The New Possibilities for Law Firms Using the Web

Pierce Atwood LLP

John McDougall:  Hi. I’m John McDougall. I’m here today with Jim Matsoukas, the Director of Marketing and Business Development of Pierce Atwood. In this segment, I’d like to address the new possibilities for law firms using the web. First off, how can the web help law firms be competitive in the new world of law?

Jim Matsoukas:  There are three key ways that it helps. Firstly, it’s an outlet for packaged services. Without the web, you really wouldn’t have an easy outlet for people to access descriptions of your products.

What it allows you to do is create these prepackaged descriptions of legal services that are not very complex, but they’re very important legal services. You can package those, post them, and have people download them very easily. It opens up a whole new form of communication.

Second is lead generation. Lead generation used to be one of the toughest things to do in professional services because it was very hard to bring people into the fold that might be interested in what you’re doing.

Now, lead generation is easy. It’s hard to qualify the leads, but developing leads is very, very easy. You can develop leads almost anywhere, in terms of inbound marketing. You can develop them through social media.

You can develop them through email exchanges. You can develop them through conversational groups. There are so many different ways now to develop lead generation. It’s made that very, very effective and very easy. Of course, it’s made the qualifying of the leads more challenging because you have more to qualify, but that’s a welcome problem.

Lastly, the education advice part. It allows you to do webinars very easily, very quickly. You can develop loyal audiences for those and do two things that are crucial to the legal world, which is educate your client and advise them, without having the hourly meter running.

You can create educational opportunities and opportunities for advice that are relatively low‑overhead and well‑appreciated.

John:  It makes sense. What are the obstacles, such as compliance issues, to using social media marketing and blogging?

Jim:  The obstacles are that you have to be a little more sensitive and on your toes, like you can’t chase work that way. You can’t go after people and solicit them actively and aggressively for work. You really have to try to avoid marketing to individuals, to a great degree.

Because the way the ethics rules work, and the law works, is that people that are unsophisticated about legal services, which most people are, are always protected very highly by the law. You have to be very careful how you market to those people, as opposed to marketing to an in‑house general counsel, for example.

It does pose those problems. Needless to say, you have to watch what you say. Any criticism of people, judges, attorneys, employers, you have to stay away from that religiously, and you can’t make any guarantees.

You can’t guarantee performance. You can’t make objective claims. You can’t be supported. You can’t say things like, “We do this the best, or we’re superior at doing this, or we’re experts doing that,” unless you can really back it up.

All of those things have become issues, become compliance issues that the way the electronic world has made more precarious. You really have to be paranoid about this.

John:  I saw an ad this morning doing some research. I typed in Lipitor lawyer. I think that’s all I typed in was Lipitor and lawyer, Lipitor attorney, and one of the ads said, “Expert x‑y‑z in solving these type of cases.” When you say you specialize in, or you’re an expert in, you think those specific phrasings are part of the problem?

Jim:  Yeah, those are highly suspect. If you look at the, like the ADA rules of professional conduct, regarding how you market legal services. Some of them tend to be a little too conservative.

If you look at the jest of those rules, basically, it’s saying, “if you’re going to say you’re an expert, then you have a high hill to climb to justify why you’re that much better than the next guy who’s doing the same work.”

The legal industry tends to be more picky, and more concerned, and worried about those things than other industries, because you’re supposed to be upholding the law in addition to practicing it.

When you gave me that example, when you see an ad like that, that’s highly suspect, and probably could be reported to a State Bar, and they might actually address that practitioner, that’s possible.

John:  That was going to be a follow‑up question. I was just thinking about what can happen. Can you be disbarred? Can you lose cases? Can people bring certain things that you’ve posted on social media or a blog into a trial and use it against you? Can you lose a case or be disbarred over things like that?

Jim:  There have been examples of people getting into trouble with their State Bars, because of how they market. As far as being disbarred, it would have to be something serious, but people have been given warnings, and some people have been disbarred if they ignore the warnings.

You have to be very careful about that. If you’re guaranteeing somebody something, and they’re relying on your judgment, that you can do this for them, like guaranteeing a result for let’s say a divorce situation, or let’s say a personal injury situation, or what have you, are you going to just say, “Look, I win these cases 80 percent of the time.”

You have to at least show them that you’ve actually won 80 percent of the time. Some people even go as far as guaranteeing success.

Going back to what I said before, unless you’re dealing with a sophisticated market, you could easily be brought up not on charges, but people can submit those to the State Bar, and claim that they’re being misled by someone who should know better.

John:  Almost all firms are using, at least websites, if not social media and blogging now. You do have to be careful. There are some real issues with compliance, and you do have to look at the Bar rules, and be cognizant of specific phrasings, and guarantees and things like that.

Are there any Web tactics that are riskier than others, such as, could blogging for SEO, or social media be more risky than another?

Jim:  That’s a good question. In my opinion, the social media is the riskiest, because people let down their guard more when they’re in conversation mode. What I’ve found is a lot of people will say questionable things in a social media context, that they normally would not say in a more structured context.

Sometimes you might make a comment or express an opinion. Some people have gotten into a lot of trouble by voicing opinions about judges and fellow lawyers, or somebody’s expertise, or somebody’s honesty or integrity.

There have been some pretty serious examples of people being too flippant, sometimes, even if they mean it in a funny way. As you know you put the words on the page, you put the words on the screen, and they are what people make of them.

I think social media is probably the riskiest. Blogging can be risky in a different way, because when people blog, they’re not as lose, sometimes. Some blogs are loose, but normally when a lawyer blogs it’s a little more of a structured process.

The problem there is, sometimes they shade into giving advice in the blog. You have to be very careful between commenting on something, or providing information for people, and then giving them an opinion, or an interpretation, that they can interpret then as you giving them legal advice about this new legislation, or regulation, or what have you.

John:  That’s very interesting. I saw even on the news this morning that some banks are using, or looking at, your social media activity to judge whether you’re credit‑worthy or not. I’m not sure if the story was saying that banks are hacking that information, or if it was a bad thing, but it’s pretty fascinating.

They were saying they’re going to look and see do you have Twitter followers, do you have a lot of friends on Facebook, or fans, and they can get an idea of your connection to the community and judging your credit‑worthiness.

It is amazing how far social media has become integrated, not only into our world and our community, but into processes we would have never thought. Employers are using it regularly before hiring people, doing advance social searches, using services, and even banks. You bring up a lot of great points. Times certainly have changed.

Where do you find out how to avoid compliance issues when posting content and doing Web marketing?

Jim:  I guess, normally there’s three things. The ABA publishes what’s called the Rules of Professional Conduct. They’re more recommendations, ethical guidelines. I pay attention to those. I know those pretty well.

I also will sometimes look for state bar rules. Aside from the ABA, the state bars have different rules. What makes that a little more dangerous or complex is that the states vary, of course. [laughs] Sometimes, if you have a campaign that’s going to cut across many states, what you have to do is probably take the strictest state’s interpretation and go with that, so that you’re not setting yourself up for liability.

Then, as most people do in professions, I talk and pay attention to what my colleagues do in sales and marketing across the legal industry and other industries. We share thoughts and intelligence about things that we’ve done and what might be questionable, what might not be.

John:  I’m going to conferences, like the Legal Marketing Association. It’s great to get together, like you said, with a lot of different peers and see what’s happening, because it’s an evolving thing. I’ve just read some of the state bar rules very briefly, and I’m not an attorney.

But I’ve heard some criticisms of some of the regulations, that they’re a bit outdated. Some of the language treats the Internet as this IT thing, like from back in the ’90s, when people were still getting familiar with the Web.

Do you feel that those state and/or national regulations and compliance documentation are up‑to‑date, or are some of those a little bit antiquated and maybe that’s why you need to talk to your peers more and see what makes sense?

Jim:  I guess the states that are more strict about it are antiquated. One of the problems with the law is that it’s always catching up to reality.

John:  Right.

Jim:  It’s coding what you should do versus what you’re actually doing, and by the time you reflect on it, what you’re actually doing is far beyond it.

I do think it’s a little behind the times. I think that what you have to do…What I do is try to do things with a couple of rules of thumb. You don’t say anything that’s objectively verifiable unless you can verify it, and you don’t make any claims about anybody unless you can back it up completely. You stay away from anything that’s objectively measurable or anything that communicates a guarantee or anything that compares your firm or your service to another firm or service in a way that would need to be justified. You have to stay away from stuff like that unless you really have your information in your hip pocket.

John:  That makes a lot of sense. What type of practice areas and firms will benefit the most from Web marketing? Are there any key practice areas where you see better results, either where you’re at now or other places or just in general?

Jim:  I think there’s a number of different services that benefit because of the nature of the services. By that I mean things like the estates and divorces and immigration and trademarks, things that are basic services that can easily be communicated in digital form without having to talk to somebody. I think those services, definitely, absolutely, benefit from Web marketing.

Then aside from the nature of the service, the nature of the market, if your clients, by and large, are web‑savvy and tend to do things through digital formats and digital mediums. Then that’s a natural. If you’re serving up‑and‑coming tech entrepreneurs, or if you’re serving people that are in the technology industry. That’s what they do and that’s how they communicate, then it’s tailor‑made for that.

You could even do more complex things for those people, and you can still market to them over the Web because they’re used to it and they’re comfortable with it and they don’t worry so much about the nuances they might be missing because they’re used to picking them up that way. I think it’s both of those things.

John:  Absolutely. We’ve worked a lot with mass‑tort type of campaigns, personal injury. Certainly, people are looking, from a consumer standpoint, if you get hit by a car, automobile accidents, mesothelioma — we’ve done some great work with mesothelioma attorneys — dangerous drugs, and medical devices.

There’s a lot of consumers. Like you said, a fair amount of groups of people are used to the Web, and you’re not going to find, necessarily, a mesothelioma attorney or a Pradaxa attorney or a Stryker hip‑replacement lawyer on every street corner. They’re a little bit more of a specialized thing, so the Web is really great for those areas.

Thank you very much, again. We’re going to close out this segment, and appreciate the advice.

Jim:  Happy to do it.

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