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Are Pay Per Lead Services and Attorney Ratings Sites on A Collision Course With Themselves?

by Carolyn Elefant on December 3, 2012 · 8 comments

in Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Marketing Trends, Mistakes/What NOT To Do

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Public demand for lawyer ratings is on the rise.  As the above graph from Google Trends  shows, searches for the terms “attorney reviews” have increased five-fold in the past five years (the drop off results after October 2012 only because all data hasn’t yet available).

The push for lawyer reviews is hardly surprising.  Today’s consumers routinely check ratings before reserving hotels, buying books or selecting a roadside diner. Even my thirteen year old, who frequently trolls Ebay for collectibles, won’t spend a minute looking at products purveyed by sellers who haven’t been reviewed.

As I’ve been saying  for years, like it or not, lawyers can’t stop this ratings train.

But here’s what’s interesting. At the same time that clients are searching for online reviews, there’s also been a marked rise in paid leads, such as those run by Total Attorneys  or just introduced by Attorney Boost.com.  Essentially, the lead sellers build up large SEO-visible properties online to attract interested clients, and then sell those leads to attorneys who’ve registered for a particular practice area or region.  Though the concept sounds like paid referrals,  they pass muster  because the lead sellers aren’t making referrals; they’re simply acting as a pass through, sending through leads to lawyers qualified to handle them.  

Leaving aside whether you agree with this now ABA-approved  ethics analysis  ( some  disagree),  how viable is pay-per-lead in a ratings-based age?  Consumers want ratings, that much is clear.  But pay-per-lead systems can’t give consumers ratings or recommendations if they want to remain ethically compliant – because a rating or referral transform the ethically permissible pay-per-lead into a  pay-for-recommendation/referral.

These days pay-per-lead is tempting.  Lots of new companies that have invested big money in establishing an SEO toehold on line are now seeking to cash out, so they’re offering competitive rates for clients to get in the door. But do you want to spend even a few hundred dollars a month on a system that’s going to be obsolete in a few years?  In my view, I’d rather put my money on building my own lead generator or focusing on ethically encouraging ratings and referrals from clients and colleagues.

What’s your experience with client ratings and lead generation? As always, comments are open; please share below.

  • Eric T.

    What’s your experience with client ratings and lead generation?

    “Lead generation” is simply a version of outsourcing your marketing to others.  A lawyer has no way of knowing what types of black hat techniques that company has used to attract interest to itself. But since marketing and ethics are tied together, those lawyers that walk that road should make no mistake about it — they have effectively outsourced their ethics.

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  • R.P.

    Carol:  You assume that this ratings juggernaut simply can’t be stopped.  Why can’t it?  If lawyers stand up as a group  for the profession and make clear at every opportunity they get with clients and the public that (1) ratings are nonsense, mostly because they aren’t reliable, and (2) ratings are sleazy, so lawyers shouldn’t engage in it, and that those who do are sleazy and aren’t to be trusted with a client’s life, then maybe the issue would go away.  

    We don’t have lawyers soliciting business from mass disaster sites because we came to the conclusion as a profession that the practice is sleazy and leads to a race to the bottom.  These things can be stopped if we want them to be.  So, when a prospective client comes to you and mentions ratings, e.g., why you don’t have ratings and your competition does, tell the prospective client that he or she should not go to any lawyer that uses ratings systems; and that the use of ratings is a sign of a sleazy lawyer. 

    There still have to be standards, a code of conduct.  Are we really going to have a system where the 60-year old lawyer with a distinguished career and lots of satisfied customers doesn’t get work anymore in the internet age because someone posted a bad “review” on one of these phony sites, and the 20-somethings can’t be bothered to do more research on how to find a lawyer than hit a button on their smart phone?

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  • NYC Lawyer

    I have actually used total attorney when I was just starting my practice. It was more than a few hundred dollars it was actually $1,500 dollars per month. I got a lot of leads very few of them could afford an attorney, I barely broke even. But it was a quick way to build name recognition since I was new to the area where I was starting a practice. I was also able to get some really good complicated cases  that later enabled me to qualify for city panels that pay a decent wage.  My advice is if you are new and can afford a lead generating service it is worth it, you will not get well paying clients, but you will get enough clients to gain enough experience to charge more when the better paying clients come through the door. 

  • http://twitter.com/upyourbiz Jason R

    Great insights Carolyn. I’m part of the lead provider http://www.attorneyboost.com that you mentioned. The issues you raise are legitimate concerns for any attorney considering hiring a third party to help with marketing. As one of your commenters said, you’re effectively outsourcing your ethics when you hire a lead-gen company. That’s why it’s important to know how they operate. Some companies take ethics compliance seriously while others don’t seem to care about it (or simply don’t know what they’re doing). My company is careful about not putting our attorney-clients at risk for ethics violations. I believe other quality providers (like Avvo, LexisNexis and Total Attorneys) are also concerned about ethics compliance. But ultimately, the proof is in the puddin’.

    On another point, I wanted to suggest a different perspective to your statement:  “Do you want to spend even a few hundred dollars a month on a system that’s going to be obsolete in a few years? …I’d rather put my money on building my own lead generator or focusing on ethically encouraging ratings and referrals from clients and colleagues.” Hands down the best lead gen comes from referrals. But referrals take time to develop and do not provide a consistent flow of prospects. Your own lead gen practices are important, but SEO strategies take time to kick in and require constant attention. Managing your own paid ads will give you fast results but when you pay for clicks, you may or may not see any prospects…it’s an expensive gamble. Using pay-per-lead services gives you another strategy to add to your arsenal. Whatever the lead gen strategy, nobody should have just one single strategy, and a mix of short term and long term strategies yields the best results. And even leads you “buy” can become referral sources and raving fans.

  • Eric

    Total Attorneys uses SEO to drive people to their website getting people to make inquiries to generate leads. The problem is that these people originally were NOT looking for an attorney- they had a general question. The data in their site is immence. Driven to the website they make an inquiry and then sold as a legitmate “lead.” When in fact they could be dead broke, curious or whatever. Many were never really looking for an attorney when they made their first inquiry, then slipped into an attorney inquiry and then made a lead. Our experience is that the leads are awful. I believe this company will go under when they have run though all the suckers.

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