These are notes are from a panel discussion session at the American Bar Association 2011 conference in Toronto last Friday, one of the Solo Day 2011 talks. Panelists included Charley Moore, founder of RocketLawyer, San Francisco, CA; Carolyn Elefant, solo practitioner and blogger (see MyShingle.com), Washington, DC , and Jay S. Fleischman, consumer bankruptcy lawyer at Shaev & Fleischman (see NewYorkBankruptcyHelp.com and BankruptcyLawNetwork.com) and online legal marketing consultant at www.LegalPracticePro.com . Note: these are my selected notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own. I welcome your comments and follow-up thoughts!
The Virtual Law Office
Charley Moore provided a case study of a young solo practitioner as an example of someone who might be setting out to set up a virtual law office. He went through a series of advice for starting out:
- Having profiles on high profile websites will help build your reputation. You want to be on more than two sites; when potential clients Google you, you want them to find positive profiles that you have curated. For example: LinkedIn profile and a Facebook page for your practice
- "The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing." Moore is a believer in "one big thing," i.e. figuring out your niche, what you are very good at.
- Organize your practice and know how to prioritize: blogging, LinkedIn and other social media presence
- Setting up a virtual practice means: cheap overhead (no office!), and convenient for your clients.
- If you don't need to print, you don't need paper storage.
Jay Fleishman on going virtual:
- you only need a cell phone and computer to provide legal services (a means of communication, and a means of storing and disseminating information).
- everything lawyers needs practice is in their brains
- "those pretty books sitting in your library are quite frankly garbage…those books are costing you money with real estate."
- he has not had an office phone since 2004; his local clients have a local phone number for him that takes them to an automated attendant. It rings to either his cell phone or his Skype line on his computer. He uses Grasshopper.com which costs him a lot less than traditional phone bills. It also sends him the messages as MP3 file attached to an email.
- if you go on vacation and you are solo and your client does not get you, "that's bad practice" – "you can either skip your vacations or you can use technology to allow you have work life balance. You can serve them better."
He uses Google Voice (free service). On this trip he forgot his phone at home in error; he got a new Android phone in Toronto, threw in a new simcard and added one more number to Google Voice from the Internet, and successfully rerouted all calls to the new phone.
Clients actually love to hear he is learning and at conferences, tweeting what he is learning. This is client engagement.
Advertising online gets things going online quickly. "All it's costing you is money." "It's getting you on the map incredibly quickly."
It is easy to get online fast, there are any number of services, for example:
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Moore: You are thinking about search engine optimization. What are the optimizing elements on your website http://www.newyorkbankruptcyhelp.com/ ?
A good web presence requires both marketing and promotion. Pure marketing moves people from one place to another on the site and only provides pure information. However, an information gatherer is very different from a do-it-yourselfer.
Site also has email updates and Consumers Guide to Bankruptcy. Both only ask for an email address to request them. The less information you ask for, the more likely you are to convert somebody. Once they sign up, you put them into a marketing database. He uses AWeber.
Moore: he uses Marketo
Elefant: a lot of people use MailChimp which is a free service; AWeber has extra spam protection.
From the email updates, subscribers get an update each time he puts up a new blog post. If they opt in for the guide book, on a 3-4-3-4 day basis, they receive an email (pre-programmed). It is a pretty good bet they will be in front of the computer at the same time on the same day the next week; 7 days later, but you want communication before then.
Everything on the website is not high promotion, high sales. You want to make the offer in a very human way; you want to make the offer in a way such that you would not be offended by it if you were to receive it.
That is the process of turning a stranger into someone who has a sense that you know what you are talking about in your practice area, you are a nice person, and you have some authority.
Moore: Larry Rice is a good model of a practice that is a real expertise; that is why he is called on by CNN and CNBC. Get an area of expertise and blog about it, tweet about it. Write about your ideas and others' ideas. That will build your reputation and your authority. Search engines Google and Bing are supposed to direct someone to the best authority for something they are looking for.
Fleischman: BankruptcyLawNetwork.com – consumer bankruptcy site created four years ago. Over 125,000 visitors every month. All it is is a blog, 6,000+ individual articles. It has taken a lot of time but has only cost them time. The definitive sense of what an authority site should be. He gets clients coming to him who have read his blog extensively.
Question from the audience: are his fees posted?
Fleischman: No, but he doesn't think it would matter.
By becoming an authority by blogging and podcasting, you start getting others linking to you. Fleischman's reputation has grown because he has done the work gradually every day over time, with more and more people linking to his site. Virtuous circle: "the more well known you get, the more well known you get."
Over time you will get more followers and more links; if you stick with it, you will build good reputation. But you have to do it every day and expect that it is part of practice. Keep doing it even if nobody is listening.
Carolyn Elefant on MyShingle.com
She has a widget for printing for each blog post so that posts print as one consumable piece.
She has a national practice, markets to other attorneys rather than to consumers. On her firm website she has videos and links to ebooks. Hers is based on a talk that she gave. When land owners call a particular agency, they print out her book and give it out to people because of the quality. Having somebody else market your information is very useful.
The site allowed her to create a micro-niche very quickly. Research the area, write an ebook about it, put it online, circulate it with a press release, send out to clients and it is a quick way to expand into a different area, target different people.
Her MyShingle.com site has a YouTube channel.
Solo practice can be isolating; she uses some tools just to learn about them and finds this enriching, even if they might not necessarily advance her practice. Twitter is not just for marketing, it is also a way to keep up to date. It's not just a marketing function.
She also started a trade association – OREC - Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition
Moore: Currently RocketLawyer does not yet deal with Canadian lawyers.
Comment from audience member: You need to start.
Q: What about meeting in person?
Fleischman: being able to meet only electronically "is a hurdle"; he meets all of his clients face to face. He does not believe initial consultation needs to be face to face, but having a place to meet is important, even if it is a business centre. He is not big on meeting in coffee shops, but some do make it work. He often meets at client offices.
Elefant: because she has a national practice, she cannot always meet face to face; many clients are not on Skype yet. She will talk with them and answer as many questions as possible for them to make them feel comfortable. Virtual firms do not mean that you are always online, but having the ability to keep in touch online is a supplement to meeting in person. For some clients it is more convenient not to have to meet. She is also rigorous about follow-up, giving a weekly report and followup on what is being done.
Moore: Clients expect they can go online and see the data and documents online. This is a growing expectation.
Q: What about clients who want to know where my office is, and if I can scan in and fax them?
Moore: He didn't see this as an issue. This is not just for young people; 60+ is a growing demographic on Facebook
Q: How do you deal with Facebook?
Elefant: She suggests starting a Facebook page for your law firm so you don't have to friend people you don't know.
Fleischman: He takes the opposite approach; he will never put anything online that will embarrass him. He has no photos of his son on Facebook. Any photos where people tag him, he removes the tag. If someone friends themselves with him, they are not "outing" themselves as a bankruptcy client. No one needs to know why they are there. They are less likely to follow a firm page.
Elefant: If you take that approach, you can limit what certain people see.
During this session the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division of the ABA ("GP Solo") launched their Smart Soloing Center with tips and research sources. They will also be putting out an ebook shortly.
Note: This session was also recorded for the Legally Easy podcast (the RocketLawyer podcast). I will add in a link once that becomes available.