Thursday, July 30, 2009

Law Firms Must Adjust To Meet Client Demands

From the boardroom to the bedroom, government affects everything we do. So its time to embrace it and learn how we make government work for us. And perhaps more important, in addition to providing our clients with a legal remedy, we must also provide them the opportunity to seek legislative remedies or use the court of public opinion to reach their business objectives.

Many clients are turning to law firms to assist in the public policy process, yet many firms are ill equipped to handle government relations and are not well versed in public relations as a legal tactic. Yet it is the lawyer who knows the law and knows what laws would best benefit their clients as well as how to best position their clients in either a court of law or court of public opinion. It is the lobbyist that knows how to effect legislative change and to assist in drafting the right laws. And it is the brand manager, who knows how to position the issue and the client so that everyone emerges a winner.

In addition, with government getting bigger and more complex, and government funding becoming sparse, regional mid-sized law firms are well equipped to create a practice that blends law, media and public relations with the legal expertise many mid-sized firms have.

Also, with budgets getting tighter, the government is seeking greater partnerships with the private sector. With a solid client base, law firms are well-positioned to assist clients in finding creative opportunities within the government and sound private sector solutions for public problems.

More and more issues in Congress and the state legislatures are having a direct impact on business. Businesses are learning that they can no longer sit on the sidelines when government decisions directly impact their future. Likewise, with tough economic times, businesses are looking for new areas to expand. And despite tough economic times, securing a government contract remains one of the most sought after business development opportunities.

Businesses today cannot afford to ignore the legislative process and adjust to new laws once they are passed. To be successful, business must stay current on legislative issues that could have repercussions on their business or industry. They must also seek to effectuate change where appropriate making lobbying, government relations and public affairs a natural extension of the legal services law firms are already providing.

By integrating strategic communications and public affairs into the practice, combining law, policy, politics and strategic communications, attorneys will provide new and existing clients and integrated approach to their legal problems. This practice group will provide firms with new channels to cross-sell firm services and maintain core clients by expanding into new areas to complement your firm’s legal practice. A successful public affairs and strategic communications group will not only help stand out from other law firms, but it will enhance their core practice groups, advance client relations and increase firm profits, while developing new business.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Congress poised to reauthorize transportation bill despite calls to wait

With a number of items on their plate, such as:

  • Climate Change;
  • Health Care;
  • Financial Market Reform; and
  • Immigration Reform

Congress also is debating how much to spend fixing the nation's transportation system. According to Roll Call, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), has been pushing a six-year, $500 billion bill (highway bill) to repair highways, bridges, airports and mass transit systems, among other things. But President Barack Obama and some Members of Congress instead support a smaller, $20 billion extension of current spending that would delay an overhaul for at least another 18 months.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee wants to move the transportation authorization bill forward and pass a bill the President will sign before it expires on September 30, 2009. As a result, the T&I Committee is working hard this week to approve a $3 billion infusion for the Highway Trust Fund. Passing a bill out of committee this week, would set the stage to avoid an extension and continue to keep various projects funded. They argue the reauthorization will create jobs, and allow for the construction of badly needed bridges and roads. Any extension, committee members argue, will leave states unsure as to how to move forward on any project.

The Senate also is poised to pass a bill before their August recess. But the Senate could spoil Oberstar’s plans by passing a bill that provides a short-term fix until they could pass a more comprehensive bill sometime next year.

The President supports waiting. He has a number of priorities that his Administration is working on and want resolved before tackling this important piece of legislation.

Regardless of the outcome, America’s transportation policy is set on a path that favors sustainability and “intermodal” transport. Nonetheless, creative financing must be found to ensure state's like Michigan get their fair share and that funding is secured for projects such:

  • The M1 Rail project;
  • Bus improvements in Saginaw;
  • New buses for the Branch Area Transit Authority; or,
  • New buses for the Muskegon Area Transit System;

According to Roll Call:

  • The National Highway System carries 40 percent of all U.S. traffic and 75 percent of truck traffic.
  • America relies on trucks to deliver nearly 100 percent of our consumer goods and 70 percent of our nation’s freight tonnage.
  • Over the past 25 years, the number of registered vehicles has increased more than 50 percent, yet new road miles have grown by less than 5 percent and lane capacity has increased by just 6 percent.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute:

  • Congestion annually costs the U.S. economy $87.2 billion in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel.
  • If key congestion bottlenecks were eliminated, the trucking industry alone could save 4.1 billion gallons of fuel over 10 years and 45.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The federal government, in consultation with state and local government and private-sector stakeholders, should tie federal funding to the fulfillment of broad national goals in order to ensure that federal investments are consistent with national priorities. While organizations have been consulting and lobbying Congress for more than a year, it is not to late to join the discussion and offer suggestions as to what the nation's transportation policies should be for the next six years, and how it should be funded. Those affected by transportation policies should work through their trade association and/or individual lobbyists to represent their interests.

Emerging Market for the Great Lakes - Fresh Water Technologies

A new report by Global Water Intelligence (GWI) magazine recently issued (July 24) a report highlighting the top ten new water technologies. These technologies address some of the greatest challenges facing the water sector today. These include:

  • Water scarcity: The world's freshwater resources are fixed, but both population and per capita consumption of water is growing. By 2025 one in three people around the world will experience either water scarcity or water stress;
  • Energy consumption: In some parts of the world the process of treating and moving water represents 20% of total energy consumption;
  • Salt intrusion: Over-exploitation of our natural water resources has resulted in a build up of salt in our water systems; and,
  • Materials recycling: Wastewater contains materials that may be valuable if recycled, but are damaging to the environment if they are not.

GWI's report has reviewed 50 existing and emerging technologies, of which the top ten are:

  1. Aquaporins: These are membranes that replicate the way nature removes salt from water, for example in the kidneys or in mangroves. Companies developing this technology include Aquaporin, and Danfoss AquaZ.
  2. Bio-polymers from wastewater: Bio-polymers are a great natural alternative to petro-chemical-based plastics; what is more they can be made during the biological digestion of sewage sludge. AnoxKaldnes is the leading commercial developer of this technology.
  3. Nano-engineered membranes: Despite improvements, reverse osmosis membranes still offer disappointingly low flux rates. New developments such as nano-composite membranes and carbon nano-tubes will significantly reduce the energy required in desalination. Two firms from the University of California, NanoH2O and Porifera, are at the cutting edge of this technology.
  4. Biogas recovery: The collection of methane from anaerobic wastewater treatment has been a reality for industrial effluents with a high biological load for some years. The challenge is to make it viable for less concentrated municipal wastewater. Leaders in this market are Paques and Biothane.
  5. Microbial fuel cells: The next step in energy recovery from wastewater is direct electrical power generation through microbial fuel cells. Emefcy of Israel is at the forefront of commercializing this technology.
  6. Vapour transfer irrigation: This involves low cost plastic tubes that allow water vapour through, but not water or solutes. These make it possible to grow trees and food crops using salt-water. DTi of the UK has been developing this technology.
  7. Phosphorus recovery: Phosphorus is essential to the healthy growth of plants and animals, but it is a dwindling resource. The world's supply of phosphorus rock will be exhausted within the next 100 years, unless more is recycled from sewage. A number of companies including Unitika of Japan, DHV of the Netherlands and Ostara of Canada have been working on this technology.
  8. Ultrasonic sludge pre-treatment: If you can break down cellular matter in sewage sludge it is easier to reclaim biogas, water and other materials. Ultrasound is a low-energy means of doing this. Hamburg Harburg University of Technology is leading research in this area.
  9. Forward osmosis: The action of water moving through a semi-permeable membrane from a dilute solution to a concentrated solution has two interesting applications. One gives a low-energy desalination process. The other is the generation of osmotic power. Oasys, a company that has grown out of Yale University is at the forefront of using forward osmosis in desalination.
  10. Decentralized wastewater treatment: Centralized wastewater systems are expensive to build and use a lot of water. Decentralized systems might remove the need for sewers, and make it easier to recycle the water and energy in the waste. The Lettinga Associates Foundation is one of the leading organisations promoting the practical application of decentralized wastewater.

Water is quickly becoming a scarce commodity. New technologies are being developed throughout the world to find ways to improve fresh water delivery fit for consumption. States, like Michigan, which is surrounded by the world's largest supply of fresh water could stand to benefit from this emerging market. Michigan should aggressively work to contact the above-referenced companies and encourage them to re-locate their research, labs and offices, to the Great Lakes State. (Source: PRWeb).

Raising cash through social media

In 2008, The Columbus Foundation pioneered a new online giving resource, called PowerPhilanthropy, connecting central Ohio nonprofit organizations with potential donors. Nonprofits interested in being included provide information on their organization and activities through the online Nonprofit Toolkit located on the Foundation’s website. Potential donors search the PowerPhilanthropy database and read profiles of nonprofits in their community, which include information on their programs, finances, management, and services. Access to this information improves donors' understanding of the organization and helps them decide where to give. Soon, there will be a similar effort underway among Detroit nonprofits. It comes at a time when fundraising is down and the need for additional resources is up.

To improve the efforts of various nonprofits to profit from social media fundraising, NonProfit 2.0 ( offers the following tips (which I am posting verbatim here):

Newsweek said it best: "Suddenly, all the world is a-Twitter." Simple and powerful, Twitter is a must for nonprofit organizations. I created and manage a portal to nonprofits on Twitter @nonprofitorgs and based on my experience using site, I have crafted ten of my favorite Twitter Tips for beginners:
  1. Authenticity before marketing. Have personality. Build community. -- Those nonprofits who are most successful at utilizing social networking Web sites like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace know from trial, error, and experience that a “marketing and development approach” on social networking sites does not work. Simply put, it comes across as lame. Traditional marketing and development content is perfectly fine for your Web site and e-mail newsletters, but Web 2.0 is much more about having personality, inspiring conversation, and building online community. Nowhere is this more true than on Twitter. Relax, experiment, let go a bit… find your voice. Be authentic.
  2. Be nice. Be thankful. Reply and Retweet! -- Twitter functions much like Karma. The nicer you are to people in the Twitterverse, they nicer they are to you in return. The more you ReTweet (RT) others, the more they will RT your Tweets in return. And whether it’s Twitter, MySpace, Facebook or YouTube, if someone does something nice for you in the public commons of Web 2.0, it is always a good practice to send them a message of “Thanks… much appreciated!”. Kindness and appreciation will make you stand out from the others and makes an excellent impression.
  3. Follow everyone who follows you. -- This is a hard one for a lot of nonprofits. They want to keep their “Home” view clutter free and controlled and only follow a select few. Honestly, they only want to follow those whose Tweets that they are really interested in reading. But I say this often… “This time it is not about you, it is about them.” Web 1.0 communications is all about us and our messaging i.e, your Web site and e-mail newsletter. Web 2.0 is all about your supporters and their messaging. It’s better to create a personal Twitter profile in order to only follow those select few you are interested in reading, but if you are going out on Twitter behind your organization’s logo a.k.a. avatar, it is a mistake to not follow all your followers in return. Why?
  4. Twitter is about conversation -- You can’t have a conversation on Twitter if you are not following your followers. It is a one-sided relationship. They can’t message you on Twitter if you are not following them. It’s a snub. Let’s face it… people on Twitter want to be followed. That’s what the site is about! How can you build community on Twitter if you won’t even participate with your followers? Have a look around Twitter… you will see the most successful, ReTweeted nonprofits follow everyone who follows them.
  5. Use “Favorites” to organize the chaos and feature your most important Tweets! -- So, if you are going to follow everyone who follows your organization (which is hopefully thousands of people) then “favorite” Tweets by those who you are most interested in reading and favorite your most important Tweets. The favorites option on Twitter is a simple, excellent tool to help you organize the chaos.
  6. Don’t tweet about your coffee (unless it is fair trade), the weather, or how tired you are. Provide value to your followers, not chit-chat! -- It’s one thing to chit-chat about the weather, your headache, or how you need coffee to wake up in the morning on your personal profile on Twitter, but it’s quite another if you are active on the Twitterverse via your organizational profile. The messages you send reflect upon your organization. Example of what not to Tweet: “Such-and-such Nonprofit got stuck in traffic this morning. Ugh! I need coffee and a vacation… and I think I am getting a headache!” No one likes a whiner and this just makes it sound like Such-and-Such Nonprofit is not a fun place to work. People follow you because they want good content from your organization on subjects relevant to your mission. Make sure your Tweets provide value and are Re-Tweetable.
  7. Don’t only Tweet your own content -- Twitter is a news source. Participate in news. Tweet articles or blog posts by your favorite newspapers, bloggers, or other nonprofits (yes... other nonprofits! Find allies, build relationships). If it is a good read or a good resource, it reflects well upon your organization that you Tweeted it. There is also a good chance you might get ReTweeted if the article is deemed timely and worthy by the Twitterverse.
  8. Send messages, but not via auto-responders --There are tools out there that will automatically message your new followers. Don’t use them. It’s Spam. It’s not authentic. It’s not human. It's lazy marketing. I think this cartoon sums up auto-responders perfectly.
  9. Don’t worry about those that “unfollow” you -- It’s easy to feel slighted when someone stops following you. What did I say? Did I do something wrong? Let it go. Who knows why they followed you in the first place. Give it no more than 3 seconds thought and then move on.
  10. Limit your Tweets to 5 per day, and no more than 6! -- I have been polling on Twitter and the Twitterverse has revealed that less is more when it comes to Tweeting.
Twitter is what you make of it. You get out of Twitter what you put into it. This is the same of all Web 2.0 social networking sites. Twitter is a fun, valuable tool that can drive significant traffic to your Web site (start watching your Web site referral logs!) and help build and strengthen your brand in the online world of Web 2.0, but just like Facebook and MySpace, Twitter requires time and energy to produce results. You get out of it what you put into it. If you do one Tweet a week, you will get the results of one Tweet. But if you Tweet 4 times daily Monday through Friday… you will get the results of 20 Tweets weekly.

Again, it’s about community building around your mission and programs. Just having profile on Twitter (or MySpace, or Facebook) does not magically produce any results. You have to work these profiles. Find the person on your staff who loves Web 2.0 and enjoys working the sites and/or find a marketing/pr intern from your local university that needs to do a senior project! If they are getting college credit, then you know they have to stay around for at least a semester.

The advice outlined below is general advice applied to for profits as it is not-for-profits. To all of us, now is the time to experiment and become comfortable with social media. In fact, it is time we embrace it. We should learn to say what we need to say, not just in 30 second or 90 second elevator pitches, but in 140 characters or less. We need to refine our key messaging into the screen of our cell phone, we need to learn to verbalize what we can tweet. And we need to become familiar with how messages are conveyed now and well into the future. Just as my 6 year old can pick up my iPhone to use one of the apps I downloaded for her, soon she will be sending tweets to her friends.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stewards of the largest supply of fresh water in the world

Yesterday, US House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman along with Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey, introduced the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 with the support of drinking water utilities and environmental and labor groups. This bill would require EPA to establish risk-based performance standards for community water systems serving more than 3,300 people and certain other public water systems with security risks.

In 2006, as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security to issue chemical facility security regulations that exempted drinking water and wastewater facilities. The Drinking Water System Security Act authorizes EPA to strengthen security at drinking water systems in the United States under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The legislation would:

  • Require EPA to assign covered water systems to one of four risk-based tiers, ranging from tier 1, the highest-risk systems, to tier 4, the lowest-risk of the covered water systems.
  • Require covered water systems to identify vulnerabilities and develop site security plans to addresses those vulnerabilities and meet risk-based security standards, which vary by tier.
  • Require all covered water systems with dangerous chemicals in amounts higher than federal thresholds to assess whether they can switch to safer chemicals or processes to reduce the consequences of an act of terrorism. Since the states implement the Safe Drinking Water Act everywhere but Wyoming and Washington, D.C., states have authority to require facilities in the two highest-risk tiers to switch to safer chemicals or processes if technologically and economically feasible, and if doing so will not result in unsafe drinking water.
  • Require that covered water systems include employees in the development of security vulnerability assessments and site security plans and that they receive the training necessary to perform their duties under the plans.
  • Require EPA to develop standards to protect security-related information while encouraging the proper sharing of this information among those with an official need to know. The bill would set criminal penalties for purposeful, unlawful disclosure of this protected information.

The legislation has key support from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and numerous environmental and labor groups also have endorsed the bill, including Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, MI, Environment America, Environmental Health Fund, Environmental Health Strategy Center of Maine, Greenpeace, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), New Jersey Work Environment Council, OMB Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, and U.S. PIRG.

Although this bill is not directly related to the Great Lakes, there are opportunities for Michigan based universities and community colleges to monitor this bill as it provides grant opportunities to conduct research, workforce training or technical assistance to "covered water systems." As Michigan continues to identify industries to help diversify our economy, we should look to our role as stewards to the largest fresh water source in the world to potentially benefit from this legislation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Second Stimulus

President Barack Obama is moving forward and pushing an aggressive agenda that includes climate change, immigration reform, financial reform and health care reform among others. This week, the President continues to push his health care agenda and Republicans continue to push back, saying, "Now is not the time."

There are some in Congress that are also saying, "Now is not the time to talk about a second stimulus bill." However, there is some discussion about introducing a second stimulus bill to help bolster the economy. Such a bill would not come to pass until after Labor Day, however, if the economy does not improve, some further help will be needed and something even more significant than the first one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Michigan...It is time to seize the opportunity

Although it is officially summer, there is a big chill across Michigan. With the auto industry firmly in control by the federal government, Congress continues to focus on the economy, the environment and on everyone’s health. Just before the July 4th recess, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act (HR 2454), a major piece of legislation affecting climate change, energy and the environment.

While Detroit and the entire state of Michigan continue to struggle, we must find opportunity amidst crisis and take advantage of every and any opportunity to restore stability to Michigan’s economy. There is no doubt that our struggling automakers and suppliers will receive additional help once ACES passes Congress. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) also will provide much needed assistance for Detroit and for Michigan.

Restoring stability and setting a path to economic diversity requires leadership to make a bad situation good. The climate change legislation contains a number of provisions that can bolster our state’s position, bring our auto industry into the next generation and help diversify our state’s economy so we are no longer a one-industry town. This includes:
  • Retooling existing and recently abandoned plants to meet new fuel and energy standards.
  • Retrofit plants to accommodate electronic vehicle production.
  • Securing funding for Detroit’s efforts to create light rail and mass transit in the region and become a model for other communities by adapting the latest and cleanest transportation technology.
  • Direct engineers leaving the auto industry to create new companies to support the development and commercialization of clean energy technology.
  • Lobby the federal government to have Detroit house one of eight regional Clean Energy Innovation Centers.
  • Celebrate our collaborative efforts to incubate new companies in partnership with our universities through the University Research Corridor and Next Energy and identify federal resources to expand Next Energy and Tech Town.
This bill also contains a number of provisions vital to the growth of green vehicles and a number of opportunities to keep the engineers, designers and line workers recently laid off, from the auto industry, employed in Michigan. By no means is this a perfect piece of legislation, and it does not necessarily favor Detroit over other regions. However, it is a blueprint by which Detroit and this state must change if we are to weather this storm and restore stability to our economy and to our people. We as a state must work together to leverage our assets and seize the opportunities provided to us in this legislation. By taking advantage of the tools given to us, we can take advantage of the incentives and financial opportunities to retool our economy and emerge much stronger than we have ever been.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Community Colleges Must Turn to Washington for Financial Aid

President Barack Obama is expected to announce today an initiative to invest $12 billion in community colleges nationwide over the next 10 years.

According to today's Detroit News, Components of the initiative to be announced today will include $9 billion to fuel community college challenge grants, $2.5 billion for construction and renovation of buildings and $500 million for online curriculum development. The initiative will get under way within the first six months of 2010. However, the President has said, "Our community colleges can serve as 21st century job training centers, working with local businesses to help workers learn the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future. We can reallocate funding to help them modernize their facilities, increase the quality of online courses and ultimately meet the goal of graduating 5 million more Americans from community colleges by 2020." This is welcomed news as community colleges will rely less and less on the state to provide funding. In fact, more community colleges are finding more funding available at a federal level.

In May, the president outlined measures to make it easier for the unemployed to pursue a degree or training and get help paying for it. Through the White House Automotive Task Force, funding also is being made available to communities negatively affected by the auto industry.

According to the Detroit News, the Labor Department is providing job search services to approximately 15,000 auto workers affected by permanent plant closures through emergency grants. It also has boosted Small Business Administration loans to auto, boat and recreational vehicle dealers.

Today's announcement by the President provides great impetus for community colleges to aggressively seek federal funding for a variety of programs and projects that will help the President achieve his goals of increasing community college enrollment. For example, many community colleges throughout the country have received federal funds for nursing programs, workforce and job training related programs, homeland security and other opportunities.

In fact, here is just a sampling of federal funding individual community colleges will receive in FY 2010:
  • $200,000 to the Riverside Community College for construction of the School of Nursing in Riverside, California;
  • $250,000 for Metropolitan Community College of Omaha, Nebraska, for construction of a Health Careers Center;
  • $72,750 to the Southwest Tennessee Community College for expansion of a biotechnology building in Memphis, Tennessee;
  • $97,000 to Hudson County Community College for construction of Union City Campus in Union City, New Jersey;
  • $397,000 to Southeast Community College (Cumberland, KY) for facilities and equipment for an allied health training facility. (This is a continuation of the FY 2004 project that will be used to renovate 69,900 gross sq. ft. of an existing building to create the Southeast Education Alliance Center);
  • $2,000,000 to Waubonsee Community College (Sugar Grove, IL) for science building at Waubonsee Community College in Illinois;
  • $317,000 to Clatsop Community College, Astoria, OR, for equipment and technology for its Technology for Student Access Initiative;
  • $250,000 to the Riverside Community College in Riverside, California for facilities construction and renovation improvements;
  • $250,000 to the Montgomery County Community College for facilities construction of the Small Business Development & University Transfer Center in Pottstown, PA;
  • $200,000 to Polk Community College, Lakeland, FL for a corporate college program;
  • $99,000 to South Seattle Community College, WA for apprenticeship training programs;
  • $199,000 to Central Maine Community College, for education programs, student recruitment and marketing activities;
  • $50,000 to Dutchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, NY, for the upgrade of the college computer network;
  • $317,000 to the Community College of Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, for it's Closing the Gap college preparation and retention initiative for minority students, including student scholarships;
  • $96,000 to Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio for construction of a conference center;
  • $248,000 to Western Nevada Community College to create an Occupational Therapy Assistant program;
  • $496,000 to Iowa Lakes Community College to create a Wind Energy and Turbine Technology education program;
  • $422,000 to Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH for equipment and programming for the Centers for Nursing and Health Careers; and,
  • $397,000 to West Shore Community College (Scottsville, MI) for workforce investment and training for unemployed individuals'.
The President also has said that, "Without community colleges, millions of people would not be able to access the education and skills they need to further education or succeed in the workplace." And last month, Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff said, "What's been forgotten is how important our community college system is to the economy. As a competitive advantage for the United States, the community college system is essential, and the administration is intent on boosting funding for growth of the system.”

There are a number of community colleges throughout the country, including here in Michigan, that have recognized a renewed focus on community colleges by Congress and the President. In fact, a number of them have retained lobbyists to advocate on their behalf for individual earmarks and to help direct federal public policies that will affect their college, their research and the programs they provide the students and community. In Michigan, specifically, the following community colleges have retained outside lobbying counsel:
  • Schoolcraft College
  • Kalamazoo Valley Community College
  • Lansing Community College
  • Mott Community College
  • Oakland Community College
  • Wayne County Community College
The following Michigan (public) universities and colleges have some sort of federal advocacy effort now under way and already retained an outside lobbying firm:
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Ferris State
  • Grand Valley State
  • Lake Superior State
  • Michigan Technological University (uses in house counsel)
  • Northern Michigan University
  • Oakland University
  • Central Michigan University
The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University each have a Washington office and from time to time bring in outside legislative and regulatory counsel, while Saginaw Valley State and Western Michigan University have not retained outside advocates. The following private universities have retained outside lobbying counsel:
  • University of Detroit
  • Ave Marie
  • Lawrence Tech
  • Michigan Jewish Institute
  • Northwood University
  • Walsh College
In addition to federal funding which is available to community college, Congress is working on a number of other issues that will affect your work. For example, Congress is still debating the Higher Education Authorization Bill with important provisions that will help or hurt students in capturing financial aid. The Labor-HHS bill actually increases funding for the NIH and NSF.

With the state of Michigan scaling back their budget, particularly the funding for community colleges, it is important that community colleges turn to the federal government for financial support, particularly at such a crucial time in Michigan's history. Our community colleges can provide Michigan with the economic lifeline for retraining and retooling an aging workforce and help us move forward into the next economy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Today's legal market demands broad business solutions

Today’s legal market demands a broad range of business solutions lawyers can provide their clients. A strategic communications plan can prove to be an extremely helpful tool law firms can provide their clients. For example, in today’s 24/7 media culture, companies lack access and lack control to the media who cover their industry and to the people that talk about them on-line.

In addition, businesses often find themselves navigating a complex environment that requires dealing simultaneously with litigation, governmental and regulatory actions, media scrutiny, and public perception. Often times, business strategy demands a multi-disciplinary approach of legal action, public relations and government relations. Knowing where these issues converge can help protect your reputation and enhance your position in the marketplace.

For example, last week, an article in the Michigan Lawyer's Weekly unveiled new court rules directing the jury not to Twitter about the case before them or turn to the Internet for information beyond that which was presented to them in the court. Social media is not only becoming some thing for us to stay in touch with friends, it is becoming a new area to look out for our clients interests and/or a new medium to promote our practice.

Also, in just seven months a number of key bills have been enacted by Congress and President Obama, including: The economic stimulus package; Expansion of SCHIP; Pentagon acquisition reforms; & other key reforms. Congress returned this week to tackle a number of difficult issues, before their August recess, including: Energy & Climate legislation; Health Care Reform; FY 2010 Appropriations; Reauthorization of the transportation bill; Financial regulation; food safety, and Immigration reform.

Attorneys in high-profile cases should extend their services beyond the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. Therefore, lawyers will need skilled advice as to how to position their clients before the media or in front of the legislature, while protecting their legal rights.

Seeking PR counsel is an important aspect of representing clients in high-profile cases. Even if the issue is a small matter, there is no way we can tell how public opinion can or will shape the outcome of a case. Therefore, in engaging PR Counsel:
  • Have the lawyer retain the PR firm as opposed to your client directly, to try to preserve attorney-client privilege;
  • The PR counsel should consult with the client, only in the presence of an attorney and first talk things over with the attorney to seek their support and buy-in for the PR strategy.

Once a PR firm is engaged, they will (depending on the strategy):
  • Asses the situation, review any media to date;

  • Create key messages;

  • Create talking points for key audiences including, staff, vendors, clients and the media;

  • Using the key messages, educate and sensitize the media to mitigate damage or control the story;

  • Facilitate interviews; and,

  • Provide media/spokesperson training.

“An attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door. He or she cannot ignore the practical implications of a legal proceeding for the client." See Gentile v State bar of Nevada (Kennedy opinion) 510 US 1030, 1043 (1991). Just as an attorney may recommend a plea bargain or civil settlement to avoid the adverse consequences of a possible loss after trial, so too an attorney may take reasonable steps to defend a client’s reputation…in the court of public opinion

In today’s fast-paced environment, where it may take years to build up one’s reputation and only seconds to destroy it, a lawyers role as advocate extends to managing their clients’ reputations inside and out of the courtroom.

Friday, July 10, 2009

GM -- Blazing a path and resetting trends

With the re-emergence of a new GM today marks the beginning of the end of an era of doing business, not just for GM, but for a majority of companies around the world.  GM has historically been a leader of trends.  Trends in cars, technology and design. 

Today, GM became the corporate poster-child for what companies must do to not just survive in today's economy, but thrive as a leaner, more efficient company, that focuses on the fundamentals while laying the groundwork for industrial growth.  

The auto industry, like a majority of industries has changed. Companies, no matter how large or small realize that they must not only listen to their customers, they need to be responsive and work to build and keep relationships with them. It is a new day for GM, Detroit, the auto industry and corporations around the world.  

Now GM just needs to get the word out about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and bring us all out for the ride. 

Congress' Road Ahead

Congress returned to work this week after a seven-month marathon, passing the following issues:

- The economic stimulus package;
- Curbs on abusive credit card practices;
- An omnibus bill setting government spending for the current fiscal year;
- A budget resolution outlining plans for the next fiscal year;
- A supplemental spending bill to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars;
- Expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program;
- An equal pay anti-discrimination bill;
- Sweeping tobacco regulations;
- Pentagon acquisition reforms;
- A public lands package designating more than 2 million acres as protected wilderness;
- Expansion of national service programs.

The come back to work with an aggressive agenda, to tackle important issues before they go on their August recess, including:

Energy and Climate Change Legislation
The House passed their version in late June. The Senate is planning on debating a bill now before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee sometime in the fall. Senate Majority Reid has indicated that he will merge the climate-change legislation with the energy legislation that has already been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Health Care Reform
Health Care remains the President's top priority, however, it is not without its challenges.  The House is planning on voting on health care reform before their August recess but is running into roadblocks by conservative Democrats. The Senate will debate health care sometime after that but obstacles remain in passing truly comprehensive reform.

Congress is about to pass their first set of appropriation bills but, as with most years these days, not all the spending bills will be passed by the start of the next fiscal year -- October 1, 2009.

The current highway bill expires September 30, 2009, leaving hundreds of transportation projects in jeopardy of completion. The President wants to extend that deadline for 18 months and provide a 'pay-as-you-go' strategy to help jump start some of those projects. With health care reform and climate change still on the table, in addition to all of the appropriation bills that have yet to be passed, the transportation reauthorization will likely get extended into 2010.

Financial Regulation
Last month, the President introduced a number of regulations pertaining to the financial industry. Before August, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, will markup the legislation revamping the financial regulatory system, including a measure that would create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The House is expected to vote on this measure, sometime in the fall.

Food Safety
Congress remains interested in tightening inspections and imposing new fees on food safety. This could have an impact on area food banks, schools and speciality food retail shops.

The President wants to eliminate the subsidized private student lending program and shift to a direct loan program to help save money. There is also an effort to expand Title IX (the federal law barring discrimination in education on the basis of sex) to help bolster female student's interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

After energy, health care and financial industry reform, the President wants Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. However, a lack of votes and time will likely push this issue into next year.

The decisions Congress makes has a large impact on how we do business and in how we conduct our lives.  Although we face many challenges during this difficult time, now is the time to engage lawmakers and regulatory agencies in a discussion about how your company is affected and what legislative steps you can take to emerge from this economy, stronger, more efficient and ready to expand in the next economy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Communicating in tough times

            For many corporate leaders, there is no shortage of hard messages to be delivered.  Everyday, it seems, the media recount the latest round of workforce reductions, plant closings, and product recalls.  Employees, investors and other stakeholders increasingly demand not only information, but also explanations and plans for corrective action.

            In difficult times companies are faced with tough decisions.  There is a tendency to cut back on services such as marketing and public relations.  However, placing an emphasis on marketing and public relations can actually work to a company’s advantage.

            There is no better time to invest in your corporate reputation than during an economic slowdown.  It is how your business can survive the downturn and thrive upon recovery.  It can help motivate employees, reassure investors, and retain customers during difficult times.  An aggressive communication component is a key strategy during a down economy.  It’s also a great time to stay one step ahead of the competition.

            An expanded communications effort can help restore an organization's focus.  It’s easy to lose sight of your mission when you’re struggling to maintain profitability or defend market share; there can be a tendency to stray away from the principals and values that form the foundation of the business.  Communication initiatives are opportunities to get back to basics.  And now is the time to establish your company’s reputation when you step up and talk about the adversity you’re experiencing and what you’re doing to overcome it. 

            A solid communications plan during a stagnant economy must be positive and not always negative.  Most of your competitors are in a similar position, so be the first to tell everyone why and what your plan is for achieving better performance.  In communicating externally and internally it is important to develop a series of key messages you want to convey.  Depending on the audience, you may want to tailor your key messages.  However, the key messages should be balanced in dealing with the problems and the vulnerabilities of the company with its strengths and opportunities. 

            A public relations firm can help you figure out how to best position your business to take advantage of market opportunities, including the economy’s inevitable upswing when it occurs. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Juries all a-Twitter

This week, Michigan Lawyers Weekly features a story about jurors tainting themselves by Tweeting from the jury box or accessing the Internet from their mobile phones to learn more about the cases they are presiding on. See Juries all a-Twitter, 23 Mich.L.W.847, July 6, 2009. 

Like the media, the courts need to adjust to the constantly changing landscape of how we communicate and how we access information.  The Internet and mobile devices such as the iPhone or Palm provide jurors and others access to instant information about the cases before them. The Michigan Supreme Court amended rule 2.516 of the Michigan Court Rules to prohibit the use of computers, cell phones or other electronic devices during the trial to obtain information on the case. This is mandatory, not discretionary. The rule was amended in response to a number of cases being thrown out due to curious jurors, researching defendants and witnesses and then Tweeting their opinion before any opinion was rendered. 

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace and YouTube also provide excellent opportunities for plaintiff's counsel to mine the Internet for information to throw out a case or force a settlement. Mined appropriately and thoroughly, attorney's can learn a lot about the parties to a lawsuit or potential lawsuit. 

And finally, some lawyers are using the Internet, the same way they were using television to argue their client's case in the public eye.  Instead of turning to investigative reporters or "problem solvers," they are now turning to the Internet to bolster their client's position. 

In the article, I caution attorneys to do their own due diligence and see what is being said about their clients on-line.  This includes social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube, Flickr, various blogs and other on-line feeds and sites. The same is true for the opposing party, including opposing counsel. 

Attorneys may want to consider retaining PR counselto monitor the Internet and/or use the Internet and social media to preserve, protect and enhance their clients reputation on-line. Attorneys may also want to consider hiring a computer forensics or e-discovery firm to see what information they can find on-line.  For now, attorneys can set up Google alerts, RSS Feeds, or find other ways to monitor the media.  

Regardless, we all need to do a better job of monitoring the Internet. Just as we should secure our credit report every six-months to monitor for identity theft, we should periodically Google or Bing our name, our company name, client's name or other key terms we should be keeping an eye out for. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

FEC seeks advice on how to improve its website

The FEC is seeking the public's advice on how to improve its website and how best to use the Internet to communicate.The commission first launched its website in 1996, although this is the first time it has sought formal public comment on the site. In particular, the commission wants to ensure "state of the art" disclosure of campaign finance data, federal campaign finances laws and its own regulatory actions. To that end, FEC is seeking comments from representatives of political committees, federal candidates and officeholders, members of the media, authors, students, members of the academic community and advocacy groups. Comments should be sent to the FEC by July 21, 2009. They can be emailed to After the deadline, the commission plans to hold a public hearing on the website July 29-30, 2009.

Can you write me a recommendation?

Often times, people will ask you and others to write a recommendation for them on the popular social media site, Linkedin. However, the July 13 & 20, 2009 issue of BusinessWeek (p. 072) has an article warning managers from writing recommendations about their employees on Linkedin as they could be later used by plaintiff's lawyers in "discrimination or termination cases that put an employee's performance at issue". The article predicts that sooner or later, attorney's will begin to mine social media sites for evidence or was to bolster their clients cases. In some cases, The PR Lawyer is aware of cases in which attorney's have set up Facebook accounts just so that they can gather evidence for their clients and use it to force a settlement or bolster their case should it go to trial. Companies should have a blanket policy for their managers to not use Linkedin to make recommendations. If someone is asking for a recommendation, chances are they are looking for a new job. Save the recommendations for their quarterly, bi-annual or yearly review. And always, when using the Internet and social media sites, exercise caution.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Funding for Community Development Corporations Exists, Even In Today's Economy

In this week's Crain's Detroit Business, reporter Nancy Kaffer writes about Detroit-based community development corporations rethinking their business model as funding becomes scarce to support their programs. (See Credit crunch forces CDCs to scale back, rethink).

While it is true, in today’s economy, it is becoming more-and-more competitive to raise money. However, funding is available through various programs such as: Acquisition of real property; relocation and demolition; construction of public facilities and improvements (such as water and sewer facilities, streets, school conversions); business assistance; energy conservation and renewable energy projects; structural rehabilitation's; planning; transit oriented developments; homeless assistance grants; housing counseling; tenant based rental assistance; Self Help Home ownership Opportunity; Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities Program; Neighborhood Reinvestment programs; Mortgage Foreclosure Mitigation Assistance; and, others through the Departments of: Commerce; Education; HUD; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; Community Development Block Grants; The University Community Fund; Choice Neighborhoods Initiatives; Sustainable Communities Initiatives; Section 108 Loan Programs; Economic Development Initiative Grants; Compassion Capital Fund Grants; Office of Community Services funds; Energy; Labor; Health & Human Services; National Endowment for the Arts; and, other agencies and departments, depending on what you want funded. 

In fact, the following community development organizations have turned to Washington to seek federal funds and have retained a lobbyist in Washington:

  • Reid Community Development Corporation
  • Calhoun County Community Development (Michigan)
  • Southside Community Development
  • South Carolina Association of Community Development
  • Jefferson Square Community Development
  • Norwich Community Development
  • New Man Community Development (Maryland)
  • Paramount Community Development
  • Town of Riverhead Community Development
HUD also is refocused on rebuilding and reinvesting in urban communities. President Obama has also made urban investment a priority, even creating an office in The White House, to focus on helping urban communities. Funding and support may also be available through The White House Auto Taskforce on Distressed Communities.  

I cannot think of a better city than Detroit and its surrounding communities, for The White House and Congress to focus on. Detroit has been one of the hardest hit cities by the economic tsunami that rocked our world. And Detroit CDCs are the perfect organization, with an established track record of success and a dedicated group of leaders to help direct money towards the city of Detroit.
Detroit is a city of limited resources. The City government itself is focused on a number of priorities that may not necessarily be "neighborhood" priorities. Therefore, it is important that Detroit-area CDC's work collaboratively to secure additional funds for Detroit neighborhoods. Not necessarily working against the city for federal funding, but working alongside the city to secure funds it would normally not secure. CDCs can work alone in trying to work with Michigan's Congressional Delegation to secure funding or they can retain a lobbyist or advocate familiar with the process and personalities to identify the funding, apply for any necessary grants and work the requests through the legislative process. 

Funding is available at a federal level. The CDCs need to identify the projects that need to be funded and then ask for Congressional support.