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  Management Tips & Tricks

Socialized Marketing: Lawyers and the Social Networking Phenomenon

September 2008
Social networking sites are all of the rage, but how do should they be used by lawyers?  Advice regarding best uses and ways to avoid pitfalls in using these potentially powerful tools.

For too many lawyers the idea of marketing is daunting because there are so many potential clients, so little time to reach them and so many options for pursuing them. Marketing can only be approached practically by narrowly defining your ideal client and developing a strategy for this target, not everyone. Learn where to find your target market and think about how you can best reach it to let those in it know that what they need is within your scope of abilities.  The key is to provide information to others so they know that you have that which they need.

 

Social Networking Options

That raises the question, is social networking on the Internet a viable way for lawyers to make this kind of connection with potential clients? Social networking is best known by Facebook, the highly publicized social networking site where virtual “friends” can share ideas and images with people they have never met. Facebook gets the social networking attention, but for professionals LinkedIn, to which you invite other business associates to be part of your contact network, is a better option. On LinkedIn, if you have an interest in marketing (for example) services to banks, you can look at the users linked to you and to others and readily identify any number of potential contacts. This is networking without boundaries, a “one degree of separation” interaction.

Facebook and LinkedIn are, of course, available to the world at large. But as social networking advances, there are ways to be more selective in the online “friends” you have. For example, the State Bar of Texas has rolled out its own social networking site for Texas Bar members only and several thousand lawyers quickly joined it. Because members sign up using their Bar number, the closed network helps to minimize many of the concerns that exist with public sites like Facebook. Members have their own home pages, can add “friends” to their network, and converse and share information with them electronically.

There are other ways to do this sort of thing such as online listserv discussion groups of lawyers. For example, the ABA’s “Solosez” listserv for sole practitioners that has more than 3,000 members. Such tools are a way to ask questions, provide answers and generally raise your profile, all among a group of “friends” who can be both supportive and a source of new business.

 

What Do You Say About Yourself?

On a listserve, you primarily share opinions and expertise. On a social networking page, you are sharing information about yourself with the entire world. I’ve always taken the position, for my blog and otherwise, that the information I provide has to be viewed through the crucible of my business. That is, if it has a bearing on my business, or the possibility of generating new business, then it is appropriate. If it is personal, it has to have some connection with making me “human” in the eyes of my clients and prospective clients. Otherwise, I don’t open the subject. 

In that vein, and knowing that others may differ, these are my personal notions of what’s “appropriate” for a lawyer’s social networking or web site profile:

  • Religious affiliations are irrelevant (and sometimes offensive) EXCEPT where that is a target market.  For example, some lawyers who are deeply involved in their worship community draw a substantial clientele from that source.  For them, I think it would be foolish not to recognize their involvement.
  • Listing political offices held, from the local school board to Congress and the Cabinet, is certainly appropriate for such accomplishments, without necessarily mentioning party affiliation. Again, however, each person’s situation must be evaluated individually. If many of your clients have or could have a political affiliation, then mentioning political party or other partisan cause may well be appropriate.
  • I personally do not believe touting military service is always appropriate, given the strong negative reactions some people have to military involvement. Serving as an officer does suggest leadership, however, so again it’s a function of your target market. For example, if you represent soldiers or spouses of military personnel in divorces, then knowing the military code would be helpful and having served in the military would be significant information.
  • Personal interests can be important. I’ve gotten an assignment because the client knew I was a cyclist. That won’t happen often, but his experience was that cyclists provided him with more value … go figure.

 

What Do Others Say About You?

There’s another dimension to personal information revealed through social networking. For example, the new Avvo web site states that its objective is to help consumers enter the legal community with confidence, to help lawyers differentiate themselves and increase their revenues. Avvo now pursues three separate rating modalities:  peer review, client review and Avvo review. At this writing Avvo has posted ratings online for lawyers in more than a dozen states, and says it has secured lists of lawyers from 30 states for rating. However, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission in Illinois (to use one recent prominent example) has refused to give Avvo a list of the lawyers licensed to practice law in that state.

When the issue becomes what other lawyers or rating services say about you, rather than what you say about yourself, it behooves every lawyer to at least be aware of what’s out there. A precautionary Internet search of your name along with any ratings about you could alert you to a social networking image problem you didn’t know you had.

 

Don’t Forget the Human Touch

From blogging to podcasts to social networking, technology has given lawyers more marketing tools than ever. There is real danger, however, in becoming so infatuated with the tool that you forget the objective. Marketing legal services isn’t about speed or Worldwide Web presence. It remains fundamentally about identifying the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicating with them to let them know who you are, and developing close relationships with these people so that they choose you to be their lawyer.

So, how should we “entice” prospects into using our services? From the smaller firm’s perspective, the number of people you meet and talk to will have the biggest impact. Being a real live person out in the public eye can do more than an Internet presence alone for boosting your image. Attending lunch or bar association functions, visiting trade shows where hundreds of prospective clients are present, simply picking up the phone and calling friends, business associates, law school classmates, past clients – all of these reinforce your availability through personal contact. They enable you to create a bond with your prospects and show them you can provide value.

Social networking internet sites will increasingly become part of lawyers’ marketing efforts, but personal contact at meetings, on the phone and through hand-written notes will remain effective outreach tools. As new social trends move us away from ways of connecting with folks that were used in the past, using those ways today will become a new differentiating factor. And differentiation is often the way to get attention. Getting attention is a cornerstone of marketing. And marketing is the basis of educating your public (your target market) that you exist ... when they have the need for your service or product, they will call you.

Social networking sites have their uses, but you’re one of many thousands of users.  As a potential client, I ultimately don’t care how many online “friends” you have – I want to know you’ll be there for ME.  A handwritten note is unique, can be kept in a briefcase or desk drawer as a reminder, and symbolizes that you care.

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About the Author

Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC is a coach, consultant and author about The Business of Law®. Ed is a strategic planner whose ideas have helped thousands of lawyers increase their revenue, improve their profitability and enhanced their satisfaction with the practice of law. His most recent work, Law Firm Fees & Compensation: Value & Dynamics for Growth was released in May 2008. His honors include being a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a charter member of the Million Dollar Consultant™ Hall of Fame. Contact Ed at (800) 837-5880 and see more at www.lawbiz.com and www.lawbizblog.com.

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