Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Will Always Matter In The Legal Profession

The internet flows with messages to lawyers about what they need to have to be successful. No more is it about cross-examination skills, negotiation skills, people skills - it's all about toys, apps, and placement on the world wide web. It's sad, and we lawyers have done nothing to attack the commoditization of our profession.

Mark Britton of AVVO frequently says that "if you are not on the internet, you don't exist." He tells the story of his search for a toy for a child. It didn't matter how many toy stores sold this toy, all that mattered was which merchant came up (on the first page of Google) and was a click away from shipping the toy.

Mark makes a good point, but his point is not inclusive. If you are not on the internet, you don't exist to those looking for products and services on the internet.

The internet is a wonderful source of information and merchandise, including information about services - like lawyers. At it's lowest common denominator, the internet is where people go to find the best deal on whatever they are going to buy.

If your goal is to be the best deal as a lawyer, then I recommend you put every single marketing dollar, dime, and penny into internet marketing.

This is not a criticism. We need low fee lawyers for clients. People need access to legal representation and if someone can do it, or claim they can do it, for $500 instead of $5,000, then the client should have that choice, we just hope they make an informed one.

But not every lawyer is in that market. Not every lawyer is looking for every client with a few dollars to spare.

And not every client is looking for a lawyer with the most toys, or best ability to get to the top (of Google).

So we come to my point.

Regardless of who is telling you otherwise, there are things about the legal profession that will never change, no matter how many toys Apple makes, how many social networking sites are invented, or how many tips and tricks exist out there to play the marketing game.

There are so many tech and toy related "10 tips," "5 tips," "20 things every lawyer needs to know," lists.

But here's what will always matter about the profession.

[1] Most clients come to a lawyer when they have a problem. They are looking for someone to understand the problem. People understand problems, toys don't understand problems. It will always require a person, to understand a problem.

[2] Cases and disputes are resolved between people. They will always be resolved with people talking to people. Always.

[3] Reputations of lawyers are not ever going to be determined by which lawyer has which toy or placement on the internet.

[4] Real clients with real problems will never hire a lawyer because of the toys they own, or the tech they use, ever.

[5] The best tech a lawyer can have is ears.

[6] Marketing may get you a call, or an appointment, but it will never get you a happy client.

[7] Happy clients will always be the best source of referrals, not Google.

[8] Even unhappy clients will be a good source of referrals, if their unhappiness is not viewed as your fault.

[9] Being on the first page of Google means just that, you are on the first page of Google. There are plenty of unethical, crappy lawyers on the first page of Google, and the clients will never know that until it's too late.

[10] Your ability to persuade a judge, jury, prosecutor, opposing civil counsel, client's boss, client's wife, or licensing board will never be determined by the success of your marketing.

[11] There will never be a toy or app that will make a client feel better about their situation. Only you, and your words and actions will ever make a client feel like they are in the right hands.

[12] Machines have no emotion, no ability to care, and they break. The best thing your client gets from you is your voice, after you use your ears.

[13] No one will ever become great merely because they own something.

[14] There is no app, toy, or marketing technique that will get you a "thank you" from a client for saving their life, or making it better.

[15] The amount of people you "know" on-line has nothing to do with you getting a client who needs a good lawyer.

So go, be on the front page of Google, "exist" on the internet, buy all the cool new toys.

There's a whole world out there that doesn't care about any of it, but they are looking for good lawyers.

Maybe like you.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Cheryl Leonoe said...

This is an excellent article and one that should be read by all lawyers. Will be must read for our clients.

Christopher G. Hill said...

Thanks for the reminder Brian. I always can tell the folks that just cold call from my blog or web site without more digging because they have to ask what I do.

I wonder about folks who will hire a lawyer cold from an ad, particularly one in my area of construction law.

In the end, customer service and being a good problem solver and counselor will win out over flashy web sites any day (and I say this while being on the internet and seeing some use for it.)

Richard Hornsby said...

The problem is that there is a whole new generation of people who would hire "preeminent" lawyers (whatever that means, but lets say high-quality lawyers) in a heart beat, but don't because the attorney either has no web presence, or has a weak web site (or web presence) that does not convey confidence, so the consumer goes with the lawyer who they could actually find some information about.

So having a strong web presence is just good business sense and is no different than renting a penthouse. Sure you could always rent a low budget office building, but it does not exactly instill confidence in potential clients.

Also, while established attorneys whose private practice pre-dated the current online advertising trends, have the benefit of years of referrals and former clients to fall back on, the reality for new lawyers entering private practice it that it is nearly impossible to obtain enough clients to pay the bills unless you establish a strong web presence to get your name and credentials out.

My Law License said...


Interesting thoughts.

I think you make my point in the first paragraph - I am saying there is a difference between clients who look to the web to choose their lawyer and the others. If you needed a lawyer, Richard, you would make some calls, send some emails. You would take the names you got, and to a Google search. If one or more of the lawyers had a few links to positive news articles, maybe some vieos of them commentating on a high profile child murder case, and other "organic" positive content, and then you saw they had some basic website, it wouldn't matter to you. There are lawyers found on the internet, and lawyers heard about who are then researched on the internet. The latter command higher fees and more quality driven clients.

On the issue of the internet being the new "penthouse," (you love commenting on my penthouse office - which was the only space available in the building when I was looking), that's an interesting thought. Lawyers frequently have the "trappings" of success - nice offices, nice cars, nice clothes, and obtain these things to present an impression to the client. You want your lawyer driving a Mercedes, or a 13 year old Chrysler? I get it.

But the internet provides a certain distance that allows the lawyer to tremendously puff qualifications, and in the age of electronic transactions and clients who hire lawyers without meeting with them, the internet provides an opportunity for more of a fake impression than the Rolex watch.

I also disagree that the internet is the only way new lawyers can get clients. I think that's the crowd mentality, and eventually, it will become too crowded. I recently had a lawyer tell me the client hired him because he was the only one who "didn't have a fancy website."

David Fuller said...

My sole "advertising presence" is online. I do not, however, see my SERPS, SEO plan, or PageRank as indicative of anything other than a necessary evil that's been around since lawyers began advertising. Basically, until you've been around enough to develop a reputation and referral base, you have to find clients somehow. That was true in 1981 and is true today.

At this point I'm only making an educated guess - I was two years old in 1981 - but I doubt anyone claimed that having a Yellow Pages ad made you a better lawyer. Yellow Pages advertising was, and still is, a necessary evil for a good lawyer trying to make a reputation. It is also the last refuge of the scoundrel lawyer who has been practicing for 20 years and couldn't get a referral from his own mother.

The issue that I think Brian is getting at is that somehow we've moved from a realistic appraisal of advertising to the idea that a web presence is indicative of something greater than the sum of its parts.

I admit that I rank highly on Google for a few search terms and that I spend a fair amount of time keeping it that way. I've been in practice for 2.5 years in a city where I had absolutely no contacts until I moved here. To add to that, my practice area - consumer bankruptcy - has a wicked combination of 1) aggressive advertising, and 2) a group of very well established, well-regarded, lawyers who are many lawyers default BK referral. But my response is that every time I get a client, I work that case as hard as that old-guard. The result is that I am building a referral base through my former clients. I've also learned that I'd rather have one referrals than 3 calls off of my website.

If you see any advertising whether it be yellow pages, TV, or online as more than the sum of its parts, you lose sight of the fact that it's not how you get the client, rather it's how well you represent the client. Or put it another way, you are only as good a lawyer as how well you treated your last client.