Tag Archives: culture

Why The French Can’t Attract Entrepreneurs & What Law Firms Should Know About Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy. Who knows more about that than the French?

Much like a woman’s rouge makeup, the French invented red tape.

Not one step in France is taken without first seeking approval from the appropriate committee, paying a few fees, and standing in a long line of très chic but also très surly Frenchmen.

Before even a new word can be formally admitted into the French language, the French language Academy (L’Academie Francaise) must convene and deliberate. Years after its innovation and cultural integration, hashtag has thus become le mot-dièse, although few French youths would recognize any other word than le hashtag (#truestory).

On a grander scale, the French are committed to their bureaucratic ways not just because the word comes from old French, but also because it is ingrained in their national vision.

“There is a difference between the French vision of liberté (as in their revolutionary égalité and fraternité) and our freedom,” explains A. A. Gill in his scathing op-ed in Vanity Fair.

“It’s the liberty to be, and the freedom to do. Freedom you are born with—it comes from the bottom up—but you are given your liberty. It is handed from the top down. So the French system, with its huge state—its committees, academies, and conventions of wise men—is prescriptive for your own good, to protect all the things it deems most important.”

Gill for Vanity Fair doesn’t see much of a solution in the way of changing French attitudes.

“Culture doesn’t arise out of nothing,” Gill writes.

“It is the symptom, the consequence, of all national life. The French political system—and the fatly satisfied ruling class—has stifled and penalized every sort of innovation. Employing anyone is an agony, unemploying them a trauma. The state taxes and flings out streamers of red tape, and a political orthodoxy has driven the wealth and opportunity creators abroad.”

The moral of this story? French entrepreneurs are not in France. They’re in London, New York, or Berlin. Again, the word entrepreneur may originate from France, but its future activities lay abroad. French government has lamented this fact but remains obstinately opposed to changing its business policies to attract start-ups. When it comes to great new talent, culture plays a large role in attracting it.

Culture. It’s crucial to nations and to companies.

It’s something that is created by an environment and people that motivates them to be productive and professionally satisfied. And there are detrimental effects when a culture turns negative.

Leadership. It’s a lifeline. France’s President Hollande knows better than anybody what happens when trust in your leader is lost (after news broke he was having a extra-marital affair, his approval ratings hit rock bottom). A bad reputation overshadows any other important domestic changes you might be trying to make.

Bureaucracy. It’s a double-edged sword. Of course productivity relies on a strict set of systems: hierarchy that inspires professional promotion, incentives, and proper training and oversight create an efficient workplace.

But, when that bureaucracy is what is holding you back, preventing innovation, and stalling growth, it’s time to reevaluate your systems.

Law firms have strong cultures, partnerships, tradition, and bureaucracies. Tradition and history is a source of pride for firms not unlike France’s proud society. Yet, there is something to be said for calling into question the old boy’s club, for giving opportunities to young associates, abandoning outdated internal policies, and adopting new ways of thinking about hiring employees or fees for clients.

As management partners, don’t destroy your firm’s panache. Look into ways your can modernize your business development today, #beforeitstoolate.

Want to find out how to gain that savoir-faire? Take The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course, “Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including:

  • Steps to build client loyalty, manage expectations and generate client referrals
  • Identifying and maximize cross-selling opportunities
  • How to match your marketing strategy to seniority level
  • Making business development a sustainable, ongoing part of your culture

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Boost Your Legal Business By Not Acting Like A Lawyer (Oh yeah, And Go Vote)

Obviously the big topic of conversation today is the U.S. Presidential elections.

American associates across the nation are returning to their offices proudly wearing their “I Voted” stickers.

And why shouldn’t they be proud?

After all, voting is part of our nation’s democratic history. It represents the freedom our ancestors fought for. And voting is, consequently, our civic duty.

Lawyers should be especially sensitive to this latter point.

Attorneys serve as guardians of American civil liberties and rights. After voting for national independence from Great Britain, America’s Second Continental Congress wrote its Declaration of Independence, on which twenty-five, almost half, lawyers signed.

But while the Presidential elections are today’s hot-ticket item, some considerably smaller but equally contentious and highly significant judicial elections are also taking place.

Judges in Iowa, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama are each expecting controversial ascents to the bench today, according to the WSJ Law Blog. In fact, 33 states will watch the hands of justice, well, change hands.

Iowa’s biggest scandal is the fact that it ousted “three supreme court justices via retention election as payback for the justices in 2009 voting to strike down as unconstitutional an Iowa law banning same-sex marriage,” explains the WSJ Law Blog.

Then, in Florida, conservatives are following Iowa’s example and rallying to oust their own liberal judicial representatives.

Basically, now is the ideal time to pay attention to elections and brace your firm for the litigation fallout. State lawyers have already gotten involved in Florida. Who is next?

Which of your clients will benefit from this conservative trend in law and voting?

Putting political party preferences aside (although, not totally aside), for at least one attorney, this year’s voting cycle has been an excellent lesson in law firm business marketing.

Brian Tannebaum, Esquire, recently recounted his polling experience this November, 2012. He starts his story:

“I went to vote Saturday at 7:20 a.m. I left with my ‘I voted’ sticker at 12:39 p.m. When you stand in line for five hours, even a person like me has to pass the time by speaking to someone. After skimming through the morning paper and making a futile attempt to find something interesting on Twitter or Facebook, Jeff asked me a simple question: ‘What do you do?’”

For lawyers, this is often an unluckily question from the random stranger. The number of lawyer jokes testifies to the fact that law is one the least beloved industries. Luckily for Tannebaum, it turns out that Jeff upped the ante—as a mobile auto dealer.

But, more to the point, the two began talking in the polling line, as strangers do.

There was no pitch, there was no exchange of business promises, rather, jovial conversation emerged organically from this shared experience.

The moral of the story is simple. Tannebaum rants:

“We are constantly in everyone’s face trying to get business. Someone told us that appearing on every page someone accesses on the internet will get us more wonderful high-paying clients. While it’s important to be able to be found on the internet, this notion that we have to be in everyone’s face 24/7 is one of the (many) reasons people hate lawyers.”

It makes good business sense to be aggressive about catching clients. But, not when you forget common courtesy and polite civic behavior. Today reminds us all that we’re just equal citizens, looking for opportunity.

Tannebaum believes no amount of gadgets will give you that. His slogan for the office of law may as well be: honest conversation always wins.

He drives his point home, saying, “Oh, I almost forgot… We started talking about people we both know. He also told me his company has had a contract with a big local auto dealership for the last 20 years…. He’ll be at my house next week.”

So today, when you’re out in the cold waiting for your turn to contribute to history, shake a hand or start a conversation. Not as a lawyer, but as a layperson. You’ll be surprised what that’s worth.

-WB

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The Worst Types Of Corporate Culture In Law

Experts agree that it’s typically futile and unwise to try to change a firm’s corporate culture. Corporate culture is the product of time-tested professional relationships and decision-making.

It’s fair to say that, in the least, it would be difficult to undo years of conditioned and accepted professional behavior and patterns.

In addition, business strategy, more often than not, actually benefits from tapping into a company’s corporate culture.

Knowing what motivates or incentivizes your employees—driving employee behavior that benefits clients and increases productivity—is essential for success.

Unfortunately, some types of corporate culture have no upside. In these rare instances, it becomes necessary to re-train your employees and managers and reduce the negative aspects of the office culture.

Below are three of the worst types of corporate culture in law and a few ways to eradicate them from your firm.

Machiavellian (aka Back Stabbing)

When you come up with a breakthrough idea, do you keep it to yourself for fear of theft? Do you worry when your peers lunch with your supervisor, even though you consider yourself an excellent worker? Have you ever received praise to your face from another associate, only to hear second-hand that they’ve sabotaged your reputation or work-product to somebody else?

If the above scenarios are starting to sound familiar, it’s possible you work in a Machiavellian environment.

For managers, this corporate culture is detrimental to employee motivation. Not only is it disheartening for employees to watch their best ideas credited to another person, but when this happens, it de-incentivizes employees to be creative, quick, or hardworking.

To discourage this type of corporate culture, law firm managers should be diligent with performance reviews and status reports. They should always know what employees are working on, in addition to the progress of the project.

Managers should reward group efforts and collaboration. Machiavellian cultures emerge when the individual benefits from a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog bonus system.

Machiavellian systems are easy to identify. Do your hallways have high levels of gossip? Do employees seem friendly in the office, but refrain from socializing outside it? Do certain employees brownnose by constantly talking up the manager or bragging about their achievements?

These are signs that your firm has low levels of trust and teamwork. Strive to eradicate this culture by emphasizing the importance of and recompensing fellowship—there’s a time to lead and a time to follow. Mangers should recognize employees who know how to support their peers with sincerity and in silence.

Misogynist (aka Boys Club)

At the largest firms in America, an equity gender gap persists.

The National Law Journal‘s NLJ 250 survey ranks the largest firms in the United States by headcount. And, data collected from 221 firms show that women represent a mere 15.1 percent of equity partners, and among all partners—equity and nonequity—women still comprise just 18.8 percent.

Of those firms with a good grasp on gender neutrality, with more equal partnership distribution, a culture of inclusion was cited as key.

“Women felt accepted here,” Ice Miller partner Brenda Horn, who started at the firm in 1981, said to the NLJ. Ms. Horn reported that of the four women and three men who started in her class, three of the women and two of the men went on to make partner.

“We were always less conventional [than other firms in Indiana]. Your pedigree and who you played football with didn’t matter here.”

Unfortunately, data suggests that this gender equality and culture of inclusion does not necessarily exist in 81.2 percent of law firms in the U.S.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, law continues to be a Boys Club. But, it doesn’t have to be.

If a misogynist corporate culture is alienating female attorneys at your firm, try creating a mentorship program for women. Also, encourage after-hours activities that are not gender specific.

Finally, keep in mind that language and casual conversation can be the worst culprit in increasing gender discrimination and bias. So, lead by example when interacting with people around the office halls, even when you think nobody’s listening.

Mean (aka Firm Always Comes First)

Do you ever get the feeling your firm policy is spiteful? Do you get the impression meetings are held late on Fridays to deliberately thwart attempts at a personal life? Have you been told “no” when making simple or short vacation requests for key life events—the birth of child, religious holiday, or family emergency?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be that your firm is just plain mean.

It’s unclear why some corporate cultures have embraced a malicious attitude. Perhaps, in the past, employees have abused a vacation policy. Or, previous attorneys have taken advantage of casual Friday and early exits to celebrate the weekend.

It’s possible that the people ahead of you have ruined the corporate culture for those who follow. However, in terms of law firm management (or law), unfair and poor precedent should never prevent positive changes in policy.

If employees are reporting cruel or callous behavior or statements on the part of supervisors at your firm, take complaints seriously.

If somebody—regardless of rank—is adding to the stress or negativity of the office, sign him or her up for leadership and other team-building training.

Bad attitudes are bad for your bottom line—and that’s the bottom line.

-WB

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Culture Shock & Shocking Lessons About The Value Of Employee-Driven Business Strategies

Culture within a law firm—or any company, for that matter—is created organically and gradually.

Although founding partners and CEOs can try to mold and move its business culture in a certain direction, ultimately, culture becomes the product of multiple employee personalities and professional decision-making over time.

The idea that business profits and successes are often intertwined with the type of culture a firm espouses can be a terrifying thought for powers-that-be. To improve business practice, do you look to change your firm culture? Or, do you change your future plans around the culture that’s already been established?

Recently, the Harvard Business Review Blog wrote a profile about the culture of one of America’s largest healthcare companies, Aetna. Apparently, in the early 2000s, Aetna was in a financial bind, bleeding $1 million each day to cumbersome processes, gigantic overhead costs, and some unwise business acquisitions.

“Many of the problems Aetna faced were attributed to its culture—especially its reverence for the company’s 150-year history,” wrote the authors for the HBR Blog.

“Once openly known among workers as ‘Mother Aetna,’ the culture encouraged employees to be steadfast to the point that they’d become risk-averse, tolerant of mediocrity, and suspicious of outsiders.”

See, steadfast and risk-averse are not necessarily bad for business. But, when Aetna looked to grow—to merge with a lower-cost healthcare provider, U.S. Healthcare, and all the processes that came with it—the conservatism of Aetna’s employees clashed with the more aggressive strategies of its new business partner.

And, slow and steadfast became synonymous with lazy and low-yielding. Losses made it ever more apparent that something—or somebody—had to give.

When John W. Rowe, MD, assumed Aetna’s fourth CEO position in five years in the late 2000, eyes rolled. But, unlike his predecessors, Rowe was able to turn around the business in three key ways:

  1. Rowe sought feedback from employees at all levels to provide input on business strategy and change.
  2. Rowe listened and applied these conversations to a financially-sound and realistic business plan.
  3. Rowe presented his plan for a turnaround to the company’s employees in a way that fit with the culture—as opposed to fighting it.

“This time, without ever describing their efforts as ‘cultural change,’ top management began with a few interventions. These interventions led to small but significant behavioral changes that, in turn, revitalized Aetna’s culture while preserving and championing its strengths,” explains the HBR Blog.

“For instance, the New Aetna was specifically designed to reinforce employees’ commitment to customers—reflected in the firm’s history of responding quickly to natural disasters. Rowe also made a point of reinforcing a longtime strength that had eroded—employees’ pride in the company. During one question-and-answer session, a longtime employee said, ‘Dr. Rowe, I really appreciate your taking the time to explain your new strategy. Can you tell me what it means for someone like me?’

Not an easy question. After a thoughtful pause, Rowe replied, ‘Well, I guess it is all about restoring the Aetna pride.’ He got a spontaneous standing ovation from the hundreds of attendees.”

Now, the article emphasizes the moral of the story is Stop Fighting Your Culture.

Too many companies try to change and revamp culture to fit business strategy, as opposed to the other way around. When culture is, in fact, frequently the best accelerator and energizer for CEOs, according to the HBR.

But, in addition to this important point, the story about Aetna’s turnaround also contains valuable lessons about leadership as demonstrated by Rowe.

First, employee feedback—especially at low ranks—affects firm policy in a positive way.

It can’t be said enough that total employee satisfaction leads to higher monetary returns.

Plus, leaders are often too far up on the professional hierarchy to see or understand the flaws in their plans on the ordinary, everyday level. Thus, associates, of every degree of experience, should be given a voice, representative, and seat at the business development table.

Second, Aetna perceived its conservative culture as a liability, not an asset. Law firms may struggle with the same mindset—that tradition is less valuable than new technology or change.

Not so. In fact, Rowe realized that Aetna’s longtime strength—commitment to customers, patients and physicians—was the missing link. Once he resurrected Aetna’s priority in people, the company took off and its culture rose with it.

In law, maintaining a personal and loyal relationship with your clients is key to success. Business incentives are not always tangible—at its base, law is a service industry job. Aetna remembered to give precedence to the needs of its customers, as law firms should, too.

Finally, Aetna knew it needed change. After all, constant innovation is vital for company growth. But, depending on your culture, this change may need to arrive over time. The pace by which a company innovates is unique.

Younger, more liberal law firms may be able to embrace change more quickly than older, more traditional ones.

When it comes to culture, there exists a vast spectrum of professional values. Like Aetna and Rowe, law firms should identify, embrace, and then reinforce its cultural values when creating business strategies for a more successful future.

-WB

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Culture In Law: How To Properly Pair Wine & Create A Client-Focused Firm

Copyright: The New Yorker
http://www.newyorker.com/humor

Law is just one more service industry business. Except, lawyers like to think—unlike food services, for example—specialized knowledge and expertize put them above the old adage, “the customer’s always right.”

Clients don’t know best, only their counsel does.

But what would happen if a law firms put client needs at the center of their business development decisions? It turns out, such a law firm would generate more business and more profits—not a bad business plan at all.

Clients who see their primary law firm as best in client service spend twice as much on these legal services, according to a BTI Survey of Client Service Performance and Client Needs.

And, due to increased morale, productivity, and word-of-mouth referrals, these client-focused firms also rake in 30 percent more in profits than their traditional counterparts, according to the same survey.

Law administrators might argue that their firm does—in fact—put clients first!

However, much more is at stake in order to create a true, client-focused culture than just the aim to please.

First, good service has little to do with the good practice of law.

Take, for example, our model restaurant, Chez Esquire. The waiter might bring you exactly what you ordered. What’s more, the meal may even exceed your expectations. Nevertheless, the high quality of the food does not play into the high quality of the service.

Think about what’s involved with superior service: attentiveness, predictability of needs, friendly attitude, and helpfulness.

A waiter must be attentive, filling water glasses or refilling coffee before anybody thinks to ask. In the same way, a lawyer must share information readily, not simply when its demanded.

Frequent updates on a client’s case or weekly case status reports make for exceptional customer service.

Predictability of needs can also help a firm stand out in a crowd.

Anticipating what kind of savings or IRA account, maybe even real-estate venture, that a wealthy client would want (before he knows he wants it) will increase client satisfaction. It will also increase the amount of business you transact (your firm has, for instance, a wealth management department to manage the task).

Next, don’t underestimate the value of a smile. Clients, like restaurant patrons, know when service is being delivered sincerely, and when somebody’s secretly spit in their food.

So, deliver news in person or over the phone with polite candor and consideration.

Finally, helpfulness does not correspond an attorney’s knowledge of the law. It’s an attorney’s ability to know options within the law, and to present a client with multiple scenarios.

Helpfulness also includes an attorney’s understanding of a client’s business. With this knowledge, an attorney should tailor decisions after the specific needs of a client’s company, whether that be in alternative billing practices or pre-trial negotiations.

Like a nicely paired wine, there are levels of affordability. A sommelier can certainly recommend the best, richest bottle in the lot to a man who can barely afford to taste it. But, by suggesting more than one, the wine expert has the power to transform an awkward, overpriced first date into a successful, lasting relationship.

To ensure that your service surpasses expectations, law firms should create a Client Service Improvement Team who guarantees:

  1. Information about clients and cases are shared internally to create customized services
  2. Clients have easy access to information about their own case
  3. Clients are contacted more frequently
  4. Lawyers are trained to be helpful firm ambassadors
  5. Clients are surveyed about how service could be improved
  6. Based on surveys, law firms put clients’ needs first in business practice

Integrate your clients’ voice into your firm business plan and the profits will speak for themselves, loud and clear.

-WB

Reference: Stock, Adam L. “Breaking down barriers: Becoming more client focused.” Allen Matkins. Novemebr 24, 2011. [LINK: http://www.slideshare.net/allenmatkins/breaking-down-barriers-creating-a-clientfocused-law-firm-culture]

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Is Checking Facebook At Work A Federal Crime? Where Your Firm Should Weigh In…


Image: chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If checking Facebook at work were a federal crime, the government may as well outlaw office gossip and coffee breaks.

These days, Congress and corporate America seems to be pigeonholing the Internet as a workplace tool—and nothing more. But, for gamers, social media-istas, and chronic procrastinators, this determination is like being stuck between a rock and a hard-drive.

Why can’t the Internet be both a business tool and a conduit for leisure?

Mostly because the government would love to regulate the suspicious and potential dangerous online activities of its population, the way it can’t personal pleasure or freedom.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, in an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, decided the government had gone too far in interpreting an anti-hacking statute called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

According to Judge Kozinski’s opinion, no, it is not a federal crime to check facebook at work—despite workplace policy. And, no, it is not a federal crime to gchat with friends, play online games, shop, or watch sports highlights in violation of employer policy.

 “While it’s unlikely that you’ll be prosecuted for watching Reason.TV on your work computer, you could be. Employers wanting to rid themselves of troublesome employees without following proper procedures could threaten to report them to the FBI unless they quit,” explained Judge Kozinski.

“Ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

The WSJ Law Blog points out that this ruling puts the Ninth Circuit at odds with the Fifth, Seventh,, and 11th circuits, which adopted a broader view of the law’s coverage.

“Were we to adopt the government’s proposed interpretation, millions of unsuspecting individuals would find that they are engaging in criminal conduct,” stressed Judge Kozinski.

As such, Judge Kozinski asked the three dissenting courts to reconsider.

“These courts looked only at the culpable behavior of the defendants before them, and failed to consider the effect on millions of ordinary citizens caused by the statute’s unitary definition of ‘exceeds authorized access.’ They therefore failed to apply the long-standing principle that we must construe ambiguous criminal statutes narrowly so as to avoid ‘making criminal law in Congress’s stead,’” wrote Judge Kozinski in his opinion.

“We therefore respectfully decline to follow our sister circuits and urge them to reconsider instead.”

Just as courts ought to reconsider their rulings, law firms should reconsider their related workplace policies.

In light of the potentially huge consequences for violating workplace social media policies (at least for federal crimes in the Fifth, Seventh, and 11th circuits), what kind of message are you sending associates?

Is your firm culture so severe that it would like to see its employees prosecuted for procrastinating online?

A study by American Express showed 39 percent of younger workers won’t even consider working for a company that blocks Facebook, according to Kevin O’Keefe’s points for “Why law firms need to stop blocking the use of social media,” on his site Real Lawyers Have Blogs. Because Facebook is now the primary communication and networking tool for many young professionals, why block its use and alienate this group?

Whatever your choice in language and limitations in a workplace social media policy, law firms should remember—in the least—to create one.

In 2011, over 100 employers were accused of improper social media practices or policies, according to The Center For Competitive Management. If not to protect your employees from strict law enforcement, protect your firm.

If you’re unsure where to start, try research and a round-table discussion with a mix of junior and senior attorneys. Along with administrators, ask the group to create a social media policy that reflects their own opinions on the matter. Most likely, your employees will know best what types of social media uses actually constitute abuses.

A round-table discussion will also ensure your employees take the time to read workplace policy; after all, they helped write it.

Finally, if you’re still stuck, attend C4CM’s course on audio CD, Social Media at Work: Bulletproof Policies that Minimize Legal and Financial Risks.

-WB

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Internet Censorship: How SOPA and Protect IP Affects Law Firms

All great revolutions have a “freedom” song to encourage valor in dissidents, to celebrate liberty for all, and to express sentiments of solidarity in protest.

A myriad of poems and songs during the American Revolution memorialized the fight for freedom, such as “Liberty Song” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Even the Stamp Act was singled out by a catchy tune, “American Taxation,” by Peter St. John.

In contemporary times, we are reminded of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Musical patriotism is alive and well in America, but these days, the expression and protection of the bill of rights concern web-based conflict.

Today, you can sing along to yet one more reason for dissent, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In keeping with tradition, the act has inspired its own freedom song, “Firewall,” by Leah Kauffman (via CNET).

And, the digital revolution is not lost on British songwriters, either. Dan Bull, a U.K. singer, released “SOPA Cabana,” which also openly opposes the Republican legislation currently under debate in the House (via CNET).

So, why does SOPA deserve these trial-and-tribulation tributes?

SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, target overseas “rogue websites” that host illegal copies of movies, videos, music, and photos. If passed, the law would require Internet service providers to deny customers access to any violating website, domain name, or IP address.

There are broader implications to the bill. Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, for example, will be required to adjust their search results to exclude foreign websites in violation of the bill. Payment providers and ad services will also be impacted, being forced to refuse business to any website in violation of the bill’s terms.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, defended the bill, saying, “Rogue Web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.”

It seems, however, that American jobs within affected U.S. industries—Internet service providers, search engines, ad services, to name a few—will be the first to lose, as U.S. companies will bear the burden and costs of compliance.

The Verge (via Above the Law) summarizes the bill’s major problem, “Because US copyright holders generally can’t drag a foreign web site into US courts to get them to stop stealing and distributing their work, SOPA allows them to go after the ISPs, ad networks, and payment processors that are in the United States. It is a law borne of the blind logic of revenge: the movie studios can’t punish the real pirates, so they are attacking the network instead.”

In the same vein, Rebecca MacKinnon wrote an on-point The New York Times op-ed against SOPA. She starts her article with:

“China operates the world’s most elaborate and opaque system of Internet censorship. But Congress, under pressure to take action against the theft of intellectual property, is considering misguided legislation that would strengthen China’s Great Firewall and even bring major features of it to America.”

In addition to the questionably unconstitutional nature of the bill described above, SOPA also seeks to infringe on some of the social and political liberties upon which America was founded:

“YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have played an important role in political movements from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. At present, social networking services are protected by a ‘safe harbor’ provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content as soon as rights-holders point it out to them. The House bill would destroy that immunity, putting the onus on YouTube to vet videos in advance or risk legal action. It would put Twitter in a similar position to that of its Chinese cousin, Weibo, which reportedly employs around 1,000 people to monitor and censor user content and keep the company in good standing with authorities.”

Recently some Biglaw firms were thrown into the fray.

Aside from those law firms who were directly implicated in the bill, firms should pay attention to the progression of SOPA for three main reasons:

1. Take a position

SOPA in the House, and Protect IP in the Senate, have widespread implications, and they will certainly affect the business of your best clients. So, find out quickly where they (and you) weigh in.

2. Act 

Law and politics are inherently mixed. If there were ever a time to act on this hotbed issue (by, say, biglaw pressure), now is the time. The Senate Judiciary committee has already approved the Protect IP bill and it’s waiting for a floor vote that has been scheduled for January 24. Furthermore, during a two-day debate in the House Judiciary committee in mid-December, SOPA supporters seemed to have a commanding majority on the committee. Congress returns in 2012 to vote on the bill.

3. Prepare

The number of online companies is growing rapidly. Whether or not your firm supports SOPA, if it passes in the House, lawyers will need to bring many of their clients with web-based corporations into compliance.

Ultimately, lawyers have long composed this country’s first patriots. Two-thirds of the fifty-five delegates who attended the American Constitutional Convention were lawyers.

And, it was a lawyer—Francis Scott Key—who wrote the lyrics to this country’s most symbolic and proudest tune, The Star Spangled Banner.

In 2012, your firm faces a difficult decision. What anthem—for or against the IP revolution—will you sing?

-WB

Read more about why law has an important place in politics in, “Peace, War, and Lawyers” in addition to other constitutional upsets here.

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