This article will focus on a topic that I have addressed on numerous occasions over 17 years: marketing/building your practice but with heavy emphasis on the social media/technology aspect of marketing because there are new tools that are not going away. If, as Matt Homann, president of LexThink ( www.lexthinkllc.com) says, “you plan on being in practice for another 5–10 years, then you need to understand these (social media) technologies because your future clients do.”
These Are Just Tools
I completely understand that law is a personal relationship profession. These new technologies do not change that. These are just new tools that need to be added to your marketing toolbox. They do not supplant the tried-and-true methods of networking and personal and professional referrals. Again, quoting Matt Homann, “Most important social media are the handshake and the telephone.” If you do not turn your online contacts into clients, the technologies are useless.
Like other marketing activities, these new technologies will not produce overnight results. They should not be viewed as separate and apart from all the other client development methods you use to get new clients. Social media is no different from other methods—it is telling people (friends, clients, colleagues, potential clients) what you do and how you can help them, but it is doing so online.
Start With the Basics
If you would not consider practicing law without your name in the phone book under “Attorneys,” then you should no longer consider not practicing without a website. It is now absolutely crucial that all attorneys in private practice have websites. As with phone book listings, they can be as simple or as elaborate as you feel necessary. At their most basic, websites are now the equivalent of electronic phone books. I Googled Maryland lawyers (where I am based) without quotes and came up with 1, 590,000 results; with the quotes, 183,000 entries. Admittedly, not all of these are lawyers or law firms, but even as I refined my search, I came up with hundreds of Maryland lawyers. Clients, potential clients, and referral sources are looking for information about attorneys on the web. You need to have your information available. The reality is that in 2010, a practitioner may not be taken seriously if he/she does not have some type of online presence. Although you may not get many clients strictly from a website, you could easily lose the opportunity for clients to find you because you do not have a site.
Even if you do not set up a website immediately, it is time for all attorneys to have their own domain names. It is time to stop using Yahoo and Comcast and Gmail for your professional email address. It is okay to use these email addresses for personal use, but you should be using your own email address just as you use your own phone number. To determine what domain names are available, go to www.godaddy.com and check your name or choice.
Another “older” technology is a law firm blog, which can be a great tool for connecting with clients, potential clients, and referral sources. A blog is not a website. For law firm purposes, it is an online newsletter that provides regular information about your practice area. It is very reasonably priced, needs almost no technology skills, and can be done at any time from any location.
However, if you are not going to update it at least weekly, then this is not a tool you should consider. This is a very time-consuming endeavor and needs to be maintained or it will have a more negative than positive effect. The posts do not need to be long or scholarly, but they do need to be consistent and timely. Many a lawyer started a blog only to discover how much time it took to regularly post information.
Getting Your Name Out to Get Business In
Lawyers have been advertising in various ways for many years, and while some may still find it “unprofessional,” it is an accepted practice. New technologies offer different ways to get your name out to the public and to potential referral sources.
The best way to be perceived as someone who is knowledgeable in a particular area of law is it to be interviewed and quoted by the media whether in print, online, television, etc.
There is a site called Help a Reporter Out ( www.haro.com) where you subscribe to their daily email blast (this is, when you can use your Yahoo email account). Each day you will receive a notice with a list of topics where reporters are looking for information and people to interview. This is a national list and includes many topics that may not be for lawyers. If there is a topic in which you have some knowledge and information, you can contact the reporter. There is no guarantee that you will be interviewed or that your comments will be included, but this is an easy way to get in front of potential reporters. If you are quoted, many of these are online articles. When others are researching the topic, your name could come up in a Google search, and I am sure I do not need to tell you how this can have a snowball effect.
Another way to determine what reporters are reporting and what they make be looking for is to follow them on Twitter or Facebook. Many Maryland Daily Record reporters are on twitter as is the Daily Record ( http://twitter.com/mddailyrecord). You can retweet their information or simply directly reply to them. In addition, on the Daily Record’s website, editors are looking for suggestions for stories and ideas. If you have an idea, send it to them. You could be quoted.
Legal newspapers throughout the county are on Twitter and Facebook. In a quick Google search on both Twitter and Facebook, I found many legal publications that you can follow to see what types of information they may be interested in writing.
Getting published online is a great way to get your name everywhere. Many ezine publications are desperate for content. A good place to find a list of online publications is at www.ezinehub.com. While this is not legal-specific software, there could be an area where you have some expertise and can write a short article. In addition, many national, state, and local bars are looking for authors, and many of their publications are online.
There are fewer and fewer firms of any size still sending out paper newsletters, but sending out information is still another tool to consider especially with current clients and referral sources. Many firms use Constant Contact ( www.constantcontact.com) because it is an easy and cost-effective way for a solo or small firm practitioner to send out a newsletter to their email lists. If you want to consider this, you will need to make sure that you have email contact information for all clients, potential clients, referral sources, etc. On your new client form, you should also ask if they want to receive an email newsletter. A short newsletter with helpful information, links to other information, and reminders of all your practice areas can be sent on a regular basis. It is a fast way to keep your name in front of clients and remind them of all your practice areas.
Another quick and easy way to get your name in front of potential clients, referral sources, media, and the public is with Twitter. I know that there have been a lot of jokes about the value of Twitter, and justifiably so. There is a lot of noise and nonsense in Twitterville. However, if used to share helpful information about your area of law and your practice, this is just another way to get your name in front of the public. These tweets should be 99 percent business related. (An occasional nonlegal tweet is okay as long as it is not too personal.) This is very easy to update on a daily basis from any mobile device. I think it is too easy not to do it.
And, if it turns out that Twitter disappears next year, so what? By that time you will have had the opportunity to get in front of many new people with little expense. It is a good return on investment.
Free Google Directory Listings
Google has a service that was called (up until April 20, 2010) Local Google Directory. This allowed any business to go in and create a profile, and when there is a search for “family law lawyers in Greenbelt,” a list of those attorneys who filled out the free profile will be listed and shown on a local map. This is now called Google Places, but the idea is the same. Go to Google.com/places and complete your profile now.
Other directories include Yelp ( www.yelp.com) and Yahoo local ( http://local.yahoo.com). I am sure there are others. If they are free, take advantage. Someone else will.
These are just a few quick ideas for using some of the new technology tools to build your practice. They are cost effective and necessary to get your name in as many places as possible.
Below is a list of resources for this and other topics.
Choosing and registering domain names http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/domainname.shtml
Blawg World—Source for information about lawyer, legal blogs http://www.blawg.com/
Official Google Blog
How to get better ranking on Google Local listings
Video of outstanding sessions at 2010 ABA Techshow Future of Law Practice
Patricia A. Yevics has been Director of Law Office Management for the Maryland State Bar Association since 1993.
© Copyright 2010, American Bar Association.