I've been on hiatus with my blog for the past couple of weeks due to a whole bunch of different things happening at once, one of which was the ABA Techshow 2011 held in Chicago earlier this month.
This year was the 25th anniversary of the ABA Techshow which, as always, included some fantastic speakers and programs for those at all levels of technological knowledge and expertise, as well as an exhibit hall filled with vendors eager to share their new products to help lawyers in their practice.
I attended fewer complete CLE sessions this year than I have in years past and did not 'live tweet' as I usually do - I found the wireless internet connection to be particularly poor in some of the CLE rooms, making live tweeting almost impossible. So in my next few posts, I'll discuss some of what I experienced at this year's Techshow and give you my take on some of the sessions.
Lawyer Blogs and Social Media
One session I attended was the session on ‘basic’ social media, put on by Reid Trautz and Bob Ambrogi. Why would I attend a ‘basic’ social media session when I speak and write on social media and coach/consult with clients in that area? I know both Bob and Reid and have heard them speak before. They’ve been in the LPM arena longer than I and have been blogging and using social media consistently. And I always find it interesting to see what others are telling lawyers about blogging and social media.
The ABA Journal wrote a piece on their session cautioning lawyers not to ignore social media here.
The post generated a number of comments from those who do not seem to agree that blogging and social media are useful tools to build a law practice, and a few comments from those who are using it to do just that. These comments were about the ABA Journal piece and not about the program itself, as it doesn’t seem that any of those commenting actually attended the session.
Since I do a lot of writing and speaking on the subject, here’s my take on why blogging and social media work for lawyers, and it’s the same reason that word of mouth and referrals work: it’s about relationships. But social media and blogging – or other online forms of business development and marketing – have one advantage that word of mouth and referrals do not have: they don’t require two people to get the prospective client to you.
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Word of mouth and referrals require (at least) two people – the potential client themselves and the person who is referring them to the lawyer. But social media, blogging and other online forms of marketing and business development require the involvement of only one person – the potential client – to make the connection directly to the lawyer.
The Search for Information
Most people turn to the internet first when they are looking for information. Often, before someone decides to hire a lawyer – or even knows that they need a lawyer – they search for information on the internet.
Even if a potential client knows they need a lawyer, they are likely to do some internet research about their problem or issue, or even about the law relating to their issue, before they go out to meet with a lawyer. Many will do so even before they ask their friends and acquaintances for a referral to a lawyer. This is especially true in practice areas in which the potential client might not want to share his legal troubles with others (bankruptcy, divorce, criminal law, etc).
Top of Mind Awareness
I agree with some of the naysayers on this point – I don’t think a lot of people go to Facebook or Twitter to look for a lawyer. I’m not even sure most people go to Google or the internet to look for a lawyer initially. But I certainly would never tell a lawyer that they shouldn’t have a website or have a presence on the internet. Indeed, just the opposite. The same is true for Facebook and Twitter: just because I think clients don’t go to Facebook to look for a lawyer doesn’t mean that lawyers can’t use Facebook to develop business.
One of the most effective ways for lawyers to develop business is to cultivate ‘top of mind’ awareness; to make contact with people before they need a lawyer. One of the ways to do this is through social media. If I ‘hang out’ with you on a regular basis, if we get to know each other through conversation, if we interact with one another, if you see me providing help to others, you are more likely to remember me. Bottom line: When the time comes that you need a lawyer or someone you know needs a lawyer, you’ll think of me.
Nobody Really Reads Legal Blogs, Right?
Ok, so what about legal blogs? Do people ‘read’ legal blogs? Do they seek them out or search for them? Probably not. But people do look for information about their legal problem on the internet. Well-written, frequently updated blogs that speak to the information potential clients are most interested in will get found.
Perhaps a potential client doesn’t even know he has a legal problem. Perhaps she initially thinks she can handle the problem herself or find a form online to let her do what she wants to do. The potential client searches the internet and comes to a page that discusses the client’s exact problem and explains what the client needs to do. Maybe it even discusses reasons why people who don’t hire a lawyer end up with even bigger problems on their hands. Armed with this information, the potential client now decides it might be worthwhile to talk to a lawyer. If the site where this potential client is getting their information is written by a lawyer – who do you think that potential client is going to call?
It doesn’t matter that the potential client doesn’t “read” legal blogs – they may not even know what a legal blog is or that the site where they got all of their great information was actually a lawyer blog. What matters is that they received valuable information as a result of their internet search. The information established the lawyer's expertise without a sales pitch.
The other way lots of potential clients make decisions about the lawyer they are going to hire is by researching the lawyer once they have already received a referral. A lawyer with a static, typical lawyer website is going to be at a huge disadvantage against a lawyer that has a blog which is packed with information about the client’s problems, potential solutions, frequently asked questions, up to date information, etc. – not to mention that the Google search on a lawyer who participates in social media is likely to bring up a ton of other references to that lawyer and their expertise.
Finally, as Reid Trautz pointed out in his presentation at Techshow, consider the amount of time spent driving to networking or bar association events, attending the event itself, driving home, and then following up (if you even bother to do that) afterwards. How much of that kind of time needs to be invested to establish referral relationships? How often? How many people can you reach at any given event?
The Lasting Impact of Blogs and Links
Of course, networking and other offline business building activities are important, but online activities can often reach a wider audience more consistently in less time. A blog post stays on the internet and can continue to keep building your credibility and offering value to potential clients long after it is written. Links to that post can appear elsewhere on the internet and can be leveraged over time. The same post can provide information over and over to a number of different people at different times without any additional effort.
Don’t dismiss legal blogs and social media – they can be valuable business development tools.