Becoming a lawyer today requires a handle on the Internet that previous generations of lawyers never had to deal with.
LinkedIn, Avvo, websites, social media—lawyers need to be familiar with all of it. Whether you’re researching opposing parties on social media or looking to market your firm online, familiarity with the tools of the web is critical.
For a new lawyer, mastering your online presence can build your profile and aid the progression of your legal career.
If you had a job before law school, you probably have a LinkedIn profile. If you don’t, that’s fine. Now’s the time to get one. LinkedIn will be your online resume and, if you manage it right, your references page.
In a cursory Google search of your name, your LinkedIn profile will probably show up on the first page of Google results. What will people see?
LinkedIn can be a great tool to connect with colleagues and acquaintances, and display your skills and experience. After any networking event, once all the business cards are collected and sorted through, people usually head to LinkedIn to stay in touch with the people they met earlier.
For your LinkedIn profile, get skills endorsements from people familiar with your skillset. Connect with and stay in touch with the people you meet at events. If you’re ever looking to switch firms down the road, get referrals from colleagues, or give out a referral, LinkedIn is the perfect tool to help.
If you are running a solo practice, you can create a company page for colleagues and clients to follow. They can stay abreast of what you’re currently working on and see any announcements or news you might have to share.
Most lawyers are on Facebook because most people are on Facebook.
You may not want to friend work colleagues or clients because it seems too personal, but there are ways to use Facebook that can keep your circle of friends private. First, if you are running a solo practice, create a page for your firm. Then invite colleagues and clients to like it. No need to friend them directly so long as they’re following your page.
Second, if you want to add colleagues, clients, and acquaintances on Facebook, you can add them to a list labeled “Clients” or whatever you choose. Once on this list, you can prevent them from seeing any private content. Instead of sharing posts with your Friends list, click the Custom button next to the Post button and choose to share with “Friends, excluding Clients.” Now clients won’t see those casual pictures you don’t want them to see.
If you are starting a solo practice, the Internet presents a huge opportunity.
Starting a practice has never been easier—all you need is a website, a computer, and a phone. And just like that, potential clients can find you.
You can create your own website cheaply using a template on Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. If you have the budget, you can hire a legal-website designer who has experience making good-looking law firm websites. First impressions count, so make sure your website:
- Looks good on mobile devices (is “responsive”)
- Features high-quality images (e.g., headshots, background images, etc.)
- Is free of cheesy stock photos (which make you look fake and put you in a negative light from a client perspective)
- Mentions what kind of law you actually practice
- Displays your phone number and features a contact form so potential clients can reach you
Beyond the website itself, you may want to consider blogging.
Launching websites doesn’t come with traffic and potential clients. If you push your website live tomorrow, why would people find your site? Google does not simply send traffic to newly launched sites. You may share a link to your new website on social media, and get a hundred visitors from friends and family. But next month your traffic will drop back to barely anything.
The easiest, most-reliable way to generate consistent traffic to your firm’s website is to blog.
What should you blog about? First, write FAQ answers. The questions you imagine clients asking during an initial consultation, those are great for blog posts. During client intakes and consultations, write down the questions they ask you. Other potential clients likely have those questions, and they are probably asking Google these questions too.
People are increasingly typing full questions into Google as search queries. If you do criminal defense, “What to do when arrested for…” is a great starter.
If you want some more ideas for blog posts, just start to type a few words into Google related to your practice area. You’ll see that Google will provide suggestions to complete your search query. If you write “How much does a DUI,” Google will suggest, “How much does a DUI lawyer cost” and “How much does a DUI cost over 10 years.” Those completed terms are really good blog post suggestions.
Second, don’t write purely self-promotional sales copy on your blog. There’s a place for client testimonials and “cases won.” That’s for a specific part of your site, but not your blog.
Self-promotional blog posts are advertising. In New York, as an example, advertising is defined as any communication where the “primary purpose . . . is for the retention of the lawyer or law firm.” This may be confusing to some lawyers who suggest, “Well, I only have the blog with the goal of getting new clients. Isn’t it advertising then?” If the content is educational to the public, then it is probably not considered advertising. As an example, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that where a lawyer’s blog was nearly all self-promotional, featuring discussions of the lawyer’s successes in court, the blog was advertising.
Once you are admitted to practice, you’ll find that whether you wanted it or not, you now have a lawyer profile on Avvo.com. Avvo is basically a Yelp/LinkedIn of every lawyer. Avvo.com automatically creates a profile for new attorneys and there is no way to remove it. Avvo profiles rank well in Google searches for lawyers’ names, so you might as well work on your Avvo profile.
Potential clients do look at Avvo, so you’re better off working on your profile than having a blank page. If a client finds your Avvo profile and sees your low default rating, they could potentially look up other lawyers and not get back to you.
Like LinkedIn, Avvo has sections where you can list your experience, publications, awards, and practice areas. You can also get client and peer reviews.
Avvo rates lawyers on a 1–10 scale. Factors include experience, industry recognition, and ethics (i.e., have you been disciplined by the ethics board?). Starting out, your experience and industry recognition ratings will be low. Generally, every new lawyer is around a 6.7. But filling out your profile and getting peer endorsements can boost your rating. Some lawyers even “crowd-solved” boosting your Avvo rating.
Ethics Concerns about Your Online Presence
As a lawyer online, you’ll now have to deal with legal ethics you didn’t have to deal with before you were admitted. For example, under ABA Rule 7.1 you can’t make any false or misleading statements about yourself or your services. So, while you may have been embellishing your resume and LinkedIn profile before you were a lawyer, once you’re admitted, you should probably remove those skills you don’t really have. If someone endorses you on LinkedIn for Mandarin skills and you don’t actually speak Mandarin, you should remove that endorsement. It’s a bit of a hassle, but periodically review your LinkedIn profile and make sure you’re not displaying endorsements that are untruthful.
If you’re launching a solo practice, one way to make your firm seem more professional is with a custom your-name@your-website-URL email address. Luckily, it’s very easy to get.
First, buy your website URL.
Go to Namecheap.com or GoDaddy. Find the right domain name for your firm. It should only cost around $10. Better yet, search for “GoDaddy/Namecheap coupon.” They almost always have discounts on purchasing new domains.
Second, get an email service like Google Apps for Work or Microsoft Office 365, which (as of this writing) cost $5 per user. GoDaddy and Namecheap also have their own email services, but usually they cost a bit more. You can choose your own email address in whatever configuration you want: firstname@website, firstname.lastname@website, initials@website, etc.
Third, if you’re using Office 365 or Google Apps, you’ll need to point your domain’s MX records to Office 365/Google Apps. This is a bit technical. Thankfully, Google Apps and Office 365 have very good instructions for how to take care of this. Once completed, you can also set up email on your phone.
Lastly, get that new email address added to your business card and you’ll immediately have some credibility. Having a custom domain email looks a lot more professional than @aol.com, @hotmail.com or @gmail.com.
As a new lawyer, it’s important to build your professional web presence with a solid foundation. It will follow you with your career as you gain more experience. It can be an asset when it comes to building your network. It can also help you build your client base.