In Rating Lawyers and Lawyer Ratings: They Are Not Going Anywhere, Avvo VP and general counsel, Josh King, recognizes the imperfections of rating systems, but ultimately concludes that legal services consumers recognize these imperfections but still place value on the content and perspective ratings and reviews offer when they shop for legal services.
This may not be terribly surprising coming from Josh, who is vice president of business development & general counsel of Avvo, a lawyer rating/review website. However, despite having a dog in the fight, I think Josh is essentially right. The fact is, legal services consumers turn to the web to vet their prospective lawyers. So the question becomes, “What will they see when they are looking for you?”
Lawyers are always telling me that their best clients come from word of mouth referrals. And they might be right. However, what many of these lawyers overlook is how even word of mouth referrals are impacted by the internet.
Before the modern web, when someone asked a friend or family member for a legal referral, what they usually received was a name and phone number, perhaps even a business card. “Give Lisa Lawyer a call, she handled my legal matter and was simply marvelous. Here’s her number.”
From there, the legal services shopper might call Lisa and chat for a bit, before deciding whether to head to her office or hire her. Alternatively, the shopper might call another lawyer,or someone else they trust, to ask for his or her opinion about Lisa.
What we see from this scenario is that the lawyer vetting process relied heavily on relationships and trust. Further, it occurred entirely offline. And while relationships and trust are still critical today, the process occurs, at least in part, online.
Today when someone asks a friend or family member for a legal referral, they might still get a name and phone number. They might also still get a business card. And if they’re wise, they will probably still “ask around” about the the attorney. But today, they’re also very likely to research the attorney online. And what they see, will play a role in their decision of whether to contact or hire the attorney.
Now we can debate the legitimacy of lawyer rating and review sites. We may also call into question how reasonable it is for someone to hire a lawyer based on an Avvo rating, a Martindale rating, a Super Lawyers rating, or a Lawyer Ratingz rating. However, there is no doubt, for better or for worse, that legal services consumers are using the internet in the vetting process. And what they find is likely to matter.
So how can you can you see what “they” see? One of the first things that I encourage all lawyers to do is to “google themselves.” Open your favorite web browser, navigate over to Google, and type in your name. Make sure you’re not logged in so that you’re not seeing personalized results. What do you see? Do you see your website? Do you see content you have written on your blog? Do you see your name listed in news articles? Do you see your Google Places profile? Does it have cute little stars? Do you see your Avvo profile? Do you see listings for professional organizations, associations, or societies of which you are a member? Do you see nothing about yourself whatsoever?
This is what your potential clients are seeing when they research you from a word of mouth referral.
Sam recently wrote a post noting that many of the most effective and succesful lawyers he knows never use social media at all. And I don’t doubt that for a second.
I too know many effective and successful lawyers that don’t use social media and don’t even have websites. I also know lawyers that don’t have cell phones (or don’t carry them with them), don’t use computer-based legal research tools, don’t use fancy litigation and trial support tools, and keep a calendar that’s on actual paper. Many of these lawyers are both effective and successful.
However, I wonder whether any of their clients do. Do their clients use Facebook? My guess is that at least one does. Do their clients use Google? Probably. Do they use Twitter? Maybe not. My point is that if your clients and potential clients are reading and writing about you online, wouldn’t you like to know? Wouldn’t you like an opportunity to decide whether or not to respond?
While there is little question that the best thing you can do to generate more word of mouth referrals is to provide excellent service to your clients, today, it’s also critically important that you monitor what is being said about you online. And while you don’t have time to sit around “googling yourself” all day, you should consider taking these simple steps to monitor and participate in what your potential clients are seeing about you online:
- Set up a Google Alert for your name and your firm name.
- Consider claiming your various rating and review profiles.
- Have a plan in place for how you will respond if you find something negative written about you online. You may even want a firm-wide policy.
- Consider claiming and updating your various social profiles. Often, these “search authoritative” sites will out rank your own website in search engines.
In addition to these preventative measures, you should also consider things you can do to put your best foot forward. Do your clients know that how and where to leave reviews if they want to (of course be careful about what you can and cannot do to encourage them to leave testimonials in your state)? Are you publishing web content that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise? Are you connecting with people can help get the word out?
Understanding how your potential clients are using the internet to research their legal issues, find answers to their questions, and vet legal services providers is the first step in putting web technologies to work for professional development. In order to have any role in what they will see about you online, you have to participate online.
Whether you like it, hate it, or even believe it, your potential clients are looking you up online. That is why even lawyers that are determined to rely solely on offline word of mouth referrals and completely ignore the internet, search engines, and social media are really just fooling themselves.