Kevin O’Keefe on Secrets of Attorney Blogs and Thought Leadership (Part 1)
John McDougall: This is John McDougall, and I’m here today with Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog. Kevin, do you want to start with a little bit of a background about LexBlog, and what you’re doing?
Kevin O’Keefe: Sure. My name is Kevin O’Keefe. I’ve been a lawyer for 32 years. I founded LexBlog after starting another company, and selling it to LexisNexis. LexBlog helps ‑‑ pushing 10,000 lawyers worldwide ‑‑ use the Internet for networking, to enhance their relationships, and build a word of mouth reputation.
John: That’s great. It’s lexblog.com?
Kevin: That’s correct.
John: Good. Today, we’re going to talk about, in the first segment, influence and thought leadership for law firms and their websites. How important is it that an attorney is an authority in their main practice area versus trying to be too good at too many things?
Kevin: It all depends. The idea that pundits can go out and say you have to have a niche and not be focused in multiple areas, does a real disservice to certain lawyers. The majority of lawyers in this country, about 75 percent, are in three lawyers or less.
Some of those lawyers have great practices that they’ve had for years, for decades. I think some of the mistakes that people have by approaching those firms, and saying “Hey, you have to market your way in this way, or that,” they could have a very busy practice doing estate planning, some real estate work, some family law, you name it, and they’re doing a very nice job of that.
There might be other lawyers that would say, “I believe over time it’s in my best interest to focus in on a niche, and to build out a word‑of mouth‑reputation on that niche, so that I become a go‑to lawyer, either by region, nationally, or locale.”
It all depends.
John: To some degree, it depends on the size of the firm?
Kevin: It might. [laughs] It’s hard to know. Some people can become ultra‑niched.
I could be in a 500 lawyer firm. I might be doing some real estate work. I might be doing some environmental work. I might be doing some litigation, either in court, or administrative‑wise on various subjects. It could be based on my book of clients that I’ve had over the years.
John: So, not really fair to pigeonhole, and say it has to be one way or the other?
John: Do people generally hire based on a law firm’s brand or individual attorneys? How much influence do attorneys of substance, and their website bio pages have on hiring decisions?
Kevin: I would feel bad for a person that is highly influenced by a website bio in hiring a lawyer. That’s a Yellow Page ad. It just happens to be online, or a billboard, and that happens to be online. I think people are hiring lawyers based on relationships. That’s number one.
Even those people that do research of lawyers online and go to multiple places, they tend to contact someone they know, whether it’s an employee, relative, or a trusted person that they know.
Lawyers get hired as people. People hire lawyers. Lawyers are working for people.
There are certain firms that are capable of doing certain work where other firms may not be. If I’m going to be one corporation, and going to involve a claim involving British Petroleum, BP, I’m not going to be using a law firm that has 12 or 15 lawyers.
Even though I would want to use an individual lawyer, I’m going to want to use an individual lawyer that has the backing and the support of a larger operation, so it may depend, in those situations.
I think you’re going to find that in any law firm, the lawyers get hired. If you have 20 lawyers in a firm, the odds are you’re only dealing with two to three lawyers that are rainmakers anyway. The other 15, 17 lawyers, they tend not to be wired for business development. A lot of it’s going to depend on the relationships that these two or three lawyers have that bring in the work.
Those lawyers are probably not thinking, “My gosh, we need to update the website because otherwise, it’s going to prevent me from bringing the work that I’m getting from this small business that has $100 million in gross revenues, or this clinic, which I have had a relationship with over the years,” that type of thing. They’re going to be more focused on the relationships.
The website is important that it’s there, so that it doesn’t detract from the reputation of the lawyers in the firm.
John: When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if they or their firm are credible and can be trusted?
Kevin: I couldn’t, anymore than I could tell that by looking at their Porsche.
John: What if it says “Trust” on the license plate? [laughs]
Kevin: What does that mean? Any idiot can go out and have a website built. So what? What does that mean? It means their money is good, they could pay for the website.
Today, to be realistic, if I’m a business lawyer, more people are going to be looking at LinkedIn. They’re going to be looking at my website, so I’m going to be spending more time and effort over there.
The things I’m looking at over there are “Is this lawyer laying out credibly what they’ve done in the past, the type of organizations they’re involved in, the type of networks that they’re involved in,” those type of things.
For example, I’m a business person. I talk to lawyers all the time. I tend not to spend very much time looking at their websites. They tend to be very similar in nature. One’s not a lot different than another.
If somebody’s is markedly different, I suppose that could impact me. By “markedly,” I mean very uniquely designed and developed. Those tend not to be law firms, because those can be very, very expensive.
Law firm websites tend to be broken down by, “This is what we do. Here’s our lawyers. Here’s how to get a hold of us.”
It can get crazier. They can start to play videos about themselves. They can start to put up blogs in the site that don’t do a lot for them. They can start to put in content that can get old.
The most important thing with the website is, don’t make it hurt you, don’t let it hurt you. Probably it’s not going to put anybody over the top.
John: What are a few of the most important thought leadership activities for attorneys, such as blogging, public relations, being an author, bio pages, client alerts and newsletters, and/or social media, et cetera?
Kevin: I wouldn’t put public relations as thought leadership. It could be, but to hire a public relations person that could spin your pieces out there, I guess it could be perceived as thought leadership by people, but I’m not sure it really is.
Bio pages I don’t see as thought leadership.
When I think of thought leadership today, I think, “What is the lawyer following? What are they sharing with me that they have read? What can I tell that they stay up to speed with? What are they offering their insight commentary on, based on what they’ve read?” That type of thought leadership.
Don’t think of it as thought leadership for the sake of being a thought leader, whatever that means. Think of it as, “How am I going to build relationships with people? How am I going to develop my reputation?”
When I say relationships, who am I engaging through these things? I can’t engage people through certain things, but I can engage people through blogging, because I can be referencing them, whether that’s a reporter, another blogger, those type of things.
John: Not so much just referencing or engaging with potential customers, but what you’re saying, I think, is reaching out to other influencers. Is that what you mean?
Kevin: Yeah. Oftentimes, people think of how many clients…First off, clients are gold for a lawyer. Everybody sometimes chases this other thing that they don’t have.
Most of their energy ought to be focused on existing clients. If they’re clients that bring repeat business, that’s good. Also, your leading source in getting new work is your existing clients, not necessarily from them, but the people that tell other people about it.
You do good work for a client as a lawyer, they will brag about you to other people. My best work as a lawyer over 17 years came by what people said about me that I had represented, whether it was a bank, whether it was an individual, you name it. You can’t lose sight of that.
What are you doing to demonstrate to your clients that you care? What are you doing that you’re demonstrating to your clients that you’re sharing with them information that they may find of value?
Prospective clients, they’re going to be out there if they do stumble onto your information. The most important, beyond those clients, are your influencers, which are your reporters, your other bloggers, your conference coordinators, your executive directors of associations.
Am I meeting the local business journal editor? Am I meeting the business journal editors? Am I meeting the reporters at my local newspaper that cover things that I’m involved in? Do I know those people? Do I go out for lunch with them? Do I have coffee with them?
You don’t do that by picking up the phone. You do it by engaging them today through social media.
John: All very good points how things have changed over the years, new tools to network in that way with influencers. If a law firm comes up frequently in natural search results versus paid ads, does that say something to some degree about their authority? How important is Google, in general, to attorneys?
Kevin: I don’t know if a firm comes up naturally in search results, does that improve their authority? No. I don’t know what you mean.
I could go out and hire an SEO expert. If that pushes me up in the top of the search results does that say something about my authority? No.
It says something that I’ve got some money, but I don’t know that it says anything about my authority.
Google’s important for everybody. Google’s important for bloggers, because they have an author identifier, so they’re going to become more influential over time as people cite and share their content.
Google is important. As you share information, does it come up in search? Is your content authoritative enough so that Google is including it in Google News, because if it’s included in Google News, you’ve arrived at a whole other area as far as people monitoring words and phrases that you might write about are now going to see your information. Google is keenly important for lawyers.
John: Absolutely. Are you aware that Google with its authorship program and various social media sites like Klout have patented algorithms to determine if someone is a trusted author, and/or influential person?
Kevin: Yeah. Everybody’s got patents on this stuff. Google obviously does.
We’re moving from a day and age where we have search, where we think that we need to put something into that search box to begin to discover what we might think to be valuable, to a day of discovery.
So, just like lawyers are very familiar with the concept of e‑discovery ‑‑that’s the magic word. It wasn’t e‑search, it was e‑discovery ‑‑ the technology based on machine learning will deliver the information that you might be interested in going forward. What Google is going to provide to us is what you might be interested in, not just by topic, but by the people that you trust and who they trust.
If you’re not out there networking, if you’re not out there blogging in an engaging way, as opposed to just putting up content, trying to put up articles on a website, or being focused on high search engine rankings for Google, you’re going to lose out because over time ‑‑ that whole idea that people hire lawyers because lawyers are influential ‑‑you aren’t going to be influential, as the technology determines that.
We’ve seen the world change in the last 10 or 15 years. Lawyers have. Wait until you see the next five or six years. It’s going to take this idea of networking online so that you are increasing your influence.
John: Right. I think that Google, with author rank, has to find a way because as you said, the Web is so important now to attorneys, basically to everyone, and especially for getting new business that Google has to weed out the fakers, the gamers, and the people that just want to throw up a bunch of crap content and think that they’re all going to be magically number one in Google. That used to be the case.
I’ve been doing SEO since ’95. We surely had an easier time for the people that didn’t want to take it too seriously. They just wanted to hire us and have it kind of go away.
I think those days are long gone. We don’t take customers any more that aren’t serious about content in a real way, not in a way that just gets the quota filled, that “Oh, my blog has two posts a week,” or whatever it is. Like you said, I think it has to be about engaging content and then connecting to influencers.
Google author rank, authorship, and cloud are just two examples, but there are many of how these different sites are going to weed out the fakers from the real people. Any other thoughts on thought leadership for attorneys?
Kevin: Yeah. I think that Carolyn Elefant, who I have a lot of respect for, said it today. “If you’re going to be a small firm and compete against the big firms, one of the most important things to do immediately is to stop having other people write content for you.”
This idea of copywriters, ghostwriting services, and companies selling content services is hurting the lawyers. It’s not helping them, because the focus tends to be based on search as opposed to engagement.
That’s what the lawyers don’t realize. The idea isn’t to put up content. The idea is to be strategic in who you’re going to meet through that.
When I do a blog post, I’m engaging someone. I’m building a relationship with that party. I expect to meet them. That goes on and on. I think she had a really good point with that today.
John: Who was that again, the person that you mentioned?
Kevin: Carolyn Elefant.
John: She was just speaking about that today?
Kevin: Yeah. Carolyn might be the foremost authority on solo and small firm marketing. She’s got a sophisticated energy practice in DC, but she’s also been teaching, writing on the subject for a few different years.
Carolyn will put out her opinions on different types of things. Yesterday, she had a piece at “Above the Law” on the importance of email marketing still. Oftentimes lawyers forget about the value of that. There’s just different things for lawyers to keep in mind.
It’s ultimately going to come down to those lawyers that value business development, and then those lawyers that don’t. It’s not a timed thing, it’s a priority thing.
You tend not to hear from people that are very good lawyers, “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough time to become a better lawyer. I don’t have enough time to go out and develop my business.” [laughs] You tend to hear that from other folks.
John: How often at LexBlog is there a certain amount of times a week…Is there some typical amount of posts that you have people write?
Kevin: We’re not really in control of that. They are clients. The 200 or some posts a day across the network is pretty typical.
You see some lawyers write three or four posts a week. That’s the exception. I think you’re going to see some lawyers write a couple posts a month. You’re going to see some preeminent lawyers writing once a month.
I tell lawyers when they start to blog, “Don’t set yourself up for failure. This is not a race to produce the most amount of content.” Try to post twice a month to start off with.
Blogging, often people think it’s writing content, it’s more listening than writing content. As you get more comfortable with what blogging is, work yourself up to once a week. Now you’ve got four posts going out in the course of a month, you’ve got 50‑some posts going out in the course of a year.
Don’t beat yourself up when you’re in trial or you’ve got other things going on in life. You’ve got family or other things that are more important. Let it come to you. Make sure it’s a lot of fun.
John: Certainly more important to have a few good posts even if it’s, like you said, a couple a month, that people actually engage with, that get shared in LinkedIn groups, and people retweet legitimately, as opposed to some systematic thing for Google. That ultimately makes it more powerful and real.
Kevin: Engagement doesn’t mean the amount of comments on the site, or even the amount of shares. You’re just not going to get a lot of that to start with. You’re just not.
Oftentimes, people say, “My blog never really worked. I was putting up content and nobody shared it, nobody commented on it,” all those type of things.
To get your content to begin to be shared on social media, you’ve got to build social media equity. You build social media equity by sharing the other people’s content. You share people’s content that you enjoy reading, because they’re a source of good information on what it is you do. You monitor key words and key phrases and you share that.
Now you’ve got other people that will be excited about sharing your content, because they are very appreciative that you share other people’s content and you’ve been a friend of theirs. You’ve been a good resource of information.
What engagement means to me is that if I see an interesting post by somebody that I follow; if I see a good post by Selena Larson at ReadWrite web ‑‑ she’s a great writer and reporter on various issues for them ‑‑ and I quote that, I tell people why I quoted it, and then provide my take on this issue and what I learned or what they might want to take away from it, I know that she’s seen me.
If I reference this same thing with a New York Times reporter, it’s the same thing. If I go to New York and I ask to meet with a New York Times reporter that covers the law, we can meet because we’ve had the opportunity to engage. I have engaged.
If I do that with a large corporation, that I want to meet their executives and I begin to follow their blogs, I start to follow them on Twitter and I reference them in my blog, I’m doing that same thing. For a small firm lawyer, it all depends on what it is you do. I certainly want to know the reporters locally for the business journals and for my newspaper.
I certainly want to know who the referral sources are. Am I engaging them by giving the opportunity for them to guest post? Am I interviewing them on my blogs? I’m using my blog as a sort, I’m not just putting up information.
What about the associations? If get to speak at these associations, if I get invited to serve on the board of these associations, is that good for me?
Think about who I’m getting to meet through that type of thing. Be writing down questions that you’re getting from clients. You don’t need to figure out what’s going to get searched on. Your clients are coming up with those questions.
Ask each of your lawyers in the office to have a pad in the front of their desk called “Blog” and write the questions down. Ask your paralegal to do the same thing, or your assistant. You keep track of all that information and then write the answers to those. It will probably take you 15 minutes to do a nice blog post, to answer any question, giving it some detail without blowing confidence as to context of who the person is.
Let people know that you’re listening. That’s what it means to listen.
John: Yeah, to listen to those questions, what keeps people up at night and actually answer real, live questions, not just base it on some keyword research.
Keyword research is certainly valid. Certainly, if you can take that list off the pad that you mentioned ‑‑ which is a great idea ‑‑ to have attorneys have next to their desk.
Get all those questions. You can certainly run that through the Google keyword tool and see if it might spark a bunch of new ideas. Starting with the customers’ questions first, I think that’s great. We definitely encourage people to do the same.
All really good thoughts. I think what we’ll do is move onto the next part, and we’ll just have a real quick musical interlude.
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