Finders' mutation: Getting discovered online in 2016

Issue March/April 2016 By Jared D. Correia

Back in the day, you could hide from the Internet. There was a time (like when horseless carriages were in general use) when potential clients would not look for or vet lawyers online -- at least not aggressively. This was a function of a lack of information (just think of how much more stuff is online in 2016 than in 2006) and a lack of savvy (as more and more consumers flock to the Internet for purchasing advice, and use search more regularly than ever before, they get better at finding what they need), which has, of late, been remedied. The upshot is that, in the modern environment, consumers, including consumers of legal services, know how to find (the right) service providers online. In terms of looking to the Internet for professional services, the methodology for finding a lawyer is not all that much different from finding a chimney sweep. The primary questions to answer, at least as these relate to your Internet marketing, are:

  1. How will potential clients find you?
  2. What will they find when they do discover you?

The answer to the how question is that they're searching for you online, probably using their smart phones and Google (maybe a Bing-Windows Phone combo, if you're generating a lot of business from Western Europe). There are two primary events that will spur potential clients to look for a lawyer online. Either they've been referred to you, or they have a legal problem for which they're seeking a solution, in which case the most relevant service provider among the first several search results likely wins. The Internet is the perfect avenue for vetting service providers, especially with the rise of review sites that those service providers have little control over. It used to be that a potential client took a referral because he or she had no way to verify the lawyer's quality in an objective way; now, there are myriad ways to do just that, including the advent of platforms that label lawyers with numerical ratings. Given that fact, it makes a great deal of sense that the modern consumer does not take a referrer at his word. Failing to perform due diligence, in a world where it is very easy to do, is a risk that most consumers are unwilling to take.

When a potential client Googles you as a referred provider, they're keying in your name. When a potential client has a problem, and doesn't know who you are (yet), they're typing in a question -- plus, probably, a geography indicator (where or near where they live) and some one or a combination of the terms "lawyer," "attorney" and "law firm." That potential client, in the first instance, cares not for your awards and accomplishments. He wants an answer to a specific question. Now, if you have not made available an answer, you have little hope of getting found in that instance -- that first (and potentially only) search.

Therefore, this whole discussion hinges on whether a consumer researching a specific legal question online will be directed to an answer that you have provided. If not, you stand (potentially far) less of a chance of being found, ever. Certainly, there are tactics lawyers can apply to goose search results non-organically - such as developing Google Ad Words campaigns. But the clearest, cheapest and easiest path for most solo and small firm attorneys, is to engage a content marketing strategy. Content marketing is just exactly what it sounds like: the production and dissemination of content in your areas of expertise, potentially across a wide array of media and channels. Many law firms maintain blogs, and probably the most obvious, well-traveled route to leveraging content marketing is by blogging and republishing those posts via social media. However, that is far from the last option, even if it is the most tried and true. Video is becoming more and more popular, as are podcasts. Heck, there are law firms with Tumblr and Pinterest accounts. The real question is not where you put your stuff (everywhere you can is likely the best answer); the true line of inquiry is what you have to say. Since your potential clients are searching to answers for questions, provide them. If you're worried about not having enough to say, collect 10 basic client questions you have received, answer them, and publish your answers. Then, type in those questions, and see where you rank now. The provision of relevant content is the clearest way to a potential client's heart -- and Google's.

Jared D. Correia is the assistant director and senior law practice advisor at Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program.