Branding Week, with Bonus Andy Nolen [Update]

 Posted on August 03, 2011 in Uncategorized

Mosey on over, cowpokes, 'cause it's brandin' week in the blawgosphere.

Scott Greenfield opens the rodeo with So It's Not Just Lawyers?, which is this Gene Weingarten column MS3K style.

Keith Lee of An Associates Mind comes out strong: Facebook You v. Real You or Why Personal Branding is Stupid:

Your brand is what you say about yourself, but your reputation is what others say about you.There is no way to self-create a reputation – or at least no way to buy a reputation that lasts. Reputation is developed through hard work, consistency, reliability, and integrity.

Lee gets a reader response showing that stupid is as stupid does: Chris Kulbaba comments, "the persona you create through your reputation IS your brand" in response to Keith's "There is no way to self-create a reputation." Kulbaba hawks himself as some sort of branding expert; apparently the persona he's trying to "create for himself through his reputation" is "dolt." Get along, little dogie!

Turkewitz joins the roundup with Lawyer Brands and Reputations:

Being a successful lawyer isn't about marketing, but competence in representing the people that retained you. If you don't have the competence, all the marketing in the world won't save you.

Tannebaum hogties an internet snake-oil peddler in No Adrian Dayton, Gaming Google To Create A Reputation Is Not What Lawyers Should Do:

This is what we've come to in our profession. Those with law degrees who self-admittedly "have no business practicing law," and are trying to earn a buck from practicing lawyers by playing the "I'm one of you" card, are out there manufacturing their reputations, and asking for your help.Reputations are earned though.Have you earned yours, or have you created it?

(Branding also comes up in Tannebaum's Taking That Case In Norway)

Circuit preacher Antonin Pribetic gives us the gospel from horseback in A Brand New You:

Rather than fretting over what some anonymous troll or keyboard jockey says about you, or, heaven forfend, worrying about another blawger disagreeing with you, try to gain some perspective and insight on why it matters. Fuming over negative references which you perceive as spoiling your meticulously manufactured online persona is likely to be of concern only to one person: You. But it's not always about You. Most people don't even know you or care if you exist. Really. It's true. The Internet Age of Instant Celebrity is fleeting. One week someone links to your post or you're quoted by the media, the next week you're last week's news.

That being said, it's time to bring in the clowns.

Out here in the wild west, Houston lawyer Charles Johnson's branding efforts brought him to Greenfield's attention; Greenfield wrote about it (with the evergreen "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon) in A Tale of Two Lawyers.

Johnson's branding efforts are amusing, for those who know of him. His reputation, to put it gently, does not match his brand. He calls himself "Best Houston Criminal Lawyer" and "Finest Houston Criminal Lawyer" as well as "Most Dedicated Austin Attorney" and "Best Dallas Criminal Lawyer," not to mention "Best Texas Criminal Lawyer," all epithets with which I think even the State Bar of Texas will take issue.

You know who else will take issue with Johnson's description of himself as the best? Andy Nolen. You might remember Nolen: he called himself to my attention some time ago with some irregularities in online lawyer reviews. He has been disciplined by the State Bar for myriad violations of the rules. He was, I opined then, a danger to his clients. After that incident I was contacted several times by clients or former clients of Nolen's, wanting to know what they could or should do to correct the damage they had done by hiring him.

You probably don't know his new law partner, Jim Sullivan. [Update 4 January 2012: as of sometime last November, Jim Sullivan is no longer associated with Nolen.] Jim is a workaday criminal-defense lawyer: honest, caring, and humble. He ran for the 248th District Court bench in 2010 as a Democrat.

Sulivan would not have been high on the list of people I would have expected to hitch their wagons to Nolen's white-dwarf star.

My initial response to the partnership was, "I hate to see Jim Sullivan throw his reputation away by partnering up with Andy Nolen." But after discussing it with Jim I realized that there could be two possible outcomes from the union: Sullivan makes Nolen a better lawyer and human being (hooray!) or Nolen drags Sullivan down into his gutter (boo!).

So how are things looking for Sullivan and Nolen? Not so hot. They've come out swinging with a network of blogspot sites: houstonjuvenilelawyer, houstontheftlawyers, houston-criminallawyer, and so forth–dot–blogspot–dot–com. It's the Charles Johnson bullshit-spaghetti theory of branding: throw a bunch of bullshit at the wall (as well as best-houston-lawyer, Johnson has URLs like texasbestdefense, austinlawyer, dallaslawyer, houstonlawyer, and sanantoniocriminallawyer) and see what sticks.

Unlike Johnson, Sullivan & Nolen execute this branding strategy on a shoestring budget. Johnson must have paid serious coin for; Sullivan and Nolen paid nothing for any of their blogspot URLs.

One of those blogspot URLs is (another superlative to which the State Bar will probably take exception). The Jim Sullivan I know would never have consented to someone advertising him as "the best." So preliminary returns suggest that, instead of Sullivan raising Nolen up, Nolen is dragging Sullivan down.

Even if there were such a thing as "the best" (rather than the best for one case or another), neither Johnson nor Nolen is anywhere near qualified to take that title (and I suspect that Sullivan doesn't want it). So with both Johnson and Nolen vying for the brand of "best criminal lawyer," expect fireworks in the race to the bottom.

And poor Jim Sullivan along for the ride.

(All images from the Library of Congress.)

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