Online Marketing Solutions

Online Marketing Solutions

Online Marketing Solutions for Small Legal Firms

By Celia McGuinness. She is managing attorney at the Law Office of Paul Rein, a small firm practicing disability rights law in Oakland.

Lacking a marketing staff or budget, small firms and sole practitioners may be tempted to think their traditional word-of-mouth efforts are sufficient for generating new business. But most lawyers now develop new business online, not only because it’s easier but because marketing consultants say many clients now seek and assess potential attorneys online.

A website can’t reach out personally to clients, but it can do most marketing tasks better than an overcommitted human. And social media and other digital tools will help with the relationship part. Think of yourself as hosting a cocktail party in the cloud.

Here’s how to start the conversation.

Blogging

Whether lawyers keep the content strictly related to their practice area or include “extracurricular” interests to humanize themselves for potential clients, they most commonly open their online conversations with a blog. One good example of how that works, says chief marketing and client services officer Adam L. Stock at Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis, is the blog of news, opinion, and analysis that partner Keith Paul Bishop writes daily on securities law. Bishop’s blog (at calcorporatelaw.com/, with 1,100 entries and counting) now generates 20 percent of the firm’s overall Web traffic. In contrast, Brian D. Wassom, a partner with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn who specializes in intellectual property and social media law, blogs (at www.wassom.com) about new “augmented reality” technology – such as body armor, prosthetics, and tech for painting lines on the TV screen during football games. Those topics aren’t central to Wassom’s practice, but the blog has gotten him speaker invitations and interview requests, just because it’s made him more visible.

Another reason good blog posts are more effective than static Web pages for generating client interest is that each new post offers a separate opportunity for search engines and new readers to find a firm or lawyer online. Because search engines can index any given piece of new online content within minutes (though it sometimes takes weeks), new information always becomes more prominent than older material. (See the related article Tools for Promoting Your Practice, to learn how to encourage Google to index a particular Web page almost immediately.) And the more a post is viewed – and shared – the higher it rises in Google’s calculus.

Blogging is not without costs – chiefly in attorneys’ time. But solos and small firms actually have an advantage, says Jon Mitchell Jackson, a personal injury attorney at Jackson & Wilson in Laguna Hills.

“Small firms can immediately respond to what is happening in the news by putting relevant content online. Large firms may have a slower, more bureaucratic response,” he says. Jackson recommends posts of 300 to 500 words, long enough to catch a search engine’s eye but not so long that readers lose interest.

To enhance a blog’s visibility and ensure that it reaches the right audience, lawyers can use syndication software or Google’s FeedBurner service or the lawyer-oriented JD Supra. Both LexBlog and LawLytics build websites and host blogs for attorneys and offer technical support. LawLytics customers also can use its proprietary software to coordinate, edit, and target their social media content, says founder Dan Jaffe, a former attorney. “Big followings don’t necessarily mean meaningful engagement with followers. Lots of followers might just be bots.”

Social Media

Joining groups at general-interest social platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine can help lawyers reach their target markets. And a social media management tool like Hootsuite can make it vastly easier to coordinate and time social media posts. But it’s important to know which social media your existing and potential clients actually use. Clare Ota, marketing manager at Murphy Pearson Bradley Feeney, an insurance-defense firm based in San Francisco, notes, for example, that “most insurance adjusters aren’t on Twitter” so it makes little sense for her firm to have a big presence there.

To increase your efficiency, consider breaking longer blog posts into smaller pieces that you tweet over the course of a day. You also can use social media to raise your content’s visibility by recycling it. Jackson posts images and screenshots of video on social media with links back to his blog or to YouTube. “It’s like the trailer for a movie. In six seconds or less, it makes a connection for people to follow back.”

The information-gathering aspect of marketing also is more efficient online. Both LinkedIn, which can be valuable for referrals, and Twitter are good places to mine information about clients, even if those clients don’t tweet or post much. Also helpful are tools that alert you to a variety of new online content about your clients or about issues of special interest to you; the start-up Manzama, which started out serving law firms specifically, tracks social media messages, news stories, blogs, and other online content to produce news and analytics on any given topic. Google Alerts are a less sophisticated but free alternative.

Video

With as little as one to three minutes of video, you can briefly explain your practice or offer detailed information that you find yourself repeating to every prospective client. “People want to feel comfortable with a lawyer,” says David Spark, founder of the marketing firm Spark Media Solutions. “Video will help them trust you.”

Stephen W. Dale of the Dale Law Firm in Pacheco, who specializes in special-needs trusts for people with disabilities, says his clients used to leave their introductory meetings overwhelmed with information and forget much of what they discussed. Now he posts videos with basic information about estate planning for people with special needs. “First I did workshops, then DVDs. Now there are fewer DVD drives, so I started doing webinars, and now I use YouTube. Who knows what’s next?”

Ultimately, a lawyer must select the tools that feel most appropriate, remembering that there’s no quick path to success, says Jackson. “Sharing your self and your passions is what works. It’s not the platform. It’s how you share that makes you successful.”

Tools and Online Solutions for Promoting the Legal Practice

  • For building a website and blogging on your own, WordPress.com offers a free introductory version that it hosts; more tech-savvy users who need customization can use the nonhosted version. Those who prefer to write less can try blogging at Tumblr, where it’s easier to weave photographs into each post. LinkedIn’s new blog platform, which launched in February, lets members incorporate posts into their profiles and automatically share posts with their networks.
  • For lawyers especially, LawLytics.com offers specialized website design with marketing services and coaching; LexBlog.com offers Web design, coaching, and blogging services; and the legal blogging platform JDSupra.com can link to social networks.
  • For managing and coordinating your online presence and use of social media, Hootsuite provides a single integrated platform. And Google offers several free marketing tools, including Blogger, Analytics, and FeedBurner.
  • To make short videos, an iPhone, computer, or handheld video camera works well. For editing, there’s Camtasia from TechSmith (though some attorneys advise hiring an expert).
  • To encourage Google to index a specific page almost instantaneously, visit google.com/webmasters/tools/ and submit the URL directly.
  • To use email in your digital marketing, try a relationship management tool like Constant Contact.
    For Web tracking and alerts geared to lawyers, Manzama.com sends users information based on profiles they create. A free alternative is Google Alerts.
  • For more information on how search engines work and ways to freshen and highlight your Web presence, visit, for example, searchengineland.com.