By: Gina Pirozzi
Over two decades in the legal marketing industry, I’ve seen big changes. In the nineties, senior partners routinely believed that law firms didn’t need marketing support. Eventually, marketing departments grew at big firms and everyone from solos on up understood the power of marketing their services and expertise. Even with that acceptance, the vast majority of lawyers will articulate how they attract new clients the same way: We do good work. We build a professional and personal network who trusts in our ability. Members of that network refer prospects to us.
They’re right. That IS how they get new clients. However, when I ask them, “What about the clients you don’t get? Why aren’t you getting them?” I’m met with blank stares. Recently, I saw a breakthrough. In a conversation with two name partners of a metro-area firm, one said to me, “We don’t get our business from Google.” Then, after a pause, the second looked at me and said, “But I feel like we should.”
He couldn’t have been more correct. A 2013 study revealed that about half of all people surveyed either seek a referral from a friend or their current attorney if they need specialized legal service. While that’s a powerful endorsement of “the way good lawyers have always gotten new clients”, it also raises a huge question …. What about the other half? Not surprisingly, the survey goes on to say the other half are Googling, visiting online legal directories and other digital resources in search of an attorney.
And the study didn’t account for people in the first group who went online at some point in the process. We all get trusted recommendations regarding where to eat, what contractor to use or a medical specialist, yet still check that reference out on Google. It stands to reason the same thing happens with lawyer referrals.
So what should a lawyer do to appeal to the other half? Here are three simple suggestions:
Jump into social media.
Savvy marketers will tell you we are fast approaching a business climate wherein, “If you don’t exist on social media, you don’t exist”. Just as businesses reluctantly accepted the cell phone, the internet, and e-mail, there is no way to avoid accepting social media. And why would you want to?
At its core, marketing is about targeting a select group of the population and sharing a targeted message with them. Social media is literally built for that exact functionality. You can decide exactly who to talk to and share exactly what you want as often as you want … and it doesn’t cost anything.
Still, lawyers resist social media more than the business population at large. This is likely due to the fact they view it as a technology and may be uncomfortable with their lack of expertise. Frequent conference speaker David Shing, AOL’s Digital Prophet (that’s his actual job title), reminds his audiences to think of social media as a utility rather than a technology. We don’t need to understand the ins and outs of electricity to hit the light switch and work a few hours after dark, or be masters of telecommunication to pick up the phone and call a potential client. Stop thinking about how social media works and concentrate on the simple fact that it is an impactful tool to share your message with a key audience. The vast majority of what you share with a potential client or referring attorney in person, by e-mail or on the phone can be shared more efficiently via social media.
Love The Sound of Your Digital Voice
Content is king online and you want a strong digital voice. Good content gets shared on social media and gets found by internet search engines. Whatever it is that makes you unique – a specialty, a verdict, a fee structure, deep industry knowledge, a committee membership – should be part of your digital footprint beyond your own website. Whether you’re sharing traditional Law Journal articles on your website or posting an update on LInkedIN, it becomes part of your searchable content and makes it easier for prospective clients to find you. This is even more effective with what are known as “long tail search terms”. In other words, your chances of coming up in Google results when someone searches “Long Island attorney” may be remote. Long tail terms, however – “Long Island lawyer estates and guardianships for disabled children” or “Online fantasy sports state by state laws” – can deliver the perfect client …. If, and only if, you have posted content that reflects your expertise in that area.
Of my three recommendations, I know this is the least popular, but it may be the most vital. It’s true that Avvo attorney ratings have little credibility today and that they are essentially “muscling into” the legal marketing arena demanding participation from lawyers. But they’re following the tried and true digital business plan of Wikipedia, Angie’s List and others that faced all the same criticism before eventually bridging the consumer credibility gap and becoming mainstream tools. Avvo has begun running national television commercials. Its CEO, Mark Britton, was EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. They doubled headcount in their Seattle headquarters in 2014 and will double it again in 2015. All indications are the company is growing in to a more important player every day and will eventually become a major client acquisition tool (especially for consumer-facing attorneys). Even today, if you Google your own name with the word “Attorney” after it, you’ll likely get your Avvo profile as one of the first results. What’s more, their system is actually fair and easy to work with. They want you to submit information about your career, references from colleagues, peers and clients and – if you do so – your numerical rating will rise accordingly.
Avvo is here to stay. Make it work for you!