John McDougall: I’m here today with Jim Jarrrell, the Business Development Manager at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Chicago. We’re going to be talking about influence and thought leadership for law firms and their websites. Hello, Jim.
Jim Jarrell: Hi, how are you?
John: Good. Did I get your name right?
Jim: Yes, you did, thank you.
John: Jim Jarrell, all right. Nice to meet you, Jim.
Jim: Nice to meet you. How are you?
John: Really good. Thanks for being on the show.
Jim: Thanks for having me.
John: The first question; 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?
Authority in Main Practice Area Vs. Overall Authority
Jim: It’s important in the sense that today’s client is becoming more sophisticated, at least enough to understand there are complexities that are going to be inherent in any of the different legal issues that they face.
The pressure to deliver results cost effectively is driving them in the direction of specialists. These specialists are the ones that are up to speed on the latest legal developments. They understand basic case law and precedents that might apply to their specialized area.
In this way, they’re able to go back to their C‑level suite and report back that they hired the attorney that they should hire for whatever area it is. They’re going to end up saving the company money because this specialist won’t bill them for the hours and hours of research to get up to speed on the topic that a generalist might have to do.
This trend is how clients are shopping for legal services and it’s driving our attorneys to more segmentation by specialty, that’s for sure.
John: Those are some good thoughts for sure. What are some of the key practice areas at your firm?
Jim: We have a very large litigation practice that’s built around commercial litigation, product liability, toxic torts, white‑collar crime, construction law, insurance recovery. We also do some intellectual property work.
Labor and employment is big at our firm. We have a large business and corporate transactional practice, real estate, and health care.
John: Great. How many attorneys, roughly?
Jim: Roughly 600 attorneys in 12 offices.
John: What’s the website address?
Jim: It is www.btlaw.com.
Is hiring an attorney based on law firm brand?
John: Good. Do people hire based on a law firm’s brand and/or individual attorneys and how much influence do attorneys of substance and their website bio pages have on hiring decisions?
Jim: John, I think there are certain areas of law where the law firm’s brand almost always supersedes the individual attorney. That definitely influences a hiring decision. I’m thinking more along the lines of those Wall Street, white shoe law firms, or for those companies that have huge bet‑the‑company litigation.
Honestly, in most instances, clients are still hiring attorneys, not law firms. It’s very evident that’s the case, because we still have these restrictions, through the ABA rules that set forth, if an attorney moves on to a new firm, that client is free to follow them.
There’s not much the law firm can do about that. As far as website bio pages are concerned, I can say that those are probably the most trafficked pages on our law firm’s website, so I do think they are important.
Do they affect hiring decisions? That’s debatable. I don’t think anybody’s going to hire a business attorney based on what they read in a bio, but it might make a difference whether the attorney gets invited to the table to bid on the work, of course.
On the consumer side, where I don’t have as much experience in law firms on the consumer side, it might be a little different. Those hiring decisions, on the consumer side, are almost always more driven by price.
Attorney Website Credibility
John: When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if they or their firm are credible and can be trusted?
Jim: Credibility and trust are emotions that can’t be reflected in the images or language specifically included on our website. I think that any law firm that has lawyers is certainly credible as a business of law.
To the extent that you can discern credibility and trust, that’s based more on a reaction to their brand, their public profile, or their perceived expertise. To the extent that those elements are illustrated and communicated effectively on that website, certainly you can get a sense of their credibility and trust by visiting the pages.
A lot of consumer‑side firms I’ve seen using testimonials, or they quote trial statistics, that sort of thing. On the business side, more and more law firms, including my own, are taking to cataloging our client experiences and publishing them on our websites.
In this way, we’re advertising the fact that we’ve handled these matters for these other clients and here are some of the results. It lends credibility in that fashion. Any time you can get one of those clients to agree to have their name published on that experience entry, that’s as good as a testimonial. [laughs]
John: The more specific case studies with clients, the better. You see that as a growing trend?
Jim: I definitely do among the AmLaw 100, 200. It’s not even germane to the large law firms. I think it’s eventually going to be critical for the small or mid‑sized firms.
Thought Leadership Activities for Attorneys
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.
Jim: I may get crucified for this but…
John: Go for it.
Jim: Blogging, client alerts and newsletters, all those things, they’ve become so ubiquitous in the last few years in law firms. There’s research out there that indicates readership is slightly down on a lot of those channels. The market has become so flooded with content in those mediums that there’s so much out there.
The clients have all this noise coming at them and so some of them have taken to tuning it out completely.
I still think these are very important sources of content for law firms to use, especially in terms of engaging their clients. It’s certainly one of the best ways for young attorneys to get their feet wet in areas of thought leadership and help them build a public profile in their practice and their expertise.
In my opinion, the best thought leadership is either having my attorney speaking or writing for trade or industry groups and the publications that they have. A lot of those organizations, there aren’t as many attorneys flooding the market with their thought leadership, so the message has a much better chance of getting through to the target audience.
Speaking and writing for your target audience not only [laughs] helps promote the attorney’s expertise to that captive audience…
I think it goes a lot way to demonstrating that the attorney has made a thoughtful awareness of that industry or trade group’s issues and he’s there talking about it in a way that is compelling.
As far as social media, I think it definitely has a place as a bridge between the audience and the content, but it’s hard to be a thought leader in that arena if you don’t already have a following.
John: It’s hard to build it up. I was talking to Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog just before talking to you. He had some great thoughts about how passion and being engaging, blogging and sharing on social media things that you’re really passionate about can be the most likely way you’re going to start that following off.
Jim: I was going to say, I agree with that.
John: The days of just pumping out content for content’s sake, like you said, the noise is too great.
How important is Google to attorneys?
If a law firm comes up frequently in natural search results versus paid ads, does it say something to some degree about their authority and/or how important is Google in general to attorneys?
Jim: I’d be hard pressed to agree that it says that much about their authority. It certainly speaks volumes about how these search engines have been built to use information like the geographic location and Internet preferences of whoever is doing this search for a law firm to deliver tailored search results.
To that extent, I think SEO is still very important, more so on the consumer or plaintiff side for those B2C law firms that are looking for consumer clients.
On the business side, I still think most of those hiring decisions are made by other lawyers who have friends and law school buddies at law firms that they know all about. I don’t know that they’re doing a lot of web searching for law firms that makes that a compelling case.
John: 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 influential person?
Jim: I’m not sure how much relevance it has in the law firm world, yet. I know that the authorship program at Google is sort of tied into Google Plus.
Google Plus certainly has its champions, but from where I’m sitting right now, it’s just not the predominant channel or platform in social media for content for any of my law firm attorneys. I’m not aware of many other firms that are using it that well either.
John: Are you aware of photos, when you search Google, and someone’s photo shows up in the search results, that’s driven by Google+ authorship?
John: It’s interesting that Google and Klout and different people, different social sites, they’re going through these great efforts to weed out the fakers from the more legitimate people. We’re trying to get a sense of how much attorneys are kind of following along with that and trying to play along with that or not?
Jim: I would say there’s not a concerted strategy to play along with that, at least at my firm. I don’t know a lot of other firms that are doing it, if any. It’s because if it’s not authorship on a specifically branded website, I think there’s a perception that that’s what makes it trusted or real, for lack of a better word.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Those are all great thoughts and that’s the end of the first segment. We’re going to have a tiny musical interlude, and then we’re going to go into part two on law firm content.