Market Research for Law Firms: What Legal Marketers Need to Know About Millennials

Last summer I wrote a piece for the Texas Bar Journal about how “digital natives” will transform the ways law firms and clients communicate and collaborate. This recent Bazaarvoice infographic illustrates how much Millennials rely on social proof in their choices of goods and services.

Texas Wildfires: Austin Bar Offers Free CLE for Disaster Recovery Volunteers

I don’t know if this is a common response by local bar associations. If not, it should be. I’m very proud to be an Austinite.

From the Texas Bar Blog:

The Austin Bar Association is offering a free CLE training for attorney volunteers responding to legal questions and providing assistance to all those affected by the wildfires. The training will be Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Austin Bar Association, 816 Congress Ave., Suite 700, Austin.

The cost is free to Austin Bar Association and Austin Young Lawyers Association members. The CLE credit for this training is 2.0 hours MCLE ethics credit.

This training will cover:

  •  Ethics & Pro Bono Service
  •  FEMA & Public Benefits
  •  Home Ownership Issues (title/mortgage, tax & fencing, barn, pens)
  •  Landlord-Tenant Concerns
  •  Insurance and Consumer Law Issues
  •  Pet and Animal Welfare Law

Read the full agenda.

Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas is providing malpractice coverage to lawyers volunteering through the Austin Bar.

To RSVP for this training, please contact Marissa Lara-Arebalo at 512-472-0279, x100 or at Marissa@austinbar.org.

Thank you to all the volunteer attorneys and donors for your support in helping evacuees affected by the Bastrop wildfires.

The Law School Debt Crisis: Forget Reforming Law Schools, Start from Scratch

Spiraling, uncontrolled costs. Crippling personal debt. Long-term joblessness and underemployment. Downward pressure on wages. Hand-wringing. Finger-pointing. Ineffectual half measures to address the crisis.

Sound familiar? But unlike the U.S. sovereign debt, there still are no urgent or comprehensive efforts under way to slow — let alone reverse — the job-killing effects of law school costs. Lots of talk, though.

This week saw another round of disingenuous harumphing when a post by an anonymous “whistleblower” law professor rehashed what’s been manifestly obvious for years: Law schools are revenue-generating machines with no checks or balances from the marketplace or government, and with plenty of self-interested reasons to push their costs ever higher. [Apparently this is an "astonishing" indictment because an anonymous law professor said it.]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE&w=420&h=345]

Fortunately, this week also saw a refreshing antidote to that impotent hand wringing — a well-reasoned and eminently achievable way to cut the Gordian knot: Build from scratch a no-frills, ABA-accredited, university-based private law school covering all its costs at the $20,000-per-year tuition level.

On The Faculty Lounge blog, Roger Dennis, Dean of the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, posted a precis for The Class of 1957 College of Law. The thought exercise begins simply:

“The Class of 1957 College of Law will have 500 students.  It will not offer any financial aid; one price [$20,000] for all will create $10 million in revenue.”

It then goes on to explain how the school will be structured, staffed and operated within that budget.

Key elements include:

  • A full-time faculty of 20, earning $100,000/year, plus benefits.
  • No research requirements for faculty, allowing them to teach three courses each per academic term.
  • No sabbaticals.
  • Professional development focused on teaching only.
  • The curriculum will be meat and potatoes (e.g. evidence, commercial law, federal income tax, business organizations, trust and estates, family law and legal drafting).
  • Beyond trial advocacy and legal drafting programs, the experiential education program will be based on other simulation courses and well-monitored externships.

No call to arms to actually build and test a model school, though. No discussion of approaching the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help underwrite a pilot.

Alas, while interesting, Dennis’ post is just another abstract academic parlor game (and it has the comment thread to prove it). But it was a refreshing counterpoint to the usual jeremiads — a welcome rhetorical sorbet.

Bar Associations: Most Trusted Brands for Lawyer Searches?

I’m a HUGE fan of Lifehacker, probably the most followed blog on tips and downloads for getting things done. A post this week on “How to Find a Reputable Lawyer” got my attention both for what it said and what it didn’t say.

Consulting with ABA and state/local bar associations and using their lawyer referral services was clearly the main recommendation:

“Both the American Bar Association and various state and local Bar Associations offer search and referral tools to help you find legal representation based on the type of lawyer you’re looking for. Bar Associations aren’t able to help you directly, but they can give you wholesale listings of practicing and certified lawyers who specialize in your subject area. They won’t help you make the subjective decision of whether or not a lawyer has a track record of successful litigation or charges fairly, but they’re a great place to start narrowing down your search if you don’t have anywhere else to start.

“Additionally, look for lawyer’s groups and legal aid groups that specialize in the type of issue you’re facing. Some of this involves web searching, but you can find a lot of this information by calling your state Bar Association. Even if they can’t make specific recommendations, they can direct you to professional groups of lawyers who specialize in different areas, like health care law, employment law, and more….

“Don’t hesitate to check your local bar for more information on the specific lawyers you plan to speak with, and don’t hesitate to ask for and then check on those lawyers’ references before making a decision.”

The only other online resources suggested had a distinct access to justice/legal aid bent– LawHelp.org, ProBono.net and Nolo.

Conspicuously absent from this how-to guide were references to lawyer search stalwarts like Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo, Super Lawyers and Lawyers.com. They’re free, too, and certainly would be likelier than LawHelp.org to show up in a Google search when researching such an article. So it looks like an intentional omission.

Why?

My sense is that the cost of legal representation — real and perceived — has transformed access to justice into a mainstream consumer issue, and bloggers/journalists writing for a mass audience sense that. In that dynamic, the traditional role of bar associations as impartial brokers comes into higher relief — and creates a great marketing opportunity to promote member services and increase participation in bar programs.

Social Media for Lawyers: Child Labor? Really?

In yesterday’s post about the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, I mentioned one presenter’s narrow and idiosyncratic understanding and use of social media marketing. To be more specific, he characterized social media marketing as so simple and second-nature to digital natives that solo and small firms should hire only high school or college interns — or even family members as young as 14 – to manage their firm’s social media activities.

That’s not much of a surprise, though. He also volunteered that the only reason he got into social media marketing in the first place was because his career coach badgered him into it, and even then he agreed to try it only on the condition that “it had to be free.”

I’m not making this up.

Giving credit where credit is due, that approach — plus a sweet FCPA niche — has served this particular lawyer well. But is it replicable, and can it scale? No.

Recently on the excellent Spin Sucks blog, guest blogger Andrew Hanelly discussed “Five Reasons the Intern Shouldn’t Run Social Media“:

  • Interns don’t live and breathe your brand
  • Interns aren’t forever
  • Interns stick too closely to the script
  • Interns aren’t always aware of the faux pas minefield
  • Interns aren’t compensated well enough for the pressure

I would add one more to that list: If you rely on interns to run your social media marketing, you’ll never be better than an intern at social media marketing. And that’s…OK.

Just remember, you get what you pay for.

I’m Not a Lawyer, But I Play One on the Web

There’s a lot of discussion and debate in legal marketing circles about how well state bar disciplinary rules address Web-based advertising and social media. Admittedly, new media and their accompanying usage models require new lawyer advertising rules and the evolution of existing ones. But what about relatively straightforward and seemingly settled standards like the prohibition on actors portraying attorneys? Do current rules apply to online informational videos? Is such content considered commentary or advertising? Should it be disclosed if the speaker is not an attorney?

Today I came across the website for a company called LawInfo, which offers law firms area code-based sponsorship opportunities for Web-based video content on legal topics.

One Los Angeles-based LawInfo client uses some of these third-party videos to describe the firm’s practice areas, and offers others as “informational videos.” Do the lawyer-looking narrators work for the firm? Are they even attorneys? If they’re not, should that be disclosed? Does that matter in California?

Given that advertising rules are changing, and vary state by state, it seems like this type of content marketing needs to be approached carefully and advisedly.

So, gentle readers, I need your help. Has anyone checked whether, in what state(s), and under what conditions generic third-party video on legal topics has been cleared by your state bar for use on law firm websites?

[On an unrelated topic, what's up with the typo in the caption?]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjiW8ROjY94&w=560&h=349]

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/4/11

Sometimes the best ideas in legal marketing are hiding in plain sight.

I think that’s the case with MCLE training. Practicing lawyers have to complete it to stay licensed, and judging by their bios, it seems like all of them have given a session at one time or another. So where are the firms that have made speakers bureau services and CLE training a distinguishing characteristic of their brand?

If you’ve already created a CLE presentation, why aren’t you tweaking and publicizing it for use with business and civic audiences? And if you have an inventory of general speakers bureau presentations, why aren’t you tuning them up into accredited CLE content?

CLE maven Tim Baran is one of the most visible and persuasive evangelists for leveraging CLE’s nexus with marketing, and in a Lawyerist post this week he reinforced how developing and presenting CLE content directly benefits the presenter, not just the audience. I was particularly pleased to see that he called out in-house training as an underutilized CLE opportunity, and he helpfully included a link to  Law Writing‘s excellent state by state guide to rules for in-house courses.

Here’s an idea starter: MCLE-palooza.

Nothing concentrates the mind on MCLE like the looming fulfillment deadline. And as with filing taxes, every year there is a sizable cohort of procrastinators scrambling to finish — or even start — their MCLE. Seems like some enterprising firm, local bar association or LMA chapter could turn that confluence of supply and demand into a great publicity event.

Imagine a Saturday of back-to-back MCLE sessions. Donate the space, have vendors underwrite the lunch, tie it in with a local charity, get a local TV station to cover it and — Voila! — marketing gold.

One successful example is the Austin Bar Association’s People’s Law School, which offers free informal courses taught by lawyers to the general public on topics like family law, wills and estate planning, criminal law, credit repair and the legal process. Why not an MCLE version for the lawyers themselves?

I’ve been flogging this idea for years now, but so far no takers. I hope this time someone grabs it and runs with it — and gives me credit, of course.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 11/5/2010

Technically, my posts of the week are tweets. Specifically, the Twitter-driven call to arms and online mobilization in defense of social media for legal marketing. The issue involved is the ABA’s announcement in its Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools memo of its intention to promulgate new standards affecting:

  • Online social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter)
  • Blogging
  • Facebook and Linkedin profiles
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Gathering information through networking websites
  • Discussion forums
  • JD Supra document uploads
  • Lawyer websites
  • Use of case histories on law firm websites

I’m not sure who first sounded the alarm, but I’ll credit Heather Morse because hers was the first #LMA hashtag tweet on the subject (and I know, like and trust her :) ). Heather’s message was retweeted over the next few days by, among others,  Nicole Carrubba, Auctorilaw, Jesse Wilkins, Nancy Myrland, Lindsay Griffith, Gail LamarcheDeb Cochran, Melanie Green Rebecca Wissler and The Great Jakes.

Larry Bodine amplified the issue with a “RED ALERT” blog post, a CMO Forum LinkedIn group discussion thread and the #ABAREGS Twitter hashtag.

The social media buzz on the topic picked up so much volume and momentum that it inspired the Voldemort-cum-Andy-Rooney of legal blogging (who I never mention by name or link to) to puke his trademark self-righteous bile on it in his “22,500 Tears” post.

I applaud and commend the clarion calls for thoughtful attention and advocacy on the issue, but I also net out with Adrian Dayton on the “silver lining” of this kerfuffle:

“Thousands of lawyers are waiting in the wings afraid to use social media because they aren’t sure how to use the tools – and there is such little guidance from state bar associations and the ABA that many are simply staying away.

“It is about time the ABA took look at online marketing and helped provide some assurances to so many attorneys that look to these governing bodies for advice.  As lawyers it is our responsibility to let the ABA know our opinions on the topic.  The ABA is accepting comments until December 15, 2010 to guide them in their decisions - feel free to make your voice heard.”

How Do You Rate? How Much Should You Care?

Why do lawyers still invest time, money and attention in rating organizations like Martindale-Hubbell, Am Law, Avvo and Best Lawyers? I certainly don’t question the veracity of the satisfied customers featured on their sites, but I’ve yet to find persuasive affirmative evidence about their value to a broad base of practice types and firm sizes.

My working theory for their enduring pull on lawyer egos, attention and budgets is that it’s due to inertia and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt). Fear that there’s inaccurate and/or unflattering information about them out on the Interwebs, uncertainty over what would happen if they stopped ”claiming” their profiles and adding the rating badge to their website homepage, and doubt about alternatives. In other words, a defensive strategy with an unclear, uncertain chance of upside.

It’s not just me wondering. The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 also is looking into what makes them tick.

If the only time you pay attention to your profile on the various lawyer referral sites is when it’s time to renew a subscription, that should raise a red flag.

The hermetic secrets of their rating methodologies aside, lawyer “finder” sites just don’t seem on their face to add value in today’s social networking-driven marketplace. Unlike consumer ratings and reviews for simple purchases, professional services ratings and reviews are only credible if the seeker already knows, likes and trusts the reviewer. That’s why people looking for lawyers usually ask other lawyers or friends who know lawyers for recommendations. LinkedIn and state bar association sites are much more suited to that purpose.

When clients ask me whether it’s “worth it” to spend time and money on profiles, I walk them through some basic ROI questions:

  1. Have you gotten leads from ratings sites?
  2. How many, and over what period of time?
  3. What percentage of those leads turned into actual engagements (as opposed to tire-kickers, price shoppers or individuals unable to pay)?
  4. How much were the resulting engagements worth?
  5. Were they profitable?
  6. Do they generate more profitable business than other marketing activities/lead channels?
  7. Could you put that time and money to more productive use elsewhere?
  8. What do you think is likely to happen — not might, likely — if you did just the minimum to maintain basic profile information?

Even if you decide not to pay ”finder” sites for the ability to embellish and/or actively manage your profile, it’s still wise to make sure that the information the site compiled on its own is current and accurate. Better safe than sorry.

The Interesting Parts of the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey Are What It DOESN’T Say

Annual surveys make good (read: popular) copy, but unless they have insightful scope and keen survey instruments, those reports frequently turn out to be incomplete social science of limited practical value. Survey formJudging from the ABA’s press materials and Adrian Dayton’s summary, the 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report: Web and Communication Technology” unfortunately follows that pattern. It appears to tally surface-level indicators of social media participation, but does not drill down far enough into that data to reveal meaningful, useful information.

Isn’t it time that legal marketing got past the “gee whiz” bandwagon stage of social media participation and started seriously studying its application and effectiveness?

The ABA’s “Book Briefs” blurb cites the following top-line findings:

“When asked whether they personally maintain a presence in an online community/social network such as Facebook, LinkedIn, LawLink, or Legal OnRamp, 56% of respondents answered affirmatively, compared with 43% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey.”

What does “maintain a presence” mean? Does it still count if they signed up for an account but have not updated it for weeks or months? How frequently do they post to or update each profile? Also, what does “personally” mean?’ That they write and post the content themselves, or that the account pertains to them personally (as opposed to their firm) and their marketing staff helps?

“The highest percentage of respondents report maintaining a presence in LinkedIn (83%), followed by Facebook (68%) and Plaxo (18%).”

Again, how frequently do they visit these sites, what do they do while there and what specific results is that participation generating? Much has been made of data indicating lawyers spend more time on Facebook than on LinkedIn, but that in itself is a poor predictor of its efficacy as a marketing platform unless you have data on their primary activities and expected benefits from that participation. There’s a lot of non-business stuff to do on Facebook; not so much on LinkedIn. In marketing parlance, you have a more “intentional” (there for a specific purpose) and “qualified” (likelier to be receptive to what you’re selling) audience on LinkedIn than Facebook. Participate in Facebook if it works for you, not just because it has buzz momentum and all the cool kids are hanging out there.

“Respondents in the 30- to 39-year-old age group are the most likely to report that they maintain a presence in an online community/social network (77%, compared with 72% in the 2009 survey), followed by 68% of 40- to 49-year-olds (compared with 58% in the 2009 survey), and 50% of 50- to 59-year-olds (compared with 35% in the 2009 survey).”

What useful conclusions can be drawn from that? It appears to be a fairly typical adoption curve by age group. Either confirm that or identify unexpected findings and tease out their meaning.

“Large-firm respondents are the most likely to report personally maintaining a presence in an online community/social network (63%, compared with 57% in the 2009 survey and 13% in the 2008 survey); 52% of solo respondents (compared with 37% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey) maintain such a presence.”

Now that’s interesting! Did they bother to mine the data for reasons why that might be? Maybe because large firms have marketing staffs to help “maintain a presence,” while solos lack the time/resources OR don’t anticipate sufficient near-term ROI to justify that investment.

“The most common reason respondents report for maintaining a presence in online communities/social networks is for professional networking (76%), followed by socializing (62%), client development (42%), career development (17%), and case investigation (6%). Three percent chose the “other” category.”

Aren’t socializing, client development and career development just broad and overlapping aspects of professional networking? More concrete options like “speaking opportunities,” “reputation and awareness,” “client leads” and “new job opportunities” would have yielded cleaner data, and ”professional networking” could have taken the place of “other.”

“Far from being a time waster, nascent efforts at social networking are yielding fruit. Ten percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of online communities/social networking.”
Actually, that conclusion irks me the most because the data to support such a conclusion clearly isn’t there. To make such a determination you’d have to know how much time respondents put into social networking, how many direct leads those activities have yielded, how much of total new business is attributable to leads from social networking and how much the resulting client engagements were worth. Even the credible and creditable Adrian Dayton fumbled this data point, saying “While 10% may seem small, it represents a dramatic shift in law firm attitudes towards social media.” No, it reflects client behavior, not law firm psychology.

What if a lawyer who responded affirmatively to that question spent 10 hours a week on social media last year and got only one matter, but it represented nearly half of his billings? Then yes, that’s certainly not a waste of time. Conversely, what if another respondent, this one working at a Big Law firm, spent the same amount of time on social media participation, also got one retainer out of it, but it only amounted to less than five percent of his total billings? He might have gotten more — and more lucrative — leads after doing a free CLE session at a bar event.

Here’s another way to look at it: How “dramatic” would it be to learn that 10 percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of Yellow Pages advertising?

Legal marketing has thrown its lot in with social media for many good reasons, but also for some bad ones — uncritical acceptance of and enthusiasm for generalized, anecdotal data chief among them.

I’m willing to allow that the additional data and analysis I’m looking for might be found in the full report, but at $350 per copy ($300 for members), I’m not going to take that gamble based on what’s been reported so far.