Apparently there’s a conference going on right now where lawyers are talking about using the internet to get clients. Some think that’s the most awesomest thing ever, some think it’s ill-advised. As someone who has, in fact, gotten clients from the ether, I figured I’d share a little anecdotal evidence about what works and what doesn’t.
I have a solid internet presence — got a website for the firm, my own blog, a separate website where I do a law-related comic, I created and now mod one of the oldest lawyer groups on LinkedIn, I tweet and facebook and reddit and I even have a tumblr. And of course I’m listed on sites like Avvo whether I want to be or not. There’s more than that, of course, but this is enough to be getting on with.
So let’s see how each of these things stacks up, when it comes to getting clients.
1) First, ye olde website. I made it myself (I do all my own coding). It’s got lovely SEO, it’s easy to navigate, and it looks clean. You can reach out to me from any page to ask a question or seek help. The last client I got from it was back in 2007, I think.
Which is not surprising. Law firm websites don’t work like Yellow Pages ads — they’re not there so much to attract potential clients who might not have heard of you, as they’re there to reassure existing clients that they’ve got the right person on their side. (Actually, that’s not quite accurate — potential clients who found out about me from other sources go here to check me out before calling.) As with any law firm website, the pages with the most views are those about the lawyer and those with contact info. The website’s purpose is not to attract clients, but to give them information. My website does its job very well. And it brings in zero clients.
2) Next, the blog. It has a decent audience, though not huge. I post when I feel like it and have time, which can be three times a week or once a month. I love to write, and I love what I write about. Usually, I post when I think there’s something that needs ‘splaining, and I feel like I’ve got something to contribute. Despite the fact that I post when I get around to it, the blog has a steady stream of about 6,000 unique readers each month (ignoring the spikes that happen when Reddit or Slashdot find me). It is not a huge source of business. Still, I do get the occasional client from the blog.
In fact, I’ve gotten some high-profile clients simply because they liked my blog. They come to me because they’ve read my thoughts, and they like how I think. We’re simpatico. We’re on the same page. It’s like they already know me.
They don’t come because of SEO. In fact, my blog is awful for SEO. I don’t repeat ad nauseam that I am a New York City Criminal Defense Lawyer. I don’t seed my posts with keywords. I don’t post all the time. I host my blog on (gasp) the same domain as my website. I don’t do any of the stuff SEO marketers talk about. Because I’m not doing it for the SEO, and I never have.
I write for me. I don’t write for my audience. I don’t write to attract clients. And apparently, that’s the thing that attracts some clients.
Not many, but enough good ones that I can’t ignore it.
ASIDE: What do I mean by a “good” client? Very simple: someone who understands the severity of their situation, is willing to invest in their defense, and who doesn’t obstruct that defense. “Good” clients are bloody rare on the internet.
Most people who come to you from the internet are quite the opposite. If you’re a private lawyer, you want to avoid a lot of these potential clients, because they’re going to be more trouble than they’re worth. More on them later.
3) The webcomic. Boy howdy, does it have traffic! A couple hundred thousand pageviews per month. But it doesn’t generate clients. And it’s not meant to. It started out as an offshoot of my blog, and evolved into its own separate existence. The focus there is on education, explaining some fairly complex legal concepts as simply as I can, without resorting to caselaw or statutes. It’s not about me, and I don’t talk about myself there. Its readers come for the ideas, not because they’re looking for a lawyer. A perfect example that lots of pageviews does not translate into business.
Great SEO, fantastic numbers, lots of eyes. Zero clients.
4) As for social media, you can’t honestly expect to get clients because you’re on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., can you? Social media is about being social, not business. I love it, and I’ve met some really cool people online. I have long-time friends I first knew only in chatrooms and message boards. I’ve become friends with lawyers I first only knew online. I get to converse with awesome people whom, because of geography, I may never meet. But none of these people are potential clients (at least, I hope not). I have never gotten a call from a potential client who found me on social media.
The lesson so far is simple: A strong online presence does not generate good clients. At least for me, anyway.
So now let’s turn to
5) Avvo and its like. These kinds of things do generate phone calls, but rarely – rarely — from clients you’d want. For whatever reason, the calls and emails from these kinds of sites tend to be from people who are unwilling to pay what their defense is going to cost, or who are more than usually deceitful, or who are looking for their third lawyer after being dumped by the first two, or who are looking for their fourth lawyer after dumping their first three, or who are suffering from schizophrenic delusions, or who insist on free legal advice, or who otherwise want something for nothing, or… well, you get the picture. These are the “bad” clients from the internet. You don’t want them. Your job is stressful enough without them, they demand far more of your time and resources than they should — time and resources you owe to your other clients, and they are never good for your bottom line if you care about such things.
Yes, it generates a number of calls and emails. Almost none of which a sane lawyer would want to take. Yes, there have been two or three over the years who really were serious about their case and helpful to their defense and a pleasure to defend — but these were people who found me by chance. A statistically insignificant number.
But where do my clients come from, then? I do get some from the internet, but hardly enough to keep the lights on.
6) Referrals. The clients you’ll want tend to find you, not by chancing upon you online, but because someone they trust recommended you to them. The vast majority of my clients call me because someone gave them my name.
Some referrals come from past clients who liked what I did. This kind of thing will vary depending on your practice — few of my clients are the kind of people who tend to get arrested, so they tend not to know many other people in need of criminal defense. But some do, and you can’t do better than a referral from a happy former client. (Also, due to the general nature of my clientele, I don’t get a whole lot of repeat business.)
Most referrals come from other lawyers. Seriously. White-collar cases come from friends at big firms, who represent the corporation and need someone to represent an exec or manager. Street-crime cases and civil cases come from people asking lawyers they know “who would you recommend.”
These referrals do not come from lawyers you met on the internet. I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten a case from a lawyer I didn’t interact with in real life. The best are from lawyers who have worked with me — represented a codefendant of mine, or handled the civil or tax side of a matter, or even who I helped out “of counsel” while starting out.
If you’re just starting out, I cannot recommend that enough: Go find lawyers who do what you want to do, and offer your services. They’ll pay you a cut rate, bill you out for a profit, and give you A) EXPERIENCE, B) MONEY, C) REFERRALS IF YOU DO A GOOD JOB, or D) ALL OF THE ABOVE. Seriously, if you’re a new lawyer, get off the computer and go knock on a working lawyer’s door. Don’t ask for a job. Ask if you can help out.
Or rather, don’t knock on their door. They’re probably busy. Meet them in a social situation — go to bar events. Go to lawyer events. And don’t be a wallflower — meet people. Don’t talk about yourself — you’re not that interesting — just chat about whatever. Some people will have things in common with you. You’ll make friends.
And your friends will be your greatest source of referrals.
And referrals are going to be your best source of clients.
So bottom line: Clients don’t come from the internet. Clients come from friends. Get off your computer and go make some friends.