Accountability is today’s latest buzzword, a commodity in high demand in the legal community. Whether it’s large firm clients exploring alternative billing that would create a nexus between price and value, or exploring ways to make legal education more useful or simply making legal fees more transparent for consumers, both law students and clients want to make sure that they’re getting their money’s worth.
And not a moment too soon. For too long, both law schools and lawyers alike have avoided accountability for high rates, shrugging off any questions about value with a smug remark like “that’s how much it costs,” rather than tying performance to fees, or at least explaining to clients what they’re getting in return for dollars paid for legal services.
Yet, there’s one sector of the legal community that hasn’t taken the accountability hit: legal marketers and consultants. At a time when law schools are roundly (and deservedly) criticized for the impact of high tuition on the price of legal services and access to law, few have taken aim at the providers of high priced marketing schemes like Findlaw (with unconscionably priced websites and a Hotel California-like contract that you can never leave), Legal Match (again, high prices and questionable returns according to feedback on the Solosez list) and dozens of others (post ‘em in the comments) — pricing experts, marketing consultants, coaches, and many others that bilk desperate lawyers of thousands of dollars without delivering the goods.
Most consultants and coaches shift the responsibility, explaining that their results are only as good as the clients’ effort. And while that’s true to a degree, presumably a skilled coach or consultant will figure out ways to motivate a client to act – or be honest enough to tell them that the relationship isn’t working and end the relationship. Likewise, a reputable SEO company should probably take a look at your website and make sure that it has sufficient curb appeal to motivate potential clients to call, instead of simply taking a check for $1000 a month to send visitors to a site that is so ugly and unprofessional that visitors will flee once they’ve arrived. Some companies don’t even bother to offer constructive suggestions or tailor their services for lawyers, and instead promote products and services that are deceptive and unethical or lacking transparency. Finally, there’s the bottom rung comprised of those providers who commit social media credential fraud or simply lie .
Unfortunately, many lawyers who have been duped by unscrupulous providers are too embarrassed to say anything publicly. And lots of these companies keep a tight leash on testimonials, carefully cultivating rave (and often, reciprocal) reviews from affiliate providers without disclosing the relationship. Of course, for all of the over-priced, high-end, take-no-responsibility consultants, there are others who price reasonably and care about the success, sanity and integrity of their clients. Yet, because they’re honest about they can deliver, their marketing pitch doesn’t appeal as much as one that promises clients out of thin air or a seven figure practice overnight.
Ultimately, what’s worst about these high costs of consulting and SEO and internet marketing is that at the end of the day, it’s our clients who bear the costs. Just as many argue that the high price of law school is driving up the cost of legal services, so too, the added cost of SEO and marketing forces lawyers to charge more as well. Meanwhile, those lawyers who can’t afford to pay for these marketing and coaching services and have been lead to believe that there aren’t any alternatives (of course, there are many), either pay for something they can’t afford and go out of business — or do nothing but wait for the phone to ring and wind up going out of business.
I’m not suggesting that marketers and consultants and vendors aren’t entitled to make any money off their expertise. But if they choose to target lawyers and do business in the legal industry industry, don’t they have an obligation to take into account the impact of the costs of their services on access to law? We lawyers have an obligation to ensure access to law – and while we’re certainly not required to lower our rates or limit our profits, our professional rules encourage activities such as pro bono or providing mentorship and training to young lawyers. Many lawyers fulfill these obligations at some point in their career, giving back to a profession that has enabled them to do well. But you don’t see many consultants and marketers and vendors working for free or giving back to the profession, unless it’s to offer a free webinar to build up a spam list.
The bottom line is that legal marketers and consultants and gurus should walk the walk. If they believe that lawyers need to improve our transparency and client service skills and accountability, then shouldn’t they do the same? And if they are helping lawyers with their business and earning money off of that, don’t they, like lawyers, also have an obligation to give back and consider the impact of their high-priced services on overall access to law? What do you think?
If you’ve had a bad experience with a marketer or consultant – whether they charge $3999 or $39 for the product or service, please feel free to post anonymously in the comments or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.