Dec 22, 2008

Don't Leave the Listserv Off Your List When it Comes to Marketing

Without a doubt, social networking was the hottest new trend in marketing in 2008, and is destined to gain even more traction in 2009.  I'll be posting more about social networking at this blog, though if you can't wait, you're welcome to download my free ebook, Social Networking for Lawyers

However, as powerful as social networking may be, lawyers shouldn't neglect the listserv as a valuable tool for marketing.  For a variety of reasons, some lawyers have not made the transition to social networking, nor do they have any intention of doing so. Yet, these lawyers may be a source of referrals, or may need to collaborate with another lawyer or outsource a project.  By ignoring listservs, you miss out on a potential source of work.

In many ways, listservs are a precursor to social networking tools.  Listservs are essentially a mailing list dedicated to a particular topic where users can post messages and receive responses via email.  Listservs enable users to ask each other questions, exchange information, and engage in conversations on a variety of topics.  Over time, many listservs may morph from pure business to include personal discussion as well, thus creating the same sense of community as social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Solosez is perhaps one of the best known listservs for solo and small firm lawyers.  Now a decade old, Solosez boasts more than 3,000 members, making it -- as some refer to it -- the nation's largest virtual law firm.  These days, most state bar sections have listservs, as do specialty bar associations dedicated to practice area specialties like litigation, estate planning, or bankruptcy.

Some lawyers prefer the convenience of a listserv, since messages flow directly into their inbox instead of requiring them to log on to a site.  On the other hand, some lawyers avoid listservs, particularly high volume ones like Solosez, because the thought of 150 daily emails flooding their inbox is overwhelming -- though the email problem is easily cured if you manage your participation properly

 Below are a few tips for maximizing the marketing value of a listserv in your practice.

1.  Choose your lists wisely

Just because listservs are a useful marketing tool doesn't mean that you need to go overboard.  Limit yourself to two or three lists, with at least one of them being a low volume list.  If you spread yourself too thin, you'll either find yourself reading emails all day long or you won't have time to participate meaningfully in any of the lists.

2.  Observe before jumping in

Many listservs have long-standing traditions and rules, and members often take them seriously.  Before jumping into a conversation and violating the ground rules, spend a few days observing the listserv's rituals.  If, based on your evaluation, you decide that the rules are simply too restrictive, don't even bother signing on.

Once you understand the rules, introduce yourself to the list.  Share your name, your practice area, the states where you're licensed to practice, and perhaps some personal information about where you went to law school or your family hobbies.  In particular, it's the personal information that usually generates the most interest -- for example, if you're a dog lover, you'll probably receive a personal welcome from other canine fans.

3.  Give more than you take

For newer lawyers in particular, there's a tendency to milk the listserv for advice and answers to questions.  There's nothing wrong with that, and in fact, getting substantive assistance is one of the major benefits of a listserv.  At the same time, if you come across as a free rider, you'll turn off other participants and most likely deter them from referring cases or work to you. 

So what can a new or inexperienced lawyer contribute?  Start by offering responses to the non-substantive questions that come across the list, such as the best way to get stains out of a carpet or tips for taking the kids to Disneyworld (yes, these are among the topics that have been discussed on Solosez).  You can also try to track down resources -- for example, if a lawyer is looking for a sample retainer letter, you could run a few Google searches and provide the links.  And be sure to congratulate your listmates on victories.  As long as you make an effort to contribute to the conversation, you'll make a good impression and lay the foundation for referrals from other lawyers.

4.   Include a detailed signature line

Include detailed information in your email signature line, including the location of your firm, your website or blog, and jurisdictions where you practice.  That way, lawyers who are new to the list who missed your introduction will have access to this basic information and can contact you if they have a need to refer a case to someone with your expertise or bar membership.

5.  Take conversations off list

Participating in listserv conversation offers a great way to meet a wide range of people.  But for a listserv to have the most value, you'll need to build relationships off-list.  Think of a listserv as analogous to a big networking party -- you'll meet a large group of people, but you need to follow up to build the relationship afterward.

So identify a few people on the listserv whom you'd like to get to know better.  Perhaps there's an attorney with a compatible work area where you may find opportunities for collaboration or cross-referrals.  Or perhaps there's a lawyer with a similar background who might prove useful as a mentor.  Send an email and strike up a conversation off the main list.  And definitely see if there's an opportunity to get together in person.

6.  Facilitate off-list meetings

One reason why the Solosez has thrived is because members in different cities take the intiative to arrange in-person meetings.  The D.C. contingent of Solosez meets for monthly lunches and over the past eight years, many thousands of dollars in business has been exchanged and referred between attendees.  If you're on a listserv that doesn't have off-list get-togethers, why not take the initiative and arrange a meeting yourself?  By doing so, you put yourself at the center of the action, which means you'll be the first to come to mind when someone has a case to refer.

Perhaps some day, listservs will become obsolete, but that day remains a long way off.  Until that happens, keep listservs on your list of marketing tools and use them to lay the foundation for referrals and relationships that will result in maximum revenue for your firm.