TCPA Update: Great News for Plaintiff Attorneys (Not So Much for Telemarketers)

These days it REALLY sucks to be an autodialer telephone system vendor or a telemarketer that depends on one.

On July 10, the Federal Communications Commission released the long-awaited Declaratory Ruling and Order intended to clarify its controversial interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s autodialer definition. TCPA compliance is a significant issue for telemarketers because the TCPA allows individuals to file lawsuits and collect damages for receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, faxes, pre-recorded calls or autodialed calls.

TCPA Compliance Nightmares

Sorry, Wrong Number

While the TCPA’s autodialer definitions were under the FCC’s review, some marketers thought they were in compliance if they manually dialed mobile numbers on autodialer systems. The Declarative Ruling and Order removes that fig leaf.

Internet marketing law expert David Klein of Klein Moynihan Turco has this assessment and caution about the FCC’s latest move:

“The ruling solidifies the FCC’s expansive stance that dialing equipment generally meets the TCPA’s autodialer definition, even if it is not presently used for that purpose. The expansive regime labels practically every telemarketing device on the market as an autodialer, subject to regulation under the TCPA.

“The Commission’s latest interpretation of the TCPA autodialer definition is broader than ever before. Accordingly, we advise that companies involved in telemarketing should take precautions whenever using automated technology to place calls or send texts to consumers, or face potential liability under the TCPA.”

Red Meat for Plaintiff Attorneys?

Without proof of consumers’ prior express written consent to be contacted, the TCPA provides for either actual damages or statutory damages ranging from $500.00 to $1,500.00 per unsolicited call/message. To put that in perspective, a Manhattan federal judge recently ordered Time Warner Cable Inc to pay a Texas woman $229,500 for placing 153 automated calls meant for someone else to her cellphone in less than a year, even after she told it to stop.

Now, with all telemarketing calls essentially in play, plaintiff attorneys might be further emboldened to pursue actions against deep-pocket companies. Lawsuits have been filed across many industries, including against social networking companies (Twitter Inc., GroupMe), sports franchises (Los Angeles Clippers, Buffalo Bills), pharmacies (CVS Pharmacy Inc., Rite Aid Corp.), travel and entertainment companies (Cirque du Soleil Co.), retailers (Best Buy Co., J.C. Penney Co.) and online service providers (29 Prime Inc.).

Given the proliferation of TCPA class actions and uncapped statutory damages, it’s not surprising that TCPA settlement amounts are hitting record highs. For example, in February a federal court in Chicago granted final approval for a class action settlement with Capital One Financial Corp. and affiliates totaling approximately $75.5 million.

What Corporate Counsels Can Do: TCPA Compliance Oversight

In TCPA cases, the burden of proof is on the marketer to show it obtained the necessary prior express written consent before making marketing call(s). It’s up to corporate counsels to ensure that their marketing colleagues 1) design web registration forms to ensure that they clearly and conspicuously include proper disclosure of what respondents are agreeing to and 2) have a systematic way to capture and retain that consent for telemarketing purposes.

But your oversight role doesn’t stop there because consent under TCPA is fluid and ephemeral.

  • A called party may revoke consent at any time and through any reasonable means;
  • Called parties can provide and revoke consent multiple times serially, and it’s the marketer’s responsibility to keep track whether the most recent consent is valid;
  • Marketers cannot restrict how potential called parties opt-out; and
  • If the phone number has been reassigned, consent must be obtained from the current subscriber.

How Marketing Automation Technology Can Help in TCPA Compliance

Online marketing software solutions like LeadiD capture “lead generation events,” creating virtual certificates of authenticity for consumer telemarketing consent.

To be on the safe side, lead certification records should be stored for at least four years — the TCPA’s statute of limitations for filing suit.

Proof of internet-provided written consent includes, but is not limited to:

  • Website pages that contain consumer consent language and fields;
  • An associated screenshot of the consent webpage as seen by the consumer where the phone number was input;
  • A complete data record submitted by the consumer (with time and date stamp), together with the applicable consumer IP address.

Services like LeadiD also offer visual capture/playback of the consumer’s interaction with the registration form in question.

More TCPA Tips to Come

As a marketer myself, I’m personally invested in TCPA compliance, so watch this blog for future posts on news, best practices and resources.

Is Alternative Small Business Lending Ripe For Regulation (and Lawsuits)?

A blogger with alternative small business lending company Kabbage recently pitched me to write a post featuring her company. I’d heard of Kabbage before and had it in my “future topics” list, so I figured this was the nudge I needed to start poking around.

Alternative Small Business LendingAs it turns out, Kabbage doesn’t need my help to build top of mind awareness or attract traffic to its website. It’s already gotten a big write-up in Forbes, which reported that Kabbage is an established leader in the emerging space and well on its way to a record year. Bank lending to small businesses froze during the Great Recession and hasn’t recovered, especially for amounts in the $25,000 to $55,000 range — the sweet spot for this new breed of alternative lenders. Also, alternative small business lenders decide on applications within minutes, not weeks (like traditional banks). Not surprisingly, the field is quickly crowding with competitors like OnDeck, Prosper, CAN Capital and spinoffs from companies like Amazon, PayPal and Square.

As Competition Grows, Will Scrutiny Also ?

A few things in the Forbes article struck me as potential problems/opportunities for law firms — depending on whether you’re a plaintiff’s or civil defense attorney. Although alternative small business loans are easier to obtain than small business loans from banks, they come at a steep price. On an annualized basis, the interest rate on alternative small business loans ranges from 40% to 60%.

“Some of these guys make used-car salesmen look good,” says [Jay Goltz, an entrepreneur and small-business advocate in Chicago], who calculated that one lender was charging as much as 150%. “I don’t know how any business could grow fast enough to pay off that kind of loan.”

As the Forbes article points out, “with all of that credit available, many businesses have gotten in over their heads because they didn’t realize the full price they were agreeing to pay. The fact that the loans are for short terms can disguise how expensive they are.

As competition grows in the alternative small business lending industry, it will be interesting to see what tactics competitors use to build and hold market share — like high-pressure sales, looser lending standards, derivative markets — and whether state and federal regulators decide to intervene to prevent another credit bubble from forming.

3 Law Firm Marketing Lessons from a Guy Who Makes Fiberglass Shower Pan Liners

I’m having a walk-in shower installed in my home, and getting a workshop in branding and word-of-mouth marketing in the process.

When I began the project, I thought all I needed was a plumber and a tile guy. The plumber was a no-brainer — I’ve relied on Wilson Plumbing for years. But I quickly learned that even a small construction project like mine is comprised of a general contractor cobbling together a cadre of independent niche craftspeople — the demo crew, framers, drywallers, concrete pourers, fiberglass shower pan builders and tilers.

The morning after the fiberglass shower pan was installed (and the overpowering acetone fumes had cleared), I went into the bathroom to inspect the progress and noticed a  simple branding gesture that conveyed a bold message. Embedded on the new shower curb under the fiberglass was a plain card that bore just the name and phone number of the contractor in large, readable type.  What it actually said, though, was, “I made this and I stand behind it. If you like it, call me.”

Clearly, that message wasn’t intended for me — it was tiled over soon thereafter. It was directed to other, unknown contractors that would encounter his handiwork and might want to work with him on a future project.

And it worked!

Later that same day the plumber came by, glanced at the shower floor and remarked, “That’s a great pan liner. Who did the work for you?”  I didn’t know; I just pointed to the card. The plumber took out his mobile phone and snapped a picture of it.

Three Key Marketing Lessons

  1. “Marketing” can get in the way. Whenever possible, let your work product speak for itself. Share and promote well-crafted/well-reasoned pleadings and motions, not just outcomes.
  2. Engage with potential clients/referral sources at the times and places their needs are most immediate.
  3. Keep your message simple, memorable and actionable.
What law firm marketing ideas or inspirations have you gotten from unexpected sources?

 

 

 

 

Legal Marketing: What You’re Missing at SXSW 2012

Every spring the social media and entertainment industries converge on Austin, Texas for SXSW (shorthand for South by Southwest), one of the most frantically busy and buzz-worthy conferences of the year.

For all the claims about lawyers as consummate networkers, I marvel that SXSW is not awash in IP, entertainment and small business/startup lawyers. The superabundance of crowded parties, meet-ups, hospitality pavilions and special events are a networker’s dream — start-up businesses, start-up films and start-up bands, all in need of lawyers with specific expertise.

Rocket Lawyer jumped into the networking fray this year with a Sociable Lawyer Premiere Event last Friday to promote its On Call lead referral program. Despite it being an uncharacteristically cold and rainy afternoon, a crowd of young lawyers converged on a Sixth Street bar to connect. I spent a while talking to some first-year associates about their experience with the controversial forms-driven service, and it was clear that Rocket Lawyer was on to something — building and strengthening connections with the current generation of solo and small-firm attorneys who “get it.”

A hidden bonus for lawyers at  SXSW is the free CLE. Yes, you can get free CLE as part of your SXSW admission.  I don’t know when they started, but for the past several years Lommen Abdo Law Firm has run a really interesting CLE track called “Legal Issues in the Music, Film and Emerging Technology Industries”  Talk about a marketing ROI goldmine….

This year the program boasts more than 40 industry leaders on different 13 panels. All SXSW registrants are welcome, but attorneys can register for up to 13 CLE credits and are given preferential access if the session is full.

Tomorrow’s sessions include:

Gimme Shelter from the Storm Clouds

As more products and services move to the proverbial cloud, from shared collaboration, commercial product offerings, and user-uploaded content, new business models are created while extant business models come under attack. This panel will explore the disruption caused by some new cloud-based services and how this disruption is affecting existing industries. For example, who is responsible for liabilities arising from the use or exploitation of content stored in the cloud; should Congress change the law to impose new liability/responsibilities on operators of cloud-based services; what rights, if any, do consumers have to perpetual access to their content in the cloud; can a user transfer their content in the cloud to another device or person? These and other questions will be addressed by the distinguished panel.

The Automobile as Network Node

Automobiles are increasingly connected to computer networks and are used to collect, use and share vehicle-related information. They also provide a delivery mechanism for driving, entertainment and other content and information. This panel will discuss legal issues arising out of and related to the collection, use and disclosure of vehicle-related information and related emerging legal issues of data use in or related to vehicles.

CLE panels later this week during the music festival portion include:

Royalties in the Digital Space: What, Where and How Much Are They?

Identifying, following and actually collecting essential money from a myriad of digital sources is a growing challenge. With the help of sophisticated music accountants, this panel will show what is at stake, and where and how to secure this income.

Licensing Madness: Exploitations a Go-Go

In a world where music is being licensed to promote, enhance, advertise and image almost everything, the deals and protocols are as varied as the uses themselves. The panel will identify uses and review common terms and deal expectations.

Run for Cover: The Future of Cloud Commerce

As traditional music consumer consumption habits evaporate into the cloud, a new legal and language lexicon casts a mighty shadow over the music business. This panel will analyze whether subscriptions and other alternatives present promise or problems in the new music economy.

Any interest in working with me to pitch social media for law firms panel ideas for next year’s SXSW?

The Law of Flash Mobs and Pranks: An Interview with Ruth Carter

“Niche development” in legal marketing typically entails becoming known for a deep focus on particular aspects of a practice area or business segment, expertise in arcane and/or complex issues, or both. What interests me about Ruth Carter’s work in the law of flash mobs and pranks is that she drew from her own experiences and tapped into the cultural zeitgeist to pioneer an entirely new category of law.

Q:  From reading through your blog archives, it seems like your interest in the law of flash mobs and pranks originally derived from your passion for improv and guerilla theater and took root while you were in law school. Is that a fair description? Was there an “ah ha” moment for you, where you decided that it was a niche you wanted to explore in depth?

A: That’s a fair description. My first flash mob was the 2009 No Pants Light Rail Ride when I was a 1L. During that flash mob, I met the people with who I founded Improv AZ.

My real “ah ha” moment came during my 1L summer during my internship with the U.S. Army JAG. I got to spend a few days sitting in on criminal law classes for military police trainees. During my criminal law class, the only crimes we focused on were homicide and manslaughter. We skipped the crimes that are more common and easy to commit. At the military police class, I learned about crimes like solicitation and conspiracy – two crimes that flash mob organizers can commit just in the planning stages of a flash mob. That’s the experience that showed me that flash mob organizers need to be mindful of the legalities of their events at all stages of planning and executing flash mobs.

 

Q: How do you describe your engagement with the topic today? Is it an avocation, or are you developing and marketing your expertise as a unique practice area?

A: I live and breathe flash mob law. I absolutely love it.

I don’t know how much of a demand there is for flash mob law practitioners. I am opening a law firm in January 2012 and I will be listing “flash mob law” as one of my areas of practice.

 

Q: To a layman like me, it appears that the challenge of this niche is understanding the interaction of criminal law, property rights, torts and even constitutional law as they apply to public performance — a classic example of balancing rights and responsibilities. How do you describe it?

A: That’s about right. I describe flash mob law as a combination of criminal, property, tort, First Amendment, intellectual property, and entertainment law.

 

Q: The transgressive nature of flash mobs and pranks is central to their appeal. As an attorney, how do you reconcile those tensions?

A: There is a huge difference between violating cultural norms and breaking the law. One the keys to organizing successful flash mobs is knowing how to push the envelope without crossing the line.

Flash mobs are about doing the unexpected but it should never go so far that it interferes with others’ rights or gets you arrested. It’s about entertaining, amusing, and surprising an unsuspecting audience.

 

Q: Wikipedia takes pains to distinguish between “flash mobs” (brief, seemingly pointless) and “smart mobs” (promotional stunts). Is that a distinction without difference, or are there substantive issues that attach to one or the other type of activity? What about “pranks”?

A: The difference between flash mobs and smart mobs is the intent. Flash mobs have no underlying motivations except to do something entertaining and unexpected. Smart mobs are a form of advertising. They exist to promote causes, services, and products.

My troupe, Improv AZ, only does entertaining flash mobs and pranks. We would entertain the possibility of being hired to do a smart mob, but it is not something we actively seek to do.

The difference between pranks and flash mobs is mainly the size. Pranks are small scale activities that we do not invite the public to join. The only people who are involved in pranks are the organizers, our videographers, and our photographers. No one knows that a prank was planned until the blog and video appear on the internet. The prank that Improv AZ is best known for is the Coroner Prank. The first time we did it, the only people involved were the 4 “coroners” and 2 people who videotaped us.

Flash mobs are large scale events where we invite the hundreds of people on our email list or the general public to participate. Some of the flash mobs that Improv AZ has organized are the annual No Pants Light Rail Ride, the Fake Protest, Welcome Back, and the Epic Super Hero Battle.

 

Q: In your view, what are the biggest public misperceptions about what we can and can’t legally do with guerilla events, stunts, pranks, etc.?

A: From the organizer perspective, the biggest misperception is the idea that you can do whatever you want as long as you have good intentions. That’s not true – your actions matter more and you can be arrested for breaking the law even if you meant no harm. Additionally, some people assume they can do whatever they want in a public place, like shopping malls.

There were a few incidents at the end of 2010 where flash mobs ended badly. There was a dance flash mob at Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona that resulted in some people getting banned from the mall for a year. The security there has made it clear that they don’t want any flash mobs on their premises. There was another incident at a mall in northern California where people were invited to come and sing the Hallelujah chorus. So many people showed up to participate that the fire marshal had to come to evacuate people and there were reports that the floor felt like it was giving way.

 

Q: YouTube and shows like “Punk’d” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” have elevated pranks to an entertainment genre. As average folks chase fame and/or fortune with their Flip cams and mobile phones, what legal issues do they need to be aware of?

A: The main thing that people need to be aware of is when they do a prank or flash mob that involves illegal activity, and they put the video on the internet, they may have just published all the evidence that law enforcement needs to charge them with a crime.

 

Q: Flash mobs are increasingly associated with civil disobedience and intentional criminality. Have you found that this conflation is creating more problems for group actions intended for artistic expression, entertainment and commercial purposes?

A: Yes. I cringe every time I read an article that refers to a criminal incident as a “flash mob crime.” These group assaults and robberies hurt the reputation of the real flash mob community when the media refers to them as flash mobs. As organizers, we put significant time, thought, and energy into making sure that our events are legal. We don’t want to be associated with any illegal activities. Some of us argue that the term “flash mob crime” is an oxymoron, because flash mobs cannot include criminal acts.

 

Q: Can you share some lessons you learned the hard way about the legal consequences of flash mobs and pranks?

A: Oh yes. I learned the hard way that just because we planned a prank to be legal, someone still might freak out and call the cops. During Improv AZ’s Coroner Prank #2, we took our body bag for a walk through a mall. The mall cops detained us and called the real cops claiming that we had committed “dozens of felonies.” The police didn’t cite us for anything and the worst thing that happened was some of us were banned from the mall for three months. That was the prank that convinced me to take a criminal procedure class so I would know what authority mall cops and real cops have. Looking back, we probably could have left the mall when the mall cops confronted us despite their instructions to remain there.

 

Q: What are your top five tips for flash mob and prank planners?

  1. Never assume that your flash mob or prank is legal – always look up the applicable state and local laws. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
  2. Be prepared for encounters with the police. Know what they can and can’t do and be ready to respectfully explain why what you’re doing is legal.
  3. Make sure your participants know their do’s and don’ts going into a flash mob. For example, before the No Pants Light Rail Ride, we remind our participants that they must have their genitals and anuses covered per Arizona law. We encourage people not to wear thongs and to wear briefs under their boxers to prevent any unexpected exposure when they sit down.
  4. Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper. Once the photos and video are on the internet, you have no control over who is going to see it – your family, your friends, your employer, etc. It’s not uncommon for the press to be tipped off about upcoming flash mobs and for the footage to end up on the evening news.
  5. If you are arrested, immediately tell law enforcement that you’d like to exercise your right to remain silent and ask to speak to an attorney, and then don’t say anything to anyone until you speak with an attorney.

Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, Ruth Carter is a co-founder of Improv AZ and the owner of Carter Law Firm, PLLC, a virtual law office specializing in intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.


Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.10.11

A digest of social media advice and tips for legal marketing.

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 4: Shorter, More Frequent and In Person

As discussed in the first post of this series, conducting client satisfaction surveys is as much marketing as it is client service. The frequency of surveys, their method of delivery, the breadth and depth of topics covered, and even the way the questions are structured all tell clients a story about your firm.

Frequency – In a professional services environment predicated on deep personal connections with clients, fielding a client satisfaction survey only once a year  seems perfunctory. Even if you have informal channels and tools for gathering  client feedback throughout the year, an official outreach on a quarterly or semi-annual basis telegraphs active interest and engagement — that you don’t take them for granted.

Method of Delivery – If someone can make a persuasive argument as to why mailing/e-mailing law firm client satisfaction survey forms constitutes better client service, please do so in the comment section below. A printed form should be hand-delivered to the intended recipient, accompanied by 1) a statement of appreciation for the client’s business and 2) a spoken, personal invitation to complete the survey candidly. In the case of an e-mail survey, make sure the message doesn’t end up in your client’s inbox without a personal heads-up — by phone or in person — to expect it. Steps 1 & 2 above obtain in this scenario as well.

Breadth and Depth of Topics Covered – Typical surveys take a “kitchen sink” approach, with questions ranging from the make-or-break (“How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”) to the mundane (“Returns phone calls as promptly as I wish”). This approach inevitably results in questionnaires that are too long, which causes respondents to race through later questions. This is a particularly serious shortcoming when you have open-ended questions at the end of a long survey, because respondents are much less likely to provide thoughtful, detailed comments.

Instead of one long annual survey, consider fielding several smaller ones focused on a single client service category (e.g. core capabilities, responsiveness and collaboration, cost management/value, technology utilization, privacy/data security).  In addition to operationalizing client service conversations, you’ll obtain higher quality feedback.

Question Structure – Open-ended questions yield more useful feedback. If, however, you choose a closed-ended format, take special care in how you structure and word the questions and pre-populated response options (if you’re not using some sort of number or letter rating scale). The worst thing you can do is frame responses in such a way that it appears you’re trying to put words in the respondent’s mouth. Like this actual Big Law firm example [firm’s name is redacted]:

Rating Scale:

A – Exceptional Performance, rarely equaled by other law firms.  XYZ LLC  is the firm I hire for my legal needs.

B – Above Average.  Exceeds my expectations frequently.  I usually call XYZ LLC first.

C – Average.  Satisfactorily meets my standards.  XYZ LLC isn’t my first choice.

D – Below Average.  Failed to meet my standards in a material way.  I am seeking other counsel.

F – Unacceptable.  Without a significant and sustained effort by XYZ LLC to improve, I will discontinue using the firm.

As they say on TV lawyer shows, “Objection. Leading the witness.” Also, doesn’t “D” sound worse than “F”? And would clients experiencing “D”- or “F”-level service even bother filling out a survey form?

 

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 3: Three Ways to Make Your IT Capabilities a Strength

The role of information technology in law practice management and legal services delivery is one of the most discussed and debated topics in the profession. So why aren’t law firms using their client satisfaction surveys to obtain client feedback and promote engagement on IT?

The most likely root cause is that typical client surveys are devised by lawyers for lawyers. The respective IT departments — law firm and client — are not part of the process.

How to Turn Your Technology Capabilities into a Survey Asset

  • Make it clear that the firm believes information technology is essential to service delivery  —  Whether or not they are power users, regularly communicate with your clients about how your firm is applying new technology to improve service delivery. Use the survey to track awareness and measure the value of those capabilities.
  • Directly involve your IT team — Encourage direct contact and interaction between your IT team and your clients’ in the survey process.
  • Be prepared — Track what competitors and clients are doing with cloud-based information technologies and collaborative platforms. Even if the firm will not be moving immediately into those environments, IT planners should at least be prepared to respond quickly and persuasively if technology surfaces as an issue/opportunity in your survey.

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback

Your client satisfaction survey is comprised of closed-ended questions with a limited number of response options. Respondents are asked to rate various performance factors on a 1-5 numerical scale. Your most important client rated you a “4” in overall satisfaction. In fact, all of the responses were 3s or 4s. They’re not unhappy, but they’re not thrilled. Not ready to leave, but not necessarily willing to give you additional matters or provide recommendation and referrals.

What actionable information has that survey given you? As discussed in the previous post, the law firm client satisfaction survey should be a research and marketing exercise, not a popularity poll. In a relationship-driven profession, the most effective survey instrument for collecting meaningful, actionable information is a survey form or script that relies primarily on open-ended questions.

Metagora makes the case succinctly:

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to include more information, including feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject. This allows researchers to better access the respondents’ true feelings on an issue. Closed-ended questions, because of the simplicity and limit of the answers, may not offer the respondents choices that actually reflect their real feelings. Closed-ended questions also do not allow the respondents to explain that they do not understand the question or do not have an opinion on the issue.
  • Open-ended questions cut down on two types of response error: respondents are not likely to forget the answers they have to choose from if they are given the chance to respond freely; and open-ended questions simply do not allow respondentsto disregard reading the questions and just “fill in” the survey with all the same answers (such as filling in the “no” box on every question).
  • Research has shown that open-ended questions are better for eliciting sensitive information than closed-ended questions.

Granted, the narratives generated by open-ended surveys require more work (read: time and expense) to compile and clearly present, but the depth and breadth of insight you gain will more than compensate. Most importantly, your clients will notice — and think of you more positively.

How Yelp Is Upending Lawyer Ratings and Reviews

If it gives you peace of mind to continue investing time and money in “pay-to-play” and “claim your profile”  lawyer ratings and reviews websites, then god bless and best wishes. But the mind share these vestigial marketing tools– “basic boxes” to check — continues to command could be distracting lawyers — particularly small and solo general practice firms — from leveraging local word-of-mouth communities, Yelp in particular.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_yohVlVbEA&w=420&h=315]

Consider this quick-and-dirty case study.

As of this writing, a general search for “lawyers” on Yelp’s San Francisco community site turned up 5,557 profiles.  General litigation and estate planning attorney Michael Blacksburg showed up near the top of the results page. His 63 reviews yielded a 5-out-of-5 stars rating. In a “Michael Blacksburg San Francisco lawyer” Google search, his Yelp profile was the first listing after links to his own website. A Super Lawyers link turned up down the page, but notably absent from the first page of results were links to “basic boxes”Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell.

Interestingly, a basic Google search for San Francisco immigration law firm Van Der Hout Brigagliano & Nightingale LLP — which had a 5-star overall rating based on two Yelp reviews — produced similar results. The top search result was the firm’s own website, followed by the firm’s Yelp profile.

Why Yelp Deserves More Attention from Lawyers

  • Yelp is the online ratings and reviews destination of first resort for service businesses – While it’s not necessarily a household name, Yelp has higher top of mind awareness with the general public than lawyer review sites. Ask an average person on the street whether they’ve heard of Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell or Super Lawyers and you’ll get blank stares. Heck, ask the average lawyer and you’ll likely get the same response.
  • Yelp has monster SEO clout – As discussed above, even a modest Yelp profile is easily found through a basic name search on Google. As of June 2011, more than 53 million people had visited Yelp in the previous  30 days. That compares with Avvo’s claim of 2 million unique visitors per month. Because Yelp is a multi-category site and Avvo is limited to lawyers and physicians, the sheer volume of visitors and the resulting flow of fresh content makes Yelp’s search benefits for members practically insurmountable.
  • Positive experiences in one service category means higher propensity among Yelpers to consult the site for other, unrelated service providers – In other words, finding a plumber or HVAC guy they like increases the probabilty that a Yelper will look for a dentist or lawyer there, too.
  • Yelpers trust other Yelpers – Every Yelp reviewer has his/her own ratings — even followers and fans — which factors into the perceived authority of their opinions. It’s also important to note that Yelp’s filtering and page rank algorithms favor the contributions of established users.

Have you established a Yelp business profile? What’s your experience been so far? Any advice?