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The Undeniable Plans for 2014

I recently asked my readers what they wanted me to write about and someone suggested I share my 2014 plans. That gave me reason to pause, because in 2012 I was focused on getting the law firm off the ground and last year I spent the beginning of 2013 getting ready to speak at SXSW. This year I don’t have a big event or activity taking up all my time. I think I get to just live for year. But of course I have plans for how I’d like to spend my time.

My legs after  a session of ASTYM.

My legs after a session of ASTYM.

1. Get Healthy. Years of gymnastics and running has resulted in a buildup of scar tissue in my lower legs. I finished my last half marathon with so much pain that I thought I had three stress fractures. Instead of training for the 2014 race, I’m in physical therapy. They’re breaking up the scar tissue with ASTYM and dry needling, building up my strength, and working on my running posture. They said I should be good to go to run a 10K in March.

2. Separate Work from my Personal Life.  Carter Law Firm got a brick and mortar office in December 2013. To go along with that, I want to work on keeping work at the office and not work once I’m home for the day. This includes not working on the weekends and getting all my blogs written during the week. (When I was writing books last year I’d work on the books during the week and blogs on the weekend.) I got used to working all the time and it’s time make more time for fun.

More Adventures = More Handstands

More Adventures = More Handstands

3. Go on More Adventures.  Going to law school really got me out of the habit of having a life on the weekend and it’s too easy to fill the weekend with work stuff, so this year I want to make it a point to do more new things during my down time. There are so many wonderful places and events in Arizona I’ve never experienced. I’ll be using Roadside America and community calendars for inspiration but I’ll be starting the year by doing the Polar Plunge in Tempe. And I definitely want to see Bisbee this year and take advantage of the night in Sedona I won during Indie Week.

4. Continue to be a Minimalist.  I made a huge donation run to Goodwill a few weeks ago. My backseat and trunk were packed with stuff I don’t use anymore. Since then, I’ve already started the next pile of stuff to be donated. I will continue to be mindful of what I do and don’t use and periodically do a sweep of the house to get rid of things that don’t add value to my life. Next year will also start with the reversal of all my closet hangers. Every garment will have to earn its right to stay in my wardrobe again.

5. Release my Next Book.  The American Bar Association is publishing my next book – The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. It’s expected to be released in February 2014. I’m excited for it to be released and I hope it will open more doors for me to do more professional speaking.

Those are basically my plans on top my standard events, activities, and goals of having fun and being productive. I hope your 2013 is winding down on a high note and that you have an awesome year in 2014. I’ll keep you in the loop about my adventures.

Top 3 Tools to Establish a Name for Yourself

When I was a law student and now as a young lawyer, I go to a lot of networking events. They’re a great way to meet people in your community. There are other tools that will help you make a name for yourself online and at the national level. I wanted to share my three favorite tools. There are other ways to make a name for yourself, but these are the top three that work for me.

The Twitter Bird by eldh

1. Twitter
I’ve been a huge proponent of Twitter for a long time. It’s my primary networking tool when there’s someone new I want to meet. All you have to do is follow the person you want to meet and wait for an opportunity to respond to one of their tweets. It’s a great and easy way to break the ice with someone without feeling forced or fake.

If the person is going to be at an upcoming event, tweet at them about how excited you are to see or meet them. Then during the event tweet a quote from them or an accolade about them. After the event, be sure to tweet about how awesome they were/are.

2. Maintain a Blog
Having a blog is a great way to showcase your expertise and interests. At networking events and interviews you can talk about your interests or you can prove it by referencing past blog posts you’ve written on a topic. Maintaining a blog is a lot of work but it’s worth it. It’s not enough to start a blog. You have to update it regularly – preferably weekly – and be patient while you build a following. It takes a while to get there.

If you are someone who is lucky enough to have an assistant, it’s ok to let them take care of posting your work to your website, finding images for your posts, and taking care of your SEO stuff, but don’t let them write your verbiage. Your readers want to hear your unique voice so write your posts yourself.

3. Help A Reporter Out (HARO)
HARO is one of the best ways to get local and national exposure as a potential expert in your field. HARO is a service that connects reporters with potential sources. You can subscribe to HARO for free and you will get 3 emails a day, 5 days per week with dozens of opportunities to share your experience or expertise.

Most of the requests won’t apply to you, but some of them will – and you need to respond quickly if you want to be a contributor. A lot of the reporters who use HARO are on tight deadlines. I usually respond to at least one HARO every week. It’s especially beneficial when I can include a link to a blog post I’ve written on a topic – I think it increases the odds that a reporter will use me for a story over a lawyer who doesn’t blog on the topic.

You can also use HARO to network by referring a reporter to others who might be a good fit for their needs or by referring contact to HARO if a reporter is looking for input that they can provide.

There are lots of ways to make yourself stand out within your profession and the business community. These are some of my favorite tools, but it is definitely not an exhaustive list. If you have a tool or technique that you’d like to share, please leave it as a comment.

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Going Pantsless was the Best Thing I Did in Law School

The best thing I did in law school was the 2009 No Pants Light Rail Ride in Phoenix, Arizona. The people I met there opened the doors to the opportunities that made me the lawyer and the person I am today.

Photo by Jamey Peachy

Improv Everywhere has been doing the No Pants Subway Ride since 2002. In preparation for the 2009 ride, they invited everyone to organize No Pants Rides on the same day in cities all over the world. Jeff Moriarty conspired with a small group of his friends to do a ride on the newly opened light rail in Phoenix. I was a first-year law student and really a nobody in my school and the greater legal community. I didn’t know Jeff back then, but I saw the event on Facebook and signed up to do it with some of my friends.

On the day of the ride, all of my friends who were supposed to do the No Pants Ride with me chickened out. I wasn’t surprised. I said, “You guys all suck. I’m going without you” and I headed out to Tempe to meet my fellow pantsless riders. I figured Jeff had to be a cool guy for organizing the ride, so I purposely stood next to him on the ride and chatted all the way to our final destination.

The rest is history. I can show you, in 7 connections or less, how participating in the 2009 No Pants Ride led to some of my best professional opportunities and experiences.

No Pants Ride >>> Establishing Myself as a Legal Expert

  • Many of the people at the 2009 No Pants Ride are involved in blogging. This inspired me to have a blog.
  • Jeff Moriarty helped me create UndeniableRuth.com in January 2010.
  • I wrote, and still write, weekly posts about legal issues.
  • My posts demonstrated that I have a unique voice and competence in certain areas of law.
  • I parlayed my expertise into opportunities to write dozens of guest blog posts; provide quotes for news articles and blogs; participate in TV, radio, and podcast interviews; and give presentations at conferences.

No Pants Ride >>> Sponsor A Law Kid  

  • I met Jeff at the 2009 No Pants Ride.
  • Jeff is the creator of Ignite Phoenix. He encouraged me to apply to be an Ignite presenter.
  • I was selected for Ignite Phoenix #5 to present Frosting the Law.
  • Kade Dworkin was one of my fellow presenters at Ignite Phoenix #5.
  • Kade had a podcast in 2010 called Meet My Followers where he interviewed his Twitter followers.
  • One of Kade’s guests was Jason Sadler, founder of I Wear Your Shirt.
  • I Wear Your Shirt inspired me to create Sponsor A Law Kid, that funded part of my final semester of law school in 2011.

No Pants Ride >>> Paid Blogger for Attorney at Work

  • A group of us from the 2009 No Pants Ride founded Improv AZ to continue to do flash mobs and pranks in Phoenix.
  • Planning events with Improv AZ sparked my interest in flash mob law.
  • I asked Ari Kaplan whether this might be a viable niche.
  • Ari used my interest in an article for Law Practice Magazine in the fall of 2009.
  • The editor of the magazine, Mark Feldman, loved it. He continued to follow me and blog.
  • When Mark created Attorney at Work with Joan Feldman and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, they invited me to be one of their professional bloggers in 2011.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I can show how the No Pants Ride led to making some of my best professional connections, writing my first book, developing an interest in podcasting, and meeting some of the most wonderful people in my life.

The 2012 Global No Pants Ride is this Sunday, January 8th in at least 56 cities. If there’s a ride near you, you should go. You never know what will come out of it.

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Bloggers Beware: Lessons from the Crystal Cox Case

(cc) MonsieurLui from Flickr

Many of us got into blogging because we like having a proverbial soapbox we can jump on to share our thoughts with the universe. The recent Crystal Cox case has made me wonder how many bloggers know the legal risk they take when they share their views.

For those of you who missed it, Crystal Cox is an “investigative blogger” in Montana who writes a blog called Bankruptcy Corruption. In one of her posts, she called Kevin Padrick, an attorney in Oregon, “a thug, a thief, and a liar.” Padrick sued Cox for defamation and won . . . $2.5 million!

The interesting thing for bloggers to note is that Cox lives and writes in Montana but she was sued in Oregon and Oregon law applied to the case.

If you write about other people, you open yourself up to the possibility of being sued for defamation or invasion of privacy. These cases are generally based on state laws. The good news is that there isn’t much variation between the laws. The bad news is that there are exceptions.

The really bad news is that the person who claims to have been injured by your blog gets to sue you in the state where they were injured, which is usually their home state. And it’s their home state law that applies. So, if you’re a blogger in Mississippi, and you write about someone in Alaska, and they sue you for defamation, you have to go to Alaska to defend yourself and hire an attorney who can defend you in Alaska. (Another lesson from the Crystal Cox case: don’t be your own attorney!)

Let’s look at the shield law, one of the laws Cox tried to use to defend herself. This is the law journalists invoke to prevent a court from forcing them to reveal an information source. There isn’t one national shield law. There are 40 different state shield laws, and some states don’t have a shield law. Cox tried to use the shield law to defend herself; and in another state, her argument may have held water. But unfortunately for her, the Oregon shield law specifically states that you can’t use the law as a defense in a civil defamation case.

Another challenge surrounding the legalities of blogging is that sometimes the laws are old, really old, as in the-internet-wasn’t-invented-when-the-law-was-written old. In a lot of these cases, the court has to decide how the laws apply to these new situations didn’t exist before we had the internet. You and the other side can propose your interpretation of the law, but there’s no guarantee that the court will accept your interpretation. And you might get really lucky and get a judge who barely knows how to turn on their computer and has no concept of what a blog is.

Someday the laws will be updated to account for the internet and blogging practices. Even when that happens, we will still have to be conscientious of the fact that each state has its own laws, and that we run the risk of being sued in any of the 50 states depending on who and what we write about.

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Top 10 Blogging Tips for Law Students

Blogging Research Wordle

Image by Kristina B via Flickr

I recently got an email from Jonathan Negretti, a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He and his classmate recently launched a legal blog, and he asked me to provide some feedback. They’ve created a good based they can build on. Starting a blog as a 2L is a great idea because it gives you some time to build a following and demonstrate some areas of expertise before you graduate.

Here are the top 10 blogging rules that I shared with him.

  1. Whenever you do a legal blog post, put a disclaimer at the top that informs the reader that you are not a lawyer or giving legal advice. Here is the disclaimer that I use: “I am not an attorney. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.”
  2. Use lots of links. Put links in your posts to applicable laws, other blogs, and news stories. This builds up your credibility and is a great way to connect with other bloggers.
  3. Get a Twitter account to network and announce when you publish a new blog post. It’s better to have an account for yourself, not your blog, because people want to connect with you as a person. You should also announce new posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.
  4. Complement your posts with interesting images. I get good ones for free from Zemanta and CreativeCommons.org. If you are using images from Creative Commons, be sure to use images that you can adapt and use for commercial purposes.
  5. It’s perfectly acceptable to invite others to write guest posts on your blog. Be sure to include a bio for them at the bottom with links to their blog, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, etc.
  6. If your plan is to open a law practice after graduation, check your state’s ethics rules regarding legal advertising before inviting people to hire you.
  7. If you are compensated for writing a blog or get free merchandise in exchange for writing a review, you must disclose it in the blog post. There’s an FTC regulation about that.
  8. Approve all non-spam comments, even from people who are mean or disagree with you. It shows that you’re not afraid to discourse and that you’re open to other perspectives. If you can stay level headed while other people are losing their minds, it makes you look articulate and confident.
  9. Respond to every comment. Blogging is an effective way to start conversations.
  10. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Some of the most memorable blog posts are the ones where the author takes a strong stance that not everyone agrees with. They inspired people to leave comments and be part of the discussion. One of the best things I did in law school was Sponsor A Law Kid, and it was also one of the most controversial.

If you have any questions or tips for neophyte law student bloggers, please leave them as comments. This is one of those areas where law schools don’t always prepare their students to effectively use a networking tool.

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Reinventing Professional Services – Top 5 Tips For Lawyers

Photo courtesy of Ari Kaplan Advisors

Ari Kaplan’s new book, Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace addresses the question of how professionals can integrate new technologies into their businesses to be more influential and effective.  Loaded with resources and stories from professionals in all industries, Ari’s book provides suggestions about how to use social media, blogging, e-newsletters, and video/audio recordings that makes them less daunting.

As I read this book, I reflected on the legal profession, which has the stereotypes of being dignified and particular, and where deviating from the norm is often frowned upon.  Many lawyers and law firms shy away from online resources and tools.  Perhaps this is because of the strict rules in the profession about advertising and soliciting clients, or because members the profession have a low tolerance for making mistakes.

I’ve compiled the top five lessons lawyers can integrate from this book into their professional lives.

1.       Social Media is a Tool, not the Goal.
It seems that a lot of professionals think that having a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, or a blog is enough, but then they never use them.  Doing this is like buying a hammer and never building anything.  These professionals do not understand that these are tools to communicate more effectively with other professionals and clients.  These are merely channels to “cultivate relationships.”  These are fantastic tools for building trust by being genuine and consistent.  Using these tools is not a one-time event; it requires “habitual participation.”

2.       Be a “Visible Enthusiastic Expert.”
This is one of the best lessons I took from this book.  Being a visible enthusiastic expert means being part of the online conversation on topics where you have interest and expertise.  It’s important to contribute “rich content” and to convey your passion.  Conversing with other experts in an online forum is an effective way to become associated with them.  Even the simple act of sharing a link to another’s work shows that you are aware and informed about a topic.  Additionally, being transparent about who you are and what you can do without being a salesperson conveys to others that you care about a particular issue or population.

3.       Pick Your Targets.
Having a solid online presence is a good start, but it’s not the end.  When there are people you want to connect with, you have to reach out to them.  Don’t wait for them to find you.  Websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are instant ice-breakers for introducing yourself to new people.  They provide comfortable opportunities to ask a person for advice or for an informational interview.  If your first attempt at interaction fails to produce the desired result, be sure to follow up.

4.       Do Not Be Afraid to Fail.
Law students are instilled with the notion that they must always be perfect – perfect appearance, perfect cover letters, perfect work product, etc.  They graduate thinking the worst thing they could do is misspell a word on an email.  This can make them gun shy to try new things.  Ari’s book demonstrates that most of these new tools are easier to use than you think.  He encourages readers to consider who they want to connect with, where they are interacting, and to join the conversation.  He promises that you will fail some of the time, and that’s ok.  If you try using an e-newsletter and it doesn’t work for you, you can use another tool like blogging or LinkedIn to reach your audience.  Figuring out what works for you and your business is part of the process.

5.       Never Forget the Value of In-Person Contact
Using technology to communicate with someone is less intimidating than picking up the phone; however it is more impersonal.  Nothing will ever replace face-to-face contact, which is more personal and memorable.  It is important to look for opportunities to meet people in person whenever possible and to continue to build relationships with thoughtful follow up.

Using these tips and tools requires willingness and commitment.  The potential benefits of using technology should overpower any fears that come with trying new things.  Always keep in mind that these tools are to facilitate interaction, not for self-promotion.

Ari Kaplan, a Fastcase50 honoree, is the principle of Ari Kaplan Advisors in New York City and the author of The Opportunity Maker, Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (Thomson-West, 2011).  I bartered this blog post in exchange for a copy of his new book. 

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Nominate Me for the ABA’s Top 100 Law Blawgs

The American Bar Association (ABA) is soliciting nominations for its 2011 list of Top 100 Law Blawgs.  It would be an honor if UndeniableRuth.com was on this list.

During the last 20 months, I have written about a variety of legal topics:

The ABA has a rule that you cannot nominate yourself, a blog you have written for, or your company’s blog, so I can’t sit on my computer all day nominating myself.  I need your help to make this happen.  Also, the ABA doesn’t want to receive nominations from spouses, which I think they’ll probably extend to anyone the ABA thinks is a family member who is not otherwise employed in the legal profession (sorry Mom).  The nomination page can be found here.

Nominations will be accepted through September 9, 2011.

You are not limited to only nominating one legal blog.  Along with this blog, please consider nominating Above the Law, Military Underdog, and Legal Blog Watch.

Why Lawyers Should Use Twitter

I have a friend who has been a personal injury lawyer for decades.  He’s a solo practitioner with enough cases to keep him comfortably in business.  He was my lawyer after I was involved in a car accident and he did a wonderful job settling my case.  He has a great reputation and gets the majority of his business through word-of-mouth.  He has a website and occasionally writes a blog.  He recently asked me why he should be on Twitter if he doesn’t need it to drum up business.

Free twitter badge

Image via Wikipedia

I think my friend doesn’t see any value in sitting on Twitter all day reading and responding to others’ tweets.  I think he’s right on that point, but I don’t think he sees some of the other benefits of having a Twitter account.  I’ve been pondering his question for a few weeks and I’ve come up with the top three reasons why a lawyer in his position would want to have a Twitter presence.

  1. Promote Your Blog – I love that my friend writes a blog, but if no one knows when he has something new posted, who is going to read it?  I have a lawyer friend who mostly uses his Twitter account to announce when he has posted a new blog.  I love when he writes, but he doesn’t publish on a set schedule.  I appreciate the notice when he has something new for us to read.
  2. Stay On The Radar – By using a Twitter account, a solo practitioner remind others that they exist in a non-intrusive way.  It also makes it easier for people who promote you within the Twitterverse.   For example, I recently had a friend ask me for a recommendation for a real estate lawyer in Arizona.  I didn’t know any lawyers who practice in this area, so I put the question out on Twitter.  (Note – I only put the question out on Twitter.)  I received two recommendations within 24 hours.  I appreciated the response that provided a name, a Twitter handle, and a website more than the response that just gave me a name.  It gives people a way to get to know you before they initiate a conversation with you.  If you saw a tweet where someone mentioned you, you could post a thank-you tweet and continue to build goodwill for your firm.
  3. Stay Abreast of Legal News – I get multiple legal magazines every month and I don’t have time to flip through them all.  Instead, I follow various entities on Twitter who post links to articles and blogs on the latest legal news.  It’s a more efficient way to know what’s going on in the legal world.

When it comes to social media like Facebook and Twitter, it’s important for lawyers (and any professional) to look at it as a tool, and evaluate it whether it can assist them in their business.  With Twitter, it’s about having public conversations in an online community and people can engage where they are comfortable.  In the big picture, I think it’s better to be partially involved and engage a little bit, than not to be involved at all.

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Social Media Policies That Every Company Needs

Kade Dworkin

Last weekend I attended a talk by Kade Dworkin to business students on social media strategies for companies.  Kade seems to have read every book on this topic and knows the heavy hitters in this area.  He suggested that every company have two social media policies.

Social Media Policy for Employees
Is an employee allowed to say who their employer is on their blog?  What about their Twitter profile?  Is there anything wrong with an employee tweeting out, “Grrr…some days I hate my job” or “My clients are making me crazy?”  If there are no rules about what employees can and can’t say online when they’re on their own time, you really can’t get mad at them for what they say, unless there is a blatant violation of client confidentiality or a disclosure of a trade secret.  It’s disturbing that only 29% of employers have social media policies.  Being active on social media sites is part of doing business today, and if you don’t have a social media policy for employees, you’re asking for trouble.

Social Media Crisis Response Policy
I had never heard this before, but it makes perfect sense.  In the past, a company had  more time before a bad review is disseminated via newspapers and word of mouth.  Now, a bad review can be spread across the internet in a matter of minutes.  While a company should hope and work towards providing exceptional goods and services all the time, there will always be individuals who are not happy.  When that happens, it’s critical that the company has a plan in place on how it will respond.  The company should already have action plans for dealing with the worst case scenarios that might occur.  Additionally, Kade suggested that whoever is in charge of social media should have a strong relationship with the company’s legal department to avoid any major missteps.

Recall the fiasco that occurred after Amy’s Baking Company got a bad review on Yelp. The main issue wasn’t that a customer was unhappy, but that the owner did a horrible job responding to the bad review.  It’s hard for an owner to get a bad review about their staff and service, and it’s critical that the response be one that attempts to resolve the problem privately and show that the company is customer-focused.  In this case, the owner’s response caused irreparable harm to their and their restaurant’s reputation.  Many people who read the review and the owner’s response said that they will never patronize that restaurant in the future.  I have never been to Amy’s and now given the choice, I’ll go somewhere else.

Kade also suggested that companies never let an intern be in charge of social media because it’s important that whoever is in charge is someone who can make decisions on the fly to resolve problems.  This should occur within 30 minutes, not in a few days.  A fast and effective response can do as much to bolster a company’s reputation as providing exceptional service.

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 4 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Killed?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

The former gas chamber in San Quentin State Pr...
Image via Wikipedia

There have been too many situations where someone has been killed because of what they posted online.  That is not what I’m talking about today.  I wanted to find out if simply posting a blog could legally get you killed.  (The mafia doesn’t count.)

In the United States, you have to be guilty of homicide, a crime committed related to homicide, rape, criminal assault, or something equally heinous to be put to death.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to commit one of these crimes via the words on a blog.  If my words were so shocking that a reader had a heart attack and died, could I be arrested for homicide?  I doubt it.  There are other countries, however, that are more likely to kill you because of your point of view or beliefs.

I did some digging into other countries’ laws and found a handful of capital crimes that could possibly be committed via a blog:

  • China: Corruption, Endangering national security
  • Iran: Homosexuality, Crimes against chastity
  • Libya: Attempting to forcibly change the form of government
  • North Korea: Plots against national sovereignty (includes attempting to leave the country)
  • Saudi Arabia: Witchcraft, Sexual misconduct
  • Sudan: Waging war against the state, Acts that may endanger the independence or unity of the state
  • Syria: Verbal opposition to the government, Membership of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Vietnam: Undermining peace
  • Yemen: Homosexuality, Adultery

When it comes to crimes committed via blogs, the first question that came up for me was jurisdiction.  Since a blog can be accessed anywhere that there’s an internet connection, a prosecutor would have the burden of proving that it has jurisdiction to bring the charges in that country.

Let’s consider my blog.  I’m a citizen of the United States and this blog is hosted by a company based in the United States.  If I travel to Iran and post a blog from my hotel room that says that I had sex with a girl, but it doesn’t say when or in which country the sex occurred, would Iran have jurisdiction to charge me with a capital crime and kill me?

If a Syrian citizen was studying in the United States on a student visa, had a blog that was hosted in the United States, and posted a blog from the United States where he declared his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, would Syria have jurisdiction to charge him with a capital crime or would he have to return to Syria first?

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