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.

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/)