A decade from now, consumers of legal services will use the Internet and mobile technology to do it all: research legal issues, find and engage an attorney, even have legal services delivered to them. But when answering the question “Where do clients come from?,” today’s reality lies somewhere between that future world and one where numerous lawyers still resist the Internet. I like to call that in-between place “Word-of-Mouth, Plus.”
Today, most people seeking an attorney still get the attorney’s name from a trusted acquaintance during a face-to-face, phone or possibly email conversation. But what they will do next is key. They’ll type the attorney’s name, or the name of the firm, or some combination of the names — possibly with a geographic location — into an Internet search engine.
What do they want to know? Perhaps the attorney’s background, or the firm size. Perhaps how long and where the attorney has been practicing, or whether there’s a history of disciplinary action. This is the “plus” part of Word-of-Mouth, Plus.
To test this out, I did Internet searches for lawyers whose business cards I’ve collected over the past few months. It was interesting. I limited my focus to the first page of results, because between 75 and 90 percent of searchers never move past the first page. And here’s what I found when I searched for their names.
What’s on Your First Page?
For most of the lawyers, the first search result was their law firm website. For a few more, the firm website was not the top link but it appeared on the first page. This is ideal search engine optimization (SEO), since first-page placement in search results is extremely valuable, although the crowd of attorneys with whom I generally interact is probably more attuned to the need to be online than the average attorney. I’d venture to say there are many whose firm sites do not appear at the top or even on the first page.
For one young lawyer in my test, the first result was a link to her online wedding album. The pictures were nice, and it looked as if she’d had a beautiful wedding, but it certainly didn’t help me as a potential consumer learn more about whether I’d want to hire her.
Not surprisingly, among other first-page results, I found links to sites where attorneys have profiles. In some cases they set up the profiles themselves. In others, the companies set up the profiles based on publicly available information. The profiles were, for the most part, on social networks such as LinkedIn and a few large online legal directories (Superlawyers, Avvo.com, Lawyers.com).
Potential clients will click on these links, too. They may want to find information that isn’t listed on the attorney’s website, or to verify information from the site. For example, what, if anything, have past clients said — beyond the glowing client reviews the law firm has included on its site.
The good news is that, for the most part, attorneys have the ability to influence if not largely control what these online directory sites say. Most allow you to fill out or otherwise expand on the existing profile in order to market yourself more effectively on those platforms.
But besides the firm websites and links to online profiles, there was still more. For one lawyer, I found a 1997 editorial from his university newspaper criticizing him for his student government politics. I wondered if he even knew this was still in existence let alone appearing on the first page of search results for his name.
How to Improve Your Word-of-Mouth, Plus
So, how is your Word-of-Mouth, Plus marketing going, and what can you do to improve it?
1. Your website. If you don’t have a website, get one (ideally, a well-designed one). If you must build your own, you will find lots of tools online — and even a WordPress installation on a domain you acquire yourself is relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to do. Once you have a site, you want it to appear as the first or one of the first results in an Internet search for your name. If it doesn’t, look into getting some SEO help to improve your ranking.
2. Claim your profiles. In addition to your site (or instead, if you’re operating on a shoestring), you need — at the very least — to claim or create and fill out profiles on all the key legal directories that commonly appear on the first page of most searches. Not sure where to start? Type your name into a search engine and see which directories pop up, then do your best to complete those profiles.
3. Clean it up! Now, strive to move or reduce any lingering negative or undesirable information about you elsewhere on the web. Determine an appropriate response to bad reviews or any personal opinions about you. Sometimes, instead of a direct response to negative content about you online, it might be best to (1) try to counterbalance it with positive content — new articles and newer reviews, for example, or (2) hire an SEO pro to attempt removing negative content off of the first page.
4. Be proactive about the message you’re sending out online. Gone are the days when lawyers could avoid Internet communication tools, like social media, let alone the Internet itself. Besides the fact that search engines are taking social media activity more heavily into account when returning search results, today’s social media users are tomorrow’s clients. If you want to remain in practice and find new clients, you need to go where they are — Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Taking these simple steps can help you to establish, develop or enhance your online profile, make it easier for clients to find you and even help you build your practice.
Dan Lear is Director of Industry Relations at Avvo and legal innovator, facilitator and blogger at Right Brain Law. He is Co-founder of the Seattle Legal Innovation and Technology MeetUp. He tweets @rightbrainlaw.