Legal Question & Answer Sites

More and more legal question and answer websites are popping-up across the web. And while they can be very effective in terms of getting yourself in front of online audiences and demonstrating your expertise, lawyers ought to be conscientious about how they participate in these online communities.

Online question and answer websites have been around for a long time. In fact, Experts-exchange.com dates back to 1996. That’s really old for the web.

They’re also some of the most highly visited pages. For example, at the time of posting, Answers.com has an Alexa Global Traffic Rank of 160.

There several question and answer sites from which to choose.

Legal Q & A Site Examples

Here are some examples of some of the most popular legal question and answer forums:

As you can see, the sophistication and functionality of these websites varies greatly.

Visibility

Many of these legal question and answer sites are on domains that command a lot of search visibility. That means that they are very likely to come up prominently in search results.

avvo answer Google Search3 Legal Question & Answer Sites

In many instances, answers that you provide on Q & A sites will perform better in search results than Q&A and FAQ sections of your own site or blog.

Further, adding question and answer sites to your web strategy can also help to diversify traffic sources to your site.

Demonstrating Expertise

Prospective clients (particularly those using the web as a legal information resource tool) expect to be able to find things out about you online. And this expectation includes finding information about your knowledge, skill and experience.

Providing good answers on legal Q & A sites is one way that you can demonstrate your expertise and experience on a particular subject.

On the other hand, providing thoughtless answers or just trying to use these forums as advertising opportunities can be a pretty efficient way to harm your reputation. Failing to exercise good professional judgment and comply with your state’s ethics rules can also subject you to sanctions.

Exercising Good Judgment

Obviously, just as they should with other forms of communication, lawyers that answer questions on legal question and answer forums need to be mindful of their state’s rules of professional responsibility.

Depending on the nature of your answers, there are a variety of rules that may apply. These may include rules relating to:

  • Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
  • Advertising
  • Direct Contact with Prospective
  • Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization
  • Competence
  • Confidentiality of Information
  • Duties to Prospective Client

Do They Work?

I know many lawyers both personally and professionally that are benefiting from participate participating in online legal question and answer communities. Of course, whether or not you will find value in participating in these sites is difficult to know in advance.

Just like using other online tools for business development, whether or not legal q&a forums will “work” for you depends on your practice, your goals and how you use them.

However, if you spend some time providing thoughtful answers, stay within the bounds of your state’s ethics rules and avoid the temptation to use self-promotional language, participating in these sites can be effective in both attracting new clients and building online peer recognition.

(Photo By: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andybullock77/3239860312/)

  • Catherine Tucker

    Thanks Gyi. I would love to hear moe discussion about the ethics rules as they relate to such Q&A sites.

    • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/posts Gyi Tsakalakis

      Hi Catherine,

      I think it’s important to keep in mind that state bar rules limiting attorney speech must comport with the 1st Amendment. State bars are granted authority to regulate a lawyer’s commercial speech.

      And so, depending on the nature of the content a lawyer contributes to a Q&A site, I would suggest that, so long as, it’s not false or misleading, and it’s not an advertisement, state bars don’t have much to say about the content in terms of banning a lawyer’s participation.

      Of course, this only addresses one issue with regard to a lawyer’s participation. There are many others.

      You should take a look at what your state bar rules say. I concede that they may not be all that clear on this particular subject. Does your state have an ethics hotline?

      Not directly on point, but here is some additional discussion of lawyer marketing and commercial speech that may be helpful.

  • http://www.musicrowlawyer.com/ Steve Weaver

    Hi Gyi. Thank you for the post. I used to reply to questions and a number of listservs and Q&A sites. I no longer do so for several reasons – one of which is rendering legal advice to a non-client who has not signed an engagement letter. When I did post at these sites I would add a disclaimer to the post. Any posts would be very general with a suggestion (caution?) that the reader should engage the services of an attorney who will address their particular fact situation. I practice in the area of entertainment law – an area where what might be a “typical” deal term today won’t be next year. And thus I would not want someone following my advice after it became out-dated. I’m not saying not post at these sites – I am just raising the issue of liability as something to consider.

    Steve

    http://musicrowlawyer.com
    http://musicrowlawyer.typepad.com

    • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/ Gyi Tsakalakis

      Steve,

      An excellent issue of which to be mindful. And, assuming that the answer left isn’t false or misleading and not not advertisement, probably the most problematic.

      I’ve heard many lawyers employ the disclaimer of stick to “general” over “specific” language. I’m not sure that this truly solves the problem.

      Saying, “I’m a lawyer, here’s generally what you should consider, but don’t take my advice,” seems a bit confusing.

      Avvo’s General Counsel, Josh King recently presented on social media and ethics. I understand that his presentation is to be posted at their Lawyernomics Blog.

      Nonetheless, just like any other communication that a lawyer makes, it should be done thoughtfully.

  • Targetlaw

    Hi Gyi, please don’t forget http://www.askinglaw.com . It is a legal question and answer site that is a little easier to ask and answer than some other sites out there.