Practicing attorneys are divided into two categories: (a) Those who treat their practice as a business and market their services in some way or other and (b) Those who don't. My personal belief is that most attorneys are in practice to help people and work very hard to develop their skills and expertise to help accomplish this purpose. How will potential clients (and referral sources) know about you unless you somehow make them aware of what you can do for them and how they can reach you? And that is the essence of marketing. The days of hanging out a shingle and waiting for clients to show up is over.
That being said, marketing in the legal world is a relatively recent phenomenon. It wasn't until 1977 that the Supreme Court in the Bates decision allowed attorneys to advertise their services. Attorneys are no longer restricted to handing out business cards and buying an ad in the yellow pages. Now they advertise in newspapers, on place mats in diners, on radio and tv, use direct mail and sponsor sports teams and charity events.
Indeed, the use of attorney advertising has exploded over the past 33 years.
But, as Bachman-Turner Overdrive said: "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!" With the advent of social media, the business of law will undergo profound and rapid changes.
Social media marketing includes the use of websites, blogs and other common social networking formats such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The concept is to provide valuable material to your potential client base via one of the above formats that causes them to look at your website and ultimately contact you for a consultation. This is called "driving traffic to your website".
Many, if not most, attorneys have a website. Can you believe that the first attorney website went online just 16 short years ago? The growing awareness of the resources doesn't stop there. According to an ABA survey, social networking for personal use is gaining popularity among lawyers. Fifty-six percent of respondents say they maintain a personal social networking presence, up from forty-three percent last year and up from 15 percent in 2008. These figures will only get larger because contrary to popular belief, the internet is here to stay.
The most frequent objection to Twitter and other forms of social media is a predictable one: "I don't need to know someone is eating a turkey sandwich right now." If that is what you think of social media, you need to begin your education now! This is one of the many situations in which ignorance is not bliss.
Timothy Ferris convinced me of the power of social media as a promotional device. He was "an unknown" until he wrote the book The Four Hour Work Week which was promoted largely through blogs. It became a New York Times Number One Best Seller and has now been published in 31 countries. This guy definitely calls his own shots now – because he got a little creative. (Take a look at his blog at www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/. It is very entertaining.)
The practice of law itself is evolving in response to the Internet. We have already heard of a number of reported cases in which damaging evidence has been gathered from the Facebook posts (not to mention pictures) of defendants who obviously failed to think through the implications of putting their lives on international display.
When Jack Welch was Chairman and CEO of General Electric, he astutely observed: "The Internet is the Viagra of big business." The same no doubt applies to small business. Those who take the time to learn about and harness these new tools will have incredible exposure.
From a business perspective, these valuable internet resources open up the avenues of communication between lawyers and potential clients. If you aren't on board yet, there's no time like the present to put your toe in the water!
Continuing legal education courses addressing all aspects of the social media phenomenon are currently under development by The Sharper Lawyer. Great focus will be placed on ethical and legal as well as business issues.