Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2010

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SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

I was asked to do some presentations over the next few months on building a practice, new technologies and the changes in the practice of law. It would have been easy to just touch up some old presentations, but I know that change has been coming at a faster and faster pace, and I need to know the impact of these changes on the practice of law. This article focuses on a topic that I have addressed on numerous occasions over 17 years – marketing/building your practice.

As I considered what to include in my presentation, I knew I wanted to include some information on “social media”, because these are tools that are NOT going away and if, according to Matt Homann, president of LexThink (www.lexthinkllc.com) “you plan on being in practice for another 5-10 years, then you need to understand these (social media) technologies because your future clients do.”

In March 2009 (eons ago in the tech world), I did an article simply describing social media (www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/marketing/socialnetworking.htm), but Web 2.0 was in its early stages and I was not sure where it was headed. Although I am still not sure where they are headed, I do know that you ignore them at your own peril.

First, My Usual Caveats

I completely understand that law is a personal relationship profession. These new technologies do not change that. These are just new tools which need to be added to your marketing toolbox; they do not supplant the “tried and true” methods such as networking and personal and professional referrals. Again, quoting Matt Homann, the “most important social media are the handshake and the telephone.” If you do not turn your online contacts into clients, the technologies are useless.

In addition, technology does not mean that you can ignore having a written marketing plan. You would simply include using these new methods into your plan. (There are two articles online about how solo and small firm practitioners can write their own marketing plans at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/marketing/writemktgplan.htm and http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/marketing/writemktgplanpt2.htm).

Like other marketing activities, these new technologies will NOT produce overnight results. They should not be viewed as separate and apart from all the other client development methods you use to get new clients. Social media is no different from other methods – it is telling people (friends, clients, colleagues, potential clients) what you do and how you can help them and doing it online.

Start with the Basics

If you would not consider practicing law without your name in the phone book under attorneys, then you should no longer consider not practicing without a website. I believe that it is now absolutely critical that ALL attorneys in private practice have websites. As with phone book listings, they can be as simple or as elaborate as you feel necessary. Websites are now the equivalent of electronic phone books. I Googled Maryland lawyers without quotes and came up with 1,590,000 results, and with the quotes came up with 183,000 entries. Admittedly, not all of these are lawyers or law firms, but even as I refined my search, I came up with hundreds of Maryland lawyers. Clients, potential clients and referral sources are looking for information about attorneys on the web. You need to have your information available.

I was recently on a panel with a long-time, very well-known lawyer in Maryland, and while he did not agree with everything I said about the new technologies, admitting that he was “old school,” he did concede that he was forced to get a website because even potential clients who knew that they wanted to hire him expected him to have a website so they could do preliminary research. While you may not get many clients strictly from a website, you could lose the opportunity to get clients because you do not have a site. It does not need to be anything more than a listing about your practice areas, location or other basic information.

If you currently do not have a website, you can get started very quickly and easily by looking at ESQSites123.com. MSBA endorses this company, as do many other bar associations throughout the country. They can create cost-effective website templates for many practice areas. More information can be found at www.msba.org/departments/membership/benefit.asp under Websites. MSBA members receive a 25 percent discount on website services.

Even if you do not get a website immediately, it is time for all attorneys to have their own domain names. It is time to stop using Yahoo and Comcast and Gmail for your professional e-mail address. It is okay to use these e-mail addresses for personal use, but you should be using your own e-mail address just as you use your own phone number. To determine what domain names are available, go to www.godaddy.com and check your name or choice.

Another “older” technology is a law firm blog, which can be a great tool for connecting with clients, potential clients and referral sources. A blog is NOT a website. For law firm purposes, it is an online newsletter that provides regular information about your practice area. It is very reasonably priced, needs almost no technology skills and can be done at any time from any location. However, if you are NOT going to update it at least weekly, then this is not a tool you should consider. This is a very time-consuming endeavor and needs to be maintained or it will have a more negative than positive effect. Many a lawyer started a blog only to discover how much time it took to regularly post information.

Getting Your Name Out to Get Business In

Lawyers have been advertising in various ways for many years, and while some may still find it “unprofessional”, it is an accepted practice. New technologies offer different ways to get your name out to the public and to potential referral sources.

The best way to be perceived as someone who is knowledgeable in a particular area of law is it to be interviewed and quoted by the media, whether in print, online, television, etc. There is a site called Help a Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com), where you subscribe to their daily e-mail blast (this is when you can use your Yahoo e-mail account). Each day, you will receive a notice with a list of topics on which reporters are looking for information and people to interview. This is a national list and includes many topics that may not be for lawyers . If there is a topic in which you have some knowledge and information, you can contact the reporter. There is no guarantee that you will be interviewed or that your comments will be included, but this is an easy way to get in front of potential reporters. Many of these articles are online, and, should you be quoted, your name could consequently come up in a Google search for others researching the topic.  I am sure I do not need to tell you how this could have a beneficial snowball effect.

Another way to determine what reporters are reporting (and what they make be looking for) is to follow them on Twitter or Facebook. Many Daily Record reporters are on Twitter, as is The Daily Record (http://twitter.com/mddailyrecord) itself. You can re-tweet their information or simply directly reply to them. In addition, on The Daily Record website, editors are looking for suggestions for stories and ideas. If you have an idea, send it to them. You could be quoted.

Getting published online is a great way to get your name everywhere. Many e-zine publications are desperate for content. A good place to find a list of online publications is at www.ezinehub.com. While this is not legal-specific software, there could be an area where you have some expertise and can write a short article. In addition, many national, state and local bars are looking for authors, and many of their publications are online.

There are fewer and fewer firms of any size still sending out paper newsletters, but Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) makes it easy and cost-effective for a solo or small firm practitioner to send out a newsletter to his or her e-mail lists. If you want to consider this, you will need to make sure that you have e-mail contact information for all clients, potential clients, referral sources, etc. On your new client form, you should also ask if they want to receive an e-mail newsletter. This can be done quarterly and can be short. It is a fast way to keep your name in front of clients and remind them of all your practice areas.

Free Google Directory Listings

Google has a service that, until April 20, 2010, was called Local Google Directory. It allowed any business to go in and create a profile, and when there is a search for “family law lawyers in Greenbelt”, a list of those attorneys who filled out the free profile would be listed and shown on a local map. It is now called Google Places, but the idea remains the same. Go to Google.com/places and complete your profile now.

Other directories include Yelp (www.yelp.com) and Yahoo Local (http://local.yahoo.com).  I am sure there are others. If they are free, take advantage. Someone else will.

Unfortunately, I have completely run out of space before I was able to get to “Facebook what you are doing”, “LinkedIn where you are working” and “Twitter what you are thinking”. I will be addressing these topics in future columns because I think they are important to your practice.

Below is a list of resources for this and other topics. In addition, at the MSBA Annual Meeting and Solo Day, June 10-11, we will address issues concerning the ethical issues related to some of these new technologies. For more information, go to www.msbaannualmeeting.org

Resources

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2010

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