Tag Archives: culture

Same-Sex Marriage Legal In 50 States & How To Open Dialogue About It At Your Firm

States must recognize unions of same-sex couples, the Supreme Court ruled today.

In a 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, it was Justice Anthony Kennedy who was considered the pivotal swing vote in the case. In the end, he wrote the majority opinion (via NPR).

The four justices—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito—who voted against the ruling each wrote dissenting opinions.

Keep in mind, before today’s landmark ruling, gay marriage was already legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia by legislative or voter action; or by federal courts that overturned state’ bans (see a chart on NPR.org).

Summarizing our legal process, the courts explained:

“Well into the 20th century, many States condemned same-sex intimacy as immoral, and homosexuality was treated as an illness. Later in the century, cultural and political developments allowed same-sex couples to lead more open and public lives. Extensive public and private dialogue followed, along with shifts in public attitudes. Questions about the legal treatment of gays and lesbians soon reached the courts, where they could be discussed in the formal discourse of the law.”

In polls, support for same-sex marriage is at an all time high.

Interestingly, about three-quarters (73%) of those who say they personally know a lot of gays and lesbians favor same-sex marriage; whereas a majority (59%) of those who know no gays or lesbians oppose same-sex marriage, according to Pew Research Center.

One of the leading factors in determining support for same-sex marriage (outside religious beliefs) is political alignment. According to the same polls, 65% of Democrats and an identical percentage of independents favor gay marriage. However, only about one third (34%) of Republicans favor it, reports Pew.

Therefore, depending on where your law firm is located, and the political composition of your employees, this might become a point of contention or at least conversation.

Maintaining a positive and supportive culture within your firm is just as important as being prepared for the transition of your workplace and human resources policies given this ruling.

Control workplace gossip and negative opinion, if there is any. While Justice Roberts has the right to speak out in dissent, it’ll likely breed resentment and hostility inside your firm.

Need help? Take C4CM’s audio course “Managing the Most Difficult People at Work: 15 Cornerstones for Handling Constructive Confrontations” to gain tips and tricks for knowing what to say on a potentially divisive subject.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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

Copyright: The New Yorker

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.


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.


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