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One issue that comes up when you’re starting (or developing) your own practice is the question of how – or indeed, whether – to advertise. We’ve all seen our American colleagues’ ads on television (and laughed, or groaned, or gasped), and everyone always checks out their own colleagues’ ads in the Yellow Pages every time the new book comes out. But how do you decide what it is that you’re going to do when it comes to letting the public know that you have an office and would be more than happy to have them come and see it?

Our governing bodies have rules and/or guidelines specifying what we can and cannot do when it comes to advertising. Some find these a bit restrictive. Some, myself included, find these to be perfectly appropriate and a welcome guard rail against some of the excesses that we’ve all seen elsewhere (my all-time “favourite” still being Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro from Rochester, NY; if you’ve not yet seen his contribution to the legal services adverting compendium, I highly recommend checking it out).

So what to do? How much to spend? Where to spend it? 

There are pros and cons to advertising in your local telephone directory. Everyone should have (at the very least) a basic listing. The cost/benefit analysis to these directories is, however, somewhat mixed. I’ve spoken to a few lawyers who have taken out very large (and hugely expensive) ads in these directories and, for the most part, they say that the ads wind up paying for themselves. Some, however, have offered that the ads do little more than that, in the long run.

Web-based advertising is growing very quickly, and a lot of people are still intimidated by the technological aspect of this. Thankfully, a lot of the newer generation of lawyers are far more comfortable with new technology than some. A website is, now, an almost-indispensible place to start. However, when it comes to building and updating your web presence, that’s still unfamiliar territory to most lawyers. Thankfully, there are a great many professionals out there who can assist with the building and maintaining of a website.

However, a website (which only a few short years ago used to be the sign of a successful, established firm) is now merely a very basic starting point. Do you take advantage of social media? Should you? Do you write and maintain a blog? Should you?

Social media is a lot more than merely tweeting your latest 140-characters-or-less pearls of wisdom, or posting pictures and links on your Facebook page. It is very quickly becoming, like the website, another indispensible tool is getting your “presence” known to the public.

Here’s where it gets more detailed: what on Earth do you talk about?

Those of us who frequent Twitter & Facebook soon realize that the “noise” that’s out there can get quite loud. It would be very easy to get one’s message lost in the electronic din. However, by starting slowly, by maintaining a coherent – and, above all, consistent – message, then your electronic message will begin to be heard. Most importantly, the cost of maintaining a Twitter and Facebook presence is measured in time and effort alone: both services are free to use. There are also several web-based services (called “clients”) that allow you to maintain multiple social media accounts simultaneously, and in one spot. 

Here’s my own pearl of wisdom (in 140 characters or less): keep your work and personal accounts separate. If you want your office to have a Twitter account, create one for your office. If you’d like to have a Facebook page for your office, create one, but keep it office-specific. I doubt your clients want to see (and I doubt even more that you want your clients to see) your vacation and New Year’s Eve party photos, your sharing of jokes with old friends, and your pleas for assistance in Farmville. There’s “Private You”, and there’s “Work You”, and (online, at least), never shall the twain meet.

Twitter is a great place to start and maintain a conversation. Post a link to a news article that is related to your area of practice, then ask an open ended question. Discuss the ramifications of a recent court decision or legislative change by asking your “followers” what they think? The conversation can then take on a life of its own, increasing your web presence by increasing the likelihood that more people will follow you.

This is only a starting point. I haven’t even touched on topics like hashtags, retweets, trending topics or privacy issues, but know only that there is a multi-layered, and very inexpensive, way to get your name, your services, and your reputation communicated to the legal services consumer. It’s easy, it’s cost-effective, and it’s growing every day.

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