Could your online attorney marketing efforts sabotage your referrals?
By Geri L. Dreiling
Word of mouth. The good opinion of previous clients and colleagues still account for a large percentage of a law firm’s new business. In a 2009 Missouri Bar survey, attorneys reported that a majority of new clients were obtained through personal referrals.
But could your online legal marketing efforts, or lack thereof, be undermining your valuable word-of-mouth recommendations?
That was the problem encountered by a respected attorney recently. The lawyer had firmly established herself as a go-to person for family law matters, earning the respect of colleagues, judges, former clients, mental health professionals and a variety of experts with whom she often worked.
Because of her stature, she’d grown accustomed to landing new clients through word-of-mouth—but when a prospective client who had been referred to her through a trusted source called her, what he said took her by surprise.
Yes, she had come very highly recommended, he told her, but he had some reservations. When he entered her name into a search engine, her law firm’s website did not appear in the first few pages of the search. Was her legal work a full-time pursuit, he wondered, or merely a hobby?
He was glad to see that the lawyer had created a profile on the business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn, but he was troubled by the fact that no one had recommended her work. Although some clients are reluctant to broadcast over the Internet their relationship with a lawyer, surely there were others who had seen her at work: social workers, family counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, accountants, real estate agents or business valuations experts.
After a lengthy conversation, the lawyer convinced the potential client that she was the right person for the job, and he hired her—but the near-failure served as a wakeup call for the attorney: Her lackluster online legal marketing efforts had almost sabotaged her personal referral pipeline.
Admittedly, bypassing a lawyer because of a hard-to-find website or a barren LinkedIn profile seems superficial. Hiring an attorney on the basis of the appearance of a law firm’s office, its location, the weight of the stationery’s letterhead or the type of suit the lawyer wears is also superficial—but these are also factors that some clients consider.
As people continue turning to the Internet as a source of information, it is reasonable to expect that potential clients will be researching their lawyers online.
After all, patients looking for more information about their illnesses look to the Internet to locate specialists, educate themselves on treatment options and research drug side effects. Before booking a hotel, many vacationers check out online reviews to see what other guests have said about their stays. Homeowners searching for plumbers, electricians and even architects often go online to determine whether the service professional will be a good fit for the project.
So, then, when people who have little contact with the legal profession find themselves in need of an attorney, it is logical to conclude that they will look to the Internet as a means of vetting potential choices, even those who have already been recommended by trusted sources. For many, entering into an attorney-client relationship is not something to be taken lightly. A prudent client will naturally gather as much information about a lawyer as possible before signing a contract.
The family lawyer who almost wasn’t hired took a good hard look at her attorney marketing plan. Her Web site, which had been neglected for a long time, contained little in the way of fresh legal content. She opted to change to a new Web site host and vowed to begin adding regular fresh legal content as a means of improving her search engine results and showcase her considerable expertise.
She also looked at how LinkedIn fit into her attorney marketing plan. Updating her profile required minimal time and effort. She reached out to her LinkedIn network, experts with whom she had worked with for years, and asked whether they would consider recommending her work. They were more than happy to oblige. She took her effort a step further and joined a few LinkedIn groups related to her practice areas and now willingly shares her expertise with others.
When was the last time you examined your attorney marketing plan? Doing a good job for your clients and obtaining favorable results are still the most important means of getting valuable word-of-mouth referrals—so don’t let neglected online legal marketing undo your hard work.
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