My Shingle

Blame It On Solo

by Carolyn Elefant on March 28, 2011 · 17 comments

in Marketing & Making Money, MyShingle Solo

Print Friendly

So, Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog and Will Hornsby, Staff Counsel for the ABA have called a truce in their debate over whether the public uses blogs to hire a lawyer. Fueling the disagreement were the results of a recent ABA Survey which found that only 15 percent of respondents said that they would “use blogs to hire a lawyer for a personal legal matter.” Kevin contended that the ABA Survey wrongly discounted the value of blogs by asking the wrong question. Kevin reasons that most people won’t realize that they use blogs to hire lawyers – but nonetheless, blogs add significant credibility when potential clients vet a word-of-mouth referral (which incidentally, was the top choice for how people find lawyers) or when lawyers need to locate another lawyer to refer. Will responded that he had been surprised by the ABA results, but perhaps the reason is that more consumers dont’ use blogs to find lawyers is that there aren’t enough blogs to satisfy demand. In other words, there are “a higher percentage of people who are interested in turning to blogs to help find a lawyer than the percentage of solo and small firm lawyers who have blogs.” And thus, both Kevin and Will have concluded that:

“If more solo and small firm lawyers were blogging in a way that engages consumers and small business people in their towns, there would be greater access to the law.”

So that’s right – blame the lack of access to law on solos because they’re not blogging. Aren’t solos doing enough already? That same ABA study found that 54 percent of solos are willing to offer unbundled legal services, which is one approach to reducing the cost of legal service and expanding access to law. And many solos are already doing enough involuntary pro bono what with writing off bills to clients who can’t pay and taking cases at reduced rates just to help someone out. In addition to mandatory CLE, will we now compel solos to write blogs as well? (of course, perhaps if blogging counted as CLE, that might offer more motivation…)

Of course, access to law is just a tangential matter. More to the point is the question of whether blogging provides benefits to solo and small firm lawyers. Here, I agree, for thirteen different reasons that I outlined seven years ago, and which still hold true. Like Kevin, I too have referred consumer matters to lawyers whose work I know only from their blogs, and I believe that many other lawyers do the same. Moreover, in the decade since lawyers started blogging, consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for information on legal matters. At the same time, they are also largely indifferent about whether they find that information at a blog, an online article posted at a traditional website, an online advertisement, in an ebook or in a video on YouTube. In fact, if the ABA survey question been phrased to ask whether consumers relied on the Internet generally, rather than blogs specifically for finding a lawyer, I suspect the percentages would have been much higher. And I also suspect that many solo lawyers realize that, which is why many prefer to invest money in Google ads to find clients rather than invest the resources in blogging.

There are other reasons why only seven percent (according to the ABA Survey) of solo and small firm lawyers blog. Some are busy and can’t find the time. Some simply don’t like to write. Some take the position (erroneously in my view) that by blogging, they’re giving away the cow, so to speak. Others prefer to engage in other marketing activities such as speaking engagements and seminars or bar events (not my cup of tea, but different strokes).

But at the end of the day, most solos don’t blog because they simply do not see it benefiting their bottom line – and the ABA survey results, at least the actual numbers, tend to corroborate that instinct. Indeed, it may be that consumers are hungry for information, but most solos and small firms aren’t willing to provide it without some assurance that those consumers will convert into clients. Saying that consumers want more information from blogs doesn’t tell me that they want to hire a lawyer. Rather, it suggests that they just want more free information.

The ABA Survey was about how consumers find lawyers, not how lawyers attract clients. The real test of blogging’s effectiveness for solo and small firm lawyers isn’t to focus on consumers, but instead, to poll solo and small firm bloggers to determine whether their blog generates business. I know of several bloggers who have experienced positive results, but frankly, many others who do not – or just not enough to justify the time investment. So readers, what do you think? Do you have a blog and do you generate business from it? And if you don’t blog, why not?

  • Susan Cartier Liebel

    There is actually something more fundamental at play…many people don’t know if they’ve landed on a ‘blog’ when getting information on the internet. The average person know blogs as an ‘online’ journal. They won’t know if they’ve landed on a professional blog or a website. The questions were awkward at best and assumed that everyone knows the nuances of what the authors of the questions were talking about. When was the last time the authors canvassed the average consumer and asked them if they even know what a blog is. The question assumes that not only do they, but they know the difference between a blog, a static website, and other internet platforms.

    For that matter, how many lawyers really know the difference? I wouldn’t read too much into this survey accept one truth…business is still predominantly derived from referrals. However, let prospective clients take the referral and find your web presence with dynamic content and then you’re in much better shape.

  • Carolyn Elefant

    That’s a good point. I have been blogging for 8 years and I don’t think my parents have any clue about the distinctions between a blog, a website, Craigslist or Youtube. To them, it’s all “the computer.”

  • https://profiles.google.com/gyi.tsakalakis/about Gyi

    I would also be curious as to how many of the 80% of respondents who ask a friend, family
    member or colleague or contact a lawyer they know or have used before, go online at some point to research the lawyer or even just to find contact information.

  • http://www.cluttoncox.co.uk Paul

    Here are some thoughts from the other side of the pond from a sole practitioner and a fervent and prolific blogger in England.

    Blogging wins clients, as you might say, Period!

    I agree that the survey question may have been worded differently to get a more accurate response.

    Content is King as we all know now, and a content rich law firm website will give the edge over less than informative websites.

    Each blog is a page of content, the more you blog the more likely you will be found firstly by the search engines then by potential clients. You can dominate the first page of google in your locality with many entries and keep out lawyers from further afield.

    The power of preselectioncannot be emphasised enough

    I win clients with my website. Clients instruct me online, mostly when I am closed. Most, we will have had no personal contact with whatsoever.

    A survey in the UK March 2009, sated 26% choose a lawyer on line (not solely blogging), I suspect more than half will seek out a law firm website to choose a lawyer. This will increase again as th einternet becomes th efirst port of call for most people.

    With personal recommendation, there will still be the desire to “see what the law firm” is like from it’s website.

    Lawyers and Solicitors alike do and will continue to benefit from their online blogging and website presence.

    it is not for everyone, but at the very least the law firm website should be th ehub for all on and offline marketing activities

  • http://constructionlawva.com constructionlaw

    Great post. While I can’t give you a one to one (dollar to time spent blogging) type of feedback, I can say that my blog has generated business. I generally ask those that call without a direct referral where they find out about me and many times it’s the blog because they’re looking for someone with expertise in a particular area. I also get calls from out of state attorneys looking for a local counsel for a client performing work in VA.

    I also happen to find it fun, so that certainly helps.

  • http://constructionlawva.com constructionlaw

    Good thoughts Susan. It does go to a fundamental issue with surveys in general. The question many times leads the answer.

  • http://www.adamskylaw.com Edward Adamsky

    This may come down to a fundamental lack of knowledge of marketing (by the ABA, the person who wrote the survey, by lawyers and bloggers, etc.) Most of them are not business experts. Marketing is a cluster of activities that ultimately lead to business. Sometimes you cannot get good numbers on the results of certain parts of your marketing. Did that new client read your blog, or were they given your name by someone else who read your blog – or who saw your ad. If you engage in a good and thorough marketing program, you will get business. But, sometimes you won’t know exactly where that business came from. That’s not a bad thing though, if you got the business, then your marketing is working.

  • steve ganis

    I suspect that solos find that their practice is too broad based to support a narrow-focused legal blog. I have heard Kevin O’Keefe speak about blogs being mere tools to develop relationships with a targeted audience—the emphasis being good old fashioned relationships. Unlike lawyers within specific practice group areas in law firms, solos will often be reluctant to blawg about a specific topic–such as noncompete clauses–if their practice is more broad-based, usually out of economic necessity especially if they’re not in a business center like New York, a government agency center like Wash DC, or an entertainment center like LA, by way of example only…. And for a solo to blawg about any and all legal topics of the day that are of interest to that solo—well, the coaches at the various blog hosts will tell you that’s a terrible idea, you want to present yourself as a thought leader about one legal topic, and perhaps catch the eye of a local editor, or other ‘tipping point’ type people….

  • Vivian Rodriguez

    So true on both counts! But you also make a great point on the link between referrals and an online presence: word-word-of-mouth puts our name out there, and our online presence gives them a little more information before they contact us.

    Plus, as Carolyn points out on the post, many consumers are sometimes just looking for free information; and they do so without regard as to whether they find it on a blog or website page because it is all just “the computer.”

    I don’t have a blog only because I still haven’t learned how to navigate (my perceived) ethical concerns about it. But I’ve let my website take the place of the “free consultation” in the sense that I write content about divorce and paternity with a view to providing the general information that many other lawyers spend a good deal of time imparting during such a free consultation. When I am contacted from a source other than a personal referral, they invariably tell me they got my name from “the internet” and are unable to tell me anything more specific. But I can always tell if it’s my website because on it I specifically indicate that I don’t provide free consultations and when I speak to the caller about it, he/she already knows.

  • Pingback: Solo Practice Marketing: Blogs, Websites, Social Media…Do They Really Work? | technolese()

  • http://twitter.com/MaxKennerly Maxwell S. Kennerly

    I thought the ABA survey was silly. Of course everyone says that they would first turn to their friends and trusted advisors to find a lawyer. What does that mean? How many personal injury or criminal defense lawyers does the average person know? I’m willing to wager the answer for more than half of the population is “zero.” Then, for at least half of the remaining half, the answer is “I know someone who knows someone, I think, maybe.” Is that a referral from a friend or trusted advisor? Of course not. So those folks end up hunting around for lawyers anyway. I’ve seen people come to my blog on the tenth page of Google results for very specific practice area results; they were looking for something in particular, and were happy to put the time into finding the person they liked.

    I made a conscious choice in running my blog to write about things I found interesting, rather than just trying to optimize for search engine results, and because of that I probably do worse than my competitors who shovel tens of thousands of dollars (some of them hundreds of thousands of dollars) towards SEOs creating dummy websites and spam comments, but even with my poorly optimized blog I still get a fair amount of client intake. Just as importantly, I get a fair amount of legal community interest, and this afternoon I’m going to teach a CLE on an issue I blogged about, which is how the CLE company found me in the first place.

    I don’t think blogging is a rainmaking solution for everyone, and it might be more useful for some fields (like personal injury and criminal defense) than others, but I do think it is vastly superior to doing nothing or buying a couple ads in the Yellow Pages.

  • http://twitter.com/MaxKennerly Maxwell S. Kennerly

    I thought the ABA survey was silly. Of course everyone says that they would first turn to their friends and trusted advisors to find a lawyer. What does that mean? How many personal injury or criminal defense lawyers does the average person know? I’m willing to wager the answer for more than half of the population is “zero.” Then, for at least half of the remaining half, the answer is “I know someone who knows someone, I think, maybe.” Is that a referral from a friend or trusted advisor? Of course not. So those folks end up hunting around for lawyers anyway. I’ve seen people come to my blog on the tenth page of Google results for very specific practice area results; they were looking for something in particular, and were happy to put the time into finding the person they liked.

    I made a conscious choice in running my blog to write about things I found interesting, rather than just trying to optimize for search engine results, and because of that I probably do worse than my competitors who shovel tens of thousands of dollars (some of them hundreds of thousands of dollars) towards SEOs creating dummy websites and spam comments, but even with my poorly optimized blog I still get a fair amount of client intake. Just as importantly, I get a fair amount of legal community interest, and this afternoon I’m going to teach a CLE on an issue I blogged about, which is how the CLE company found me in the first place.

    I don’t think blogging is a rainmaking solution for everyone, and it might be more useful for some fields (like personal injury and criminal defense) than others, but I do think it is vastly superior to doing nothing or buying a couple ads in the Yellow Pages.

  • Pingback: Referrals still more important than law blogs? | Legal Marketing: Social Media Edition()

  • Pingback: Legal Blogging Reality Check: Suspicious Minds « Shatterbox()

  • Ann Hart

    Good discussion. I’m still a student and my blog is still school/transition related, but I’m using it as a way to get used to blogging and also to begin to develop a base which I hope to transition over to a strictly legal blog once I’m licensed to practice. I agree that a consumer doesn’t always know if they are on a blog, a firm webpage, or an advertisement… as long as they get the answers they were seeking or can click through to someone who can help; in that way blogging works.

  • Pingback: Continuing Legal Education Roundup for March 18, 2011()

  • Pingback: Blog - Clio: Online Legal Practice Management Software | SaaS for Lawyers, Attorneys, Law Firms()

Previous post:

Next post: