Over the last five years, there's been a sea change caused by cell phones and tablets that affect how clients find lawyers. Today, most clients go online to find a lawyer. In fact, more clients searching for an attorney found one from Internet content than they did from referrals. In the old days, people would talk to coworkers, friends and attorneys, but what they prefer much more is discreetly searching with a laptop.
There are five business development step attorneys can take online to capitalize on this change.
1. Broadcast Your Event Live Online with Livestreaming
Livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat have become popular. A user simply downloads the app to his or her cell phone, and uses the camera to broadcast what it sees live. I've been recommending that lawyers get familiar with livestreaming because you can broadcast an event that you create.
Case in point: Here's a practical business development idea that really works. Your law firm can devote $1,000 (or more) to create a scholarship, approach a law school and ask it to select the winner. Then, you schedule an event where the scholarship is awarded. You invite everyone in your office to bring their cell phones to the event, open up Meerkat or Periscope, and live broadcast the entire ceremony from multiple phones. You can notify all your contacts and friends in advance to tune in to watch the broadcast. It's a tech-savvy way to upload a live event on the web, and to capture the firm doing a good deed.
2. Use the Killer App: Blogging
It's true that the more you blog, the more clients you will retain. But you need to update your law firm blog at least two to three times a week with fresh, practical and useful information that clients can't find on any other website. The trick is to view yourself as an editor (or hire professionals to manage your blog for you). Make it your job to spot the issues, gather any documents or opinions, and assign them to someone else to write. Specify that they write in plain English and not legalese, and to aim for a length of 300-400 words per post.
3. Create a Non-Branded Informational Website
The idea is to focus on a single topic and to provide ample information that consumers are seeking, as opposed to publishing material about litigation or law. Drugwatch.com is a perfect example, where consumers can research drugs, lawsuits and FDA recalls. It looks like WebMD — not a law firm website — and has information that a person would read on an online encyclopedia. The site is sponsored by the Petersen law firm in Washington, DC. As another example, Newsome Melton in Orlando, FL, sponsors BrainandSpinalCord.org. It is a font of information about brain and spinal injuries, the top 10 rehab hospitals, physicians who specialize in spinal surgery, statistics, treatment options and a video library about Medicare and Medicaid.
Both sites are a success because they provide self-help information to clients as they are researching their situations. The tactic works equally well for corporate or large defense firms, which can create clients-only forums on topics such as mergers and acquisitions or intellectual property.
4. Take Steps to Generate Positive Online Reviews
Another thing that's changed in the last few years is the new importance of online reviews. For example, when a person visits Amazon.com, he or she will read the reviews and see how many stars there are on a particular product. That behavior applies to potential clients as well. For personal injury lawyers, the top review sites are Google+, FindLaw.com, Avvo.com, Yelp.com and Lawyers.com.
Gaining a positive review starts with the initial interview of the client. Inform them that you develop most of your business from referrals, and that if you obtain a good outcome for the client, you will ask them to give you a good review. This establishes your expectations up front.
The perfect time to request the review is when you deliver good news or walk the check over to them. Assign staff to give tech support to your clients in writing a Google review. Offer help so you can capture the client review when they're most pleased with the law firm.
Even general counsel will go to a website to find a review. They, too, will find some place online where they are going to find reviews. Many of these reviews are in the billing auditing systems that the corporations use to verify attorney fees, like Serengeti. The Association of Corporate Counsel has several special interest groups where GCs trade notes all the time.
5. Join the Social Media Cocktail Party
Social media continues to account for a large and growing portion of online traffic. It's a 24/7 virtual cocktail party where everyone is invited and anyone can say whatever they like about your firm and even you.
For a business lawyer, the best social medium is LinkedIn. It's a professional forum and people belong for business purposes. Accordingly, lawyers should publish a detailed profile with a professional headshot. The next step is to join a LinkedIn group. Lawyers should follow a conversation in a group and comment every now and then. This positions a lawyer as an authority and leads to meeting other members of the group.
I've had terrific results with Twitter, attracting 23,600 followers to @LarryBodine. In my work, I have developed a large followings of potential clients for law firms, legal publications and lawyer associations by posting several times a day and using popular hashtags. I like Twitter because you can talk to people and engage with others. I've actually met people on Twitter, they've sent me work and become friends, and we've met at conferences and gone out to dinner. Social media really works.
Google+ is an overlooked source for appearing on the first page of Google. Using a Gmail address, an attorney can quickly create a Google My Business page. You can build an audience by following other people and anticipating they'll follow back. Google+ also has many attorney groups focusing on every aspect of law and trials. A lawyer can add a new post in the "What's New with you?" box, allowing visitors to click a +1 or +2 circle, and showing that they like the post. The more plusses you get, the more likely you are to appear on the first page of Google.
If you need some moral support as you face the coming year, take these words to heart:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. — Calvin Coolidge