Internet marketing: Keeping a human presence in a digital world

  • December 04, 2008
  • Edward Poll

From Facebook to Twitter, technology has given lawyers more marketing tools than ever. But while blogs and tweets can position you as a forward-thinking lawyer, be sure to focus your efforts wisely on your business development goals.

Hard as it seems to believe, just a dozen years ago few law firms had more than a rudimentary website presence (if any at all).

Now even the smallest of firms have informative web pages, and the Internet marketing focus has shifted to “Web 2.0” (the trend to interactivity that is epitomized by the give and take between online users of blogs and social networking sites like Facebook) and even “Web 3.0” (the constant, searchable, interconnected communication flow centred on specific ideas, as embodied by Twitter).

But are blogs, Facebook and Twitter really viable ways for lawyers to make useful connections with potential clients?

As a dedicated blogger who also posts on Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, I can attest to the power of these online marketing tools. But I’ve also seen that, if used incorrectly, they can be a chore, an unwelcome expense that produces little return on effort and investment. The difference in effectiveness depends on having a realistic and organized Internet marketing plan.

Worthwhile Pursuit

It is perhaps necessary to begin with the premise that marketing is a worthwhile pursuit for any lawyer. There is, of course a right and wrong way to do it from the standpoint of professional ethics. Chapter XIV of the Canadian Bar Association’s Code of Professional Conduct endorses the general concepts of marketing and advertising as useful ways to help potential clients “make an informed choice and select a qualified lawyer in whom to have confidence.”

In its commentaries on how best to do this, the CBA identifies ethical considerations that are also practical parameters for any effective marketing: that it “must not mislead the uninformed or arouse unattainable hopes and expectations, and must not adversely affect the quality of legal services, or be so undignified or otherwise offensive as to be prejudicial to the interests of the public or the legal profession.”

By observing such proprieties, any lawyer can make a blog or social networking presence a powerful marketing tool by combining personal observation with facts and insights from the lawyer’s area of focus. Such tools can support the creation of marketing relationships, but must be considered in light of the lawyer’s or firm’s entire marketing strategy, not as isolated productions by themselves.

That requires three specific steps to define their purpose:

  • Create a profile of your ideal client, who will give you the kind of work you want, and develop a marketing strategy that focuses on this target, not everyone.
  • Make sure your Internet presence supports your marketing strategy. If your target market is consumers who are not so sophisticated that they regularly search the web for blog posts, or are regular followers of Twitter “tweets,” then an interactive Internet presence is not so meaningful to them and may not be a worthwhile marketing strategy for you.
  • Prepare your postings to address your market, so that recipients will learn what your value to them can be and why they need you and your services.

It is also important to understand up front that blogging or social networking involve time and expense to make the necessary frequent posts and answer dozens, or hundreds, of electronic responses.

Let’s say it’s just two hours per workweek. If we assume 50 workweeks per year for ease of calculation, and $200 per hour billable value for an attorney (recognizing that many are above or below this level), the cost is $20,000 of billable time used to maintain an interactive web presence.

The expense can be worth it, but you need to have a specific picture of what you want to accomplish to ensure an appropriate return on investment. A closer look at blogging and social networking can fill in the details of that picture.

Blogging: A Calling Card

Blogging is, of course, now firmly established as a marketing tool, with thousands of legal blogs (or “blawgs”) on the Internet. When done right, a blog is a living, detailed calling card that represents lawyers and the firm to the world.

Blogs do require some technological investment, and even technological expertise, but content is key. Blogging should become part of a lawyer’s daily professional routine. Occasional posts are simply not effective. A regular posting routine keeps content fresh, which is the number one factor in getting a high search engine ranking for a blog.

Social Networking: One Degree of Separation

Social networking is more informal, yet in a way more powerful than blogging. It is typified by the Facebook site, where virtual “friends” can share ideas and images with people they have never met.

For professionals, LinkedIn, on which you invite business associates to be part of your contact network, may be a better option. On LinkedIn, if you have an interest in marketing services to banks, for example, you can look at the users linked to you and to others and readily identify any number of potential contacts. This is networking without boundaries, a “one degree of separation” interaction.

In the U.S., some bar associations have rolled out their own social networking sites for their members, and such closed networks help to minimize many of the concerns that exist with public networking sites. Members typically have their own home pages, can add “friends” to their network, and converse and share information with them electronically. The challenge of course is getting lawyers to add yet another regular online destination to their web browsing routine, as opposed to connecting with them on sites like LinkedIn where many already are.

There are also online listserv discussion groups of lawyers. Such tools are a way to ask questions, provide answers and generally raise your profile, all among a group of “friends” who can be highly beneficial.

Twitter: A New Iteration

The new iteration of social networking is Twitter, which allows you to send brief 140-character real-time posts as well as links and attachments for more detailed information to a list of those people who have elected to follow your “tweets.”

Some consider Twitter to be the next generation of Internet presence, a 3.0 level of interaction. Topics can be tagged with the # symbol and then become instantly searchable. If your practice focuses on bankruptcy, search for #bankruptcy and find any Twitter user anywhere in the world who is talking about bankruptcy in real time.

Is it worthwhile for marketing? I started with Twitter several months ago and within 48 hours received two invitations to speak at conferences. Beyond that, I haven’t seen any revenue generated, but I have made connections with folks whom I value. The value depends on your metric for success: revenue, or contacts who may eventually generate revenue.

Real Danger

From blogging to social networking to Twitter, technology has given lawyers more marketing tools than ever. There is real danger, however, in becoming so infatuated with the tool that you forget the objective.

Marketing legal services isn’t about speed or worldwide presence. It remains fundamentally about identifying the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicating with them to let them know who you are, and how you can help them, and developing close relationships with these people so that they choose you to be their lawyer.

Remember that the information you provide should have a bearing on your practice, or raise the possibility of generating new business. Personal observations that make you “human” in the eyes of clients and prospective clients can be useful, but shouldn’t be overdone.

Never forget that personal contact at meetings, on the phone and through handwritten notes remains an effective outreach tool. Using such contact today, when so many lawyers are scurrying about online, becomes a differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed. And getting noticed is the foundation of effective marketing.

Edward Poll ( is a certified management consultant and coach in Los Angeles who coaches attorneys and law firms on how to deliver their services more profitably. He is the author of Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth, 2nd ed. (ABA, 2002), Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice (ABA, 2003) and, most recently, Selling Your Law Practice: The Profitable Exit Strategy (LawBiz, 2005).