Most lawyers obtain new business from word of mouth referrals. Even with the internet, that hasn’t changed—although what has changed is how “word of mouth” is exchanged, where people go to seek referrals, and who they listen to. Many people ask online communities for recommendations for everything from restaurants and hotels to legal services.
As Kevin O’Keefe, founder of the blogging platform LexBlog, says, “The internet and social media serve as accelerators of relationships and a lawyer’s word-of-mouth reputation.”
The American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center once again conducted its ABA Legal Technology Survey Report between January and May 2017. The 2017 Survey included questions about the use of blogging and social media by the respondents themselves, as well as their firms.
Blogging provides lawyers and law firms many advantages in developing relationships, demonstrating knowledge and expertise, and generating interest firms. But blogging takes commitment to reap these rewards.
O’Keefe says: “The goal of blogging is not to advertise, but to engage a lawyer’s target audience of clients, prospective clients, referral sources and the influencers of those groups…
Lawyers must listen to the questions and concerns of clients and prospective clients. Without breaching confidence, they should respond to concerns in a conversational style that demonstrates their skill, experience, and care as a lawyer.”
Are lawyers using blogs? Are they using them effectively? Let’s look at this the 2017 Survey results.
Law Firm Blogs
From 2013-2016, the percentage of firms that report that their firms have a blog remained statistically steady at approximately 26% overall, although this year saw a slight increase to 31%. Thankfully, it appears that attorneys are becoming a bit more aware of their firm’s marketing efforts, as only 3% of respondents to the 2017 Survey reported that they did not know whether their firm had a blog.
Larger firms seem to be blogging more than smaller firms: only 15% of solos and 25% of firms of less than 10 attorneys report having blogs in 2017. These numbers have remained consistent over the past four years. Firms of 10-49 attorneys saw an increase in positive responses to this question from 26% in 2016 to 38% in 2017, and firms of 100+ attorneys saw an increase from 56% to 71% over the past year, representing more than a 12% jump in reported blogging activity.
Lawyers reporting the following as their primary practice areas were most likely to report that their firms had a legal blog: employment and labor (33%), personal injury (32%), and litigation (31%). These three practice areas also reported the largest percentage of firm blogs last year.
Lawyers Who Blog
This year also saw an increase in respondents who reported that they personally maintained a legal topic blog, from 8% in 2016 to 12% in 2017. 15% of solos, 14% lawyers from firms of 500+ attorneys, 11% from firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 10% of attorneys from firms of 10-49 lawyers report that they personally maintain a legal topic blog.
Of those who personally maintain a legal blog, 76% do it for client development, 47% because they enjoy writing and outreach, and another 47% report blogging for career development/networking. Of those bloggers, 43% overall report that they have had a client retain their services directly or via referral as a result of their blogging activity. 28% have not had a client retain them, and another 28% are not sure whether their blogging activity has contributed to the retention of a client.
Looking closer at these results, of lawyers in firms of 500+ attorneys who personally maintain a legal blog, 80% report getting clients as a result of their blogging activity, and the remaining 20% were not sure. Lawyer-bloggers in firms of 2-9 or 50-99 lawyers each reported a greater than 50% success rate in client retention as a result of blogging.
Among respondents who blog on legal topics, blogs are most commonly updated monthly (46%) or weekly (26%). A full 20% of bloggers who responded to the 2017 Survey had stopped updating their blogs, and 5% of respondents either update their blog daily or have someone else update their blog on their behalf. Lawyers are most likely to have someone else update a blog for them if they are in firms of 100+ attorneys; one-third of respondents in firms of 100-499 lawyers, and 20% of bloggers in firms of 500+ lawyers gave this response.
Two ways legal bloggers might increase their blogging success rate are by posting to their blogs more frequently and interacting more with their readers and with other blogs. In my experience, when bloggers aren’t putting the necessary time and effort into their blogs, or see their blogs as mere vehicles for disseminating information, this limits their visibility and reach, which in turn limits referrals. A much better approach, as O’Keefe recommends, is to use blogging as a means to engage and collaborate with others.
In the 2017 Survey, only 23% of respondents report that their firms do not maintain a presence on any social networks.
LinkedIn is still the leading social network for lawyers, although its use seems to have declined a bit recently. According to the 2017 Survey, 53% of respondents report LinkedIn use by their firms. Solos this year also reported a 53% rate of LinkedIn use by their firms. Close to half of attorneys in firms of less than 50 lawyers report that their firms use LinkedIn, and firms of 100+ continue to have the largest firm presence on LinkedIn, between 63-73%.
Facebook is the second most popular social network for firms according to the 2017 Survey, although less than 40% of all respondents report a firm Facebook presence. Here larger firms again lead the way, with 50% of lawyers from firms of 100-499 lawyers reporting that their firms participate on Facebook, while 46% of firms of 50-99 or 500+ lawyers report using this platform, as compared to 30% of solo firms.
Twitter remains an elusive platform for most law firms: overall, 19% of respondents reported a firm presence on Twitter. Large firms seem to use Twitter most often—48% of survey respondents from firms with 100+ lawyers report a firm Twitter presence (up from 36% last year). Smaller firms are still not adopting the platform in large numbers; 18% of respondents from firms with 2-9 lawyers, 14% from firms of 10-49, and 11% of solos report using Twitter.
An additional 31% of respondents from firms of 100+ lawyers and 21% of attorneys from firms of 50-99 lawyers say they do not know whether their firm maintains a Twitter presence.
Other Social Networks
Other social networks still lag far behind LinkedIn and Facebook, but two additional networks should be mentioned: Martindale and Avvo, with 26% using Martindale and 20% participating on lawyer ratings site Avvo.
Firms of 50-500 lawyers tend to be more likely to participate on Martindale— 33% of lawyers from firms of 50-99 lawyers and 38% of firms of 100-499 lawyers—with roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of lawyers from firms of other sizes reporting
By contrast, solos and small firms seem to gravitate more toward Avvo: 30% of lawyers in firms from 2-9 attorneys and 23% of solos report a presence on Avvo, while 12% or fewer participate from firms of other sizes (including no reported participation from firms of 500+ lawyers).
Social Media Tools Individual Lawyers Use for Business
The highest percentage of respondents in the last four years—81%—report maintaining a presence on social networks for professional purposes.
Unlike last year, when the group most likely to report individually using or maintaining a presence on a social network was respondents under the age of 40, this year, respondents aged 40-49 were most likely to report this use of social media (93%, as opposed to 85% in 2016), but 90% of respondents under age 40 also reported social media
Out of the leading 2017 primary practice areas, respondents who report the following as primary practice areas are the most likely to report individually using or maintaining a presence in a social network: employment and labor (89%), personal injury and litigation (84% each), commercial (82%), and contracts (81%), representing a mix between business to consumer and business to business based practices.
As we saw with firms, individual LinkedIn use is reportedly down: 72% of lawyers surveyed use LinkedIn, compared to 85% in 2016. Next is Facebook, at 34%, followed by Martindale and Avvo at 17% each. Only 5% of respondents maintain a personal presence on Google Plus for professional purposes.
Among the respondents who personally use or maintain a presence in a social network for professional purposes, 72% of lawyers overall report a presence in LinkedIn, with the lowest being solos at 61%, followed by 71% of firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 81% of lawyers from firms with 10-49 lawyers, and over 85% from firms with more than 50 lawyers. No respondents from firms of any size topped 90% of LinkedIn use.
In 2016, LinkedIn usage overall was reportedly 85% and was most popular with lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers or more than 100 lawyers (each group reported usage at 99%), and less so with lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers (85%).
Why is LinkedIn Use Dropping Among Lawyers?
The 2017 Survey itself does not address the reasons why lawyers or their firms choose specific platforms but based on conversations I’ve had with attorneys over the past few years, as well as behavior I have observed on LinkedIn, I have some theories.
LinkedIn has made numerous changes over the past several years. Many of these changes have added more social features to the platform, similar to features seen on Facebook or Instagram (for example the messages pop-up feature). I’ve also heard increasing complaints about the addition of personal posts and notifications (such as birthdays), increased spam and solicitations through LinkedIn, and complaints about the volume of LinkedIn email they receive. These changes may be discouraging those looking for a more formal or professional environment for online interaction.
Additional changes, intended by LinkedIn to make the desktop version of the program more intuitive and more similar to the mobile version, may have created frustration as users have difficulty finding features they are searching for. Many feel that LinkedIn fails to adequately warn of changes taking place or to sufficiently educate LinkedIn users about changes once they have been made, leaving users searching the “Help” section for answers. The removal of some professional features from the free versions of LinkedIn has only contributed to the problem. As LinkedIn tries harder to move users to one of its paid platforms, it may be losing users who relied on the free versions.
Lawyers who are troubled by some of these issues can make LinkedIn more useful to them by visiting their LinkedIn privacy and security settings, turning off notifications that do not serve them, controlling the volume or types of email messages received from LinkedIn, and limiting the reasons they can be contacted through LinkedIn. Lawyers may also wish to be more discriminating in making connections on LinkedIn so that they receive information about only those people with whom they would like to interact.
Finally, LinkedIn use may be dropping among lawyers who feel that the platform is not providing value to them, whether because their target audience of clients or referral sources is not using LinkedIn, or because they do not spend sufficient time cultivating their network.
Facebook remains the second most popular social network among individual lawyers surveyed. Overall, 34% of respondents reported personally using Facebook for professional purposes. Solo respondents were the most likely to report a presence on Facebook (42%), followed by those from firms of 2-9 attorneys (38%), firms of 10-49 attorneys (28%), and firms of 500+ (26%). These represent slight gains over reported numbers from 2016.
Twenty-six percent of respondents report that they personally use or maintain a presence on Twitter. Larger firms seem to contain more attorneys who personally use Twitter; 43% of lawyers from firms of 100-499 attorneys; 29% of firms of 2-9 and firms of 500+; 25% of firms of 10-49, and 22% of solos.
Other Social Networks
Overall, 17% of respondents report personally using or maintaining a presence on Martindale for professional purposes, but the numbers are more evenly spread than those for firm use. Respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers report the highest individual usage of the platform, at 24%, followed by firms of 500+ attorneys (23%), 100-499 attorneys (20%), and firms of 2-9 lawyers (18%). Solos lag behind at only 11%.
Respondents also reported using Avvo for professional purposes (17%), with the platform being most popular among solos (25%) and firms of 2-9 lawyers (25%).
Use of other networks such as Google Plus and LawLink see even less adoption, although Google Plus does still see some use by solo respondents, 9% of whom use the platform for professional purposes.
Social Media Outside of Work
Lawyers also use social media for non-professional purposes. Here, Facebook leads the way, with 82% of respondents indicating that they use Facebook for personal reasons, while 29% use LinkedIn, 27% use Twitter, and 7.5% use Google Plus for personal reasons.
Why Are Lawyers Using Social Media Tools?
Among individual lawyers who use social media tools for professional purposes, 69% do so for professional development/networking, while 56% use them for client development. Education and awareness take third place at 39%, followed by case investigation and other uses.
Twitter is considered a separate category in the 2017 Survey; from other social networking platforms. Of those using Twitter, the most common reason was for social or personal use (72%). Another 40% use Twitter for purposes of education/awareness, 25% for career development, and 21% for client development.
Overall, 27% of respondents indicated that they had a client retain their legal services directly or via referral as a result of their use of social networking sites for professional purposes, and another 22% did not know. Solos and small firms seem to be the most successful in this regard; firms of 2-9 lawyers reported a 33% success rate, with solos reporting a 32% success rate. Approximately 22% of lawyers in firms of 10-40 lawyers and firms of 500+ lawyers reported receiving clients as a result of their participation on social media.
Few Twitter users are seeing client retention results from their Twitter use, perhaps as a result of the reasons they are using Twitter: only 4% of respondents reported a client retaining them directly or via referral as a result of Twitter use, and another 13% did not know whether Twitter yielded clients. Solos seem to be the most successful at using Twitter to gain clients; 8% of solos said Twitter use resulted in retention of a client.
Choosing the Right Social Media Tools
While the 2017 Survey can provide us with a snapshot of what is happening in the world of digital marketing, it can’t tell us how lawyers can improve the results they achieve with blogging and social media tools. The choice of where lawyers invest resources, including time, in any of these tools can make a big difference in their rate of success. So how should lawyers go about choosing these tools?
Any marketing endeavor should always begin with an examination of purpose: why is the firm or the individual lawyer venturing into blogging or social media? What is the goal the lawyer or firm is seeking to accomplish?
Once the goals and objectives are defined, the lawyer or firm can move on to determine which method or platform is the best way to accomplish them. But this examination must also include an examination of the intended audience. You cannot choose an appropriate digital marketing tool or platform without having an intimate knowledge of the intended audience. Asking questions like these can help:
- Considering the firm (or lawyer)’s strategic goals, who is the most appropriate audience to reach?
- How does that audience look for either a lawyer to help with their legal issue or for information concerning their business or legal issue?
- Where are they likely to go for information or entertainment that might expose them to your message even before they are seeking legal advice?
- Does the audience use digital tools to obtain information?
- How often do they use these tools?
- Which tools do they use?
- What kind of information are they looking for?
- What kinds of networks or communities do they belong to online and what do they use those networks or communities for?
- What social media platform is my key potential client or referral source most likely to be participating in?
This information about audience can help not only to choose which social media platforms your firm participates in but also what kinds of content you post to those platforms.
You’ll also want to be familiar with the different online platforms and their unique features and cultures. Consider demographics before jumping into a social media platform. If you have a very specific target audience, you may choose to supplement activity on one or more of the “big three” (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter) social media platforms toward something that speaks more directly to your target audience—Pinterest, Instagram, or Snapchat for younger audiences, for example.
Be realistic about how many social media channels and blogs you or your firm can consistently manage. Trying to spread yourself too thin is likely to weaken, rather than strengthen, your brand and may not allow you sufficient momentum to gain the followers, recognition, or engagement you seek.