We’re trying to set ourselves up for the next 25 years of trying to really focus on higher-end, higher-value work and trying also to take advantage of the automation that’s possible in the lower-end work so that we can profit from that.—Greg Siskind
On this week’s podcast, Sam and Aaron talk about Lawyerist podcast joining the Legal Talk Network. Then, Sam talks with Greg Siskind about the evolution of law firm websites and online marketing.
Greg Siskind is a founding partner of Siskind Susser, PC – Immigration Lawyers and has been practicing law since 1990. He launched one of the very first law-firm websites and the first law blog, and is the author of the Lawyers Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
You can follow Greg on Twitter.
Thanks to Ruby Receptionists and Xero for sponsoring this episode!
Listen and Subscribe
To listen to the podcast, just scroll up and hit the play button (or click the link to this post if you are reading this by email).
To make sure you don’t miss an episode of the Lawyerist Podcast, subscribe now in iTunes, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. Or find out about new episodes by subscribing to the Lawyerist Insider, our email newsletter. We will announce new episodes in the Insider, and you can listen to them right here on Lawyerist.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: I’m Aaron Street and is this Episode 94 of The Lawyerist Podcast, where we talk with Greg Siskind, who had one of the first law firm websites and the first law blog about how online marketing has evolved since 1994, which is basically when it began.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Xero. Beautiful legal accounting, simplified. Find out more at xero.com. That’s xero.com.
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Ruby Receptionists. Ruby answers our phones so we don’t have to worry about getting interrupted when we’re being productive and we think they are awesome. You can visit Ruby at callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby. Sam, I am very excited to announce that here in Episode 94 of our podcast, we are officially becoming part of the Legal Talk Network.
Sam Glover: Yay!
Aaron Street: Yay! The Legal Talk Network is the leading or only network of legal podcasts in the world. They have dozens of law-related podcasts that they produce and distribute and we are really excited to now be distributed by them.
Sam Glover: Yeah, it’s great that the best legal podcast will now be part of the best legal podcast network.
Aaron Street: Way to toot your own horn.
Sam Glover: Actually, one of the things that’s neat about it is Legal Talk Network has an app. If for some reason subscribing to the podcast in the usual ways isn’t your thing or you already have the Legal Talk Network app, I think it’s pretty cool that we’ll just pop up in there.
Aaron Street: Yeah, another thing I’m really excited about is that because their network includes all sorts of other really great shows and hosts and guests, I think this will be an opportunity for us to engage with some of those folks more and to hopefully promote some other great podcasts on our podcast.
Sam Glover: One thing that may change with our show is, over time, hopefully the sound quality will get a little bit better. We started this with some nice, but cheap, USB microphones. If you go back and listen to those early episodes, we were really still figuring stuff out, but LTN really emphasizes quality and they understand audio recording far better than us amateurs do, even though we have a very professional audio engineer who tries to help us out. I always feel like he’s shaking his head. Hopefully over the next few episodes, we might upgrade our equipment and with the help of Legal Talk Network, so that would be pretty cool.
Aaron Street: Yeah, I am really excited for us to be a part of their network. I’m really excited to work with their incredible team of hard-working podcast professionals. It will be really great to connect with some of the other legal podcasters. If you haven’t yet, you should go to Legal Talk Network – their website or their app – and check out some of the shows they offer, too. Don’t stop subscribing to ours, though.
Sam Glover: Here’s my conversation with Greg. Before I get started, if you’re at your computer as opposed to just sitting with your iPhone or your Android phone or whatever, if you’re at your computer, pull up the Wayback Machine. Just Google it if you aren’t familiar. Pull up visalaw.com in the Wayback Machine and go all the way back to the very first cached copy of visalaw.com, which I think is about ’96 or ’97, because it’s fun to look at what is one of the first law firm websites while we are talking about it. Here’s my conversation with Greg.
Greg Siskind: I am Greg Siskind. I’m an immigration lawyer. I’ve been practicing since 1990. I’m in Memphis, Tennessee. I also write a book for the ABA’s Law Practice Division called, “The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet”.
Sam Glover: Hi, Greg. Thanks for being with us today.
Greg Siskind: It’s my pleasure.
Sam Glover: Before we get to talking about what it’s like to have the first website and blog and how marketing has changed over the years, tell me about the firm that you have now and what it looks like.
Greg Siskind: The firm is the same firm that I started in 1994 as a solo. We are today 11 lawyers and about 32 people on our staff now altogether. We’re in two cities: Memphis and Nashville. It’s the same firm, although it feels a lot bigger. It’s been obviously 22 years that the firm’s been around. It feels a little different than it did at the beginning.
Sam Glover: Yeah, I bet. What does the firm look like? I would expect it’s a fairly tech-enabled firm from the reason that we’re getting together to talk today.
Greg Siskind: It is, although I think that really in the last two years we’ve moved in some new directions and gotten a lot more serious about incorporating technology into the practice in ways that we hadn’t before. We hired a full-time Systems Optimization Manager, is the title we gave for the position.
Basically, I heard on a recent podcast that you were interviewing somebody that had talked about the Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande’s great book. I got inspired by that as well. Also, some of the books by the Suskinds in the U.K regarding the future of the practice of law. We decided to implement a number of changes at the firm to try and have uniform systems and checklists and starting to incorporate artificial intelligence into some of the ways that were working in the practice. It’s exciting. I think it feels like the firm is being reborn.
Sam Glover: Very cool. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? As soon as you AI, I love robots, so I always want to talk about that. Can you talk about some of the things that you are looking to do now and in the near future?
Greg Siskind: Yeah, I think we’re the first immigration law firm to be using Neota Logic, which I don’t know if you’ve talked about that before. We’ve built a couple of apps so far. We have a number that are in the works. One that it’s kind of an unfortunate story, but was a good exercise.
Our debut app was going to be a pro bono app that was going to help people figure out whether they qualified for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program that the president had proposed in 2014. It was pretty cool as far as taking people through a questionnaire online and then basically the questions change up depending on how you answer them. Then at the end it gives you a legal analysis. We did a red light, yellow light, green light as far as whether people were going to qualify.
There are a lot of people that take advantage of that population, unfortunately, that are out there. A lot of non-lawyers, some lawyers, and we just wanted to give people a good sense about whether they qualified for the program before they actually ever stepped foot into a law office or an office. Hopefully not there.
Then the app was set to debut last June. We were going to have it coincide with the Supreme Court decision, which we were keeping our fingers crossed that it was going to go the way we wanted. We had press releases ready to go. The app was ready to flip the switch as soon as the Supreme Court decision came down. Alas, the Court reached a tie. No DAPA program for now.
The app is still there. It’s ready to go as soon as the court gets another Justice on there. We wanted to go through that just to really learn the software. It was a good exercise for us. Now we’re working on a lot of them, some of which are way more complicated than that. Some of them are for clients. Some of them are internal. Some of them will be marketing.
Sam Glover: I don’t know much about immigration, so maybe I’m just making stuff up here, but it seems to me that like bankruptcy or maybe work comp, immigration law is very process-driven and maybe lends itself a little bit more than some areas of practice to the kind of automation and systemization and checklist manifesto-ing that you’re doing. Do you think that’s true?
Greg Siskind: I do think that’s true to an extent. I think this is an area, to some extent. I think there are some areas in this practice, you can’t automate them. They really lend themselves to that. This is also an area, I’ve discovered, it’s been the same since I started practicing a quarter century ago, which is there’s a whole lot of stuff that’s not written in immigration law. They really have to monitor which trends are happening. You have to talk to people who have handled similar kinds of cases. You see where the government is going on its request for evidence. For the more complicated types of cases, I think there’s not a lot of predictability in the way things go. There will still be a need for good lawyers no matter how much automation comes to this practice area as long as the government operates that way.
Sam Glover: It sounds like there’s also a lot of lower-level work that you can’t automate to give yourself room to do more of the high-level work.
Greg Siskind: That’s right. That’s actually part of a direction where the firm is going is we’re trying to set ourselves up for the next 25 years of trying to really focus on higher-end, higher-value work and trying also to take advantage of the automation that’s possible in the lower-end work so that we can profit from that. We can offer that inexpensively and automate a lot of that work and make some money there, but really focus the lawyer time on the higher-end work that we really do need to have conversations with lawyers and have that kind of counsel.
Sam Glover: I realize I’m taking us off on a tangent, but hey, it’s my podcast.
Greg Siskind: Sure.
Sam Glover: I’m curious, how do you get your team together and think through what are the things we need to be doing? Does it feel like it’s just obvious and so you just hire somebody and tell them what to do? Or are you engaging in team exercises to try and identify the low-hanging fruit to tackle next? How do you think through those problems?
Greg Siskind: First of all, I hired a staff person who is in charge of basically working on a lot of this stuff, so it’s somebody’s full-time job to be thinking about these things. That was important. Then we have a committee of about a half dozen people in the firm that we meet over a lunch every two weeks and talk about all the initiatives that are going on. We have a plan for step-by-step, the different areas of our practice that we’re trying to systemize. It’s moving along.
We think it will take a couple more years before we’re at a point that I can really say that we can replicate ourselves in any city we want to because we had a system for everything. That may be down the road where we want to go, which is to we’ve done some branching in the past that hasn’t been as successful as we would have liked. I think a lot of that is because we didn’t have the kinds of systems in place that would make it very easy for us to ensure that each office is operating the same way. That’s down the road where we may be going. That’s one of the benefits that we’ll have from this.
This committee, we are talking about basically features of the software products that we want to roll out. We’re talking about different types of cases and working on getting all the steps down for each type of case. Making sure that the lawyers are all using the same checklist for the different types of cases. It has the benefit, I think, of improving the quality, the work we’re putting out. Also, we’ll make it a lot easier to train people that are coming onboard because we have it all laid out for them. Then at the end of the day, I think we also get, in addition to the quality, we get efficiencies that should hopefully make us more profitable as well.
Sam Glover: You know, I recently read an article by Steven Wolfrum and he was talking about more advanced ways to draft contracts and be more specific about it. One of his basic things is essentially that we should be trying to automate the low-level work because then we can work on high-level work and turn that into low-level work. Then we can work on higher-level work and turn that into low-level work. Pretty soon we’re doing amazing stuff that we never thought was possible because we were so obsessed with the details. I think most lawyers are still in the obsessed with the details phase. It’s going to be interesting to see.
You’re definitely not the only lawyer, but there aren’t a ton of lawyers who are focused on trying to turn low-level work into not work and then high-level work into low-level work and keep moving up. It will be interesting to touch base with you in three or four years and see, “Okay, what kind of cool stuff are you doing now?” Maybe you’ll just be a national firm that’s dealing with everything.
Greg Siskind: Well, we’ll see. Let’s put it on the calendar. We’ll put it on the calendar for a couple years.
Sam Glover: That’s perfect. I want to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. When we come back, I want to talk about the other thing that we came together to talk about today which is you had the first website, the first blog, and those date all the way back to 1994. We’re going to take a look at what they looked like and talk about what that’s like and how your marketing has worked from that foundation over the years.
Aaron Street: Billable hours are the lifeblood of a successful law practice. Problem is you still have to bill those hours. Even if your law firm has an accountant, tracking hours, clients, rates, preparing invoices, and collecting on those invoices is time you never get paid for. Writing notes to yourself in court or on the road is inefficient and error prone.
Run your legal practice better with cloud accounting software and see why over 600,000 small businesses love Xero, including Lawyerist. Get a free trial at xero.com. That’s xero.com. Beautiful accounting software.
Sam Glover: This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that.
Here’s what I love about Ruby. When I’m in the middle of something, I hate to be interrupted, so when the phone rings, it annoys me and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone. Instead, Ruby answers the phone and if the person on the other end asks for me, a friendly, cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s a buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call.
If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to callruby.com/lawyerist to sign up and Ruby will waive the $95 setup fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason, you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around, but since there’s no risk, you might as well try.
Okay, and we’re back. Greg, I actually this morning pulled up the June 27, 1997 version of the Siskind, Susser, Haas & Chang Immigration and Nationality Law website. This is so 1997.
Greg Siskind: I had to learn HTML myself to do that because they didn’t have fancy web designers out there.
Sam Glover: It’s great. It’s got textured background and it’s got tables with beveled edges. It’s all text except for-
Greg Siskind: It’s hot stuff.
Sam Glover: It’s got the Netscape 3.0 little tag at the bottom. It’s great, but this was 1990. I imagine it didn’t change a whole lot between the time you created it and the version I’m looking at now.
Greg Siskind: Well, there were some changes. The only places I have to look at it is the book that I wrote for the ABA in ’96. I had a lot of screenshots – well, some screenshots – of my website that were illustrations in the book. That’s all the left, I think, on it. Yeah, the version we’re on today is actually a version five.
Sam Glover: Yeah, okay. Tell me about that. Why did you create a website and what were you hoping to get out of it at that point? Or were you just, like me, just doing it because it was cool and you thought you’d might be able to figure it out?
Greg Siskind: No, it was a matter of necessity, I think, where I was in life. I had a large law firm in Nashville. Even though Nashville is the “it” city now that everybody’s talking about it and it’s in a building boom and they have TV shows and all that, back in 1990, when I started there, it was definitely not seen as very cosmopolitan and probably not a place that an immigration lawyer could make it.
I was at a large law firm doing corporate work. I like the firm. It was really good work. If you wanted to be doing that kind of work, probably there’s few places that I could think of that were better there. I had stumbled onto an immigration case about a year – maybe sooner than that, maybe six months – into the practice and decided that that would be an area I would want to get into, but it really was not something that my firm was encouraging.
Around this time, and your older listeners who might appreciate this, law firms were starting to get computers on desktops of lawyers back in the early 1990’s. My firm had just started to get them. Of course, the only people who got the computers were the partners: the ones who totally had no interest in computers. I didn’t get a computer.
I also had a problem with you had to share a secretary with a partner at this firm. I wasn’t getting my work turned around in the speed that I needed to keep everybody I was working with happy. I bought a computer so that I could basically do my own word processing. At that time, it was a Compudyne. Remember those, guys?
Sam Glover: Yeah, barely.
Greg Siskind: I had a friend from law school who told me, “Oh, you should get a modem on there.” Because I was talking to him, trying to develop immigration work. Immigration’s all federal and it’s all done by mail. It’s really a well-suited practice to be a national practice, even back then. I got the modem and I found Usenet newsgroups, which they’re still around, I guess.
Sam Glover: They’re still there. They’re not nearly as well-populated as they used to be.
Greg Siskind: They’re not. They were at the time and they’re probably still there. I haven’t looked in a long time. There were a couple that were immigration-related. When I got there, I figured out that there were basically two groups of people that were there. There were people from the tech world that were asking questions about immigration and there were people from academia. That’s because that’s who had internet access in the early 1990’s.
I started to answer questions on there. They were completely non-commercial, the newsgroups. It was basically just Q&A and being an expert that was available to answer questions for people. Saw that you could actually get work from doing that. I also, I like to write. It was a perfect little setup for me. The firm that I was with, I think, was a little curious about why they were, through the conflict sheets, were coming in cases from Arizona and [inaudible 00:20:46]. Places like that.
Around 1993, I remember this, there was a New York Times story and they were talking about Mosaic and the new graphical web browsers and how it was going to change the internet because, unlike the rest of the internet, there was agreement that these were commercial. The websites could be commercial in nature. That they didn’t have to be non-commercial like the newsgroups were and that people could actually do advertising, which was going to be revolutionary. I remember there was a website for the Vatican and a website for Graceland and Memphis. Where I wasn’t living in Memphis yet, but I was fascinated by-
Sam Glover: People don’t realize this, but there was no Google at that point.
Greg Siskind: No.
Sam Glover: You figured out where to go on the internet by driving around town and looking for billboards or opening up magazines and looking for URLs hiding in ads and things like that.
Greg Siskind: This was even before that.
Sam Glover: I suppose, yeah.
Greg Siskind: That was like ’95, ’96 where all of a sudden having a web address was hot stuff. The light bulb went off that this might be my ticket to going out and setting up an immigration practice and getting some attention in being able to go out on my own. That was in ’93 that I started planning it. Then in the spring of ’94, I quit my job in April. I got married in May, just to throw that in there. I took a honeymoon. I had been working on the website for awhile even before I left the firm.
Then in June, it debuted. I thought I was going to be the first. You said at the beginning I was the first, but I should correct you that there were two firms that beat me by a couple weeks in D.C, these two, large firms: the Venable firm and Arent Fox. If there’s anybody at those two firms, I don’t want them to think I was trying to claim something that wasn’t true. I was the first solo.
Sam Glover: The third, which is still a thing.
Greg Siskind: Right. I was the first solo. I was the first immigration lawyer. I was the first in the southern United States. I can come up with a lot of firsts on there, but it wasn’t the first website by about 20 days.
Sam Glover: Right. It’s interesting because at that point the number of people with internet access was vanishingly small compared to what it is today.
Greg Siskind: Oh yeah.
Sam Glover: Like you pointed out-
Greg Siskind: People were constantly telling me that when I was telling them what I was working on.
Sam Glover: Well, yeah. The “important” people might have had computers on their desks, but most of them still thought this was a secretarial machine and what would they do with the thing? Even within that much smaller internet, you were still finding work and value online.
Greg Siskind: Yeah, my insurance agent, who’s a friend of mine, I remember this conversation in ’94-ish, late ’94 when this had been out, not too long ago, he was really, genuinely worried that I made a terrible decision. I had left this great, big law firm and I was making some good money there. I’m now solo trying to be an immigration lawyer in Nashville where there’s surely no work.
I was telling him, I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not depending on Nashville for my work.” I told him what I was doing and he goes, “Surely there can’t be very many people that are going to be looking for a lawyer on the internet. I hope you have a backup planned.” He’s still my insurance agent. I talk to him every once in awhile on there and I remind him of that conversation that he was certain that the internet was never going to be much of anything on there. It turned out to be a little more than that.
The other thing that was really nice for me at the time was because there was very few people that were online in the legal community at that point, there was a hunger in the news media nationally for doing stories on people that were getting online.
Sam Glover: Oh sure.
Greg Siskind: It was just amazing that just having a website … I’m looking at my wall right now in my office and there’s from ’97 a Wall Street Journal article. There was a USA Today article with my picture on it.
Sam Glover: There’s some value in being first.
Greg Siskind: There was. The New York Times wrote about it. I did interviews with probably about 100 reporters over a two-year period about that website. NPR interviewed me for about five minutes just about having a website. It was that interesting. Now you would think about that, it’s like, “Why is that”-
Sam Glover: When you had to explain what a website was first.
Greg Siskind: Yeah. I was getting a lot of publicity and it was really helping me to get work. It was a combination of the website itself and then also the news media also was giving me some traffic.
Sam Glover: I noticed, looking at this version of your website at least, that you are hosting all of the immigration forms. You told me before the show that they weren’t actually available from the INS website. It was the INS at the time. You had this independently-valuable thing that people might seek out whether or not they were customers.
Greg Siskind: Yeah. The immigration service didn’t even have a website, I think, until – I don’t remember what year. Maybe ’97, ’98. For the first couple of years, it was in the Clinton Administration, Doris Meister was a Commissioner of the INS at the time. The whole website for the INS was Doris Meister’s biography, which really gave a lot of value on there. It was an impressive biography, but it’s not really what people needed.
The immigration service had okayed the idea of using PDFs of immigration forms. Up until the mid-90’s, the government said you actually had to take their version and you weren’t allowed to make copies or anything like that. They changed that. They liberalized that, thankfully. I saw an opportunity to provide some value by taking the immigration forms that were out there and making them available for free on the website rather than having to buy expensive forms, management software, or drive to an immigration service office, or order it by mail.
Sam Glover: You’ve got your statistics are actually on this website. I can look at your statistics from June of 1997 and it looks like the forms landing page was your third most popular landing page. It seems to have done the trick.
Greg Siskind: It worked. I’ll take it at that. Now it’s another one where you’re puzzled why there was so much value, especially since the immigration service makes all of that stuff available today.
Sam Glover: You were legitimately getting thousands of page views. I realize this older statistical reports are a little bit problematic, but it looks like you were getting thousands of page views a month back in 1997, which is amazing.
Greg Siskind: Yeah, there was a lot of traffic and there still wasn’t a lot of competition. Even after a couple years, there were probably maybe a half a dozen immigration lawyers after two or three years that had websites. It’s funny because I think some of the best ones that are out there now are still those same law firms that were on early. Once in awhile we’ll get together. We’re all friendly. It’s a very friendly bar. We all know each other and we see each other at conferences and all that. We get together and reminisce a little bit.
Sam Glover: After awhile, these things called blogs came along and you started one of or the first law blog as well?
Greg Siskind: Well, according to Bob Ambrogi, he hinted that it’s the first on there. I think he wrote an article one time and he noted some other blog was the first law firm blog. It was like, “No, I think I had one that was earlier than that.” You can go on the Wayback Machine and look at it on there.
Basically all it was was I had an HTML text file, just a text file, and I add it by date, entries. I was following some legislation on immigration that was on H1Bs. It’s still controversial now, but back then I was following a big bill to increase the number of H1Bs and it was of enormous interest to the tech and the academic communities, that I was mentioning before.
I was following it online. I was also trying to do some advocacy work and get people interested in making phone calls and going to Washington and that kind of thing. I set up Online Journal, I think I called it, to help people, to push information out to people that were interested in that issue. I would just basically upload and download that one file each day and add to it.
Sam Glover: It was a very manual blog.
Greg Siskind: Yeah, they didn’t have blogging software back then. That was all it was. I think there was one day that there was 50,000 views on that thing on there. It was a very hot issue at the time. It was very effective. Later on, I started blogging not on my own law firm website, but on another site that was an immigration news site. I’ve had unbelievable traffic on some days.
When the president gave his big speech on immigration two years ago, I was fortunate enough to get an advanced look at it and was able to post the details. It was embargoed until an hour before the president was going to be giving a speech, but I was able to put that into a very detailed summary of what the president was going to release before anybody else did. There were 300,000 views. It caused a lot of problems for the host on there.
Then I found out that the summary that I did was somebody in China had translated it and had posted it. It was circulating in Chinese around the internet, my summary. Then I had, all of a sudden, 300 new Twitter followers from China by the next morning on there. Blogs still matter, even if people don’t think that they’re as influential as they used to be.
Sam Glover: It sounds like – and then this is what I always try to get people to help get their heads around when it comes to – having a website is the billboard model of encountering someone at the moment they’re ready to pick up the phone or fill out a contact form and contact lawyer is not necessarily the reason you do it. It’s, for some, more tangential ways of building brand and exposure and maybe getting to those people who are looking for a lawyer at the moment.
Getting 300,000 page views of the immigration speech, those weren’t all potential clients. They’re all people who now have at least been exposed to who you are and what you do and might have found their way back to you. It sounds like you earned media over the years. At one point, you even used your online presence to get a class action together, it sounds like.
Greg Siskind: Yeah, that was actually really pretty cool how that all worked out. It wasn’t cool what we were litigating over, but it was tied into that speech I was just talking about. That the president gave one of the executive actions that he proposed was going to help, we estimated, about 40,000 Indians that were in the professions – a lot of people in tech fields and medicine and other fields.
They were going to be able to file for work cards, which were going to permit them to be able to change employers. Even though they were not going to get their green cards any faster, was enormously important for a lot of people who were potentially going to be stuck working for the same employer for potentially decades because green cards are not available. You can imagine why that would be. People were really excited about it.
I had gotten a call from somebody in Washington. This is, again, because of the blog and on there. I had gotten a call from somebody that was an insider in D.C. who told me on a Thursday that the government was about to pull the plug on this program that people had been spending a lot of money preparing these applications to go out in a week. It was on September 25 of last year and the applications were going to start going out. You couldn’t file the applications until October 1. I’m getting told they’re going to pull the plug as early as the next day.
The person was contacting me because they knew I had a blog with a lot of traffic. They knew I had a lot of people that have followed me on Twitter. They knew the immigration bar people had a lot of connections. I’m on the Board of Governors for the immigration bar. Anyway, I did what they had asked, which was to get the word out because I was really concerned about it.
Sure enough, the next day the government pulled the plug on it. What I thought at the beginning, I said, “What can I do about it?” I had a friend who had experience with class actions. I’m not a litigator at all. I’m an immigration lawyer is that an administrative lawyer. We said that, “You know what? Let’s sue.” We thought we had a pretty good case. Let’s use social media as much as possible to move on this. We can actually do some experimentation on some new tools.
We had over the weekend, it started on my blog and on Twitter, which also I should say I added about, after I posted that thing that the government was going to pull the plug, I had about 1,000 new followers on Twitter in about 24 hours on there. I had told people that if they are interested potentially in being plaintiffs to contact me. Then we set up on Constant Contact a web form that people could fill out to collect the information that we needed. We got about 10 people together to work on this thing.
This was on Friday. The next day after the announcement, by that evening, we said we’re going to explore doing a class action suit. By the end of the weekend, we had 1,500 people fill out the potential plaintiff form. We were able to identify 15 that we decided to make our main plaintiffs, including one that was in Seattle, which is where we thought was going to be a friendly district court. I should say that case is still alive on there.
Sam Glover: Wow.
Greg Siskind: We did that. My colleague gave this class action, said, “We need to have a press conference Monday.” I said I didn’t know anything about how these things worked. We decided. We talked about. It’s like, “Well, let’s do it as a live tweet.” We had three lawyers that were basically for – it was supposed to be for an hour and it turned out to be for two hours. It was a deluge of questions that were coming at us on Twitter. You can though, I guess, go back and see all that because Twitter doesn’t forget anything. That was cool.
We had reporters as well that were asking questions on it. Then we had also decided to crowdfund the litigation. We said we wanted to do it pro bono, but we had expenses that we had to deal with. We used a site called CrowdDefend and we also had to check with our state bar and find out if we can do it, which they were fine with it. This website, these people were really great. They mostly was focused on raising criminal defense funds. I think this was their first immigration matter. It was certainly their first class action.
Sam Glover: It looks like it’s shuttered now. I can’t find it online.
Greg Siskind: Oh well, I’ll see if I can find it. We said we wanted to raise $25,000. We put it out into the Twitterverse that we were doing that. Maybe it was on a Sunday night. Like the next week, the Sunday night, and by Monday morning it was completely funded.
Sam Glover: Wow.
Greg Siskind: That was great. We set up a Facebook page that was just for the suit. That was also a good place for us. Better than Twitter and other places for us to be able to speak in a longer form about what was happening and post documents and that kind of thing.
Sam Glover: Let me change gears and ask you. You’ve had one of the first websites, probably the first law blog, and 22 years have past. You’ve been keeping those things up-to-date and doing new things with them. What do you think would be the equivalent to having the first website or first law blog today? If I were a lawyer doing the same thing, getting ready to hang my shingle and wanting to make a splash, what do you think would be roughly equivalent to doing what you did?
Greg Siskind: I’m not sure that there’s anything that’s going to be quite that. Now it’s just to that right now. I’d say some of the stuff that we’re talking about with artificial intelligence might be in that area, at least in the tech area. For me, it was right place, right time on there. I was extraordinarily lucky to be starting my practice then.
On the other hand, I think that the tools that are out there, that have been built up over the last 20 years, so I think make it a lot easier for young lawyers who are trying to get into this area and be solo, and to be able to use technology to build a practice, are there today when they’re not. I don’t know that there’s anything that would get an individual lawyer quite the notoriety today that you could get back then because it was just a unique time.
Sam Glover: Let me turn that around then. If you could go back in time to give yourself some 2016 advice in 1994, what kind of advice would you have given yourself?
Greg Siskind: We do a lot of work now for entrepreneurs. We’ve always done that, but really we’ve focused a lot more on startups and entrepreneurs. I think I probably would have done a lot more work on educating myself on business management. Now I spend a lot of time thinking about those kinds of issues for the firm.
I think back then I was somewhat of a natural from when it came to marketing, but that’s just one aspect of running a business. I think I was pretty good at that. There were a lot of aspects to financial management that I wish I had more knowledge. I would have taken more business courses in college.
Really, a law firm is a business. I think a lot of people, when they’re coming out, that start out their own firms, have zero business training and they think that a law firm is not a business. That a law firm is a law firm. You can just basically figure it out as you go. I guess that’s true in terms of my firm survived and grew and it’s great and it does really well. It did at the time, also, but I really probably could have benefited a lot more from actually being able to read financial statements and understand things now I know a lot more about that at the time I should have known more about.
Sam Glover: I suppose being business savvy probably matters more now, too, then it even did at the time. It starts to look like we’re seeing the sunset of the traditional just being a lawyer law firm. It’s a profession, not a business, type of thinking.
Greg Siskind: Yeah, I think there’s truth to that.
Sam Glover: Well, thanks so much for being with us today, Greg. To our listeners, the fourth edition to The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet is coming out in the spring. Maybe stay tuned for that, but the third edition is the ABA bookstore right now if you want to go ahead and grab it.
Greg Siskind: Thank you.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit lawyerist.com/podcast or legaltalknetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.
Podcast #94: The Evolution of Online Marketing, with Greg Siskind was originally published on Lawyerist.com.