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Calling Out the Rainmakers

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Scott Greenfield’s first to blog about news  of a RICO by a Michigan law firm, Seikaly & Stewart against Stephen Fairley and The Rainmaker Institute. The firm alleges that the Institute created  a “bogus Internet marketing program, supposedly designed for small law firms and sole practitioners”  and duped firms (in this case, to the tune of $49k) to participate in the program through a series of fraudulent misrepresentations about the company’s ability to boost law firms’ Google rankings. [Source: Courthouse News. You can also view the actual complaint here.]

For Scott, this lawsuit highlights the kind of stuff he’s been blogging about all along: that SEO schemes just don’t work. Consequently, Scott doesn’t have much sympathy for either side:

Did Fairley lie to Seikaly & Stewart? How would anyone know, since the entirety of internet marketing schemes are based on deception and manipulation? And were Seikaly & Stewart victimized by Fairley’s unkept promises? It’s beyond ironic that a firm seeking to buy its way to prominence from a marketeer complains that it was out-deceived. It’s not that they have no cause of action, having paid a pretty sweet sum to the Rainmaker Institute and gotten bupkis in return, but that when someone seeks to game the system and got played in return, it’s just awfully hard to feel badly about the whole thing.

As for me, regardless of the outcome, I’m glad that the firm brought this lawsuit if only to shed some light on lawyer marketers.  Though unlike Scott, I believe that there are lawyers who have succeeded through strategic use of smart SEO (either homegrown juice, or working with a trusted company), on the whole, my guess is that most of these high-priced marketing/SEO or lead generation schemes don’t work. At all.  Trouble is, most lawyers are embarrassed to call these companies out for fear of looking foolish.  Worse, they’ll have been brainwashed by these companies, who have no skin in the game themselves, to believe that if a campaign doesn’t work, it’s the firm’s fault for lacking the skill to close the deal. So a firm will take the $20,000 or $50,000 loss and keep its mouth shut instead of shining a light on these charlatans.

But it’s not just lawyers afraid to speak out. The bar associations are complicit as well – and that’s the worst part of it.  Many of these marketing companies sponsor state and local bar events or are even invited to speak since they’ll do it for free. As a result, they gain credibility; many lawyers assume that the bar wouldn’t allow a company that it hasn’t vetted to sponsor an event.  But that’s not the case, and when money talks to the bars, they listen.

Most lawyers aren’t going to sue marketing companies. Even for $49,000, it’s not worth the time and effort.  But there’s no shame in making a marketing mistake, so if a company lead you astray, let others know about it. We’ll never rid the profession of web-based marketing – and I don’t have any problem with that. But at the very least, given that internet marketing is here to stay, individual lawyers and bar associations should ensure more accountability and transparency by demanding that marketers disclose costs, success rates and ROI, and insist that they take some responsibility for results.

On the theory that we can only sell what we know, then we as lawyers, we should have serious concerns about marketers using deceptive practices teaching or helping other lawyers to market. The apple won’t fall from the tree.

  • George Zuganelis

    I have tried several on line referral services to gain new clients and each time was a bust. Most potential clients on those services are looking for information, or to check up on their current lawyer. Few make appointments and most are no shows. Yet, the “service” expects to be paid per lead. Waste of money and time.

  • R.P.

    Carolyn: I find it ironic that you want marketers to be forced to disclose “success rates and ROI” since no attorney would ever do such a thing. “Dear Larry Lawyer: Thank you for agreeing to represent me on the appeal of my criminal conviction. Since I am currently in prison for 20 years, and my mother is paying your retainer, please disclose your success rates and the ROI on my retainer. I know that you gave a CLE presentation entitled How To Win Your Appeal so I assume that you can promise results in my case; and I don’t want to pay a lot of money only to lose my appeal.” Come on. I have no love for legal marketers, but they’re not going to guarantee any particular result, and it’s “buyer beware,” especially if you’re an attorney. (Do you really believe that the Michigan firm was promised a particular result and that the Rainmakers did not have protective boilerplate in their contract? The Michigan firm is suing so that the Rainmakers will agree to compromise the bill, rather than risk bad publicity.) I actually purchased a book from the Rainmaker Institute a while back; and while there was nothing earth-shattering in it and some of the ideas were downright stupid, some of it did cause me to think about things I could do, marketing-wise. More importantly, these marketers are mainly in the business of providing inspiration. Stephen Fairly, like Tony Robbins, could probably persuade a dog not only to purchase 1 muzzle, but probably 2 or 3 gold-studded ones; people undoubtedly come out of the seminars with positive attitudes even if a lot of the concrete advice may not work for a particular lawyer. So no, neither the bar associations nor any of us have any obligation to “shed a light” on the services anyone offers, short of something approaching an outright fraud or scheme (and no one accuses the Rainmakers of that).

  • carolyn Elefant

    Fair enough. I see your point. But at the same time, shouldn’t a marketer have some skin in the game. Lawyers can be grieved if they don’t perform or be sued for malpractice. I feel as if there is no accountability here.
    Lawyers (at least those who aren’t providing unbundled services) will often, as part of their service, tell clients what they need to do to succeed. For example, if a client with 4 DUIs comes to a lawyer to avoid jail time in another DUI, the lawyer will tell him that chances aren’t great. Moreover, if a client said “I want no time or I won’t hire you,” the lawyer would probably decline the case But many of these marketing companies won’t tell people things like – hey, your website sucks so all the SEO in the world won’t get you results. And they’ll still take the work even if they (the marketer) knows it won’t be successful. That’s not right – and while my proposed solution may not be the way to address the problem, there has to be some way to get the word out.

  • shg

    Ah, Carolyn. You got sucked into a false analogy. Lawyers and marketeers are not comparable, despite their most ferverent effort to make it seem that way. They have no educational requirements, no licensure, no test for competency, no code of professional responsibility, no fiduciary responsibility, no grievance process, no professional sanctions and no professional liability for their conduct.
    Don’t be fooled by their persistent efforts to claim they are “marketing professionals.” There is nothing professional about what they do, nor who they are. Any nutjob can claim to be a legal marketer any time they want, and there is nothing to stop them from opening shop or making any hyperbolic, absurd or puffed claim about themself.
    Lawyers and marketers are not comparable.

  • AbeTheGreat

    As a person that does some social media for a living I can tell you that anyone that promises you the moon over night is lying. I’ve been to one of these retreats by Rainmaker and they are very clear that it can take up to years to build up an online presence. I’d guess this firm expected too much, too quickly and then felt cheated.

    Anyone that I work with I am very honest with them that the social media part is not a hard thing to do but it is time consuming. If they want to pay me to build them an online presence they will need to understand that it could take a lot of work and time to get there. All of us aren’t bad or out to get people. It is a lot of effort to build any campaign from the ground up, especially when working for people who do not understand the internet or how it works. Many of my clients expect me to have a magic wand but I am up front with what they should expect.

  • myshingle

    For $49000, Id certainly expect a lot


  • Larry Bodine

    Carolyn — interesting post, but it would be better if you reported both sides of the story. Isn’t that what a responsible journalist is supposed to do? I would think at the very least you would contact Stephen Fairley before reporting a one-sided story like this. The lawsuit sounds like total BS and will probably be dismissed soon.

  • myshingle

    I just looked at the complaint and the news story. When the response is filed I will update it In addition several commenters have taken the position that the law firm likely misunderstood what was promised so both sides are covered

  • Adam

    I’ve used multiple SEO companies before, and likely never will use one again. For the expense, they really don’t do anything that an assistant couldn’t do in an extra 30-60 minutes of work per week. No one has Google’s secret algorithms for rankings; and the tricks they use to attempt boosting your rankings aren’t exactly secrets.

    These are simply sales people who spend the vast majority of time and effort selling attorney’s on the benefits of their “services” than they do actually working for you.

    ***There is one hilarious and quite telling test for the “quality” of an SEO company: do a google search for SEO or Attorney SEO.

    ***If the SEO company can’t even get their OWN page to rank at the top of google (w/o PPC), and virtually none of them can, why in the world would you think they can do it for you?

  • Kathy Long

    Adam, you don’t know me and have no reason to believe me. For all you know I might be a Rainmaker charlatan. But I will tell you I am not. I am an internet marketer. An ethical one who works hard for my clients because I care and because I love it. I have been building websites since 1995 and took on SEO around 2004 when my attorney client called me and told me Findlaw was courting their business and promised to get them on the first page. He said he didn’t want to change firms and asked if I could do it. I said I think so. And so I studied everything I could get my hands on which wasn’t much back in 2004 and in 3 months, my clients were not only on the first page, they were #1 and there they’ve sat for 9 years. No one has been able to bump them off until they gave my name to their competitor and now they’re telling me that was the worst day of their life. Trust me your assistant could not do what I do. If she could, so would every SEO in all the cities where my clients are, but they can’t, and it’s evident because my clients are at the top – not theirs. As for an SEO firm not ranking for the term SEO, remember there are only 10 spots on the first page of Google. We don’t even try to rank for that because it’s next to impossible unless we build up a reputation like Search Engine Land, or Moz, and who has the time? In my case I give my time to clients and don’t work on my own site or SEO like I should. But I do rank #8 in San Jose and my office is not even there, so that’s good enough for now until I get my new site live then the competitive streak will be pushing me to get #1 and I will. More importantly, you should ask SEOs to show you their clients’ ranking. Many don’t publicize it because they don’t want a competitor to reverse engineer what they do, but they’ll show you in person.

    So, I’m sorry everyone is getting down on internet marketers. I know there is a lot of scamming going on and it infuriates me, so much so I just gave a presentation on it today which is how I landed here. I didn’t get paid to give that talk and will probably get no business from it, but I did it to help empower local business owners so they don’t get taken. I’m passionate about that, and trust me, there are a lot more like me. More than you know. We’re here for you and can do a lot for your business if you trust we can. Don’t give up on us because of what others have done in the name of internet marketing. My clients didn’t and they are retiring young because of it.

  • Julia

    One thing I don’t see mentioned anywhere (forgive me if I missed it) is that the marketing company has no control over what their client’s competition is doing. They don’t know how much they are spending, what backlinks they add, etc. This is one of the main reasons that SEO results are not guaranteed.

  • David

    Asking a marketer to have skin in the game is fine, and some marketers operate on a contingency or guaranteed basis. On the other hand, many clients don’t follow advice very well. And while we’re on the subject, does McKinsey offer a money back guarantee if their trusted advice doesn’t work? I doubt it.

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