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On Balance Legal Ethics
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On Balance

Rethinking Your Community to Improve Ethics Compliance — and Your Outlook

By Megan Zavieh

In previous columns, I have talked about the concept of tribes and building a network to support you when your practice takes off in a major way and you need extra help. But have you thought about ways to broaden the scope of your community to help avoid violating ethics rules?

Why Community Matters

It’s easy to sit in a bubble as a solo practitioner, not interacting much with the legal world around you because you are so focused on clients. Whether bricks-and-mortar or virtual, your office is the center of your legal universe. Your clients are the critical players with pressing needs and the funds to pay your bills to keep the lights on. It’s not surprising they take precedence over getting to know other lawyers or paying attention to thought leaders.

However, you can easily miss important news and information if you don’t pay close attention. It might be akin to gossip — who was just disciplined by the state bar, for example. It might be about ethics rules — proposed or actual changes, new ethics opinions, or debate about a new technology and how the rules apply. Or, it might be super practical, say a new tool that makes it easier to comply with the ethics rules. Some of this information might make a real difference in your practice.

This is not information you want to miss.

The reality, though, is that you’ll never be able to keep up with all this information on your own. No one can. There are people whose full-time job is to sift through the latest news and create digests for busy people like you who can’t read it all themselves.

That’s where your community comes in. Your community will help keep you informed, just like that digest of the latest important news. Without it, you are bound to miss something you will wish you hadn’t.

So What Is a Community?

The word “community” may conjure up images of your local coffee shop or bar association. It can mean those places, and it can mean the people you meet in person at various networking occasions. But it is so much more than that.

Your community must include a major online component. In all likelihood, your effective community will include social media followers and people you follow, email groups, video creators, podcast hosts and bloggers. If you are missing these, you are likely missing some great, reliable and efficient sources of information.

Social Media

Social media is a tremendous source of current information in the legal profession. If you do not already spend at least a small portion of your day catching up on one major social media site, pick one today and work it into your routine.

Social media can be a major time-suck. No one can deny that. It can also be a terrible headache if your feed is full of oversharing friends who actually do tell you when they have a headache. But with personal guidelines in place, social media can be a great way to keep up with useful legal information.

I rely on Twitter for a lot of my legal news. Google “lawyers to follow on Twitter” and you will come up with lists put out by the ABA, Rocket Matter, OneLegal and more of some of the biggest influencers in law on Twitter. Follow them. Your odds of catching important information will seriously increase.

If Twitter is not your style, pick another platform such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Email Groups

People in your practice area who share an email group, or listserv, should definitely be part of your community. At the same time, note this old-school method of meeting up online is slowly being replaced by Facebook groups, Slack channels and other group tools. Look for where your colleagues are corresponding. You will get more out of this type of group if you are active on it, but following the threads will reveal the issues plaguing your colleagues. If a major ethics rule change is hitting your practice area, you can be sure you will hear about it.

Video Creators

YouTube is one of the most heavily trafficked search engines for a reason. Video speaks volumes and people learn from it. More and more lawyers are making videos and posting them online.

If you are a video learner, include a few video content creators in your community. Follow their feeds — they are often linked to social media, so it may require nothing more than keeping up with your one social media platform. Videos are quick to create, so big issues are often addressed this way. Again, they are a great source of information.

Podcast Hosts

Podcasts have steadily risen in popularity and are now a major hit in the legal market. As with Twitter, you can Google “best legal podcasts” and come up with lists of suggestions for your listening pleasure. Podcasts are an excellent way to consume current legal information while performing other tasks — commuting, walking, running, cleaning house and the like.

What’s great about including podcast hosts in your community is that you begin to feel like you know these content creators. You can follow them on social media, see them at conferences, and gain a sense of how much you trust their information and content. And some podcasters have on expert-guests who discuss the latest issues in law, too — another safeguard against missing something major.

Legal Bloggers

Legal blogs, which have been around longer than social media, podcasts and video, remain compelling resources. Some of the biggest influencers in law spend a significant amount of time and effort on their blogs, and there you will find current information to keep you up to date. There is no need to get overwhelmed logging into a large number of different blog sites. Use an RSS feed reader like Feedly to keep up with blogs in a short sitting.

Expand Your Community, Expand Your Reach

Living in a bubble is a dangerous place to be for solo and small firm lawyers. Expand your view of community beyond the local watering hole. Get online, try out a new source of information or two, and keep on top of the latest information so you don’t miss something important in the evolution of law practice.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Megan Zavieh Megan Zavieh

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of “The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide.” At Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In On Balance, Megan writes about issues confronting lawyers in the new world of practicing law. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical, blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

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