How Lawyers Can Grow Billings Using Online Networks and Internet Marketing

I’ve been engaged lately in several projects for attorneys and law firms, with the objective of expanding their business clientele through an online presence. Consider it “LinkedIn and Beyond for Lawyers.” An online presence — in social networks, blogs, webinars — has become more acceptable, even expected, for attorneys in the last few years.

  • LinkedIn, the largest networking site for professionals across industries, has over 750,000 lawyers and legal services providers with profiles.
  • The American Bar Association site lists over 5,000 ‘blawgs by lawyers.
  • Specialized communities are sprouting. LegalOnRamp is an online network exclusively for corporate general counsel to interact with each other and law firms; featuring more-than-cursory articles, a wiki to freely publish documents, survey results and industry data; and an active Ask the Expert section.

Where’s the benefit? The most common question for those starting to focus online is: “What do I get out of it? I created a LinkedIn profile but haven’t gotten any inquiries.” Of course, your results vary with effort. Consider a few common objectives:

  • You want to maintain contact with affiliates and other lawyers that will refer business to you. In this case, a profile for each professional, inserting the bios from your web site, is a good start on LinkedIn. Once these are published, you can request connections to your colleagues already on LinkedIn. Xing is a comparable social network emphasizing Europe and Asia and Plaxo is another recommended service with 40m subscribers, in which you receive updates about colleagues’ change of contact information. You can also publish quick thoughts or new to all your colleagues on these sites, which will complement regular emails and holiday cards. This assumes you have a solid electronic contact database. For this, Microsoft Outlook is a good start, with Microsoft Business Contact Manager or Avidian’s Prophet to enable contact sharing in a midsize firm, or Salesforce for a larger, multi-office practice (see this LinkedIn Question & Answer Chat about the best contact manager for a small to mid-sized firm). Creating your LinkedIn presence can take less than an hour in this minimal approach, with cleaning up your contact database being the major task. However, the result is that people who know and appreciate you will find you more easily, not that new prospects will seek your counsel.
  • You want prospective clients that are evaluating your practice to find a solid web presence. Here, you’ll want to polish your professionals’ LinkedIn profiles to include a bio written in an approachable first person. Change the standard “Ms. Doe is a patent lawyer representing firms of all sizes…” to include specialties (“I have worked extensively with both manufacturing and non-manufacturing technology entities, such as universities and the NIH“) and benefits (“I… help clients execute on strategies to leverage the value of their IP“). Then, add at least 20 links/connections to clients and colleagues; a photo and a vanity LinkedIn URL with your name, and have several clients publish short testimonials for your work (which you can propose in draft form and have them revise). This may take a few hours but puts you into the realm of credible online presence, beyond your web site.
  • You want prospects you’ve met to keep you in mind. For this case, minimally consider a quarterly e-newsletter with updates on law in their industry, and your publicly-known cases. One effective approach is to orient your content by industry of your client, rather than by legal domain — which few lawyers seem to do. A pharmaceutical client, a telecommunications company and an e-commerce startup use different language to refer to their intellectual property needs — one speaks of protecting an new product pipeline, another defending its technology and the third seeing a competitor copy their online brand. For them, it’s insufficient to state on LinkedIn that “I serve all industries” and leave it at that, or to write about patent /trademark activity across multiple industries. Free or for-fee webinars, or local lunches work well, as does joint presentations with complimentary service providers, such as a local private equity fund or networking association.
  • You want to solicit new business interest through your online presence. This is where substantial time is needed, because so many lawyers are attempting the same thing. Only a few per domain of expertise can break through the clutter, so you’ll want to strive for the frequency and depth of content that only one or two other firms can match when you search Google. You can accomplish this by writing white papers that help clients, or being the most frequent and insightful blog on a particular topic such as food and drug law, as well as a public speaker. Also, consider creative and even bold offers, such as Clock Tower Law’s offer of a free trademark registration for a startup. And combine online initiatives with local business development, such soliciting speaking engagements. One of my clients and I are working with a cost-effective outsourced service to find and monitor industry events for speaking opportunities, and having an executive assistant at the law firm propose the practice leader as a speaker.

Finally, be aware of how others are writing about you on the web. ZoomInfo compiles career biographies of anyone who has had a professional profile published on the web. Two lawyers I tracked shared first and last names (their middle name differed), but very different track records and some information had been confused between them by the automated system. You can fix this by claiming ownership about your data and correcting it. A site such as lets prospective employees write about their experience with your firm. One firm I was tracking had a strong presence on Google, ranking 5th when I searched for “NY intellectual property law firm.”  Yet on Vault, the first comment to appear was from a paralegal job candidate who wrote “If you [even] speak English, they will hire you,”  and another candidate said “the place is in shambles.” Not an attractive situation!

In sum, it takes little effort to get online and stay in touch with those who appreciate your reputation. Actually building your reputation online takes more time, but there are intermediate steps that allow you and your firm to match your business development goals with time availability.

For more thoughts, see the powerpoint I’ve posted below about how law firms can grow their revenues with Web 2.0 technologies. This is an update of a presentation I made a little while ago to the New York County Lawyers Association.