when rolled over with the mouse, tell about previous employers, and advised linking presentations and publications, which turn into PDFs, at the bottom of the Summary section.
In fact, a visit to John Reed’s LinkedIn page right now shows all of the PowerPoint slides he used in Friday’s presentation.