Nov 11, 2009 Why and how should lawyers market themselves online and beyond? Speaking in Baltimore today on this topic
Is the practice of law all about making money? Many lawyers seem to think so. One of them unabashedly implored me point-blank over lunch many years ago: "Isn’t the law practice all about money?," so he believed. He is fifteen years older than I. Had he become so jaded by the law practice that only the money kept him going, or had he alway been like that?
Is there anything wrong with wanting to be wealthy? Not in and of itself, so long as one is not stepping on others’ heads, throats, and human rights on the path towards wealth. Nevertheless, the law practice is by law protected from competition by non-lawyers, which automatically gives lawyers an obligation to serve justice and the public interest — including pro bono and low bono work — beyond just their own pockets. If a lawyer becomes wealthy honorably, fine. However, if the lawyer does not give a damn for justice or clients, s/he should consider other wealth-producing pursuits, including real estate or the stock market. (Oops! The recession/depression intervened somewhere there.)
What boundaries will lawyers place on marketing themselves? Some advertising lawyers claim that lawyers from long-established large corporate law firms who want strong limits on lawyer advertising simply do not want more competition from lawyers whose names have not been around in the public eye as long. On the other hand, just because I believe the First Amendment should assure robust marketing rights for lawyers, that does not mean that lawyers should not engage in self restraint, including refraining from sending solicitation letters to those accused of soliciting prostitutes, lest the solicitation letter be intercepted by the defendant’s significant other.
Several years ago, I was talking with a local personal injury lawyer who has apparently amassed a fortune from his heavy, decades-long television advertisement presence. I commended him for having tasteful, talking-head, low-key commercials, with no crashed cars, ambulance, or wild promises or hand gesticulations. However, far from his ads’ representing his boundaries of good taste, it was pure marketing strategy. He said that if he had to wear a clown outfit on television to attract clients, he would. Zippy the Pinhead lurks around the corner, if not closer.
The emails and phone calls stream into my office at different clips offering me the latest lawyer marketing panacea. Some callers claim: "I am a lawyer in Chicago, and my firm is looking for a lawyer in your county to refer drunk driving defendants." When I ask the name of the caller’s "law firm", there is none; the caller has a non-law firm or company, and instead is looking to sell something.
In my nearly dozen years as my own boss, I have spent little money on marketing beyond paying to register my website domain name, for sitehosting space for parking my website online, for webmastering help to run my blog and update my website design and efficiency (see the upcoming new design), for a Martindale-Hubbell listing (the cost is no longer justified, so I have stopped the listing), for the yellow pages guide (no longer), and for some small ads in a local college daily newspaper.
Maybe, or maybe not, spending more money on marketing would increase my income stream to the point of needing to hire associate attorneys — thus bringing new headaches or growing pains. Fortunately, my marketing strategy to date has worked very well, which is to focus the vast amount of my time and resources on serving existing clients and improving myself as a person and lawyer, and to spend only a small amount of time getting my name out there. I enjoy blogging and maintaining my website; otherwise, I would not do it. If money were the overarching raison d’etre for my blog, I would not be pushing my civil liberties and social justice agenda so hard on there. Fortunately for me, my Google rankings are strengthened by my having started a detailed static website in 1999, long before many of my local competing criminal defense lawyers; by having started my Underdog blog in 2006, before many other criminal bloggers entered the field; by my blog and site being recognized for their content; and by media coverage and other coverage by other sites on the web. Fortunately, through eighteen years of criminal defense practice; emphases including marijuana, medical marijuana, student discipline, and First Amendment defense; activity in the community, including civil liberties work; and referrals from satisfied clients and others, including lawyers who do not practice in jurisdictions where I practice, I do not need to think much about spending more money on marketing.
Do you love what you do on a daily basis, both in your personal and professional life? Do you feel a surge of energy when getting out of bed in the morning? Do you revel in today’s professional successes as much as you did when you started out? Does much of your work feel like play? Are you willing to put the necessary time and effort into your work, and do you find ways to work smart? These are not mere platitudes. These are critical ingredients to getting clients and providing them service that they value. How much is a huge marketing budget going to enhance the foregoing factors?
Several weeks ago, AVVO.com invited me to join a speaking panel on online marketing, held yesterday in Washington, D.C., and today in Baltimore. I accepted the Baltimore invitation, with skepticism, about how much of this would be an AVVO.com show-and-tell. I accepted the invitation knowing that it will get my name out to local attorneys with whom I might have opportunities to discuss case strategy and to make and receive referrals; and to provide my own foregoing message about marketing, which is that first and foremost, professional and financial success as a lawyer must come the old-fashioned way, by earning it, without cutting corners and without relying on glitz. Perhaps my appearance on this panel is not much different than the distinction between capitalism and communism, which is that with capitalism, humans exploit humans; but with communism, it is the other way around.