How to make the best of it when the press presses you

When a case involves a high profile client, or significant or controversial matters, lawyers need to put their best foot forward when its comes to dealing with the media, according to Susan Maynor and John Remsen, Jr., writing in “A Practical Tip Sheet for Lawyers and Law Firms.”

Bone up on ethics and law regarding media relations in the relevant jurisdiction, they say, and designate an official spokesperson. Don’t let anyone else talk to the press and make it clear that all media requests should go to the person you’ve chosen.

Maynor and Remsen have some excellent pointers on body language, what to say and how to say it, staying “on message,” and the importance of having an exit strategy to end the media blitz outside the courthouse.

Learn why “no comment” is the worst comment.

Once past the hurly-burly on the courthouse steps, there are a number of things to think about when deciding whether to grant an interview. Maynor and Remsen guide you through the thicket.

On-line lawyer rating service says Michigan Lawyer’s test drive ‘wasn’t typical’

By purest coincidence, last Tuesday, the day after I posted The Michigan Lawyer: On-line lawyer rating service hits Michigan, Rebecca Green, who handles public relations for Avvo, the subject of the post, called my editor, Todd Berg, to ask about possible press coverage.

She had not seen the post. Berg referred her to it.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Berg and Green traded e-mails, culminating in the following “Letter to the Editor” by Avvo’s CEO Mark Britton, which was e-mailed to Berg. Berg passed it on to me. The letter is reproduced in full below.

To the Editor:

“We here at Avvo are sorry Ed Wesoloski had a negative experience using our service. However, his user experience wasn’t typical of the thousands of consumers who visit our site daily looking for legal information and representation. It appears that Mr. Wesoloski has two main issues with Avvo’s Michigan coverage: 1) He could not immediately find the attorney profiles he was looking for and 2) the majority of Michigan lawyers do not currently have a numerical rating. Allow me to address each of these issues in turn.

“First, we ran a search and quickly found the profiles of all attorneys Mr. Wesoloski searched for. It is possible that inputting the middle initial of each attorney’s name into either the ‘First name’ or ‘Last name’ boxes caused Mr. Wesoloski’s searches to fail. However, it is important to note that he was able to reach the attorney profiles he was seeking through Avvo’s ‘similar names’ prompt.

“With respect to numerically-rated Michigan lawyers, Mr. Wesoloski should note that Avvo has numerical ratings for nearly four thousand Michigan attorneys – despite the fact that Avvo launched in Michigan only last week. Moreover, it is important for Mr. Wesoloski to put himself in a consumer’s shoes. Avvo was built to help consumers, by providing more information and better guidance than they have ever had access to before. From a typical consumer’s standpoint – say someone who was involved in an auto accident – we have a wealth of numerically rated Michigan attorneys for the consumer to choose from. For example, a search for a Michigan personal injury lawyer yields 923 numerically-rated lawyers: [search results here]. Before Avvo launched, the typical consumer looking for this type of representation was reduced to sorting through the yellow pages or online search results – basing their decision on who has the biggest ad or who paid the most for a keyword.

“Finally, it’s not surprising that Mr. Wesoloski didn’t find numerical ratings for Michigan Supreme Court justices or in-house counsel. Avvo concentrates its data entry and ratings efforts on lawyers practicing in areas of most interest to consumers. Let’s face it – the typical consumer isn’t looking to hire a state supreme court justice or in-house counsel for help with a divorce or business formation!


Mr. Britton, you’ve made some fair points. But you have also answered issues I didn’t raise while not addressing some that I did.

And when evaluating my previous post, it’s equally important to put yourself in a lawyer’s shoes.

You’ve characterized one of my “two main issues with Avvo’s Michigan coverage” as being that I “could not immediately find the attorney profiles [I] was looking for.” Actually, I was complaining about erratic search results, which included the message, “We did not find any lawyers named …”

You’ve suggested that incorrect inputting of the search targets’ names may have caused the problem.

Point well taken, to a point.

I used first names and middle initials in the “first name” search field for all three of my searches. Twice I was told lawyers with those names were not found, even though listings for the search targets appeared farther down the page. In one instance, incorrect input did take me directly to the intended search target’s listing without the scary (to a lawyer) message, “We did not find any lawyers named …”

Happily, when I inputted just the first and last names of all three of my test names, Avvo’s search engine took me directly to their listings.

It is entirely possible that I am the only person on the planet who will ever attempt to use Avvo’s search feature by putting two parts of a lawyer’s name in a single search field, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that. Why? Because another lawyer lookup service, the one provided by the State Bar of Michigan, offers only a first and last name field and has a fairly detailed usage note designed to forestall exactly what I did:

“Spelling must be exact, no middle initials, extra spaces, or tabs. If unsure of or unsuccessful with first name search, please use last name field only.”

I’m suggesting that similar information on your search page might be helpful. When I got the “not found” messages, I knew to keep looking because I knew the test names were indeed lawyers. But if consumers looking for a particular lawyer happen to goof up the input, they might not get past the “not found” message and draw an incorrect conclusion.

But having said all of this, we’ll see, in just a bit, how using a middle initial sometimes produces better results than just sticking to the first and last name only. As I said, my complaint was erratic results.

You characterized my second of “two main issues” as being “the majority of Michigan lawyers do not currently have a numerical rating.” This was actually a minor issue. I ran a search and calculated that roughly one in 10 Michigan attorneys had a numeric rating. You’ve noted that when you launched in Michigan, about two weeks ago, “nearly” 4,000 attorneys had a numeric rating. The State Bar of Michigan’s Membership Services department tells me there are nearly 40,000 attorneys eligible to practice in Michigan – 37,600 to be exact. We’re still talking roughly 10 percent.

I thought that Michigan’s legal community, which is the primary intended audience of this blog, might be interested in how many of their colleagues have acquired a numeric rating at this early stage of the game.

Now, about those Michigan Supreme Court justices: I never complained, in my previous post, about the lack of numeric ratings for them.

And, while a typical consumer certainly wouldn’t be looking at them to take their divorce, business or personal injury case, a typical lawyer might be curious to see what Avvo has to say about members of the state’s top court.

Here’s what they would have found on June 24, as of approximately 8 a.m. EDT (all searches were first and last name only except where noted):

Clifford Taylor – “We did not find any lawyers named Clifford Taylor. To help you, we have expanded your search to include lawyers with the last name Taylor.” Seventy-nine names were provided, including Hon. Clifford W. Taylor. Viewing his profile revealed this information: “Hon. Clifford W. Taylor has not claimed this profile so information may not be current. Here are similar lawyers that may interest you. These lawyers have claimed profiles and provided up-to-date information.” Immediately below this message was the name of Toni Jean Beatty, a Lansing lawyer with an Avvo numeric rating.

Michael Cavanagh – A solitary listing appeared: Southfield attorney Michael D. Cavanagh. A search for Michael F. Cavanagh (note the problematic middle initial, which I included in the first name field) returned the “did not find – we have expanded your search” message. Eight names were provided, including Hon. Michael F. Cavanagh. Justice Cavanagh hasn’t claimed his profile, either. Toni Jean Beatty was listed as a similar lawyer.

Marilyn Kelly – Listings for two lawyers named Mary Kelly appeared. A search for Marilyn J. Kelly (note that middle initial) returned the “did not find – we have expanded your search” message. Fifty-eight names showed up on the expanded search, including Hon. Marilyn J. Kelly. She hasn’t claimed her profile, and below that message, the name of Livonia attorney Shalini Nangia appeared as a “similar lawyer.”

Elizabeth Weaver- The “did not find – we have expanded the search” message appeared. Eight names appeared as part of the expanded search, including Hon. Elizabeth A. Weaver. No “similar lawyers” were listed.

Maura Corrigan – This search took me directly to Hon. Maura D. Corrigan’s profile. Like Justice Kelly, Justice Corrigan hasn’t claimed her profile. Shalini Nangia is listed as a “similar lawyer.”

Robert Young – Listings for three lawyers named Robert Young appeared. Searching for Robert P. Young (there’s that middle initial, again) produced 51 listings, including Hon. Robert P. Young. He hasn’t claimed his profile and Shalini Nangia is listed as a “similar lawyer.”

Stephen Markman – The “did not find – we have expanded the search” message appeared. Four names appeared as part of the expanded search, including Hon. Stephen J. Markman. Toni Jean Beatty is listed as a “similar lawyer.”

Six of the seven justices’ profiles contained links to “similar lawyers.” Let me be very clear: I’m not suggesting anything untoward by anyone, including Avvo, the “similar lawyers” or the justices.

But I’m having trouble understanding how a lawyer can be “similar” to a supreme court justice, particularly so when there is no apparent information on the justice’s profile to justify the linkage. And you have to allow for the possibility that a consumer who happens upon this information might make an unwarranted, unsavory assumption.

Postscript: As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I received a call from Mr. Britton. Some highlights:

I learned that I’ve been mispronouncing his company’s name when he introduced himself. It’s Ah-vo. There’s no long “a” at the beginning.

Mr. Britton was able to replicate the search results I obtained for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young. He remarked that Avvo has been in operation in other states for more than a year and that I was the first person to detect this problem. It clearly concerned him, and his feeling was that something in the Michigan database – the “Hon.” in front of the judges’ names, perhaps? – was skewing the results. I’m confident that his tech team will be taking a look at this.

He was receptive to the idea of putting a note on the search page to educate visitors how to best use the system.

Mr. Britton also spent a long time talking about how Avvo can be a great marketing tool for lawyers, especially small-firm and solo practitioners who would like a presence on the web but don’t have the resources to maintain a website.

And about those Avvo numeric ratings: he stressed that the numeric rating is merely one of several tools that consumers can use to evaluate lawyers, and that lawyers can use to distinguish themselves. Peer reviews and client reviews are also part of the package.

Keeping clients happy: being a great lawyer is not enough

“Lousy service is the number one reason clients fire law firms, and there are dozens of surveys and reports concluding that most lawyers don’t do a very good job in this area,” says John Remsen, Jr., one of the nation’s top legal marketing experts.

It’s not enough to be the great lawyer that you are, you need to wow your clients with top-notch service, Remsen explains in the June 2008 issue of the Remsen Report.

Here are a few of Remsen’s common-sense reminders, gleaned from a panel discussion with three general counsels:

Timely response to client inquiries – The use of cell phones, blackberries and the internet has raised client expectations about how soon you’ll respond to them. A return phone call within 24 hours used to be acceptable. Now, four hours is more like it.

Follow through on commitments – Meet your deadlines. Deliver early, if possible. And if you’re going to miss a deadline, it’s better to blow the whistle on yourself rather than have the client come looking for you.

Prevent surprises – Lousy news from the court? Higher than average invoice? No one likes a bad surprise, so blunt the impact with some prompt, up-front communication.

Get on the good side of your client’s staff – Kindness, courtesy and respect are the watchwords when dealing with a client’s support staff. They wield considerable influence, and you never know when or where your paths may cross next.

There’s more good stuff from Remsen here.