I am a big proponent of Web based media marketing. It has changed my practice and life for the better. There is a lot to know about it, and I will be the first to admit I am not an expert. I do know what is working for me. Additionally, what is the rule in other industries, is not always the rule in our Legal Profession, whether because of market conditions, history, or ethics rules.
I was on the net early in it's infancy. However like most net promises in the early stages, you tried things and learned mostly by failure. Still critical mass seems to have finally caught up with the net and I am riding a very happy wave.
Prelude: Why the net.
I want to keep this part short so I can hit the important stuff but my reasons for going to the internet were key to the decisions I made. I was tired of doing a good job and no one knowing about me. I often would come into cases at the end to clean up the mess some better paid publicity hound lawyer had made. If I had a dollar for everytime a client said "why didn't I meet you before I spent all that money on Mr. XYZ" I would endow a research fund for the Scleroderma Foundation. I couldn't find a way to get my story before the consumer. Yellow page and Newspaper display ads didn't give me the opportunity to teach what I was doing for clients. 30-60 second Radio or TV spots were not enough time for a prospective client to get to know me or my way of doing things, and sending out letters or pamphlets to people with legal problems just seemed...unseemly. The Internet provides enough depth that a prospective client can get a lot of information or a little but enough to get to know me. Hence, I really went for the best website I could afford (well hoped to afford, streaching a bit is important in the beginning just don't streach too far.) and added to it as money started to come in. It didn't take long.
I. Who Does What.
The large Legal Directory/web hosting companies (FindLaw* [FL] and Lawyers.com [LC]) are different than smaller more locale/specialty focused companies. They do different things. As such they should both be part of a well thought out marketing plan.
Many local law directories are trying to do a couple of things. They are trying to build websites, advertising and client base building as well as running a legal matching service (kinda/sorta.) (A legal profession “Match.com” if you will.) They are also trying to be affordable. They do each thing to differing degrees of success.
As best as I can tell, many small web design companies build nice looking websites, but I have heard a lot of negatives about their searchability. I also find that their content is poor because they either do not understand what lawyers do or what a lawyer's prospective client wants or worse, they have the lawyer provide the content. If you can't afford a better built site from a place like FL. (I mean a custom site not a canned site) then anything decent is good. It won't however, solve your problem of getting hits and clients. It will help if you have a large client base and want to give them a place to go and to send others to find out about you.
Some small directories try to compensate for their lack of searchability (though they do not acknowledge this) by advertising their directory and by sending clients that contact them to lawyers in their areas. The hands on phone answering service approach (think 1-800 DENTIST) acts like a reference for you. The client gets someone to look for a few good matches for them, and you share in the backslap that comes when someone says “this guy could be a good match for you.” I call it the Yente legal marketing technique.
II. Who appeals to whom.
Finally small directories and local web designers are also trying to build a client base. The web has billions of Websites. I have no idea where most of these local and specialized directories rank but it is far lagging Lawyers.com and that is lagging thousands behind Findlaw. (Findlaw ranks in the top 400 websites by hits and page views) However these are national companies, and their focus is on BIG PI (think asbestos and Vioxx litigation), Commercial, and high end divorce work. The directories play to these consumers. As more and more people use their sites, however, other more pedestrian legal needs (like Criminal and Family law) are finding a good home advertising in their legal directories. Findlaw does this in my opinion best because it is more than just a directory, but it is a really good source of Legal background material. I am already really benefiting from my affiliations there. In fact many, if not most FL consumers come to the sight in search of knowledge not an attorney’s name. I always enjoy interviewing with a FL referred client because they are generally more knowledgeable and sophisticated when it comes to purchasing legal talent. These companies also play up their customers and their own websites by strategic internet placement
Smaller companies, are taking their websites right to the “consumer user” of legal talent. That is to say DWI, state criminal defendants, Family court users, middle class divorce cases, bankruptcy consumers. They accomplish that by leafleting the courthouse parking garage, bus stop posters, yellow page and newspaper ads. They do it so you do not have to. That said, you do have to be advertising with them at least.
Needless to say these are generalities, and there is a large amount of crossovers but this is what I have found in my experience.
III. My experience
Now each company’s philosophy and marketing plan has its own up and downsides. More sophisticated shoppers will not really come from a local directory. Their matching service more than makes up for this, so while I find I retain 5 out of 6 Findlaw referred clients, I retain about 2 out of 6 clients from my local and specialized directory placements, as opposed to 1 out of 12 yellow page clients. Referrals from family, friends, former clients and other lawyers usually retain me 19 out of 20 times. (I've been tracking this stuff for more than two years so while these are estimates, they are pretty accurate)
I also find that Findlaw clients are not shocked by "real" legal fee quotes and are ready to pay for quality legal services. That is not always true for clients I am referred by my local and specialty directory placements, or family, friends or even some other lawyers. Former clients must share information because their referrals always know it is going to cost “real” money for "real" service. When it comes to paying for legal services Yellow page referred shoppers however, really are the worst. They are bargain hunting and price comparing. I want a person who is comparing quality then price. Hence I no longer take ads with the Yellow pages, yellow book, or Pennysaver. I also do not take ads in local charity books unless I want to support the charity.
V. Investments (Time and Money)
I made a large investment in the internet with my Findlaw web pages. I more than feel I have gotten my money’s worth. With my website and all its bells and whistles I pay about 2500 a month. It brings in 10 times the amount or more EVERY MONTH. My local/specialty directory ads drive approximately 5% of total traffic to my site. That is the most referrals I have received from any one site. I get nearly 25% of my hits from internal pages within my web site and default pages. Thus the local/specialty sight makes up a lot of the hits and inquiries I do get. The monthly cost of my local/specialty service (which is a listing plus the matching service) is about $300 per month.
In looking at ROI I feel that going entirely internet with my media marketing has given me more reach, gotten my message out, reduced the time I waste with shopping clients and created the most response I have ever received. I am tickled by the money I am making and the interesting cases that I get. Moreover I am able to attract the work I want and do not have to take everything that walks into my door anymore making it a lot more fun to go to work.
That said, I put a lot of time into media marketing, including writing two blogs, going on listserves and Findlaw bulletin boards, and sending out press releases that hype the site so it can edify my firm.Nothing goes out of my office without my website being on it. (I even put it on briefs. It got me hired by a court employee who saw the address and went on the site and hired me to represent a family member.) On the other hand, if you’re going to make a $30,000 yearly investment you better guarantee it returns value.
Good luck implementing your marketing plan.
*Full disclosure: I started using Findlaw in April 2004. About 15 months later, I was hired as a consultant for the company and aid their marketing department and sales team as well as comment on new releases. I was asked to come on board because I really liked the product and told my friends and collegues about it... a lot. If that makes me less credible with you here so be it. Not taking what I say here to heart would be IMHO... your loss.