Is It an Ethics Violation for a Law Firm to Exaggerate Its Size?

Zoologists call it “agonistic” behavior — when animals try to look bigger than they are in order to compete. While exaggerated displays are perfectly normal for frill-necked lizards and gray catbirds, does misleading content about a law firm’s size on its website constitute an ethics violation for false advertising?

law firm false advertising

One lawyer or several?

I recently came across the website of the Law Office of Janet McCullar, P.C., an Austin divorce and family law firm. Although only one lawyer is mentioned by name, the site’s copy and images try to tell a different story.

The dissonance starts on the homepage. The first image in the carousel at the top of the page features a group shot of five unidentified women. Beneath the image area is a static copy block with the heading “Austin Divorce Attorneys.” The body copy reads, in part:

“When you meet with one of our attorneys, we will review your situation and make recommendations about strategies we believe will serve you best and will guide your expectations about results.  We will assess your case and let you know whether you need immediate action or a plan for the future.  We will give you guidance on how to best manage your situation, and we will let you know whether we think the time is right to take action, or wait.  We will break down a complex process and let you know whether you have any red flags that need immediate attention.

Janet McCullar is a Board Certified Family Law attorney who is respected nationwide for her skill and experience in representing clients in complex divorce and custody matters for over 20 years.”

Likewise, the “Attorneys” — plural — tab in the homepage navigation bar links to a single attorney bio, McCullar’s.

Is it all right to refer to “one of our attorneys” when there is only one?

I get it. The other women pictured on the site could be administrative staff and/or paraprofessionals. The clearer — and arguably the more ethical — approach would have been to write the copy in the first person, making it clear that “we” refers to McCullar and her team. As it is, the juxtaposition of group photos and copy written in the first person plural might mislead.

Don’t risk it

Even if it passes your state bar’s advertising review, remember that even a whiff of exaggeration can alienate prospective clients and sully your reputation with peers. Tell it like it is. Whether there used to be more attorneys or you expect to be adding more soon, your website copy should accurately reflect your firm’s current composition. And if you’re going to promote your firm using your colleagues’/employees’ images, show them — and prospective clients — the courtesy of identifying them by name and role.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 02.24.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 01.04.12

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

News from the LexisNexis Social Media Survey That Didn’t Make Headlines

The recent LexisNexis/Vizibility survey of social media for law firms deservedly generated a lot of headlines, buzz and discussion in the blawgosphere. While many legal bloggers identified a pending deluge of new legal blogs as the key takeaway, some of the most interesting information in the study has been overlooked.

Worth Considering More Closely

  • Video – Despite being an even more nettlesome and expensive enterprise than blogging, nearly half of respondents indicated they plan to incorporate video into their marketing mix — a percentage more or less consistent across firms of all sizes.
  • QR Codes – To be honest, I don’t think Vizibility was a good partner for this survey because QR is a mobile technology for accessing online content through physical media. Despite Vizibility’s pitch, QR is not a social media networking or marketing platform. But the bigger issue is that even if you consider mobile applications to be social media marketing, there is no compelling data to indicate QR technology has staying power, let alone growth potential. The infographic distributed with the survey results announcement misleadingly correlates QR code growth with smartphone market growth, when its future is more directly tied to advertiser choices. While QR code-based gaming and discounting applications were popular with consumer product marketers over the past year, smartphone users themselves have not enthusiastically embraced their use, and the future of QR is uncertain.  Notwithstanding, the survey suggests that 80 percent of law firms will have QR codes in their marketing mix by the end of 2012, predominantly for mobile access to online marketing materials and business card data. So are legal marketers riding the tail end of a gimmick?

Notable for Their Absence

  • Budget and Resourcing Plans – A single five-minute branding video can cost as much or more than the out-of-pocket expenses for an entire year of blogging. Even low-budget productions can cost several thousand dollars apiece. Combined with aggressive movement into blogging and social networking engagement, does that mean marketing budgets will be increasing, or will it be funded through cuts to other marketing tactics? Which ones? Will there be new marketing hires, or a greater reliance on outside contractors?
  • Non-Blog Content Marketing – Content distribution and SEO optimization platforms like JD Supra and SlideShare are bona fide forces in content marketing for law firms. However, the survey did not mention them by name, nor include content marketing as a category.

Worthy of Its Own Category

  • The infographics accompanying the survey results press release literally and figuratively animated the narrative, and elevated the overall impact of the announcement. It would be great to see adoption and utilization of infographics in law firm marketing explored in a future survey.

What did you think of the survey results? Anything surprising? What kinds of questions would you have asked?

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.10.11

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

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.07.11

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

Video for Lawyers: ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

While it might seem like incorporating background music into your firm’s marketing and informational videos will add a “professional” sheen, it’s a risky choice. Whatever is playing during the narration should unobtrusively complement and elevate what’s being said, not compete with it.

The video below on methods of purchasing a business is intended to instruct, which requires a higher level of concentration than a video meant to create a general impression. The folksy finger-picked acoustic guitar riff is too prominent and distracting, making it difficult to focus on the information being conveyed, let alone retain it.

What do you think? Does the music enhance or detract from the video’s overall effectiveness? What would you have done differently?

Twitter for Lawyers: Not All Tweets Are Created Equal

There is no lack of tools that help you decide who to follow and unfollow on Twitter by examining the activity of accounts in your Twitter ecosystem.

One of the current “buzz” Twitter clients, Twit Cleaner, provides users a very interesting detailed breakdown of how it identifies potential “garbage” accounts among people, organizations and bots you follow on Twitter.

In general, tweets that demonstrate active engagement (e.g. “@” messages, retweets and links) are favored, while automated tweets (e.g. paper.li distributions, Foursquare check-ins, RSS bot feeds) count against you if used extensively.

After you request an analysis of your Twitter followers, Twit Cleaner sends you a Twitter direct message containing a link to your customized results. In addition to the statistical breakdown by “type,” the analysis includes thumbnail avatars of all the Tweeps in each category, which yield individual details as you mouse over each with your cursor.

To cull out the undesirables, just click on the corresponding avatars.

Here’s how the categories break down:

Potentially Dodgy Behavior

  • App spam – More than 50 percent of tweets are auto-generated messages, aka “app spam” (e.g. paper.li, Foursquare, blip.fm)
  • Uses advertising networks
  • Nothing but links – Few retweets, no “@” messages
  • Repeating the same URLs – Duplicates the same link more than 25 percent of the time
  • Posting identical tweets

Other Dodgy Behavior, Now Absent

No Activity in Over a Month

Not Much Interaction – Fewer than 10 tweets

  • Not active yet
  • Don’t interact with anyone – No “@” messages or retweets
  • Bots – M0re than 90 percent of tweets pumped out from an RSS feed
  • Hardly follow anyone – People who follow back fewer than 10 percent of those who follow them

All Talk, All the Time – Averages more than 24 tweets a day (excluding @ replies and direct messages)

Little Original Content – Retweets are 70 percent or more of total output

  • High percentage of retweets
  • High percentage of quotes

Not So Interesting – More than 50 percent of their tweets are about themselves

  • Self-obsessed
  • Relatively unpopular – Few followers

So if you’re having trouble attracting and/or keeping the  followers you seek on Twitter, a quick self-diagnostic might be in order.

3 Ways to Get More Than a Tote Bag and an Online Listing Out of Your NPR Sponsorship

Today’s the last day for Austin NPR affiliate KUT’s on-air membership drive, and once again law firms have been heavily represented in the shoutouts provided to “Business Circle” contributors. If you’re doing it because it’s a cause you believe in — and it truly is an outstanding news and entertainment resource — thank you, and God bless. But recognize that on its own it’s a pretty poor use of scarce marketing dollars — a few mentions within a laundry list of names during the pledge drive, a random mention the following week, and an online directetory listing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are a few simple ways to leverage your support for NPR that can generate direct, measurable marketing lift out of your generous contribution:

  • LinkedIn mining – Use the online business directory to create a list of networking prospects in your area. Your shared interest in/sponsorship of public radio is a great opening line for an invitation to join your network.
  • CLE for NPR lovers – Devise a CLE session for your fellow NPR supporters, inviting the prospects on the aforementioned LinkedIn list and existing members of your network.
  • Take the station’s development director to lunch – As I’ve written before, fundraisers at non-profit organizations are creative, resourceful and formidable marketers. Odds are good that someone in the development department would make time to sit down with you over coffee and knock around some ideas for creating some mutually beneficial networking opportunities.

Do you support your local NPR station? Any networking stories you’d like to share?