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Legal Marketing and the Web:
Tips on how to increase your
presence and clients


By Tracy Watson
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Client acquisition, otherwise known colloquially as “rainmaking,” is easily the least liked part of any attorney’s practice. In medium and large firms, this is a non-issue, since those firms have the resources and infrastructure dedicated to finding and retaining business. But in small and solo firms, how new business is approached is usually given the attention of an impending root canal: you know it’s needed, but you don’t want to think about it.

With the near collapse of print-based media as a way to reach new clients, the web is now a critical component of every attorney’s practice. Yellow Pages advertising can be helpful in generating business in some areas of law (think DUI, personal injury and bankruptcy), but the reality is most people who need legal help are less likely to reach for the phone book and more apt to begin with a Google or Bing search. How they find your firm is the difference between just “having a web site,” and using all the tools available on the web to raise your profile and reach new clients.
 
Small and solo WC law firms are more likely to be discovered through the web than with traditional Yellow Pages advertising.
 
What are you doing to reach your potential clients?

Despite the recession and recent high-profile implosion of a few big (and not-so-big) law firms, there is still a need for highly skilled lawyers in most areas of the law. It’s an accepted axiom that the further away you get from a general law practice the fewer potential clients remain. The truth of it depends on how a small or solo firm markets to the type of clients who need their services. Workers’ compensation law is no exception. As in any specialty, general practitioners may encroach. The way to compete is to specialize better, and that means differentiating yourself from the generalists and others in your area of law. The benefits of doing this can include:

  • your services are not perceived as a commodity
  • your value is expertise and credibility
  • more opportunities for referrals
  • better cases
  • a positive media image may help diffuse litigation and resolve cases more quickly
 
Is there enough on the table for
everyone to eat?

Let’s look at some facts: the State of California keeps detailed records on filed WC claims, since this is a highly regulated and monitored area of law. In the most recent year statistics available, there were more than 533,700 injury claims of some kind filed in 2010 . With over 37.2 million people in California, injured workers represent a mere 1.4% of the total population. The byzantine regulations, procedures and forms a worker must fill out – and an employer must comply with – mean the sheer volume of workers ensures claims will continue to be filed.

Source: Source: WCIS Database, June 3, 2011
 
The First Step is the Longest

To be more effective with your firm’s marketing, you must be committed to taking a long, introspective look at your firm’s goals. If you don’t have a plan for your practice, then you’re planning to fail. The initial plan should include:

  • A concise written mission statement. In advertising terms, this means a “unique selling proposition”. Just like any other service, a potential client needs to know what your firm offers that others do not. Avoid statements with flowery, ‘save the workers’ prose or that come across as an employer’s hit man. People buy legal advice from lawyers, which is a personal service; all attorneys are NOT the same. You need to emphasize what makes your firm special.

  • A plan for the web means more than a few static web pages. Stepping up your legal marketing game means committing to a higher level of non-billable time.

  • Are you capable of doing the marketing yourself? Do you have anyone on staff or know anyone qualified that can help? The number of hours needed to get the new plan running can temporarily distract a small practice lacking the skills or the time to do it right.

  • Identity: do you have a mark or logo that is more than the lettering you chose at the business card printer? Consider how having a mark created can make your firm stand out.

  • The identity you choose must be effectively applied to the web. How many web sites use generic PC fonts? Too many. Making a simple change such as fonts, a logo, and avoiding hackneyed legal clip art and pictures can visually reinforce your unique identity.

 
If you don’t have a plan for your practice, then you’re planning to fail.
 
The Web Site: It’s your marketing hub

Rather than view a web site as little more than an online services brochure, think of it as a dynamic hub for all the ways clients may hear about your firm on the internet. If you’ve done the work in crafting a solid plan, a mission statement (or ‘why-to-buy’ statement), and have a functional identity, then follow the next steps to execute that plan.

Since the web site will be the portal for all things related to your firm, it needs to reflect the firm’s mission, ethics, and “personality.” The amount of detail you impart to the web site visitors will depend on what other online sources you also harness. Reliance on a web site alone will be far less effective from a search engine standpoint, and result in fewer potential clients. Build your web site with content that will educate readers, establish your expertise, and be a focal point for viewers arriving from your other internet sources.

If you have notable successful case resolutions or trial wins, it’s no shame to add a page that highlights your accomplishments. As long as you scrupulously avoid implying that past cases are indicative of future success, you’ll safely be operating within the Business & Professions Code [1], and the good graces of the Bar.

After content, the one thing many small and solo firms overlook is the importance of the site design itself. Although many free tools abound on the web, the tools are only as good as the people using them. Most attorneys would never direct a client to a legal self-help book as a solution to a legal matter, yet many firms (not just legal) make the mistake of underestimating how much time and skill is needed to create a web site. It comes down to core competency and time expended: do you or anyone in your firm have the design background and/or expertise to create and code a web site? Unless you can answer yes, then it’s better to scare up the marketing dollars and seek out a web design professional to help execute your site.

[1] Cal. Bus. & Professions Code § 6157.2 on advertising states in part: “No advertisement shall contain or refer to any of the following: (a) Any guarantee or warranty regarding the outcome of a legal matter as a result of representation by the member.”

 
Rather than view a web site as little more than an online services brochure, think of it as a dynamic hub for all the ways clients may hear about your firm.
 
 
Search Engines: How to be found

What do Google and Bing look for in a key word search? Although their algorithms are as closely guarded as the Colonel’s chicken recipe, they both are more responsive to content written as specifically as possible. Remember, the search bots aren’t simply looking at keywords embedded in your site – they are indexing sites and display results based on content relevance. The more relevant your marketing is to the type of law you practice, the more likely you will be near the top of the search results.

Search engines not only use the content from your site, they look at incoming links (who links to your site) and the quality of those links. In the early days of Yahoo and Google, site owners would employ vast operations known as “link farms," essentially tens or even hundreds of unique web sites whose sole purpose was to have links back to the main web sites they wanted to elevate in page rank. Fortunately, the search engines figured this scam out years ago, and ever since have continued to hone their algorithms based on quality, not mass quantity.

This quality ranking issue continues to challenge small web site owners. The tools and methods available are always evolving, and social media is the predominate force in driving search results.

So, if it’s the message AND the media, where to begin? The following list is by no means complete, but in the last several years sites who have employed these core social media sites into their marketing plans have excelled at being recognized, regardless of industry:
 
Search engines look at both the quality of the content of your site and the inbound links in deciding how to rank your web pages.
 
 
The New Tools of Legal Marketing:
Internet Media


Avvo.com
Launched in 2007, Avvo quietly became a resource first in the legal industry, and in 2010 went active with physician lists. The site claims to have indexed nearly 90% of the licensed attorneys in the U.S., primarily by trolling the public state bar lists and creating canned profiles based on that info.

Why should you care? The issue is the automatic creation of a profile based on your bar license info, which is not always up to date. Even if you aren’t planning on rolling out a web campaign, you need to “claim” your profile for free – then edit it by adding your CV, pictures, articles, and most important – a link back to your web site.

avvo

 
Avvo.com has created a comprehensive list of attorney profiles based on public state bar license information – it’s important to claim your profile to control the accuracy of that info, and build on it.

avvo
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JDSupra.com
Tightly linked with Facebook and LinkedIn, this web site was created for lawyers by lawyers in response to a need for a site where professionals could publish articles, read legal news and case analysis, post attorney profiles and more. It isn’t weighed down with non-legal news or subjects, and covers an expansive list of practice areas.

Why should you care? Although it is a paid service, it allows you to publish articles (which link back to your site), create an expanded firm profile (which links back to your site), and allows consumers to search for specific practice areas by county (wait for it – links back to your site). The search engines love specific content, and it greatly improves the relevance ranks. Worth every dollar it costs.

jdsupra

 
JD Supra.com is unique in that it was created for lawyers by lawyers, and is a good resource for publishing law articles, comprehensive profiles, and being found by potential clients.

JDSupra
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LinkedIn.com
The company recently made its own headline by going public in 2011, before the Facebook frenzy eclipsed everything else. Considered by many to be the “grown-up” version of social networking, it can claim a presence by all the Fortune 500 companies, tens of thousands of executives, and as of May 2012, well over 160 million users, mostly professionals.

Why should you care? The basic account level is free, and allows users to upload as much information and credentials as they want, then invite others they know to “join” their network. Sort of like Facebook, only much more selective, and without the juvenile posts and advertising. In other words, it’s a fairly high-end demographic, with high incomes. When you use the paid premium service, it allows members to do more detailed data mining on companies, and permits targeted ads within the network.

linkedin

 
LinkedIn.com is a professional networking service that connects you with others within and outside the legal field. It also has an internal ad system for targeted marketing.

linkedin
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YouTube.com
Although the site was originally infamous for music videos, movie trailers, teenage fail videos and “liberated” (ahem) copyrighted content, after Google acquired the company it brought its considerable resources to bear on improving the features. In fact, when searching for content in YouTube, you are actually using the Google search engine, so if you’re linked here, you’ll also show up in the regular Google results.

Why should you care? First, the integration between Google and YouTube cannot be overemphasized. Helps the page rank. Second, one of the great tools is the ability to create your own channel, and customize it. For those who are inclined, video is a superb way to educate your potential clients about workers’ comp, and why they need a specialist.

youtube

 
YouTube.com isn’t just for music videos and content of a questionable copyright status anymore. Google has created a slick set of tools to allow users to create and manage their own channels – indexed and searchable by Google.


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PRWeb.com
In the previous media era, when a firm needed attention for a good case result, it would send a press release to all the relevant media outlets such as newspapers and TV, and hope the release would be picked up as news. Since the rise of Google’s dominance over search results, the playing field has leveled somewhat, enabling the small or solo firm to “toot their horn” AND see a spike in web traffic. Enter PR Web, a growing repository of product announcements, articles and news releases that Google constantly indexes.

Why should you care? Although the concept of legal PR marketing has long been the province of medium to large law firms with PR budgets, PRWeb has nearly democratized the process of news and product announcements. The major wire services, regional and local news media all subscribe to and monitor this service for breaking events. For the media it’s just another news-gathering tool. For a small law firm, it’s a reasonably priced way to be heard and to drive traffic to the firm’s web site.

PRWeb

 
PRWeb.com is more than just a collection of product announcements and press releases. It has a legal section, with a large number of practice categories listed.

pr web
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Facebook
Unless you’ve had the TV and radio off, ignored newspapers and lost your internet connection, it’s not news that the 5000-ton godzilla of worldwide social marketing went public and made a snot-nosed twenty-something a gazillionaire. Serious legal issues such as not keeping user information confidential aside, the social service still is a great way to raise your firm’s visibility. Not only does the service allow individual attorneys to create personal pages chock full of CV-rich information, but small firms benefit from the business-oriented “fan pages” section.

Why should you care? In terms of raw numbers, Facebook’s search capability is beginning to rival Google’s. As of July 2012, more than 800 million users, with over 150 million in the U.S. alone. Not a single company that doesn’t have a page. By implementing features such as “Recommend” plus the literal ubiquity of the pages, there is no reason why a law firm shouldn’t be on this service. Although the company still struggles with creating a viable advertising program, if you think your target audience is likely to use Facebook, then they can search for your legal services without exiting out to Google.

facebook

 
Facebook.com is so ubiquitous, no serious web marketer would consider ignoring the company’s impact on the web.

facebook
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Twitter
Although growing in use (200 million active users in 2011), this microblogging service is less a platform for marketing your firm and more of a way to stay connected to friends, family and for businesses, to their customers. At a maximum of 140 characters, the amount of text you can “tweet” ended midway through the third line of this paragraph. Long-winded scribes need not apply.

Why should you care? The user ranks are swelling, and the flexibility of the service allows you to broadcast small messages to one user or to the whole world. People do attorney searches on Twitter, through the search engine, www.search.twitter.com. Plus, there is a specialty service of users, called www.lextweet.com, devoted exclusively to the legal community. The caveat: unless you have the time to “tweet” or can delegate that function to someone in your office, you need to carefully determine the value of this service to your firm.

lex tweet

 
Twitter.com is a microblogging service – limited to 140 characters at a time. There is also a sub-category for the legal industry called Lex tweet.

twitter
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Blogging
Last on the list of tools for your marketing is a blog. This can be as complex as a substitute for a web site, or as simple as a way to express your thoughts on a particular topic, or share interesting news or case analysis in your area of practice. And, yes, it links back to your main web site.

Why should you care? The statistics show that firms with blogs draw far more attention and leads than those who are silent. In a recent survey by Lexis and Visibility, there is a veritable tsunami of legal blogs coming from the top 250 law firms in the U.S. According to the ABA, there are over 1.1 million active attorneys in this country. But the Lexis stats estimate there are fewer than 40,000 legal blogs (out of more than 164 million worldwide). As of July 2012, Wordpress alone claims almost 54 million users. That may be a lot of writers, but not much competition in the legal arena.

 
Blogging has been shown to raise a firm’s profile and generate new leads far more than lawyers who don’t.

wordpress
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What should you do?
Many attorneys have shied away from traditional “advertising” because of a negative perception among legal professionals and consumers. With the rise of internet media, the ‘shotgun’ approach to finding clients is a thing of the past. The goal of any plan is to work the given medium only as hard as needed, and not expend effort in areas that won’t yield results. Granted, that’s more easily said than done, but the first step is to create a plan; without it, all of these tools can be completely overwhelming and useless. Finding the right people to help craft your marketing plan is an investment in your practice that, if done right, will pay off handsomely.

   
 
Tracy Watson has been an advertising and marketing communications professional for over 25 years. During the past seven years, he has worked on the design of getMedLegal.com. In addition to a BFA degree, Tracy is also a certified paralegal.

For more about Tracy, click here.

To reach Tracy, email him at tracy@twdgroup.com.

All product and company names refernced herein are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them. Avvo is a trademark of Avvo, Inc. JDSupra is a registered trademark of JDSupra LLC. LinkedIn is a registered trademark of LinkedIn Corporation. YouTube is a trademark of YouTube LLC. PRWeb is a trademark of Vocus PRW Holdings, LLC FaceBook is a trademark of FaceBook, Inc. Twitter is a trademark of Twitter, Inc. LexTweet is a trademark of LexBlog, Inc. WordPress logo is a trademark of WordPress Foundation.
  Tracy Watson