What can you do to stand out to consumers in your community? State Bar of Texas podcast host Rocky Dhir talks to Amy Boardman Hunt, a content marketing and public relations pro, and Gene Major, a state bar compliance officer, about their unique perspectives on branding for lawyers. Amy offers advice for effective approaches to legal marketing and Gene goes over what lawyers need to keep in mind to ensure their marketing adheres to compliance rules. They also discuss how the Texas Senate’s newly enacted Bill 1189 (addressing deceptive advertising of legal services) is intended to provide greater clarity and protection for consumers.
Amy Boardman Hunt is the president of Muse Communications LLC, which provides content marketing and public relations services to the legal profession.
Gene Major has served as a compliance officer with the State Bar of Texas since 1998.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
Branding for Lawyers: What You Should and Shouldn’t Do
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. If you’re a lawyer in America you can brag to your loved ones that you were literally one in a million, it’s true. There are just over 1.3 million lawyers in the United States. We have over a hundred thousand in Texas alone.
So while it’s nice to be one in a million, how do you stand out, how do you make a name for yourself? If you’ve been trying to answer these questions well, have I got the episode for you?
I actually have two guests today. Now this is Texas, we still have some old-fashioned values, so I’m going to start with ladies first. Amy Boardman Hunt is the owner of Muse Communications LLC in Dallas. She specializes in branding, PR and content marketing for lawyers, but she herself is not a lawyer. She’s actually chosen to work amongst us. We’re going to find out more about that in just a moment.
I also have Gene Major, who is the Attorney Compliance Division Director and Director of Advertising Review for the State Bar of Texas. He of course is in Austin. They will be here to tell us what we should do and what we absolutely shouldn’t do.
See, it’s a two for one. But wait, there’s more. We will also be providing some links to resources in the description section of this episode, so check them out.
Amy, Gene, thank you both for being here. Welcome.
Amy Boardman Hunt: Thank you.
Gene Major: Well thank you.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So Amy, let’s — let’s start with you. Now branding for lawyers, I know a lot of lawyers spend some time thinking about this, but can you give us kind of an overview of what do you think lawyers can do better when trying to build their brands in this sea of so many other talented lawyers out there?
Amy Boardman Hunt: Well I don’t think any lawyers — nobody went to law school because they wanted to become a salesperson. So I think because it’s just not in lawyer’s DNA to go out and do the kind of sales that we all think of when we talk about sales.
So I’m much more inclined to recommend what — the kind of marketing I do which is called Content Marketing, where you’re really just sharing information.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, so what is that?
Amy Boardman Hunt: It’s a model of marketing where you do things like what we’re doing here, blogging, social media, email newsletters, podcasts, webinars, anything that’s primarily about sharing knowledge and less about sales, and it’s a model that I’m much more comfortable with, but it’s really an ideal marketing model for most lawyers that I know as well.
Rocky Dhir: But what about when I was a young lawyer back in the Herbert Hoover administration, the idea that older lawyers used to tell me was, look, you’ve got to build relationships, you want to go out there, you want to be seen in your community, you want people to know who you are, you want them to think of you when they have a problem, is that no longer valid? Do we now switched to blogging and podcasts and all that or do they work side by side?
Amy Boardman Hunt: God, no, I still think that that is that the personal relationships are the most important thing that any of us can be doing in my business, in your business, that building personal relationships is still the most important thing and if you’ve got the metabolism and the budget to go to Bob Steak and Chop House every night for dinner, more power to you, but we’d all die of a heart attack if we actually did that.
So I still believe that those personal relationships should there be a center of most people’s business development efforts, but we don’t have the time or the budget to do as much as we need.
So things like blogging social media, email, newsletters to sort of go with the base model there. They can really bridge that gap to help you nurture your referral network. So your network of people that you’ve learned — that you’ve met in law school, that you’ve met in other jobs, your clients, your former clients that is all a very valuable, next to your brain, it’s your most important business asset.
So your marketing efforts should really be about staying in touch with that network and that’s where things like blogging, social media and email newsletters can come in a very low touch, non-intrusive way and it’s also very budget-friendly.
Gene Major: You know, and one of the things that I see is in some of the presentations I do is that it’s not a shock that according to — I think it’s Google consumer survey out in 2014, 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine again, that number is probably low nowadays, but you filter some of these down and it said that 71% of people looking for a lawyer still think it’s important to have a local lawyer so to kind of back what Amy is saying you need the web presence, you need the social media presence, you need to have a good effective website, but you need to think locally as well.
Attend your local Bar association meetings, get out and do some sort of pro bono stuff, get your name out locally as well through emails, through your newsletters, to current clients and past clients, because that’s how you’re going to tie that, that’s going to help draw those people back to your website or back to your social media.
Rocky Dhir: So in my experience or at least my observation is that a lot of lawyers, most lawyers, spend time kind of marketing and advertising and building relationships with other lawyers. I don’t know that as many lawyers are spending time really reaching out into their local communities and spending time with non-lawyers, do you guys find that that’s also the case or is that just kind of me in my little world, because the reason I’m asking that is to what extent should lawyers be marketing to other lawyers versus going out and trying to meet people non-lawyers in their communities?
Amy Boardman Hunt: Well, I’ll be happy to talk about this. To a certain extent you have to do both. When I ask my clients where do you get most of your business and they will almost always say it’s referrals; referrals from current clients and referrals from other lawyers.
So particularly lawyers who are on the opposite side, so if you are an employment lawyer representing employers, it’s good to stay in touch with the plaintiff’s side of who you are by nature of your business. So I don’t think it’s an either/or, I think it’s both end.
Rocky Dhir: Gene, do you agree?
Gene Major: Yeah, you look at the role of an attorney in their local community. Going back to the ideas that these are the stalwarts, the pillars of the community, the ones who need to go out and do volunteer work whether it’s through school or through civics or through just any organization that’s local, that is how you go ahead, and again, you’re drawing people to your name, you’re drawing people to your brand. Where are they going to go when they want to look something up? They’re going to go to the Internet, they’re going to go to Google, they’re going to search for that name, they’re going to go to your website, but in order to make sure that you get those people drawing in that way you have to go out and I think you have to establish yourself and with non-lawyers and with lawyers as well.
It is so vital to make sure that you go ahead and are seen and are known about locally as well as having such a very good social media and electronic presence.
Rocky Dhir: Well, let’s talk maybe for a minute about the content. Amy, you talked about the actual content marketing but let’s talk about the content of one’s message, and again, I see a lot of lawyers in a lot of firms where they try to be very careful, they don’t want to — they take a conservative approach to their messaging and they try not to be offensive to anyone. Is that a wiser approach? Should lawyers try to be edgier? How should they be kind of branding themselves in terms of how they outreach to the communities? Are you trying to be the least offensive or are you trying to kind of carve out a niche with people that might be drawn to you? And I know there’s probably two schools of thought on that, but I want to see you two as experts, what do you all think?
Amy Boardman Hunt: Well, I think that you can be edgy and memorable and unique without being offensive. So a lot of that is in tone and some of it is your graphic identity, a picture’s worth a thousand words. So if you have a nice logo that’s going to go a long way and you can be a little cheeky.
One of my favorite purveyors of this is an attorney, and sadly, I don’t represent him, he’s a labor and employment lawyer out of the Midwest or Pennsylvania or something like that who sends every day, he sends an employment law newsletter and I don’t quite know how he does it, but he’s very memorable and very pointed but he is probably a little edgier than most people are comfortable with being but nothing that I’ve read, it puts me, makes me think, oh boy, he really kicked off a lot of people just now with what he said because the advice of lawyers give — the things that you guys talk about, there is a definite point of view. I mean if you’re representing executives you’re saying one thing, if you’re representing employers are saying another thing, and keep going back to employment law, but it’s an easy one to go back too, there’s obviously a million other practice areas there.
So I think you can be edgy and unique and memorable without being anywhere close to offensive.
Rocky Dhir: Gene, I’m sure you’ve seen — in your role you’ve probably seen a lot of different ways that lawyers market themselves, would you agree with that? Do you think there’s any lessons you’ve taken away about that issue of threading the needle between edgy and memorable, but still not offending people?
Gene Major: I think Amy touches on it real well and that is you have to know your market, you have to know who you are tailoring your message towards like you said Rocky, there’s over a hundred thousand licensed Texas lawyers and when the legislators in town, I think most of them are in Austin.
So it really comes down to understanding who you are tailoring your message to, a guy or a small criminal defense firm who’s hung out their shingle is going to be tailoring their message a little bit differently than let’s say an employment law firm or a corporate firm.
So I think they can get a little bit more edgier. You have to know exactly who you’re looking to try and draw into your – who do you want sitting in your waiting room basically is the message you’re looking at. We’ve got people from a wonderful example is a criminal defense lawyer in Dallas-Fort Worth area who calls himself the Law Hawk and did a bunch of videos.
Again, somebody who came out of Texas Tech Law School, very much just boots on the ground type attorney but made and carved out a nice little niche for himself by doing something a little bit more edgier and a little bit more tailored toward the demographic he’s looking for.
Rocky Dhir: Well, let’s talk also for a second about issues like social media, so what do you think is the most effective use of things like Twitter and LinkedIn, are lawyers using Facebook for marketing, and if so, what are some of the effective ways that they are doing so?
Amy Boardman Hunt: I think Twitter is best if you are — Twitter is a tough place, I mean, it’s pretty toxic right now to be brutally honest. I don’t really even counsel most of my law firm clients to create a Twitter account if they don’t already have one.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, that’s interesting.
Amy Boardman Hunt: Really hard to get traction and it’s hard to get an awful lot of followers without being really edgy. I mean, you see people — the people with the most followers are the ones who were on their multiple times a day and they are really very, very opinionated. They are the ones that I think go right up to the edge.
And I think you have to be personally invested in it and so Twitter is a hard one I think for people to make any headway on. Facebook I do have some clients that do really well on Facebook but most of those started out as an individual lawyer who personally had their own personal presence on Facebook and then when they started their company that Facebook audience followed them.
So if you’re not already somebody who is super-involved in Facebook, Facebook might be hard to get some traction in unless you want to sort of invest some money into doing promoted posts.
My favorite for professional purposes is no surprise LinkedIn and I think it’s actually pretty, I mean, as a consumer, I think LinkedIn is pretty boring, but it’s also where professionals go to talk about professional things, it’s the most civil of all social media and it’s the place that your people would like to go —
Rocky Dhir: For the most part.
Amy Boardman Hunt: Yeah, I mean, it’s truly. I mean, it’s about 50% pretty civil, it’s nothing like Twitter or Facebook these days so it’s where that I recommend those companies make sure they have a presence, but also individuals make sure that you’ve got a robust LinkedIn presence because it’s the first place people go to check you out if they don’t know you.
Rocky Dhir: Well, and what about Instagram, what do you think of that? I’ve heard tell of it, I’m not on Instagram but I’m curious to know your thoughts on that?
Amy Boardman Hunt: I think if you have a practice that lends itself to Instagram, you could, and nobody that I work with does actually. I know of an attorney who has sort of an agriculture-based practice where their audience were people like independent growers and people who do have a presence on Instagram.
So I think it’s the people that you’re targeting are on Instagram, you should be on Instagram, but it’s very image heavy. So you want to make sure that you’re promoting things that have — you need to make sure that there’s a graphic element to your promotion.
So, I don’t do, I have some clients that are on Instagram but it’s not their legal things that they do on Instagram. It’s they have sort of side gigs that are on Instagram.
Gene Major: Obviously we see more Facebook and website materials because that is what’s generally being presented to the public about information that attorneys are disseminating about their legal services, which is precisely what Part VII of the rules is designed to deal with.
And Amy is right, you saw — in the beginning you saw personal Facebook pages where people would just kind of mention the fact that they’re a lawyer or mention the fact of where they worked to now where you have law firms that have very dynamic, very diverse Facebook pages. It’s almost commonplace to have not only just your personal Facebook page but also your business Facebook page as well.
Those are the ones that we see more of next to obviously just websites. We don’t see a lot of Twitter because it really is kind of hard to again disseminate compliant information about your legal services and a lot of what’s on LinkedIn is actually exempt from the filing requirements under the rules.
You can put up your CV or some your résumé and some information about basic information about your practice, without having to have it filed with advertising review. So we obviously see more of a dynamic approach coming through Facebook pages and websites than anything else.
Rocky Dhir: Well — and so, Gene, what you just said kind of creates an interesting segue because we’re talking about the rules but I don’t think we’ve actually — we actually talked about what the rules say. So can you walk us through for lawyers that are out there trying to market?
When do they need to have something reviewed by the State Bar, how do they go about getting something reviewed and what are the rules behind what is acceptable and what isn’t?
Gene Major: It’s the rules cover again, information you’re disseminating about your legal services. So you really have to hone in on that. So it’s information that’s being disseminated to the public about what you do and it is codified as Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, violating these rules could be — is a grievable offense.
We see about 3500 submissions per year and I’ll spend maybe 25-30 to the chief disciplinary counsel’s office for review. So we really work hard with trying to make sure we come up with compliant information. We come up with compliant images or compliant language. We really try to work with attorneys and law firms to make sure we can find some sort of compromise there.
The main thing to remember about the rules is really the idea that it prohibits false misleading and deceptive communications, that’s the cornerstone to the rules and that’s the cornerstone to all the different avenues to the rules that cover different parts of advertisement, whether it’s a solicitation communication or a television ad. The main premise to the rules is really again to prohibit, false, misleading and deceptive communication.
Rocky Dhir: So, for example, Amy was talking about content marketing earlier, so let’s talk about what is and is not within the scope of the rules. You said LinkedIn isn’t, what about content marketing, what about websites, what about Facebook pages, amongst these what do lawyers need to get State Bar sign off on before they go and post something up?
Gene Major: It really goes back to what Amy does and that’s content marketing. We’re interested in the content of what an attorney is disseminating about their legal services. So really the avenue that you’re using or the media you’re using, there’s different rules that are designed for that like there’s different rules for television ads versus a solicitation communication versus a website.
But we’re really more interested again in what the attorney is disseminating about their legal services and to that end, there’s some very good information that an attorney can use that’s actually exempt from the filing requirements. If you look at — if you pull out your business card you can use that information but you can also laundry list areas of practice, you can put down whether you’re Board-certified, you can put down dates of admission to any federal jurisdictions or other Bar associations. We’re seeing more-and-more actual CPAs and registered nurses entering into the legal profession.
So this is a second career, if you have a technical or professional license you can put that down. All that type of information is exempt from the rule.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s a website or a Facebook page or a LinkedIn page or an advertisement in your local magazine or newspaper, if you can find a newspaper nowadays, but it’s really based upon that content is what we’re looking at. That’s why it’s important that attorneys understand that the filing requirements is what goes beyond some of that exempt information. And to work with people like Amy, Amy does a very effective job of honing their message in and making sure it’s compliant under our rules.
Rocky Dhir: Well, what about things like logos? Do logos get covered within that ambit or are you free to put whatever graphics you want? You are really looking more at the written product that’s in the advertisement. Can you walk us through that a little bit?
Gene Major: Sure. Absolutely, and logos, it goes back to the idea of law firms trying to brand themselves, goes back to the idea of trying to shorten names where you had five different names to the law firm, now there’s only two or three. Logos are covered as well, because obviously we don’t want somebody who has a three dollar bill signs out as their logo, but it is important to understand and to look at. I think URLs are also very important for law firms and attorneys to look at. Make sure you have a pretty dynamic URL. That URL now goes on everything, it goes on your letterhead, it goes on your business card.
Again, drawing, using effective media to draw them into your electronic presence is part of the key I think to good attorney marketing and good attorney advertising.
So think of your URL, but it can’t be false misleading and deceptive. So you can say you are dallascriminallaw.com, you just can’t say you are bestdallascriminallaw.com.
Rocky Dhir: All right. So Amy, let’s turn this over to you and get your perspective for just a second. So we’ve talked about content, we’ve talked about compliance, in the work that you’re doing when a law firm or a lawyer comes to you and says, “I want some help with my branding in my messaging.”Are you focusing on compliance from the very beginning or when you’re brainstorming do you say, “Look, let’s think about the branding, let’s think about the messaging first and then figure out how to make it compliant later.”
So, in other words, it’s kind of like a chicken and the egg, is it first compliance and then the messaging or is it messaging and then compliance or is there some kind of hybrid of the two?
Amy Boardman Hunt: I think it’s closer to the hybrid. Everything is, their messaging is always going to be compliant. If we’re talking about what their messaging is if they want to come up with a tagline, we’ll come up with tagline, but if anything gets close to the edge or somebody wants to say an unjustifiable comparison, we would say, no, we can’t do that, that’s out the door. We aren’t going to come anywhere close to that.
And so, we will start from the very beginning only suggesting language and themes that are compliant, and most of that comes into comparisons. You can’t really say anything that you are better than or the best or anything like that.
So it’s always baked into the cake when we’re meeting with a new client, and it’s really very much focused on who are your clients and what are their concerns and how can we talk to them and where. So that’s really what we focus on and the compliance is really baked into the cake.
Gene Major: One of the things we do is part of the process is once I review a file, if I find something that looks to be in a violation of a rule, we send along a letter that details the specific part of the rule that we say this ad potentially violates, and we send a copy of what we see to the attorney and if they’re working with the marketing company like Muse or AB, then they can request a copy of that as well, and we’ll give them time to go ahead and figure out and make changes, that’s really where a lot of the communication for advertising review comes into play, it’s not just hammering people over the head with what they can’t do, we’re trying to work out solutions for what they can do, depending on if it’s filed concurrently which would be something along the lines of putting your website up and filing at the same time, or if you’re doing this for pre-approval which we suggest for television ads and billboards and things like that, where you’d send it to us about 25 days prior to it being disseminated out.
So we have really worked hard, we are trying to make sure we find compliance for us comfortable with the rules and for getting the attorneys or law firms message out as well.
So it’s important to understand just because you might get a letter from us saying that this is in violation of the rules, there is time to make it, there’s time to cure it, there is time to go ahead and make a change. Compliance is the key to us. It’s not necessarily again, just hammering people over the head with what they’re prohibited to say.
Rocky Dhir: So it’s a collaborative process in other words, sounds like?
Gene Major: It can be at times, absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Now, Gene, you mentioned something about television advertising. I understand September 1, 2019 is going to have some changes down the pike for those that advertise on television specifically via Senate Bill 1189, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Gene Major: 1189 came about as an idea to some of the TV ads that you see, and a lot of these are some more your national pharmaceutical or medical device type ads, and I think we’ve all seen those on television, especially late at night or what have you, and those ads kind of get lost I think the message has to who the attorney is or who’s actually providing the legal service gets lost in there.
So the Texas Legislature looked at some of these types of ads, and came up with some very specific ideas, has two disclosures, some prohibited language you can’t use in regards to these pharmaceutical and medical device ads and it’s important to understand that that’s really the intent of the legislation was to look at those type of ads.
So your local car wreck type ads and things like that won’t apply to this, but if you look at those ads and I just use throw out any pharmaceutical you want to throw out name-wise, you have to go ahead and put down that state that this is an advertisement for legal services so that the public is aware of what’s coming at them.
Some of these ads would sit there and say that some sort of government entity or some has warned people that this type of drug or what-have-you can cause these side effects and they throw up the FDA logo. You can’t throw up the logo, you can still warn people. It’s just kind of adding certain amount of clarity to some of these; and again, these are more your national pharmaceutical and medical device ads.
So we’re getting a lot of questions as to whether or not this applies to car wreck ads, PI (Personal Injury) type television ads, and we’re seeing that through the legislative intent of this is really geared towards those other types.
Rocky Dhir: And as I understand that 1189 is not going to be just — just a legal ethics rule, this is actually going to be part of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act in Texas, did I understand that correctly, did I read that correctly?
Gene Major: That is absolutely correct. It’s the Attorney General or a district or county attorney can raise claim under the Deceptive Practices Act, what’s interesting that they added a somewhat safe harbor for attorneys as well, and that involves Advertising Review Committee in that or advertising review in that. If an attorney wants to send in, again, for that pre-approval process prior to it being disseminated on television their script or their ad, and it deals with again pharmaceuticals, it deals with medical device type of advertisement. We can go ahead and look at it, approve it under both part 7 of the rules and under the Senate Bill 1189 which is actually going to be codified as 81.151.
We can send an attorney that pre-approval notice and if it gets challenged by a county or district attorney, they can go ahead and state that they garnered that pre-approval for that advertising and it kind of holds at bay the idea of not necessarily being challenged but being litigated against.
Rocky Dhir: Got it. Okay, it just promotes more the idea of getting pre-approval before you just go launching a commercial in other words?
Gene Major: Right, the idea of garnering that pre-approval and also again, it’s pretty clear the disclosures and disclaimer information in the statute as well, so it’s not necessarily I think going to be too onerous for people to comply.
Rocky Dhir: And Gene, we’ve got about another 30 seconds left but can you tell us very briefly — I’m hearing there’s a new process for referenda that’s possibly coming down the pike, can you comment at all on that for us?
Gene Major: Sure, the idea of the committee for displaying rules and referendum was formed out of the last legislative process in terms of really a committee that kind of houses and starts the rule-changing or rulemaking process. What they do is they’re actually looking at revisions to Part VII of the rules, which is again our advertising rules.
From there, it goes from that committee to the Board of directors, from the Board of directors it goes to the Texas Supreme Court to go ahead and decide when to order a vote on the rules. So we’re kind of in the beginning stages of this.
The Committee for Disciplinary Rules and Referendum, the CDRR has all their information, very transparent in terms of what they’re doing. It’s on our website texasbar.com/cdrr and you can see and comment and they’re always looking for comments, and what they’re proposing has the new revisions to the advertising rules.
The key to that is that they’re still keeping again that cornerstone idea of information you’re disseminating about your legal services cannot be false misleading and deceptive.
Rocky Dhir: Well, I’m sure there’s a lot more we could talk about, but unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. I want to thank my guests Amy Hunt and Gene Major for joining us, and of course, I want to thank you for tuning in.
If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple podcast, Google podcasts or your favorite podcast app. Until next time, remember, life’s a journey, folks. I’m Rocky Dhir, signing off for now.
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