Kevin O’Keefe over at Real Lawyers Have Blogs picked up on our thread about blogging with a post called "Word of mouth gets lawyers their best work: Spend Internet marketing dollars there."
Kevin picked up on comment I made on a post called "Showing off Your Expertise." I had noted that there was more eyeballs surfing the web than there are mouths standing at the fence line. Kevin correctly notes that lawyers have always gotten their best work, best clients and most rewarding relationships from word of mouth. A lawyer’s reputation is everything. Reputation certainly has many components including character, accountability, temperament and other qualities. But the quality which most often drives word of mouth referrals is a lawyer’s expertise. Clients and referral counsel want the best lawyer available.
Kevin picks up on something I have not yet posted about, that is the community aspect of blogging. Kevin notes:
Blogging is about networking with thought leaders in your niche, being seen by your target audience as you both cite thought leaders in your blog and are cited in the blogs of others, and talking with your potential clients in a transparent way as I do here with you. That's word of mouth at its finest.
Kevin is absolutely correct. Blogging allows you to build relationships with the very people who are thought leaders in your niche. And don’t make the mistake of thinking of other experts in your field as competition. Think outside the box. Other lawyers who are also experts in your niche are the very people that you want to be blogging about, linking to and building relationships with. If you are truly an expert, you will achieve reciprocity. As importantly, you will create dialog on the most important issues facing your vertical market.
Kevin also makes a correct observation that lawyers who blog as a way to achieve cheap SEO are missing the main point. Yes, blogging about your expertise will likely bring you to page one of Google search returns within your niche. But it is the relationships you gain, the community you build and the reputation you achieve which will provide the real value. And trust me. When it comes to attorney blogging, no one in the world knows as much as Kevin O’Keefe at Lexblog.
Take a look at some of my favorite blogs created by Kevin and his team for lawyers who are establishing and showing off their expertise:
- E-Discovery Bytes (run by a group of bloggers over at Quarles & Brady as noted here. This is a great example of "divide and conquer blogging" wherein several lawyers from one firm share off their cumulative expertise within a vertical niche.
- Securing Innovation Blog, managing intellectual property, patents, trademarks and trade secrets. A relatively new blog run by another group of bloggers sharing their cumulative expertise.
- Brain and Spine Injury Law Blog published by Timothy Titolo of the Titolo Law Office. This is a great example of a niche blog. Mr. Titolo doesn’t try and blog about all aspects of personal injury. He focuses in on brain and spine injury providing a phenomenal resource on those issues and leaving little question as to his expertise.
Anyone reading any of the above blogs immediately knows that the people involved with these blogs are in fact experts. In fact, in three years time, I have never had a client ask me whether or not I really was an expert on, say, cybersquatting. Our firm’s cybersquatting blog leaves no doubt that we are a leading authority on cybersquatting issues. The blog allows any prospective client or referral counsel to do more due diligence on you than any other due diligence vehicle.
If you have expertise within a niche area of legal practice, why are you hiding it? Start blogging and you will establish yourself as an expert in the global marketplace.
The biggest advantage of blogging technology is the ease with which you can post content. As noted previously, it still takes time, energy and focus in order to drive great content and show off your particular expertise. For many lawyers, however, establishing and extending expertise is simply a part of their professional practice. Lawyers who are true experts almost inevitably publish articles in journals and participate in presentations. Both of these activities also take time. Compared to putting together a PowerPoint presentation, traveling and attending a conference presentation, blogging really is easy. Blogging also offers an advantage over drafting articles for legal publications. Blogging is less formal, there are no "minimum word" requirements and is less formal (i.e. an occasional typo or grammatical error is far less important).
That’s not to say that a lawyer who is spreading their tail feathers on the Internet by blogging should abandon these other activities. What I am suggesting is that a lawyer with limited time might consider one less presentation and one less formal article in order to find time to blog. There is little question that blogging reaches a wider audience than attendees at a seminar. And blogging provides a permanent footprint on the Internet, unlike a paper magazine which gets thrown out at the end of the week or month.
In watching blogs come and go over the last four years, I have noted some approaches which have been successful and ones which have been far less successful. For that category of blogs that I would label "expert blogs", the key is to "get vertical." Getting vertical means finding your expertise and showing off just that expertise. Most blogs try and do too much. You can’t have a blog about being an attorney. The category is too broad. While you theoretically could launch a blog about intellectual property, you’re much better off to launch a blog about trademark issues, or copyright cases being decided at the federal bench, or key patent decisions. I will be talking this week about what it means to "get vertical" in order to give your blogging the best chance for success. Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. And if you are truly an expert, there is a finite list of things and topic areas which you can credibly call your own. And while having more traffic is fine, generating quality traffic is much better. A newspaper can drive a lot of online "horizontal" content. A paper can put articles online about dog shows, corrupt politicians and water treatment plants. But a newspaper isn’t showing off its expertise. It is showing off its lack of expertise. It is general and broad by nature.
An expert blogger on the other hand wants to speak to a particular type of person. An expert blogger wants a very particular visitor to visit their website. An expert blogger wants web traffic from people who will hire them, whether they are prospective clients, referral attorneys or in-house corporate counsel.
I know that a person that types in "noncompete lawyer" into Google is very likely looking for me. The chance that person might actually retain me, assuming I can prove my expertise through my blogpost, is relatively high. (Note that when you type "noncompete lawyer" into Google, our law firm website comes up on page one at the tcattorney.typepad.com/noncompete). Someone that types in "compete for food in non-Asian countries" might very well find my site but that web visitor certainly isn’t buying my expertise.
There are lots of blogging styles out there. There are lots of different agendas being promoted by lawyers. Carolyn Elafant over at the myshingle.com blog promotes small and solo firms to other lawyers and as an alternative for potential clients to consider. She does a great job promoting the solo practitioner.
But the type of blog I want to talk about is somewhat different. It is a blog that establishes very narrow, vertical niche expertise. It is a marketing blog which creates the potential to match a client with a particular problem with the lawyer, who has expertise in solving that problem. This style of blogging is a great example of vertical marketing and can be found here.
As you will see from the example blog at our law firm, we specialize in cybersquatting, typosquatting and domain name dispute matters. We have a blog that is devoted to cybersquatting news and cybersquatting cases, both under the ACPA and the UDRP. Clients who type in "cybersquatting lawyer" on Google find that our firm is ranked in the first three results as illustrated here.
I’ll be talking more about clients who find us on the web this way. For now, take a look at our domain dispute and cybersquatting blog and notice that it immediately establishes our expertise in this practice area.
Granted, most lawyers don’t think much about marketing. Some lawyers still look at the concept of marketing as somehow unsavory. Why it is some lawyers think this way?
Preserve the status quo: Some lawyers don’t like advertising because they’ve been around a long time and they don’t want to compete. Some of these law firms live off of their momentum and the fact that their law firm name is well known in the community. These law firms fundamentally think advertising is bad for the simple reason that advertising is going to create more choices for consumers.
Advertising is unethical: Some lawyers believe that advertising is unethical. They think it is somehow beneath the profession to create a marketing message for consumers to consider. Much of this way of thinking is driven by the ambulance chaser advertisement message used by some personal injury attorneys. It is true that advertising needs to be regulated when it comes to people who are extremely vulnerable. Someone who has just been seriously injured in an auto accident doesn’t need a high pressure sales pitch, gross exaggeration or the like. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. A very small percentage of legal consumers are injured people. Most legal consumers are in fact private individuals or corporations looking for a good law firm to help with a business or professional problem. For this group of legal consumers, advertising provides information and educates consumers on choice.
Word-of-mouth lawyers: Many law firms simply rely on word-of-mouth as opposed to advertising. For those law firms that can get by on word-of-mouth, that’s wonderful. But I have never spoken to a lawyer or a law firm, no matter how big, that didn’t want more work, better clients or higher quality projects to work on. Besides, word-of-mouth and reputation are the exact qualities which any lawyer marketing campaign should promote. Many of the lawyers who are considered to be the best in their niche, publish articles, give speeches and participate in presentations for this very reason.
The Internet offers a wonderful vehicle to establish your expertise as an attorney. And there are a lot more eyeballs surfing the web than there are mouths standing at the fence line talking about legal services. I cannot think of any better way to establish and promote your expertise than to publish online. There is no better tool for accomplishing this goal than blogging.
At this point in blogging history, there are lots of different types of blogs. Many blogs are like this one. They’re educational and informative in nature. They are noncommercial journals of sorts generating thought and commentary.
Approximately four years ago, I started blogging about niche legal practice areas. At that point, blogging to generate business was on the cutting edge. In fact, many bloggers were commenting that blogs were inherently non-commercial in nature. There was a bit of a stigma to using blogs in a commercial fashion. My thinking was that people would go to the web to identify professionals who had published information about the niche legal practice area with which they were presented. An auto accident victim would go to the web to determine what their rights were. A company owner would go to the web to learn about non-compete issues on the cusp of hiring a new top-level employee. A start-up web company would do Internet research to determine whether or not the name they are thinking about for their company has cybersquatting or trademark issues associated with it.
In short, I began blogging for business. Today, there are lots of niche practice area blogs out there authored by lawyers who want to show off their particular expertise. If you are considering launching a blog, you need to decide initially what your purpose will be. Are you looking to express your first amendment rights about a particular subject? This Greatest American Lawyer Blog is a great example of what I call a first amendment blog. If your goal is to drive business, however, you need to think outside the box. The format and style of your blog needs to be fundamentally different than what you see here. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing all of our knowledge about blogging for business. We will be showing you specific examples of how we have designed our commercial blogs to show off our expertise in various niche practice areas, and the style of writing which we believe provides you your best chance of converting web surfers into clients. As individuals and top-level executives go to the web at an increasing rate to find lawyers with expertise in niche practice areas, you want to be standing on page one of the organic Google results. We are going to show you how.
We’ve all heard it from associates and other professionals. "I don’t have time to blog."
I’ve always been amazed by this statement. We generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in business as a result of our niche practice area blogs. From our point of view, how could a professional not have time to blog?
When the Yellow Pages' guy calls and wants me to spend a couple thousand dollars on an ad, I always tell him the same thing. "I pay $13.00 a month for my TypePad account and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in business. Can you guarantee me the same the return?"
Of course, the conversation ends quickly at that point. But I do appreciate one undeniable fact. It does take time to generate quality blog content.
In the next week or two, I’ll be sharing some of our secrets about blogging and, specifically, lowering the barriers to generating blog content. As a firm that generates as much or more business than any other firm globally as a direct result of blogging, you won’t want to miss the next series of posts.