That Didn't Take Long

D.A. Confidential is outed by the Austin American Statesman:

Mark Pryor said that friends, neighbors and fellow lawyers regularly ask him about his job as a felony prosecutor in Travis County.

And the former newspaper reporter, who hopes to soon be a published novelist, loves to write.

So Pryor began a blog last month called D.A. Confidential, which he hopes will give readers insight into the local criminal justice system and will be a fun place to read his take on stupid criminals, novel crimes, crime novels and related things.

Far as I could tell, everyone in the courthouse already knew.

The Bad News Is... You're The One Out Of A Hundred

From an email several months back:

Writing on behalf of my son. We are completely frustrated with our attorney choice.

They told us 99% it would be dismissed in our first meeting. Court date arrives and then a new attorney starts on the case. There was no hope it would be dismissed.

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D.A. Confidential

A new criminal law blog in Austin has popped up recently, but unlike those I recently posted about, this one comes in the black hat variety. That’s right: it’s written by a prosecutor.

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Overheard

Waiting in line for a down elevator after getting out of court this morning, a lawyer and a client talking about having the ignition interlock on his car "the whole time" while his case was pending:

Client: I haven’t gotten into any trouble for almost two years.

Lawyer: …and for you, that’s actually really impressive.

The lawyer had a big grin on his face, and the client laughed.
 

Silly Wabbit

Robert Guest complains that he is not psychic. For example, on Avvo Answers, a commonly asked query goes like this: “I’ve been charged with X, what kind of sentence will I get?” His response:

Let's see. Without knowing the facts, court, prosecutor, legal issues, or your criminal history you want me to guess the outcome of a case based upon the charge? Really?

 

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The "Law Offices" Of...

Why do so many criminal defense lawyers, who are solo practitioners mostly, insist on getting a DBA or incorporating as “The Law Offices of [John Smith]” plural? Instead of “The Law Office of [John Smith]” singular?

Actually it’s not just those in the criminal defense bar I notice doing this; it’s solos of all kinds.  I suspect they want to project an image of a big law firm where tons of attorneys are running around doing all sorts of busy criminal defense work all day. That’s what will attract clients (the theory goes).

 

In fact, the reason most of us are solos is that you need one attorney, not many, to handle all important aspects of your case. 

 

I office with two other Austin defense lawyers, Lance Stott and Dax Garvin, but we’re not partners, we are criminal defense lawyers who share some office space a few blocks from the jail. Well, we’re friends to, but from a business standpoint, we are all solos.

 

And we occasionally “handle” a court setting for each other if necessary, but it’s almost always the type of setting where nothing really happens. The case just gets reset. Most of those times it’s when the client’s appearance is not even required.

 

Or it might be that the resolution to a case has already been determined (plea of no contest for probation or backtime, or turn in a counseling certificate to get a dismissal, etc.) and one of us is wrapping up the case for the other because we have to be somewhere else.

 

But we all work substantively on our own cases. We don’t share the work load of a criminal defense case. (The exception to that is sometimes it’s helpful to run a PC affidavit or an indictment past a colleague to bounce ideas off of them. “Hey, so you see anything wrong with this charging instrument?”)

 

Another exception of course is in “big” cases. Big big cases sometimes require multiple lawyers. And it’s always helpful to have someone around to second chair a jury trial, even if it’s “just” a misdemeanor.

 

But none of these are reasons to call yourself “The Law Offices” of So-and-So, when really it’s just you, the one attorney, and your staff.

 

And when you explain to a potential client that you, the human being sitting in front of them, will be the one “handling” all of the important settings in their case, you’ll find out that most people appreciate that. So there’s no need to project the image of the multiple busy lawyer law firm with hundreds of attorneys, spread out over several law offices, possible several states plural.

 

It’s perfectly OK to be the “Law Office of”… Just you, one lawyer, who knows every aspect of each client’s case.

I Am Not Dennis Toad (Really, I'm Not)

“Hi, Dennis.”

Bumped into fellow Austin criminal defense lawyer Jon Evans in the courthouse last week, and he had just looked me right in the eyes and said, “Hi, Dennis”.

I’ve known Jon for as long as I’ve been a lawyer. He officed upstairs in the old Stewart Title Building when I was first out of law school and practicing on the first floor. He had only been practicing for about 5-6 years at the time, but he was already one of the most seasoned trial lawyers in Austin.

That was more than ten years ago. We have enjoyed each other’s company while standing in line chatting about interesting issues and recent cases and the like. 

And I’m 100% certain he knows my name is “Jamie”. But he said, “Hi Dennis”. He also had that Jon Evans grin.

I said “Hunh?” (I am getting a bit deaf in my middle age.)

“Hi, Dennis. You’re Dennis Toad right?”

Ahhhhh. I see said the blind man. Jon thought I was the anonymous author of a new “blog” that had appeared recently in the Austin blogosphere: “Austin Law News”. The author is listed as “Dennis Toad” but s/he has clearly gone to great lengths to remain anonymous – some would say “with good reason”.

Taint me.

One of my other accusers (there’s been more than Jon) pointed out to me that if it were my doing, then I would still be denying it to his face. Probably true, but it’s still not me.

I have my suspicions, but I’ll keep them to myself (unless you want to walk up to me in the courthouse and talk to me in semi-private about it).

So… Dennis Toad, please email me anonymously if you wish, but tell me…

Who are you?

UPDATEKeith Lauerman isn’t Dennis Toad either.

Lawyers Advertising Online With AdWords

You Don’t Make Friends With Salad responds to my recent $1,000,000 post:

Jamie is decrying the online ad spending of the local criminal defense bar. According to his estimates, in the Austin market alone, criminal defense attorneys are spending about $1 million per year on Google's cost-per-click AdWords program. I'm not sure that the number is quite that high, but if it's an overestimate, it's not by much.

For the lawyers who are getting in and bidding upwards of $50 for the most popular keywords and phrases, I have to think that Jamie's right. This cost is being passed on to the clients. But lots of costs get passed on to clients: rent/mortgage payments, staff salaries, etc. In a market like Austin where the fight for clients is so competitive, you have to have some way to drive potential clients to call, email, or walk in the door. Referrals are great, especially from former clients, but it takes a long while for a practitioner (however great) to develop a critical mass of new clients based solely on reputation.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, certainly in and of itself, with passing costs on to clients. And when it comes to professional services, that often includes advertising. Actually, the post was just my amazement at the numbers.

As for the numbers? YDMFWS’ suggestion that I might be overestimating made me rethink. I claimed one million was conservative in the original post. I’ve crunched some numbers.

If you include not just [Geographical Location] criminal defense lawyer, but various individual offenses, such as DWI, assault, marijuana, theft, etc. with [Geographical Location] County Jail, Bail Bonds, etc… well…

It might be an overestimate, after I tried to figure it out. Let me restate.

I’m working with some unknown factors here. I’m going to give the one million dollar estimate a confidence interval of only 50%. Not very confident, for the mathematically challenged. But at five hundred thousand dollars or more?

99% confidence. (N.B. I’m using the Statistics definition of confidence interval.)

How to Rank High on Google's Natural Results

I know just enough about SEO – search engine optimization – to be dangerous.

That is to say, I find it interesting, and I’ve looked into it, but I’m not remotely an expert.

But folks come up to me in the Travis County Courthouse frequently – other lawyers that is – and ask me point blank, “How does your site rank so high on Google?” Or “How do you get to Number One on Google?” As a quick aside, the questions amuse me, because it’s always phrased that way, and never includes the necessary part to make the question sensible, that is… “for the phrase [fill-in-the-blank]”.

After all, I certainly don’t ‘rank’ number one for the queries New York Times; Paris Hilton; Mapquest; or GameCheats for Playstation.  

Back to the original question at hand, though: How do you (Jamie) rank so high for [Austin, Tx, Criminal, Defense, Lawyer, or some other similar combination]?

Now there’s a lot of collegiality amongst the defense bar, at least in Austin, but I’ve always wondered whether anyone thinks about the possibility that I might not want to reveal a ‘trade secret’. After all, these are technically speaking my competitors. (I like to think they ask me because they think I’m a no nonsense guy that says what he thinks. But enough about how wonderful I am.)

Actually, I’m always happy to give them the best answer I know. Like the secret of real estate, it boils down to three basic elements, but instead of location it’s:

  • Content
  • Content
  • Content

Content relevant to the keywords your potential customer is looking for. That’s it.

And blogging is the best way to frequently update your website with good quality content about your practice area – after all, a blog is just a specific type of website, nothing magical, nothing more.

I’ll add three more factors to the mix.

Time: For me, blogging takes time. I enjoy doing it, but it’s not always easy. Bloggers Block happens frequently. So, OK, I don’t post for a while. And then it comes in several productive spurts. Not everyone can be Scott Greenfield, with his 4.5 post per day average. Or is that 45 per day? I can’t keep up.

Knowledge: You’ve got to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, it will show. That’s fine if Grandma is the only one reading your personal diary type blog – she already knows you’re the dimwitted one in the family and loves you anyway. But if you’re doing it even in part for commercial purposes, that’s going to be a problem.

Style: Blogging is writing, and every good writer worth reading has their own style. Mine probably leans a little too far towards the ‘smart alec’ side of the spectrum for my own good, at least for the ‘commercial purposes’ mentioned above, but it’s still my own tone of voice. I think your style comes through, makes the writing genuine and personal, and let’s the reader know how you feel about the subjects you’re blogging about. When it comes to hiring a lawyer to defend you in court, don’t you want to know something about who he really is?

That’s basically it.

Pretty basic stuff. Ask yourself why you use Google as your search engine of choice. The answer is invariably going to be a variation of ‘because it gives me the answers I’m looking for’.

Right. You went and sat at the computer and Googled the phrase [fill-in-the-blank] because you wanted to know more about [fill-in-the-blank]. You don’t want to see a one or two page static website trumpeting the virtues of Q. Benedict Huntington III, Esquire, with the promise that if you call him and/or pay him money he will tell you all about [fill-in-the-blank].

So put some content on your website (blog) that potential customers are literally yearning for, and Google will give you credit for it, and your rankings will go up.

Just don’t ask me how they do it. They will.

Related Post: How to Give Google A Ton of Money

One Million Dollars Worth of Advertising on Google

Per year. $1,000,000.00 into Google’s coffers.

That’s my guestimate as to how much local defense lawyers are spending in these parts to advertise various phrases through Google’s AdWords program.  I’m going to attempt to make this a substantive post, not just something that Google – or the other search engines – scans and reads for various keywords and phrases, so I’m not going to list what the most popular keywords are… but you can imagine that they focus on a combination of geography and the profession itself.

This guess isn’t just off the top of my head either.

I have it from pretty reliable sources within several of the various law firms that participate in Google’s “Why Don’t You All Just Outbid Each Other” marketing, or often from the horses’ mouths themselves just how much some law firms are spending per month. There are several paying Google more than $10k per month. Some are spending substantially more than that.

Sure, some folks jump into the market at first, and then disappear, when they realize the high cost of being #5 or in some cases #10. But most stick around, and keep driving up those Google profits.

And knowing how AdWords is structured, that is, the higher the ranking in the Sponsored Results, the more the bidder is paying, combined with watching various internet advertising over the last year or so, I’d say one million spent in Austin alone for lawyers advertising criminal defense services is a conservative estimate.

Amazing.

That’s a lot of advertising costs that get passed on to the clients.

Related Post: Ranking High on Google For Free

Fired for Blogging? Solos Need Not Worry

A (former) CNCN producer gets fired for expressing his own opinions on his own blog, and the blogosphere lights up about it. Any relevance of this story to blogging lawyers out there? Probably for big firm bloggers; not so much I imagine for criminal defense attorneys.

Most criminal defense lawyers are solos to start off with, and I for one certainly don’t yearn to ever join the civil bar. (Wouldn’t know anything about how to do it either – actually it sounds kind of like a nightmare.)

As far as law blogging goes, it’s best to be solo too. The best law blogs are extensions of the lawyer’s indicidual personality. That is to say they express their actual opinions - not ones filtered by ‘the boss’.

I can give a quick example. I wrote a post last Friday night on my DWI blog that even I had reservations about. Some of those qualms ended up as part of the post. Without rehashing the whole post, suffice it to say that for various reasons I wanted to make this point:

Lots of DWI lawyer websites dispense ‘advice’ on how not to get arrested and/or convicted of DWI (don’t blow in the machine, don’t do the tests, be polite but say as little as possible, etc.). I’ve never written a single word on the subject, mostly because I think it’s plain silliness. For one thing, potential clients don’t need that advice: they have already been arrested. If you’re going to be their lawyer, you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt.

For those who are trolling the internet, looking for ‘How To’ advice about beating your future DWI… there’s only one good piece of advice: don’t drink and drive. No, it’s not actually against the law in Texas to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel. But never driving after consumption of alcoholic beverages is the only way to ensure that you’ll be safe from arrest.

If you need more reasons, I’ve said it before: it’s cheaper to rent a helicopter to fly you home than to get arrested for DWI – and no, I’m not just talking about my fee.

Perhaps it’s pretty basic stuff for 99% of blogs out there, but my particular blog is a DWI defense lawyer blog, and as far as the blog is a tool to attract clients, not necessarily what prospective clients want to hear.

But then again, I’m my own boss, so I can say what I like. There are a few ‘DWI Law Firms’ in Austin, where the client’s case gets assigned out to one of several associates to handle. Some of these firms have DWI blogs as well. And I doubt that if I worked for someone else that I would have been allowed to post such an entry to ‘the company blog’.

Hines, Ranc & Holub

Hines Ranc & Holub is a criminal defense law firm here in Travis County. I’ve known these guys for many years, and am pleased to be moving into their building at 1307 Nueces, Austin, Texas 78701. 

What’s the advantage of having three board certified attorneys who are all former prosecutors?  It’s the advantage of experience.  With Hines, Ranc and Holub you’re defended not by a single lawyer, but by an entire team of criminal defense specialists who can work together to develop a winning strategy for your case.

Their practice areas include the defense of DWI, drug crimes, assault family violence, white collar crimes, sex crimes, theft crimes and violent crimes in both State and Federal court. Bill Hines also teaches Trial Advocacy at the University of Texas Law School.

One of the main reasons I decided to office in the same building with them is because I respect them as lawyers, and look forward to being able to bounce ideas off of them.

For more information, check out their website.

New Williamson County and Travis County Criminal Law Blog

Keith Lauerman announced the launch of his new blog titled “Criminal Defense in Travis & Williamson County, Texas: Reality 101” where he will discuss “perspectives, insights, and ideas of resolving criminal accusations against the citizens of Travis and Williamson Counties”.

He starts things off with a bang, a lenfthy substantive post about punishment, sentencing guidelines for murder, and what qualities in both the defendant and decedent make for shorter or longer punishments in murder trials.

Should the status of the victim make a difference? Should the gender of the convicted impact the punishment? Is class and race a factor to be considered? Should it matter whether the deceased was a good person or a bastard?

Consider this scenario: Should an honor student who beats a homeless person to death any less culpable than the homeless person who beats an honor student to death? Often the homeless person would receive a stiffer sentence based on extensive testimony on behalf of the more affluent victim.

But, is the act of the beating and the intent involved any different between the perpetrators? Obviously not, but does it make sense that one should receive more time than the other with all other factors being equal except for their position in life?

All good questions, and ones criminal defense practitioners face frequently, in a variety of contexts. That’s why Keith tells us he’ll be posting about “the wisdom of a trial and the pros and cons of risking it all”.

Add him to your RSS reader. Also, if there are other criminal defense bloggers out there I haven't run across yet, please let me know. I’d love to review your site and post a link to it from here.

More Austin Criminal Law Blogs

The recent release of IE7 and the upcoming release of Windows Vista are predicted to bring an explosion of blogging in 2007 and beyond, by exposing more folks to RSS, and I welcome it. Good blogs can provide the public with the information they need to make well informed decisions about any number of problems and issues that life throws at us, and lawyer blogs are the rule here not the exception.

With that in mind, here are examples of two other Austin attorneys who blog on criminal defense issues. (By way of complete disclosure, I should probably mention that they are also both friends of mine.)

Bill Mange comments on the New York Times piece reprinted in the Statesman about a senior pentagon official  criticizing lawyers who dare represent Guantanamo detainees. The government official intimates that CEOs should shun using law firms who choose to expend time and effort on these pro-bono cases.

Bill then makes an excellent comparison of these modern day strong arm tactics to McCarthy era blacklisting , and uses the example of Austinite John Henry Faulk’s successful libel case as a backdrop.

Bill quotes from The Jury Returns, written by Faulk’s lawyer Louis Nizer:

They pulverized him out of the entertainment industry and left him unemployed and unemployable for 6 ½ years.  They ruined his reputation and left him and his family in a state of starvation.  They made a ghastly lesson of him, so that all others who dared to challenge them in the future would be terrorized by his example.

But they had chosen the wrong man to humiliate and destroy.  In the great American tradition, which even they should have admired, Faulk rejected the role of a defeated martyr, refused to acknowledge his comatose enfeeblement, and actually attacked his tormentors.  He demanded their condemnation.  Scorning compromise, he insisted on complete judicial vindication.

Those interested in Faulk’s story should also reference Fear on Trial, either the book written by him, or the movie based on it starring George C Scott as the plaintiff’s lawyer.

Ken Gibson posts commentary on the University of Texas Police Department’s recent predilection for making more and more DWI arrests, and all over Travis County at that, rather than staying at “home” on campus and protecting the students. As he points out, they have the authority to do it:

Most folks don’t realize that UT police have jurisdiction to make arrests in any county that the University owns property. What that means is that a UT police officer basically has statewide jurisdiction.

However, Ken questions the wisdom of their new gung-ho attitude:

For every arrest, an officer will be gone from their job at the University for a minimum 8 hours and could be days, if the case goes to trial. This is time that they will be gone from their original job, protecting UT property and students. There are so many agencies that are available to make DWI arrests, and as an alumnus of UT, I find it a huge waste of University resources for these officers to make traffic stops off of campus.

I concur - and recommend adding Bill and Ken’s blogs to your RSS readers.

And to any other local Austin lawyer bloggers (criminal defense or otherwise) out there that I haven’t run across… please email me, and I’ll add your feed to mine and probably plug you on my blog.

Sumpter & Gonzalez, Criminal Defense Firm

Sumpter & Gonzalez is an Austin criminal defense firm with four attorneys: David Gonzalez, Corinne Sumpter-Gonzalez, Kristin Etter and Dal Ruggles.  A quote from their main website:

 

Sumpter & González, LLP takes a holistic approach to the practice of law. We believe that there are many situations and conflicts that end up in the legal system because of the breakdown of other systems or of relationships; therefore, we make it our job to look for creative solutions to clients’ problems, even where those solutions lie outside of the courtroom. Inside the courtroom, we are tireless advocates and litigators, dedicated to obtaining the best results for our clients.

 

On a personal note, I can say this about them: those aren't just empty words.  The team is well known around the Travis County Courthouse for fighting hard on behalf of their clients, and getting good results.

 

(Hat Tip: Joel Skotak, the web designer for their firm who I ran across commenting on my blog.)