Washington Lawyer

Legal Beat

From Washington Lawyer, May 2011

By Kathryn Alfisi and Thai Phi Le

News and Notes on the D.C. Bar Legal Community

D.C. Bar Elections Open May 2
The D.C. Bar annual election will open May 2 for positions on the Board of Governors for the 2011–2012 term, including three seats in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association, one of which is reserved for an under–35 candidate.

Additionally, elections for steering committees of the Bar’s 21 sections open May 2.

The names of the candidates appear in the election coverage article of this issue of Washington Lawyer. Candidate biographies will be viewable in the online ballots at www.dcbar.org/elections.

Ballots and instructions for voting, by mail or online, will be distributed to all eligible voters on May 2. Members have until June 3 to vote.

Results of the election will be announced on the Bar’s Web site and at the 2011 Celebration of Leadership, which includes the Bar’s Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting, on Thursday, June 30, at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW.

D.C. Bar’s Syracuse Receives 2011 Brennan Award
syracuseThe D.C. Bar has named Maureen Thornton Syracuse as the 2011 recipient of its William J. Brennan Jr. Award, the Bar’s highest honor, capping off her almost two decades of dedicated service as head of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program.

Syracuse, who joined the Bar in 1992, will be honored on June 30 during the Bar’s Celebration of Leadership at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW.

Prior to joining the Bar, Syracuse worked as a consultant for nonprofit clients, including the National Association of Women Business Owners and the Law Firm Pro Bono Project. From 1987 to 1990, she served as executive director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Syracuse, a graduate of Simmons College and the University of Chicago Law School, also worked at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the League of Women Voters.

“I am truly overwhelmed by this honor. When I consider the list of previous recipients of the Brennan Award, I am humbled to be in their company,” Syracuse said. “I am very proud of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s accomplishments over the years, and I will share this award with our terrific staff and the cadres of volunteers who make our work possible.”      

Upon joining the Bar, Syracuse oversaw the Pro Bono Program’s implementation of recommendations by a special review committee that the program focus on leveraging the D.C. legal community’s pro bono resources. Under her leadership, the Pro Bono Program has become one of the most innovative in the country; it is also one of the largest facilitators of free pro bono legal services in the District of Columbia.

Syracuse will leave behind a legacy of pro bono work when she retires from the Bar on July 22 after 19 years of service. To help provide continuity, Syracuse will work a somewhat reduced schedule as the Bar conducts its nationwide search for her replacement.

The Brennan Award is presented by the Bar every other year in recognition of individual excellence, achievement, and commitment in the fields of civil rights and individual liberties.

The 2009 recipient was Patricia “Patty” Mullahy Fugere, a cofounder of The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

To learn more about the Bar’s Celebration of Leadership, contact Verniesa R. Allen at 202-737-4700, ext. 3239, or annualmeeting@dcbar.org, or visit www.dcbar.org/annual_dinner.—K.A.

Board of Governors Approves Budget
The D.C. Bar’s proposed 2011–2012 budget, as recommended by the Budget Committee, was approved by the Board of Governors at its April 12 meeting.

The budget calls for an increase in members’ annual dues from $237 to $248 for active members, from $127 to $130 for inactive members, and from $116 to $127 for judicial members. However, these approved dues increases are below the dues levels projected in the Bar’s 2008 dues ceiling recommendation that was approved by the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The budget includes a deficit in the amount of $10,172 for dues–funded activities and the mandatory course for new admittees. A deficit of $490,469 is expected for many activities of the Bar that are supported by nondues revenue. Most of this amount—$421,744—is attributable to the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program. The Pro Bono Program has adequate reserves to offset this budgeted deficit if current year fundraising efforts are not sufficient. The Budget Committee proposes to cover this deficit with nondues money from the Bar’s reserve fund.

The budget includes additional staff positions that are needed to address the priorities outlined in the Bar’s strategic plan. New staff positions will be paid for through a mix of mandatory dues and nondues revenue. The budget also includes a 2.5 percent pool for staff salary adjustments and one-half percent for other adjustments. This projected increase reflects current market conditions among comparable membership organizations.

The Clients’ Security Fund is allocated $300,000 within this operating budget, which is a decrease from the prior year budget and is based on average claims paid. The fund is replenished annually and will be brought to $750,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011.

Finally, the Bar’s Finance Committee, acting on information from an independent auditor, continues to recommend increasing the Bar’s operating reserves from the current level of 2.4 months to closer to six months. This remains a long-term goal of both the Budget Committee and the Bar.—K.A.

Bar Members Must Complete Practice Course
New members of the District of Columbia Bar are reminded that they have 12 months from the date of admission to complete the required course on District of Columbia practice offered by the D.C. Bar Continuing Legal Education Program.

D.C. Bar members who have been inactive, retired, or voluntarily resigned for five years or more also are required to complete the course if they are seeking to switch or be reinstated to active member status. In addition, members who have been suspended for five years or more for nonpayment of dues or late fees are required to take the course to be reinstated.

New members who do not complete the mandatory course requirement within 12 months of admission receive a noncompliance notice and a final 60-day window in which to comply. After that date, the Bar administratively suspends individuals who have not completed the course and forwards their names to the clerks of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and to the Office of Bar Counsel.

Suspensions become a permanent part of members’ records. To be reinstated, one must complete the course and pay a $50 fee.

The preregistration fee is $219; the on–site fee is $279. Upcoming dates are May 14, June 7, July 9, August 9, September 10, and October 4. Advanced registration is encouraged.

For more information or to register online, visit www.dcbar.org/mandatorycourse.

Cakes for a Cause
cakeDavid Fritsche (left), executive sous chef at The Dupont Hotel, and Joseph Yaple, chef de cuisine at the same hotel, sample and judge entries in the 11th Annual Cooking for Kids Bake Sale and Taste–Off on March 14, organized by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. The event raised money for public schools in the District.—K.A.


D.C. Bar Foundation Makes Grants to 16 Civil Legal Services Programs
On March 30 the D.C. Bar Foundation awarded $2.81 million in Access to Justice Grants in support of 16 different civil legal services programs in the District of Columbia.

“These badly needed funds enable nonprofit legal services providers to reach more clients, establish a presence in underserved communities, and effectively leverage private resources to expand access to justice throughout the District of Columbia,” said W. Mark Smith, president of the D.C. Bar Foundation.

Among the grantees are two new projects and two expansions of current initiatives. “I think we’ve seen in the last five years tremendous support for the legal services network’s capacity to identify and design projects to meet unmet needs in harder–to–reach communities,” said Katherine L. Garrett, executive director of the D.C. Bar Foundation. “We’ve had real opportunities to see models that work with these funds. It’s exciting to see how deeply into the poorest wards the services are now able to reach.”

Garrett cited the success of the “attorney of the day” model used at the Landlord Tenant Resource Center, where a lawyer is available at the courthouse so that a person in crisis can seek immediate help. Garrett calls it a “point of crisis project” with a citywide reach. “You are able to reach citywide with a very streamlined and efficient approach. You’re getting the people right when the crisis is happening.”

With similar structure, Bread for the City and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia (both partners of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program, which runs the Landlord Tenant Resource Center) decided to launch a collaborative Child Support Court–Based Legal Services Project in the Paternity and Child Support Branch of the D.C. Superior Court. The program received $245,000 in grants to address issues of getting enforceable child support orders established.

Another new project is the Generations Teen Parent Access Project, which targets another difficult-to-reach population in need of legal services. The program, which received $43,000 in funds, is run by the Children’s Law Center (CLC) in partnership with the Children’s National Medical Center. At the clinic, lawyers will participate in teen parent support groups so that teens can get comfortable and familiar with those offering legal services for anything from child support to public benefits.

“Teens are an incredibly important group to serve because if you get them early, you get them on the right track,” said Judith Sandalow, CLC executive director. “Their children are at very high risk. Teen parents are at very high risk of abusing their children, of being homeless. It’s a very precarious time. If we can give them the support they need to be good parents, we’re winning both for the teens and their child.”

The two new expansion projects are the Real Property Tax Project through the Legal Counsel for the Elderly, aimed at helping seniors stay in their homes, and the School Discipline Legal Services Project through Advocates for Justice and Education, which targets at-risk youth and tries to help keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system.

To see the complete list of grantees, visit www.dcbarfoundation.org; for more information about the grants, contact Katherine L. Garrett at 202-467-3750, ext. 12, or garrett@dcbarfoundation.org.—T.L.  

Tackling Cyberbullying
youthCurtis Etherly (center), vice president of public affairs and communication at the Mid–Atlantic Coca–Cola Bottling Company, talks to students and parents about cyberbullying at the 12th Annual Youth Law Fair on March 19 at the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse. More than 300 students and parents took part in the event, which is a joint effort of the D.C. Bar Litigation Section and D.C. Superior Court.—K.A.

trendsMaking ‘Friends’ and Connections: Learning to Embrace Social Media
Friend me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn. Social media is everywhere, and everyone is doing it. In fact, if Facebook were its own country, it would be the third largest in the world, with more than 500 million “citizens.” For many lawyers, however, deciding whether and how to integrate new media into their practices is a challenge.

Creating an account on a social media site is not the hard part. Pick a username and password—and if you are feeling ambitious, a profile picture—and boom, you are done. But then what? 

Building a Brand
The key to new media is creating a branding and marketing strategy. Learn how to market the firm and actively engage people professionally, says Tasha Cooper Coleman, a social media attorney and chief executive officer of UpwardAction. “Googling” has become one of the most common forms of research. Attorneys need to strategically share information to actively shape what people are finding out about them online.

Lawyers, however, tend to make one critical mistake, according to Kevin O’Keefe, chief executive officer of LexBlog, a social media consulting firm for lawyers. “Attorneys are more interested in talking about themselves online when they need to be engaging people and listening,” he says. His advice: Be client-centric. Readers can sense when someone is online solely to tout his or her own accomplishments, as opposed to providing information and participating in relevant conversations and programs.

A Web site may be a good place to list accolades, but social media sites provide an opportunity to reach out in a more conversational way, such as posting links to significant news stories, commenting on law-related topics, and replying to posts and queries. It is about creating real relationships, says Tom Foster, founder of Foster Web Marketing. For lawyers, in particular, social media is a great platform to dispel negative stereotypes about the profession.     

So, Which Tool?
With a marketing strategy in hand, the next step is choosing which new media channels to use. LinkedIn is a free, business-oriented social networking Web site created for networking professionals. It is the largest Web site of its kind, and it has more than 80 million users. LinkedIn makes it easy to connect to clients, potential clients, professional peers, and industry experts, as well as to link to coworkers in the firm, share news updates, receive and give recommendations, and post résumés. For the consummate networkers, it is an ideal site to extend their professional circle.

Podcasts and Webcasts are another vehicle to share news and updates with clients and peers. Used widely in the legal industry, podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded onto MP3 players, smart phones, personal computers, and listened to online. Arnold & Porter LLP has a multimedia section on the firm’s Web site where it offers a variety of podcasts of presentations given by thought leaders and firm members.

Blogs, an abbreviated term for Web logs, are used for both long— and short–form writing. Through blogs, attorneys can demonstrate their expertise on various topics and engage the public in conversation in the comments section. “Blogs are an excellent resource for educating the public on law–related issues,” says Neil Buchannan, a law professor at The George Washington University Law School, who blogs for a number of Web sites, including Dorf on Law. He says attorneys gravitate toward blogging because they can write as little or as much as they want.

Facebook is by far the most popular social media site, with 50 percent of its 500 million users logging on daily. On Facebook, users can post pictures, write status updates, blog, and create fan pages. While the statistics are staggering, O’Keefe feels that Facebook may not be the best Web site for law professionals. “Facebook tends to be more personal and light–hearted. Let’s face it, people are not joining Facebook to read about law-related issues,” he says. Foster, however, notes that Facebook is the number one referrer of social media traffic in the world, a stat not easily discounted and important to an occupation often dependent on referrals.

Twitter offers social networking and microblogging services in 140 characters or less. Users’ tweets are displayed on their feeds or profiles. Twitter is one of the most mobile–friendly social media sites. Because of its limited entry space, Twitter can pose a challenge to users who want to get a lot of information out immediately. However, it can be useful in announcing new blog posts and information that directs traffic back to an attorney’s Web site or blog.

Finding Time
Maintaining social media accounts, blogging, and posting new Webinars or podcasts is time–consuming, which is why attorneys are often slow adopters. HootSuite and Postling are two businesses that allow users to manage all their networks in one place, track clicks, and schedule posts. The ability to measure results also will be helpful to attorneys to see whether a social media presence is actually boosting business.

Concern about confidentiality is another reason why lawyers are hesitant to start engaging with the public online, according to O’Keefe. He wryly remembers when law professionals had fears of using cell phones and even fax machines. There are ways to use new media outlets while maintaining confidentiality, most notably by never discussing client information online and keeping the conversation focused on public topics as opposed to personal case files.

Attorneys interested in educating themselves on the ever-changing world of new media can visit Web sites such as Read Write Web and Mashable, which offer tips on how to take advantage of new media news outlets. 

Still have no time for social media? Hire someone, both Foster and Coleman recommend. Be ahead of the curve. It is not a fad, Coleman says. “It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.”—T.L. and Candace Tyler

Reach D.C. Bar staff writers Kathryn Alfisi and Thai Phi Le at kalfisi@dcbar.org and tle@dcbar.org, respectively.