Lawyers, On-line Marketing and Business Networking

Being a lawyer means working in one of the oldest professions known to man. Lawyers as a profession have always been resistant to accepting and implementing modern business practices. The last frontier to be accepted by the law profession was advertising. Today, you’ll find lawyer ads in the print media, whether the yellow pages or newspapers and magazines, on the radio and on television. That’s a relatively new phenomena and was unheard of prior to 1977. Indeed, the first Canon of Ethics written by the American Bar Association condemned all advertisement and solicitation by attorneys. In 1977, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Bates vs. Arizona State Bar. The Court ruled that advertising by lawyers is partially protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court rejected the argument by the Arizona Bar that advertising adversely affected professionalism and that attorney advertising was “inherently misleading.” The Court did indicate certain regulations are permissible, such as reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions and bans on false or misleading advertising. After Bates, competition and free market forces caused most law firms to pursue advertising marketing plans.

The next frontiers the Bar must accept and utilize as necessary business tools are On-line Marketing and Business Networking. Increasingly, the old methods of advertising are failing. How often do you reach for that Yellow Page Book these days? If you’re like most people you don’t. Instead you go on-line and do a Google search for what you’re looking for in a product or service. It has become imperative that all businesses have a strong on-line presence that can be located. It is not enough to build a website that has a great looking appearance but no substantive content, and which cannot be found. It is essential that a website not only look good, but that it have quality content and be optimized to be found. This applies to all business, lawyers included. This web presence must be supplemented by business networking.

Peter Caputa of PC4Media has brought me into this new and foreign world. Peter has assisted me to “get out there” and meet people who can help me use these new-to-me tools to improve and grow my business. I’ve learned there are many assets available to lawyers to increase exposure to the market and obtain new clients. He’s also introduced me to Hubspot, which he and Linda Sevier utilize to optimize a web page to increase the likelihood it will be found by potential business customers. They can use tools like key word optimization, link building, content creation via a blog and or newsletter, and in some cases video. The dramatic impact video can have in a website is compellingly presented by Catie Foertsch.

A web presence is only part of the effort needed to market your firm at this time. Networking online and in person is a necessity. On May 20, 2008, Michael Langford of Next Level Executives will present “Integrating Your Offline and Online Networking Efforts” in Westborough, MA. It’s a presentation I won’t miss. Next Level sponsors numerous opportunities to conquer the networking world and build your business.

As a lawyer, I may have been slow to pursue these tools to grow my business. I now see these tools as essential to survival. I’d encourage all lawyers to join me in this new to our profession marketing.

Income and Bankruptcy Under BAPCPA

With the advent of BAPCPA in 2005, debtors must now meet either a median income test or means test to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy case. In essence, the debtor’s household income for the six months preceding the filing of the case is counted and annualized. If it is less than state median income for the debtor’s household size, the debtor might file a chapter 7 case. If it is greater, the debtor must pass a means test.One question left unanswered in the law is whether unemployment income should be counted in household income. The question was answered in the case In re Munger, — B.R. —-, 2007 WL 1810701 (Bkrtcy.D.Mass. 2007) which provides that unemployment income is not included in the debtors’ “current monthly income” for purposes of the means test. The Court stated that the “way in which Congress chose to phrase the references in the sections supports the view that a benefit received under the Social Security Act in § 101(10A)(B) was purposefully intended to be broader than a social security benefit.” Therefore, unemployment compensation is included in this broader definition and shouldn’t be counted.

BAPCPA has been harsh to many debtors. Certainly, cases are more labor intensive to file for debtors and their attorneys. Resulting legal fees are higher. To add insult to injury, filing fees increased over 167%, and new education and credit check expenses were added. The Bush Administration has been unsympathetic to middle-class and lower-class debtors struggling with the harshness of the Bush bankruptcy law. President Bush promises to veto a Democratic Party sponsored bill pending in Congress to provide some relief to debtors in Chapter 13 cases with un-reasonable primary mortgage terms. It’s encouraging to see the little guy finally get a break.