When the National Labor Relations Board issued a report in May that found employers with restrictive social media policies were likely breaking the law, one Hartford, Conn., lawyer got busy.
He dove into the details of the NLRB report and shared his expertise on the topic at a seminar hosted by his firm.
"The main point of my presentation," said Gabriel Jiran, a Shipman & Goodwin partner whose practice focuses on employment law, "was that the National Labor Relations Act is now being applied to non-unionized employers. If somebody goes on Facebook and talks bad about another co-worker or 'likes' something, the employee cannot be disciplined."
While major law firms still focus on racking up billable hours, they have increasingly gone into the teaching business. Attorneys in all sorts of practice areas are making greater use of seminars -- and their high-tech cousins, webinars -- as marketing tools to attract new business and to keep current clients educated on the latest developments.
The most aggressive firms say the key is to react quickly to key developments in practice areas and organize seminars on timely topics. Some firms are hosting in-person or Internet sessions less than a week after a governmental agency has made a regulatory change.
"The law can change so fast and one of the best ways I know to keep your knowledge of the law fresh is to participate in seminars," said Joshua A. Hawks-Ladds, chair of Pullman & Comley's Labor and Employment Section. "What I really find valuable from these seminars is the cross-selling that goes on from across multiple practice areas. We'll have a property valuation or real estate client attend a seminar and not realize how an employment issue on harassment in the workplace might be of use" for that client, he said.
Peter Giuliani, a Weston, Conn.-based law firm consultant at Smock Law Firm Consultants, said seminars have the added advantage of providing face time with clients and prospective clients. "There is an uptick in law firms using seminars," he said, "because firms are starting to realize that the more they communicate with clients, the better their chances of developing business."
While each firm has its own take on how seminars are best organized and conducted, executives at a large number of Connecticut firms -- including Day Pitney, Robinson & Cole, Shipman & Goodman, Pullman & Comley and Murtha Cullina -- agreed that they have sped up the delivery of information to clients through seminars. All agreed that presentations are best when kept to about an hour's time and include new information targeted to specific client groups and provided by "people in the know."
"The key is, you have to have something meaningful to say," Giuliani said. If word gets out that a law firm is holding seminars that bring little to the table, future efforts won't be well-attended.
"I have a wonderful client in Florida that has a practice in insurance regulations. They [also] have a lobbying practice," Giuliani said. "And once a year, they host this thing called a summit. They invite everyone with an interest in insurance regulation. In terms of developing new business, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, because they have been a player and they are at the table when the new laws are being written."