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Legal question-and-answer sites—they’re sometimes controversial but ultimately worth the effort. At least that’s been my experience. I’ve used legal Q&A sites as part of my San Diego-based criminal defense law firm’s marketing and, overall, have found that my time has been well spent. But before I discuss the benefits of these sites, let’s cover the basics.
First of all, what are legal Q&A sites? Essentially these are sites that allow attorneys to answer questions posed by legal consumers. Some of the more popular sites include Avvo, FindLaw Answers, Justia Legal Answers and Law Pivot, a site that was recently acquired by Rocket Lawyer.
The way they work is simple. Legal consumers ask legal questions and participating lawyers provide answers. Then, depending on the site, you may or may not have the option to follow up with a legal consumer once you’ve answered a question.
Some lawyers maintain that when you participate in a Q&A site, you are essentially giving away your legal advice for free. While that may be true, the benefits of doing so outweigh the drawbacks in a number of ways.
For starters, you’ve got nothing to lose by providing answers on Q&A sites (assuming, of course, that you’ve carefully researched your ethical obligations and ensured you’re abiding by your jurisdiction’s rules of conduct). Sure, it takes time to answer questions, and time is money—but strategic marketing of your law practice is always time well spent. And for some lawyers, answering questions on Q&A sites can be a very effective use of their time. But you’ll never know until you give it a try.
By answering specific questions on these sites, you have the opportunity to form a relationship with a person who may be in need of an attorney now, or at some point down the road. If you don’t see the value in that, then you should rethink having your own law practice.
Another reason Q&A sites are worthwhile is that they allow you to showcase your expertise. Every time you provide a thoughtful, well-written answer to a legal consumer’s question, you add value to your law firm’s reputation and online presence. Your answers are archived on the Q&A sites and, because these sites generally have very good search engine optimization, your answers will appear high in search engine results when people search for answers regarding the specific legal issue you addressed.
So, although some might argue you’re giving away legal advice for free, I suggest that, to the contrary, you’re simply answering basic legal questions in exchange for the opportunity to connect with legal consumers and increase the strength and reach of your firm’s online presence.
Of course, your success will depend on your areas of practice, your geographic location and your specific goals. Every lawyer defines “success” differently, and your mileage will vary depending on your own definition. For some lawyers, success comes from providing a useful answer that showcases expertise and broadens the firm’s reach. Others characterize the interaction as a success only if it results in a phone call from a new client. If the latter is your definition of success, you will undoubtedly conclude that most of your interactions were anything but successful—because you’re going about it in the wrong way.
Ultimately your goal should be to provide relevant and useful answers that will leave a valuable online footprint that is easily discoverable by search engines. Over time, your efforts should pay off and result in some calls from potential clients. If not, you may need to reexamine whether this particular online strategy is helping you achieve your goals.
Legal Q&A sites don’t work for everyone. But for some lawyers, they can be an important part of the marketing arsenal. But you’ll never know until you give it a try!
Matt Spiegel is the Vice President and GM of MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management system. He is an attorney in San Diego and started his criminal defense law practice in 2009 after working for four years with one of San Diego’s largest consumer law firms. As a practicing attorney and one of the founders of MyCase, he often speaks at legal conferences regarding the ins-and-outs of running a law practice and how cloud computing technologies can benefit the legal profession. He can be reached at email@example.com and @mattspiegelesq
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