June 22, 2014

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Mac McCoy

Mac McCoy, a shareholder at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Tampa, Florida, practices complex state and federal litigation. He’s also savvy about social media and serves as the director of the firm’s video law blog. He regularly speaks at bar associations and lawyers’ groups about social media and the legal profession – what works, what doesn’t, and how to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct. He also has ideas about how to promote diversity using social media and how to recruit and retain young lawyers.

McCoy graduated cum laude from Stetson University College of Law and magna cum laude from Stetson University. He currently serves at the Chair of the Young Lawyer Committee of the Business Law Section of the ABA.

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Your practice area is complex federal and state litigation matters. What drew you to this area of law?

What I enjoy about the practice of law and being a lawyer is the ability to be a problem solver. Complex litigation, in particular, presents complex problems that are intellectually challenging. Also complex matters usually require teams of attorneys rather than working on your own. As a young lawyer, I enjoy working with a team because I have an opportunity to brainstorm with my colleagues and more senior attorneys. I learn something new almost every day, and I find it extremely rewarding. 

You’ve been at your firm for more than 10 years. What’s the value of staying at one firm?

There are a lot of benefits. The bottom line is that I really love my firm and the people I work with on a daily basis. I’ve developed wonderful friendships. I’m fortunate to be at a firm that has been around for more than 100 years. It has a long-standing culture of professionalism and client service and a deep commitment to the bar and supporting the community through pro bono and other legal services. I’ve been privileged to see how the firm has grown over time, while remaining true to those core values. 

You speak and write a lot about lawyers and the world of social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. What’s the benefit(s) for lawyers of using social media?

A lot of lawyers and legal marketers would answer that question by saying something about business development. But that has not been my approach or my message. If you focus too much on business development, you miss the true value of social media for the legal profession, which is twofold: first, social media allows lawyers to stay in contact with and to cultivate our professional networks over time and across long distances in a much more meaningful way. For instance, I’m personally very active in the Business Law Section of the ABA. I meet interesting lawyers all the time at our Section meetings. But I may see these people only once or twice in a year. I use social media to stay in contact with them, so when we meet again in person, we know what’s been going on in each other’s professional practices or personal lives. It makes for more meaningful relationships. 

Second, social media is full of meaningful legal content. It’s truly amazing how much quality legal content is on the web. There are so many excellent legal blogs. Practically every practice area is represented in social media. So for lawyers, social media has the power to promote competence in one’s practice area, provide lawyers with timely access to information concerning, for example, developments in the law, and to allow lawyers to share information about the law. 

What are the worst uses of social media for lawyers, including ethical lapses, time drains and practices that have no (or little) value?

It’s using social media solely as a distribution channel for legal advertising. I see a lot of firms making that mistake. Social media is most powerful when it’s used to listen and to digest what others are saying online about issues that affect your practice. It’s also a powerful way to get breaking news and events that may impact your clients. When I talk to lawyers who are interested in getting into social media, but not sure how, I tell them to start just by listening to what others are saying online. 

At the same time, you have to remember lawyers are licensed professionals who are subject to ethical constraints and rules of professional conduct that the public-at-large doesn’t have to think about. I’ve developed an entire CLE program around this topic and present it regularly to bar associations and other lawyer groups to educate lawyers about the risks. 

As a lawyer, as you venture into social media, some things to consider are: What audience are you trying to reach? What does your audience want out of social media? What are your objectives? What is the most effective and efficient way of reaching that audience? How do the rules of professional conduct apply to your social media activities? 

If a lawyer were to do one thing in the social media space, what should it be?

In terms of basic steps, it’s a good idea to sign up for one of the most popular social media platforms for lawyers, such as Facebook or Twitter, and connect with news and information sources that you’d otherwise follow on TV or in magazines or newspapers. If you aggregate those news feeds on your social media platforms, you receive timely, meaningful news directly. Then you can begin to share or push out timely information that other lawyers or your clients want to read. 

For example, when I first joined Twitter, I signed up for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the ABA Twitter feeds. 

You’ve spoken about using social media to advance diversity initiatives in the legal profession. How can this be done? 

Social media provides firms, bar associations, and lawyers with excellent opportunities to reach out and engage diverse individuals and groups for recruitment or membership development. One of the easiest things to do is share the fact you have a diversity initiative and you are open to applicants and members of diverse backgrounds. Sometimes the perception of whether or not an organization is open to diverse candidates is a more significant barrier or hurdle than many appreciate. 

I’ve also seen bar associations, firms, and lawyers connect and support specialty bar associations through social media interactions. For instance, a law firm could follow the Twitter feed of a bar association that is dedicated to supporting women lawyers, lawyers of color, LGBT lawyers, or lawyers with disabilities, and then cross-promote the activities of that bar association. It could be as simple as retweeting the specialty bar’s event. That goes a long way to demonstrating online that you’re part of a community that is interested in promoting diversity. 

You are the director of your firm’s video law blog. What prompted your firm to establish this blog?

The story behind the video law blog is an interesting one. I was at lunch one day at the firm and a group of us we were talking about the challenges of establishing visibility outside the firm to prospective clients or even existing clients. When you work at a larger firm it can be very difficult to establish your individual brand outside the firm, particularly if you work on large cases with large teams of lawyers. I proposed the idea that we tackle the visibility issue by creating online video segments of ourselves discussing in a CLE-type context, current developments in the law or substantive areas of the law that would be of interest to clients. 

Once it was up and running, it turned out to be a great and inexpensive way for young lawyers to improve their personal brand. We created the video blog on a zero-dollar budget and everyone has had a great time with it. 

I want to ask you to peer into the future. What technology do you see changing the way law is practiced?

I don’t think that just one particular technology will change the way we practice law now. Rather it will be a broad spectrum of technologies that exist now and will exist in the near future. When taken together, these technologies will eliminate the need to hire lawyers to perform certain lower-level legal tasks, such as document preparation or large-scale document reviews. 

There are a lot of lawyers who are nervous about these developments because the more work you take away from lawyers, the more you impact the bottom line. But I feel that this is an eventuality for our profession. Instead of worrying about it, the profession needs to embrace it. The net result will be to free lawyers up for higher level thinking, analysis, and advocacy, and more customized services. 

You speak French. Do you use French in your legal practice?

Sadly, I don’t. From time to time, someone will ask me to translate something, but I don’t have much occasion to speak it, given the nature of my practice and the jurisdiction where I practice. But I do love the French language, and I’m always excited to meet someone who speaks French. I follow a lot of French news and websites. I use online video or YouTube to receive news in French so I can listen to it and keep current. 

In 2013, you spoke at your alma mater about how a young lawyer can get the attention of a big firm. Other than the usual ways – outstanding grades, law review – what do you recommend?

I tell law students this all the time: we are in a brand new economy. The practice of law is very different from when I first started practicing. It’s more competitive. Keeping and attracting clients is a more competitive process. More law firms want candidates who have demonstrated business skills and experience because clients want lawyers who understand their business and the constraints that go along with their business. Having that sort of business background is a tremendous way of distinguishing yourself from other applicants who may have just gone the academic route from undergraduate to law school. Additionally, in this economy, qualities like entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation are in high demand because the practice of law and the business of law go hand-in-hand, and many law firms are looking for candidates who understand that and have the skill sets to tackle the business challenges in addition to the normal challenges associated with practicing law. 

You’ve received awards for your pro bono work. Do you still find time for pro bono?

It’s difficult when you have a lot of work demands to carve out time for pro bono work. I have the good fortune of working for a firm that has a long-standing tradition of supporting pro bono work. It’s part of our culture, and we have constant reminders and opportunities to get involved in pro bono cases. As a younger lawyer, I was very heavily involved in a large pro bono matter, and it set up my reputation as being very committed to pro bono efforts. 

These days I spend time helping more junior lawyers at my firm with their pro bono cases as a form of mentoring and training. I’ve also increased my role at the bar association, spending time promoting pro bono work. It’s a different approach to pro bono work, but it’s still very necessary. If bar associations aren’t promoting pro bono work, a lot of younger lawyers won’t think it’s a priority or something they should pay attention to. 

In 2012, you were appointed Chair of the Young Lawyer Committee of the Business Law Section of the ABA, a three-year appointment. One of your goals is to expand and diversify the Committee’s membership. Have you made progress?

Absolutely. Almost from day one, I never had a shortage of volunteers. The real challenge was to help connect those eager volunteers with opportunities that were going to advance their overall ambitions within their legal practices and also their involvement in the ABA. 

I’m halfway through my term and have learned that expanding and sustaining membership is a continual challenge because young lawyers’ circumstances change. People change jobs. Their families grow. They make decisions that take them away from bar association involvement or from the profession entirely. It’s a natural, organic part of the profession as people’s lives develop. Staying ahead of that curve is a bit of a challenge. 

It’s been great, though. I’ve met people who have become fast friends. I’ve developed a network of friends that will stick with me for the rest of my career and the rest of my life. It’s been rewarding on multiple levels. 

What do you see at the most pressing need of young lawyers? How have you addressed that as chair?

A lot of bar associations are struggling with how to attract and retain young lawyers. As I see it, young lawyers want and need three things: (1) Competence. Every young lawyer wants to be a better lawyer and a good lawyer. They want to learn how to get to the next level in their careers. (2) Credibility. Young lawyers are viewed as being inexperienced, just because they are new to the profession. Most young lawyers are eager to establish their credibility and reputation as good, quality lawyers. (3) Community. Most young lawyers are very hungry to establish their professional and personal networks. They want to find lawyers with shared interests, both legal and personal, so they can become part of a community. 

Most lawyers pursue these three priorities right after law school. As Chair, my way of addressing that is to educate more senior lawyers about these priorities so the strategic and business initiatives of the organization align with those interests and serve those interests. 

For many years, you’ve been involved with the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. What is it and what’s been the attraction? 

It’s a huge event in the Tampa Bay area. It’s an outdoor festival of the arts with approximately 300 fine artists, displaying their work to the public. The public can see and purchase the art. When I came to Tampa, it was one of the first community events that I attended, and I was so impressed by the size and the organization of the event that I vowed when I started practicing law in Tampa that I’d get involved. It’s really wonderful because it makes fine art accessible to the public.

What are your interests outside the law?

I love science and technology and am a voracious reader when it comes to life sciences, astronomy, cosmology, and space. I love science fiction, both film and books. I have an odd obsession with zombie fiction. I’ve also taken up yoga. I did not expect to like yoga, but I love it. I make time for it every week. I’ve become a bit of a yoga evangelist.