While acknowledging that the terms "legal" and "rebel" are usually an oxymoron, ABA Journal publisher and editor Edward Adams thinks his magazine’s four-month Legal Rebels program will not only put the legal profession in a new light, but also ABA Journal’s parent organization, the American Bar Association.
"Over the last year there’s been nothing but negative news for lawyers, such as pay cuts and budget cuts," said Adams. "We wanted to give them a sense of hope. There is a growing consensus that the profession that emerges from this recession will be much different. It won’t be a return to the good old days."
Legal Rebels profiles 50 leading innovators in the legal profession. The program kicked off with a cover story in ABA Journal’s September issue (the magazine will continue to feature profiles through November, with a final list of the "rebels" appearing in December).
Profiles will also appear at a dedicated Web site, www.LegalRebels.com. "We wanted to cover them in way as innovative as what they’re doing," said Adams. "Every profile has some form of multimedia: photo slideshow, audio podcast, video with folks on tour. We’re trying to use all those tools on this one project."
Three distinct events are attached to the program. Prior to the first profiles appearing, ABA posted a draft of a Legal Rebels manifesto as a wiki, so readers could edit it themselves. Over the course of a month, the manifesto was edited 65 times. At end of that period, ABA Journal posted a final version that was essentially created by the readers. "We want our readers to be involved in this, not just be passive recipients of information," Adams said. "That’s one of the ways forward for magazines online."
On September 14, ABA Journal launched the two-week mobile tour component of the program, driving from Boston to south of Washington DC, visiting a different ‘Legal Rebel’ each day. The tour will include daily video recaps, live Webcams, a map at LebalRebels.com to chart the tour progress and a song of the day. "We want people to in effect ride shotgun with us," said Adams. "Whenever I talk about that, everyone smiles and laughs. It’s different and unique, and that’s the kind of reaction we want to get to help build a sense of hope and optimism."
In October, ABA Journal will host 24 Hours of Rebels, in which it will post an essay from one of the Rebels every hour talking about how the profession needs to change in the next five years. ABA will also host a series of events including Web chats and online radio programs featuring debates.
The effort ties in with social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, including links to those outlets at the Legal Rebels site. Within two days, ABA Journal had more than 100 Twitter messages about the project. Readers can sign up and push out any comment they make about Legal Rebels to any of their social media accounts. "We recognize people spend a lot of time on those sites," said Adams. "We also wanted to drive traffic back into our own site. Readers become champions of the project."
Generating Six-Figures in Revenue
ABA Journal has sold five advertising packages around the program generating "six-figures in new revenue," according to Adams.
Even the sales approach was different: instead of sitting down and meeting with each advertiser, ABA hosted Webinars to explain the program. Three of the advertisers—Starwood Hotels, Hertz and Sprint—are in ABA’s Affinity program offering discounts to members. "When we’re on the road, we’re staying in Starwood hotels, we’re driving a Hertz cars and we’re using Sprint cell phones and wi-fis," said Adams.
The budget for the program is between $15,000 and $20,000 but Adams said the biggest expenses were for equipment like video cameras and an audio recorder.
Changing the Perception of ABA
Adams said the program gives the ABA staff a chance to learn new skills. "From a management perspective, this is an opportunity for us to experiment with a lot of story-telling techniques," said Adams. "For many of us, this is the first time we’re shooting and cutting video, it’s the first time we’ve experimented with audio slideshows and podcasts. We’re learning by doing."
The program is also changing the perception of ABA, according to Adams. "One of the challenges for an association is that many are viewed as stodgy, old school, last century," he said. "Some critics think that of ABA but when you do a project like this, people start to think of the association in a different light. We had a guy on Twitter the other day who said, ‘I’m having a hard time putting the words’ ABA’ and ‘rebels’ in the same sentence but I’m getting used to it.’"