Lawyers: Managing Your Online Presence and Directories

Tagul - Gorgeous tag cloudsOne of the wonderful things about the internet and social media is that it’s a great way to create and build an online presence without the investment of a lot of money. It can be time consuming but managing your time can be much less expensive than managing a marketing budget.  A powerful tool for accomplishing this creation and growth of your internet presence are directory listings.

Directory listings, are in short, like an online version of the yellow pages but much more powerful with the addition of profiles, links, video and reviews. There are hundreds of them and deciding which ones you want to be listed in can be overwhelming.  For example: Avvo, InfoUSA, Google+ Local, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Lawyers.com, MerchantCircle.com, Yelp.com, plus many more. I see many lawyers with incomplete profiles on a number of directories. Why do you have to worry about these online directories?

Directories have risen to a level of importance  because Google moved its local search returns to its main page with the introduction of Google+ Local (formally Google Places). How Google determines which local business listings should be on the first page of Google’s search results depends a great deal on directory listings. So if you are in 5, 10, 15 or more directory listings, you are going to look good to Google’s ranking algorithm. And having reviews with your listing makes you even more popular in Google’s eyes.

While you want to be in many directories, deciding which ones to be in and entering and managing the data can be time consuming. Plus, doing it wrong can ruin your online presence. You will want to make sure you do not have duplicate or incorrect listings and you want to use keywords in each directory. Here is more information about online directories
 in an article by the folks at Get Noticed Get Found.

If you would like help creating and managing your online directories, adhering to the ethical rules, please give me a call. I can provide this service to you at  nominal one-time charge. I am also available to do in-house CLE on the  “Your Social Media Presence – Adhering to Ethics Rules While Being Social.”

Peggy Gruenke, Owner/Consultant LegalBizSuccess

Specializing in Law Firm Practice Management  and Business Development solo and small firm attorneys. Peggy can be found on Twitter @PeggyGruenkeLinkedIn and at www.legalbizsuccess.com.  (5130 315-5750

 

LinkedIn Tips for Lawyers #1: Specialties, Summary, Skills Expertise Sections

Samll LinkedIn_logo_1Have you taken the time to really look at your LinkedIn Profile after all the changes LinkedIn phased in during 2012? Did you notice that your Specialties Section is missing from your LinkedIn Profile?  Did you notice that if you had a Specialties Section defined in your old profile that LinkedIn has added it to the bottom of your Summary Section.

In 2012, LinkedIn decided to phase out the Specialties Section in favor of the Skills & Expertise Section. For lawyers, I think this is actually good news because of the ethical pitfalls around using the words “Specialized” or “Specialties” on any site where you advertise yourself as an attorney. According to the ABA Model Rule 7.4, claiming yourself as a specialist requires special certification by an approved, accredited authority.

Under Rule 7.4 (e) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney must not state or imply in any communication that they are a specialist, certified or specialized in a particular field of law, unless:

    • The lawyer or law firm has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by the Supreme Court Commission on Certification of Attorneys as Specialists; and
    • The communication clearly identifies the name of the certifying organization.

When LinkedIn added the Skills and Experience Section, it built your section based on keywords in your Summary and Specialties Sections. If you had a Specialties Section in your profile at the time LinkedIn converted your Profile to the new format, it left the heading Specialties in the bottom of your Profile Summary. If you were cautious when you first built your profile and did not include that section, then you will not see the heading Specialties in your Summary Section.

My suggestion is to check your Summary Section. If you see Specialties listed at the bottom of your Summary, replace this word with Practice Areas. If you are a Certified Specialist, then list it as such following the guidelines of Rule 7.4.

Specialties Section left over in Summary Section.

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Other things you may not know:

  • From time to time, LinkedIn pulls keywords from other sections of your LinkedIn Profile and asks if you’d like to add them to your Skills & Expertise Section.
  • Other people can add a Skill to your profile.
  • LinkedIn changed how they calculate a complete profile by incorporating the addition of 3 skills as a requisite for a complete profile.

Thanks for your interest and comments. Next post will be about how to remove or hide Skills you have been endorsed for but don’t think you are qualified to list on your profile.

Peggy Gruenke | www.lawbizcoo.com | Helping Lawyers Succeed | Like me on Facebook 

IOLTA Tip #3: Properly Maintaining IOLTA Accounting Records

 

checkbookEvery lawyer who holds money for clients must have a system in place for maintaining and properly recording all transactions related to these funds. There are many resources available to read and review. In this article, I offer a few tips to make sure you have proper accounting procedures in place for handling client funds held in your IOLTA account.

 

Here are a few basic facts before discussing accounting procedures:

 

  • The “IOLTA” acronym stands for “Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts”;
  • The basic nature of an IOLTA account is that it is, in essence, an escrow account, for the deposit of unearned client funds. The interest earned on these accounts generates revenue for the state’s legal aid fund.

 

  • Lawyers are required to send itemized bills to clients at the time the lawyer withdraws funds from a trust account to pay themselves for services. These itemized bills should show:
    • the services provided with a description and dollar amount;
    • the amount withdrawn from the client’s trust account to pay the bill;
    • the amount of funds the lawyer continues to hold in the client’s trust account after withdrawal for payment of the invoice.
  • Lawyers should not make withdrawals from trust accounts by ATM or checks payable to “Cash” and are required to use pre-numbered checks.

 

For the trust accounting, you also need:

 

1)    The trust bank account balance to match the trust liability account balance.

 

2)    A ledger for each client’s trust balance, the total of which equals the trust bank account balance.

 

3)    A detailed ledger, for each client, showing the ins and outs of the trust monies.

 

When it comes to your trust accounting, there’s one requirement that affects lawyers and other legal professionals and doesn’t exist in most other professions. It’s called the 3-way reconciliation report. The Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to demonstrate that their financial records accurately reflect all of the transactions in which a client has given them monies “in Trust.”  The “three-way” reconciliation accomplishes this by comparing the total of the individual client ledgers and the bank charges with the balance in the check register. Both amounts should be the same. http://goentrust.com/what-is-a-3-way-reconciliation/

 

How  a 3-way reconciliation works:

 

  1. The first part of the reconciliation is the Checkbook Register.
  2. The second piece is the Bank Statement
  3. The third piece is the IOLTA Balance Register (or Trial Balance). This is a report of all client trust transactions, deposits and withdraws, showing a final balance for each client.

 

To complete the 3-way match you first reconcile the Checkbook Register to the Bank Statement.  The Bank Statement must match the Checkbook Register after taking into account any withdrawals or deposits that have not yet cleared the bank.  Most people are familiar with this process as it is the same as balancing your personal checkbook.

 

Once that is complete, you need to make sure the Checkbook Register matches the total on the IOLTA Balance Register.

 

The first step shows you have recorded in your checkbook all of the transactions that cleared the bank.  The second step shows you have recorded all of the transactions which affect the client’s IOLTA balance.

 

There are plenty of IOLTA resources out there. It’s a matter of accessing those resources. The best thing that you can do with respect to IOLTA accounting is to access the available information, and to learn as much as you can. Then, create a system for managing your IOLTA accounting, and follow, in addition to the ethical rules, your own internal procedures, which should include monthly three-way reconciliation.

 

Peggy Gruenke, Chief Operating Officer and Business Development. More articles available on my blog LawBizCOO.

Tip #2: IOLTA/Credit Cards – New IRS Section 6050W & How it Affects Attorneys

IOLTAContinuing my posts on best practices for IOLTA accounts/transactions, I wanted to share this information with you.  This information comes via the ABA Commission on IOLTA.

“Beginning January 2013, new IRS requirements regarding the reporting of credit card transactions will go into effect and may have the potential to negatively impact IOLTA accounts and lead to ethical violations by lawyers. Here are the key points about you will want to know about if you accept credit cards:

  1. Pursuant to the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, credit card processing companies are required to verify and match each merchant’s federal tax identification number and her legal name with those found on file with the IRS. An EXACT match is required.
  2. For the purposes of this requirement, lawyers who accept credit card payments are considered “merchants.
  3. If there is NOT an exact match between the information provided to the credit card processing company and the information on file with the IRS, there are serious consequences:
    1. Beginning January 2013, the IRS will impose a 28% withholding penalty on all credit card transactions, including those that the lawyer directs to her IOLTA account.
    2. If client funds that should be in the IOLTA account are withheld due to the lawyer’s failure to act and thus are not available to the client on demand, ethical issues are raised.
    3. The credit card processing company should have received information from the IRS if a mismatch occurred and already notified the lawyer of the problem. However, it is not known if all processing companies have provided such notice.”

What action should you take to avoid an ethical violation in 2013:

  • Contact your credit card processor to verify that your legal name on your merchant account matches the legal name you use to file your tax returns;
  • Correct mismatches if informed of one.

For more infomration:  https://www.lawpay.com/news/irs60502.pdf