Legal Marketing

In spite of regulations, lawyers should be bold with their advertising efforts

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It was gloomy and gray for most of the day as the seventh annual Avvo Lawyernomics conference kicked off Friday from the Wynn Las Vegas. But it certainly felt like the record crowd of more than 600 attendees Avvo touted, as the conference rooms were filled to capacity.

Maybe the attendees were excited at the prospect of hearing two of the most well-known and influential marketing thought leaders speak.

Scott Stratten, president at Un-Marketing, delivered the morning keynote and spoke about how lawyers can utilize his concepts of “un-marketing” to build better client relationships while establishing a brand synonymous with expertise. Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, followed with an afternoon keynote in which she encouraged lawyers to be “bigger, braver and bolder” when creating content for marketing purposes.

“The biggest missed opportunity in marketing is playing it too safe,” Handley said. “That’s true even if you’re a lawyer.”

In fact, as Handley noted in a follow-up interview, lawyers can still be big, brave and bold in spite of restrictive ethical rules regarding attorney marketing. “Bolder doesn’t mean edgy or being way at the edge of risk,” Handley said. “Bolder means differentiating yourself through your marketing and how you sound to the folks you’re trying to attract.”

Handley cited several memorable videos created by lawyers and firms, including, Levenfeld Pearlstein, a Chicago law firm that augmented its lawyer biographies page by including videos of each lawyer talking about what was the best piece of advice they’ve ever gotten and what’s the biggest mistake an attorney can make. On the other extreme, Handley cited a viral video created by Bryan Wilson, the so-called Texas Law Hawk who markets himself as “America’s ROWDIEST Lawyer.”

“These lawyers don’t sound like everyone else,” Handley said. “They differentiate themselves through their marketing and through the bigger story they tell.”

In that regard, Handley’s talk dovetailed well with Stratten’s earlier address. Stratten focused on the second side of the story: the one clients tell about their experiences with their lawyers.

“The marketing we set out to do will never be as powerful as the one in our consumer’s mind,” he said. “We have brand impact based on the stories the public tells.” After all, as Stratten pointed out, only ecstatic clients will provide their lawyers with referrals, while unsatisfied or upset clients will take to the Internet to vent their frustration, assuming they don’t just hire someone else without warning.

Like Handley, Stratten in a follow-up interview also opined on the regulatory hurdles facing many attorneys with regard to advertising.

“I’ve found that regulation is usually thrown up as a roadblock—and that’s the case with every highly regulated industry,” Stratten says. “A lot of times, I find that it’s an excuse. It’s a convenient way to say that you can’t engage with others.”

During his keynote, Stratten talked about “finding the exponential referral,” such as an influential member of the community who could refer a lot of business. He mentioned that he hired a real estate agent because that person had taken the time to cultivate his friendship over the years, including buying him a dozen donuts from his favorite place in Las Vegas and delivering them to his house just because he heard Stratten talk about it on his podcast.

“Of course there are things you can and can’t say,” Stratten said. “But that doesn’t stop you from congratulating someone on their son’s soccer match. It doesn’t stop you from talking to someone about sports. It doesn’t stop you from being human.”

In that respect, Avvo general counsel Joshua King, during his late afternoon session on legal ethics, encouraged the lawyers in attendance to pressure their respective bar associations to modify their rules regarding lawyer advertising. He also recommended that lawyers get over their fear of regulators and potential discipline.

“We can be a little more aggressive,” King said. “As long as we’re doing right by our clients, we should be fine. After all, the ethics rules are, fundamentally, a code for consumer protection.”

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