Steal This Idea: Coffee With Counsel 

Karen Korr
San Diego County Bar Association

I owe a debt of gratitude to NABE Comm.  Just like all of you, presumably, I've met some great  people through this section, learned myriad new tricks, shared bar association "war stories" with other bar veterans, and stolen some great policies and ideas from across the country to pass off as my own here in San Diego.  I'm paying it forward by sharing our Coffee With Counsel program with you.  This is our new way of doing a regular "Ask a Lawyer" type of program with an incredibly minimal investment of financial and staff resources.  Not only has Coffee With Counsel been a great community service initiative for the SDCBA, but it has also served as a highly successful public relations tactic for our lawyer referral service. 

Here's the gist: Once a month, we invite the public to our Bar Center to discuss a particular area of  law over coffee and pastries. During the first part of our program, attorney "panelists" provide some general information on the law, discuss current or trending topics, and cover any recent and relevant changes in the law.  The second part of the program is a
Q & A session. Currently, we're hosting Coffee with Counsel at our Bar Center every other month, and alternate with other locations throughout the county, including public libraries, senior centers, and other public venues.  We limit our live attendence to the first 50 people to respond, so in order to reach more people in the county, we broadcast Coffee with Counsel via Facebook Live.

The logistics:  There are four things you need to start your Coffee With Counsel Program - a smartphone, a tripod for a smart phone, coffee, some pastries.  

           Other than the venue and some seating, that's it.  Easy as pie, right?  We recently began to utilize club chairs when we are in our Bar Center space for our attorney volunteers, rather than having them sit behind tables or at podiums like they do for CLE programs.  The intention is to make the program a little less formal - the attorneys are sitting down to have coffee with you, Joe Public.  To start the program, our Lawyer Referral and Information Service Director gives a short disclaimer - you know the one about information not being legal advice and consulting with an attorney if they believe they have an issue. She also encourages participants with further questions to contact the lawyer referral service after the program. 

Promotions:  The first step to promoting our Coffee With Counsel was to create a templated flier that we can update with each topic and venue.  We then send the flier to our entire lawyer referral list as an e-blast, and make sure that it gets placed on our local media and community calendars.  If appropriate, we also post it at the venue where the event will be taking place and at nearby coffee shops. In addition, we create a Facebook event on our Lawyer Referral and Information Service page, and promote through Facebook and Twitter.  Lastly, we distribute a media alert to our local press contacts two weeks prior to the event, and then again the week of the event.  The media alert is also templated, so any SDCBA team member can update with topic, time, date, and place.  At each Coffee With Counsel program, we distribute a flier with our upcoming program dates and topics to participants as well.  We also have an "interest list" that we cull through our website. 

Unexpected Benefits:  There has been one major benefit that we weren't expecting when we started this program - strengthened media relationships.  At each program, we've had media attend, not to cover the event, but rather to educate themeselves on different areas of the law.  We've had all types of media attend,  including our local Associated Press reporter, print journalists, and reporters from our local ABC and NBC affiliates.  They've shared that the information has provided them with some good background for stories they are covering or intend to cover in the future, and some have attended merely to ask their own personal questions.

Another unexpected benefit is that our Coffee With Counsel Facebook Live videos provide us with fresh and current content for our website.  On each page where we have public information about an area of law, we post the corresponding Coffee With Counsel videos.  You can see an example here on our immigration page or here on our labor and employment page.  While our audience may be limited on the day of the event, we've had as many as 1000 views online of previous programs, depending on the topic. 

If you're interested in bringing this program to your bar, I'm happy to chat about it with you.  You can also check it out by joining us live at one of our future programs.  You can find this year's lineup at www.sdcba.org/coffeewithcounsel