Go ahead, let someone else own your web presence (not!)
Jeremy W. Richter.
While the world around us is evolving with increasing rapidity, lawyers and law firms are still making fire with flint and dry straw.
It wouldn’t be a stretch for me to claim that a disproportionate percentage of lawyers are technologically illiterate. But what’s worse is that many of those are completely indifferent to it. The importance of owning their web presence, of interacting on social media, of increasing their visibility to clients and potential new clients? It hasn’t even crossed their minds. They’re too busy carving the firm name into the cave wall. And it’s going to take a while to change the culture since there are a dozen name partners.
In the meantime, owning your web presence is becoming not only important but essential. Here are three things for lawyers to avoid when it comes to your digital footprint.
DO NOT RELY ON YOUR FIRM TO MARKET YOU
If you don’t have your own book of business, you are expendable. And unless you’re very lucky, you aren’t going to land your own book of business by relying on someone else to market you and get your name out.
Depending on who your clients are, there are innumerable ways to make yourself more visible to potential clients. Joining a local bar association gives you opportunities to network with other attorneys and obtain referrals. You may find clients in regional or national organizations where you can attend events, write or speak. You could start a blog, a YouTube channel, a podcast or write articles on LinkedIn or in trade journals.
In this era of easy access to multimedia, there is no excuse for lawyers to fail to establish their own platforms and make themselves visible. In fact, that was the catalyst for my starting a law blog. I’d been writing a couple of articles per year for various industry periodicals, and I wanted to do more writing.
I recognized about myself that I don’t possess one of those magnetic personalities that attracts people and causes me to be long-remembered. I don’t come from a connected family and didn’t have any of my own connections. I needed to do something to distinguish myself from my peers and enable potential clients to find me.
Blogging has been one of the most rewarding and worthwhile career decisions I’ve made since starting my practice. It has led to speaking opportunities, client meetings and writing a book (that the ABA is publishing later in the year) that would not have occurred had I not had a blog. And I’m not alone. I know of a dozen or more lawyers whose practices have been profoundly affected by embracing digital platforms.
DO NOT LET SOMEONE ELSE OWN YOUR WEB PRESENCE
Here are a few priceless examples of how failing to own one’s web presence can be costly:
Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2016, Jeb Bush was in a heated contest against Donald Trump and others for the Republican nomination. Bush’s team was running its campaign website through jeb2016.com. But somebody on Bush’s team failed to purchase the domain jebbush.com. Instead, the owner of jebbush.com caused that site to redirect to the campaign website for fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Papa John’s Pizza. Sometimes owning the domain that carries your business name just isn’t enough, especially if you’re a high-profile business with wily competitors. Just ask Papa John’s. For a while there, if you errantly left out a letter and instead typed in Papjohns.com, you could be redirected to the Domino’s Pizza’s website. Or Turbotax. Or some other pages, people reported on a ycombinator website.
Both Bush and Papa John’s lost huge volumes of traffic to direct competitors due to lack of foresight that led to a failure to secure their web presence fully to their advantage.
Associate’s Mind. About two years ago, attorney Keith Lee of Associate’s Mind got entangled with Patrick Zarrelli, a character of mild infamy for having threatened multiple well-known lawyers. Zarrelli threatened to and then did purchase a URL bearing Keith’s name and put some less-than-flattering content on the site. But fortunately for Keith, he had a large enough web presence that Zarrelli’s content wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Imagine, though, a situation in which a lawyer has very little presence on the web and a malcontent client or competitor were to post malicious things about the lawyer on a website. That negative content could be the first thing anyone comes across who searches for that lawyer by name.
Lawyers who haven’t taken possession of their web presence are doing themselves a disservice. And this isn’t limited to having your own personal website. There are a half-dozen other places on the web that a lawyer can claim a profile and increase their visibility, including Justia, Avvo and LinkedIn. Most of these don’t take a great deal of time, but they do provide more opportunity to find you for those interested in doing business with you.
DO NOT EMBARRASS YOURSELF WITH ILL-CONSIDERED CONTENT
In a world in which people increasingly spray their unfiltered thoughts across multiple platforms on the web, it has become more difficult to refrain from posting ill-considered or embarrassing content.
Some time ago, my firm was getting ready to hire a new associate. Among the candidates, one had a picture on Facebook that was questionable. It wasn’t even bad, but more of something that allowed us to infer questionable judgment. That single photo nearly kept the person from even getting an interview.
The things you post online matter. They can affect your reputation and your firm’s. Clients and potential clients are going to conduct Google searches and look at your social media feeds. Jurors (even though they’re not supposed to) are going to look you up. Other lawyers are going to form opinions about you based on what they find online—and we’re a judgmental lot anyway, so it doesn’t take much to solidify an unsavory reputation.
Now that you know some of the reasons why you should claim and establish your web presence, you’ve got no excuse for doing otherwise. Make it easier for the people who want to do business with you to find you. And put up the kind of good, measured content that will give potential clients the desire to know you and determine if they like and trust you enough to do business with you.
Jeremy W. Richter is an associate with Webster Henry in Birmingham, Alabama, and the author of an eponymous law blog.
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