November 2010 Archives

November 26, 2010

Free Versus Fee Advertising

Free resources for marketing a law practice abound. From blogs to sites for uploading articles to e-newsletters (which are free by using a product like MailChimp and video (if you do it yourself) to more personal methods like cold calling, lawyers can generate clients and referrals without spending a dime.

But is it enough? Are there times when it makes sense to fork over some cash to invest in good old-fashioned advertising? Somewhat surprisingly but sensibly, John Jansch of Duct Tape Marketing says yes, though not entirely for the reasons you'd think.

Jansch offers a couple of reasons for his argument, but the one that I find most persuasive is this: traditional advertising amplifies all of your other activities by directing audiences who might not have otherwise known about you to your blog or e-book or other website.

After all, much as we laud the power of the Internet, some folks, particularly in more rural communities or small towns, still don't rely on it exclusively to find lawyers. In fact, even folks who use the Internet or social media regularly may not yet think to use it to find professionals like doctors and lawyers. So paying for an ad in a small local phone book or neighborhood newsletter or sponsoring a Little League team or even buying branded pens and handing them out everywhere you go might broaden your exposure in populations where the Internet hasn't yet fully penetrated.

So as you start to set your marketing budget for the coming year, set aside some cash for a little paid advertising. We may live in a 21st Century world, old truths like "it takes money to make money" aren't obsolete just yet.
November 23, 2010

Websites and Blogs: To Bond or Not to Bond, That Is the Question

To bond or not to bond? That's the perennial question for lawyers when it comes to figuring out the optimal relationship between their law firm website and blog. And last week, two top lawyer blogging experts, Kevin O'Keefe of Lexblog and Steve Matthews of Stem Legal weighed in, generally agreeing that lawyers, or at least those at large firms, can achieve better visibility by keeping a blog as a stand-alone unit, under a domain name and platform distinct from the law firm's website. As I'll discuss, many of these arguments in favor of a separate blog apply equally to solos and small firms.

Kevin's major argument in favor of keeping law firm blogs separate from the mother site is SEO (search engine optimization). Kevin's not simply speculating; he offers compelling evidence from Google search results that confirm the high ranking performance of big firm blogs that reside on separate sites.

Steve Matthews agrees with Kevin about the SEO benefits of separate domains, explaining that
 "like it or not, [subject-aligned keyword names like] Petersonbraininjurylaw.com-- all other factors being the same -- will outperform Petersonllp.com."

But Steve also favors separating blog and website presence for non-SEO related reasons that reinforces . Steve explains that when blogs are installed as part of a large firm website, they are usually fashioned as repurposed newsletters rather than fresh content. In addition, bloggers who blog as part of a firm website may need to constrain their opinions and personalities to avoid conveying the impression that the blogger represents the firm's official position on a matter. Finally, a stand alone blog has a better chance of building a relationship with readers.

Some of the reasons for a stand-alone blog apply equally to solo and small firms, but I'll chime in with three more. First, it's less risky than a full blown website re-design. Setting up a stand alone blog is quicker to get up and running, and easier to take down if the blog never takes off.

Second, for lawyers who are laid off by their former employer and want to get a web presence up quickly, it's fairly easy to start a blog through a free service like Blogger and use it as your online source of contact until you can set up a full blown website. Many of the lower cost blogging platforms, like Wordpress or Blogger support free or low-cost themes that enable lawyers or if they use them, designers, to create blogs that resemble websites, or put another way, websites that function as blogs.

Third, a stand-alone blog facilitates marketing a niche-practice. If, for example, you'd like to start a niche estate planning practice that focuses on single mothers or include dog-bite cases as a subset of your PI practice, cabining this topics to an individual blog is a more effective way to demonstrate your focus. By contrast, if you mixed these topics in with general discussion of other topics, you run the risk of diluting the appearance of expertise.

Of course, if you only have a single niche practice, Steve suggests that a unified web and blog may make more sense. From Steve's post:

"Consider the case of boutique practices, or solos and small firms with limited practice areas. Our SEO goal is to help Google understand each domain; making clear the core set of keywords, phrases and topics that each website covers. Larger firms' websites and blogs are rarely this closely aligned, but boutiques, solos and small firms can be. When firm services and blogs are targeting a similar core set of keywords, it might not make sense to split your SEO footprint."

Some final thoughts: even where you do separate your blog from a website, it's important to retain some connection and uniform branding. So consider these tips:

  1. Link your blog to your website and vice versa, and in fact, consider adding a widget to your website that displays new postings from your blog;
  2. Display a common logo or color scheme on the blog and website for consistent branding; and
  3. Include a photo of yourself on both the blog and website so that readers who've followed your blog recognize you if they happen to stumble across your website and vice versa.
November 22, 2010

The Biology of Lawyer Bios

In the beginning, lawyers never had bio's - or so I suspect.  Back then, there simply wasn't a need. A lawyer would hang a shingle in the center of town, and get to know folks at houses of worship or stores or community activities. Lawyers' reputations preceded them, and clients never inquired about credentials.

But eventually the practice of law evolved. In 1868, the first lawyer directory, Martindale-Hubbell was born, and with it, the perception of a lawyer bio as serious, dignified and a little bit pompous.

That notion of the lawyer bio survived for nearly a century and a half. And while the traditional lawyer bio may have been appropriate for a post-Civil War businessman looking for a lawyer, it hasn't held up well in an Internet Age where potential clients are better informed and want more information about the their lawyers. Yet today's credential-laden bios don't tell clients what they really want to know, like whether a lawyer will return phone calls or what other clients think of the lawyer's work or whether the lawyer has even an ounce of personality.

Just as in Darwin's Origina of the Species, lawyers who cling to pallid, outdated bios will undoubtedly be rendered extinct. So to avoid this fate, lawyers need not only to adapt their bios, but like Darwin's finches, morph them into different variations appropriate for their target clients.

So, lawyers who practice family law, a field where trust is especially important, should forget about generic bios, and share some personal information to encourage clients to open up, suggests Lee Rosen. Pictures are also a way to personalize a blog, as are videos and lawyers who share their passion, advises Adrian Dayton. Lawyers might also include in their bios their philosophy of law practice, which is one of the features of the Nolo Directory bios and can help clients evaluate compatibility. Here's one example.  [Disclosure: My blog, MyShingle.com receives compensation from Nolo for advertising and content that I provide at this site]

Lawyer bios for corporate clients may have a different set of demands, observes Bob Ambrogi. To stand out from competitors, even bios aimed at more institutional clients must tell a compelling story.  But Bob suggests that they should also include credentials such as where the lawyer went to school, ratings and past matters since corporate clients often care about this kind of information.  Corporate blogs also raise the matter of bio-mutation, i.e., the result when lawyers inject too much personality into a professional profile (in colloquial parlance, it's called TMI) At Great Jakes blog, Dion Algeri cites two specimens that possess what in his view is TMI:  the lawyer bios at  Axiom (basically, a high-end contract lawyer placement group) and Chicago-based Edelston McGuire.  Algeri questions whether these bios would work for all clients, since they focus too heavily on the personal while neglecting the professional  (I didn't find this to be true of the EdelstonMcGuire site, because even though it shared quirky bits like how much coffee each lawyer likes to drink, it did also list some fairly impressive representative matters for the firm's principals).

The emergence of social media is pushing the evolution of bios even further, producing even more new species.  Now,  lawyers must develop a number of different bios - somewhat more formal bios for websites, more casual bios for Facebook and short, pithy variants for Twitter. As Jordan Furlong writes at Stem Legal, Twitter only allows 140 characters for a bio, and needs to be interesting enough to convince another user to follow. Jordan offers some examples of great Twitter bios, while Freelance Folder provides tips on writing a bio that will attract targeted followers.

So where's the bio headed? One possibility is the variant being developed by AboutMe, a one pager comprised of a user's photo which dominates the page, along with a Twitter-like description and links to other online presences. The site is still in beta, but here's an example of a bio created by California lawyer Brian Pedigo. All you need to know, all in one place, this universal bio may just be the perfect species in today's mobile, global world.