The other day, I was having a conversation with a criminal law attorney who had been practicing for about 30 years in Southern California. I asked him how business was going and he said that it was terrible. When I asked him why, he told me that he is getting very few new cases — a stark contrast to his practice about 10 years ago.
The new cases he does get are based on referrals from past clients, which are drying up quickly. He went on to say that younger attorneys are working for hourly fees much cheaper than him. He is also not receiving any new inquiries like in the past.
Further, he said people that do contact him are much harder to close because of price points. To me, this was not really a surprise. Today, it seems being an attorney is more of a business than a profession.
Recognizing the changes
As an attorney practicing in today’s world, you have to recognize that things have changed. It is truly a new day and age in the world of legal marketing. Consider the statistics: There are about 1.3 million attorneys in the US and about 35k new graduates each year. With each new graduate, competition increases. When I graduated from law school in 2001, we were told to study hard. This was because when we got out into the real world, we would be competing with attorneys with much more experience. While this is true, it is also true that in many respects, the competition goes both ways. While new attorneys swim against the tide of experience, older attorneys swim against the tide of digital domination.
A recent LexusNexis study found that 76% of adults use internet based searches to find legal services.
…The study found 76 percent of adult Internet users in the United States utilized online resources during the search process. Referrals from family and friends remain important, but the study found consumers are as likely to conduct an Internet search as they are to turn to family and friends for advice.
“A majority of consumers will need legal services at some point in their lives, and when people need attorneys, they are increasingly turning to the Internet to find the right one for their matter,” said Philip Livingston, CEO of Web-Based Marketing Solutions at LexisNexis. “Attorneys and law firms should consider how they can position themselves and their firms in order to be easily found by that 76 percent who search online.”“A majority of consumers will need legal services at some point in their lives, and when people need attorneys, they are increasingly turning to the Internet to find the right one for their matter,” said Philip Livingston, CEO of Web-Based Marketing Solutions at LexisNexis. “Attorneys and law firms should consider how they can position themselves and their firms in order to be easily found by that 76 percent who search online.”
According to Livingston, attorneys should employ multiple approaches to online marketing, from having a robust website that utilizes search engine optimization to participating in reputable online directories and leveraging social media platforms.
New attorneys making a name
Many times, new graduates (the millennial generation — people born between 1981 and mid 1990s) have a difficult time finding employment because of saturation in the legal field. This forces the new attorney to make some hard decisions. By new attorney, I am also referring to recent graduates and attorneys who have also been in practice for a few short years — under 10 years. These attorneys are forced to either take a position at a much lower rate of pay or they decide to open their own practice (with some exceptions of course).
When these young attorneys open up their own shop, even though they may not have the wealth of legal experience that many seasoned attorneys have, they do have a keen understanding of website marketing and modern marketing tactics such as search engine optimization (“SEO”) and social media marketing. After all, they grew up with this stuff. I call these attorneys the “attorneypeneurs.” Many of the more mature and experienced attorneys have trouble with the technology aspect of web based applications. I have been recently impressed with a couple of older attorneys who were completely dialed into new web based applications (there are always exceptions to every rule). They were actually showing me new apps on their iPads.
As a result, during the attorneypeneur’s start up phase, these new attorneys put up a really nice website and start working diligently on Facebook, LinkedIn and their local Google page. They also meticulously employ search engine optimization tactics, create local directory listings, etc. Before long, their website is ranking much better than some law firm websites who have been around for years. In the words of Google, these older websites are no longer relevant from a search perspective.
Relevancy from a search perspective means that a website isn’t stagnant and has grown overtime with fresh information or content. If something stays in one place and does not endeavor to improve itself, the prominence and importance diminishes — search engines are no different. So, when a person is searching for a criminal defense attorney on Google, their expectation is they will find relevant and up-to-date material that matches their search, otherwise they will not use Google. If they do not use Google, the search giant cannot sell advertising. Get the point?
So, when a prospective client is looking for an attorney, they stumble upon this new and attractive website built by these fine young millennial attorneypeneurs. The prospective client calls and talks to the new attorney, gets their billing rate — obviously lower than a more seasoned attorney; many times, the prospect engages the new attorney. If, however, the prospect continues to shop around, and if a more seasoned law firm gets a phone call, a bidding war begins and the more seasoned attorney is often forced to negotiate rates. This is the reality we are facing today.
How can this be corrected? 10 ways to Fight Back and Reclaim Clients
First: Make sure you have a new responsive website. A responsive website adjusts to the resolution of any device, such as a tablet, iPhone or Android. These days, with over 50% of people using mobile devices to find legal services, it’s imperative to have a website that works on any device. Google, a search engine who captures over 85% of web searches, gives search preference to mobile friendly websites. Many times when I look at websites from an attorney or law firm who has been around the block a few times, they still have the old table layout. This does not work today!
Second: As much as you might hate it, start to engage in social media. Social media is not simply about posting content. It is about having a conversation with prospective clients and keeping in touch with past clients. In addition, it’s about letting prospective clients get a look at you and the firm before they decide to call or email you. That degree of familiarity can make the difference between whether or not they decide to contact you. Yes, even the obligatory picture of a birthday celebration as the firm can make a connection. When engaging in a social media strategy on platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Linkedin, you can accomplish a lot:
You can discover conversations that are going on about your law firm or your industry;
Your firm can set up alerts and be among the first to find out about relevant news and events;
You can communicate directly with people interested in retaining your firm without some of the formalities associated with law firms.
Social media strategy
In embarking on this new social media strategy, remember to set a policy, and have a routine. Get everyone in the firm involved! Make sure to have fun too, because after all, it’s social media.
Third: Make sure each page of your website is coded properly with Title Tags and Meta Descriptions. Each page is like a billboard on the side of the road, it must be treated differently. There are many good and reputable SEO companies out there who can help you. If you have trouble finding one, look for a website that is ranking well on Google in your industry. The website marketing link is usually found at the bottom of the page — their flag.
Fourth: Keep your content relevant. To do this, you need to create good and relevant content that your users want to read. They want to find useful content on a consistent basis, not simply the sporadic article every two years. Consider these types of content:
How-to’s: Users looking for step-by-step instructions would find this type of content educational and easy to follow. How-to guides can adapt to numerous industries.
“Top…” lists: Lists, such as “Top 10 Ways to Choose an Attorney”. Another easily shareable blog post could be “5 Best Ways to Write an Article”. They are often popular due to their brevity, clarity and usefulness.
Frequently Asked Questions: If a website has a properly formatted FAQ — which includes broad industry questions linking out to specific pages with the question itself as the anchor text — it can lead to greater relevancy for users trying to find general industry information.
In-depth articles: Google groups these types of articles, designated as in-depth articles, together to show that they are detailed analyses of certain subjects.
Fifth: Use video within your website to both educate and to connect with your prospective clients. YouTube is the number two search engine in the world, next to Google (who owns YouTube by the way).
Sixth: Make your website easy for people to get in touch with you. You need to have multiple contact points. And you will also need to require as little information as possible to make an inquiry. These days, people do not like to complete long forms or questionnaires on websites.
Seventh: Make sure you have a system in place for screening and immediately contacting inquiries. The quickest way to lose a prospective client is to not respond.
Eighth: Analyze and track all your advertising and promotions. Use specific call tracking numbers. Then, get rid of advertising sources that do not work. This is the same common sense marketing that exists in every other business. The same should hold true for the legal community. Too many times attorneys continue to advertise in a print publication because they have always done so. It is time to stop the madness — that ship probably sailed years ago.
Ninth: Cultivate and seek out reviews from past clients on Google and Yelp. More Google than Yelp in my opinion. These are extremely valuable marketing links.
Tenth: Do not be afraid of change. Every now and then a little revolution is a healthy thing! When new clients start rolling in and you develop a certain comfort level with your new reality, things will settle and you will find that you and your practice are now relevant again.
BSG Online Marketing
Brian Smith is the Attorney and Founder of BSG Online Marketing, a leader in the SEO and Legal Marketing Community. His passion for search engine marketing led him to create his own firm. This firm is trying to solve the issues that attorneys are facing in the search engine optimization field.