How I’m (Apparently) Doing Social Media Right

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Over at the MyCase blog, Niki Black (who also contributes here) gave me — and by extension, all of you — a shout-out for my social media chops:

Lawyerist followers are a loyal, devoted tribe. And, to whom do you think this tribe refers Minnesota-based business entrepreneurs who are seeking legal counsel? If you guessed Sam Glover, then I bet you’re right.

There’s just one problem. While the Lawyerist “tribe” may have well over a hundred thousand “members,” I have trouble making much of a referral connection between Lawyerist and my law practice.

(You are loyal and devoted, right? I can’t always tell from the comments.)

I don’t get clients as a result of Lawyerist

I have a couple of ideas about why this is, for what it’s worth. For starters, Lawyerist is not about startups, which are what I represent in my law practice. I doubt anyone reads my reviews of iPad accessories and thinks “that guy probably knows how to counsel a business on restricted stock grants!” Besides, Minnesota readers make up a fraction of our readership, and I doubt non-Minnesota lawyers are flush with Minnesota referrals.

Also, to the extent I want to be known as a good lawyer, rather than as someone who has opinions about technology and “internet stuff,” I actually find Lawyerist to be an impediment. People know my name, but not necessarily because I represent startups. I was flattered to be named a Rising Star last year, but I will always suspect it had more to do with Lawyerist-related name recognition than with the reputation I hope I have for being a good lawyer.

In short, I have trouble coming up with any specific examples of clients who were referred to me as a result of Lawyerist. Maybe I could come up with a few, if you give me time and some leeway when it comes to the meaning of “referred” and “as a result of Lawyerist,” but that’s a poor return on the time and effort I have put into this blog. Lawyerist is just not a good example of how to build a referral network using social media.

I’m not saying Niki is necessarily wrong about social media, just that she chose an unfortunate example in Lawyerist — and possibly MILO, as well. (MILO is a Mac-user email list, and the other example Niki used in her blog post.) Some lawyers, including me, have definitely been successful using social media to market their law practices. But that’s hard to duplicate. It’s not great for direct marketing, either. It’s also hard to do well, and there are many consultants trying to convince you to do it poorly.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to find good examples of social media success, although Niki is planning to try.

Where are the social media success stories?

I feel like almost all the social media success stories I read about are from people trying to make money from social media consulting.

Why is this? I have a theory. Those who really figure out how to make a lot of money from something are more likely to go on making money from it than they are to turn consultant. If something really works, then why would they turn around and give away the secret? Not to mention why would they start another business doing something unrelated to the work that made them so successful? Assuming there are lawyers who truly have social media figured out, they probably don’t have time to talk about it. They are too busy serving the clients they have amassed due to their social savvy and sailing around on the giant yacht they bought with the profits. Or they don’t exist.

This is (one reason, at least) why lawyers like those who converged on my last post are so down on lawyers-turned-marketers. If they were any good at marketing, wouldn’t they be employing their expertise in their extremely lucrative law practices? (I’m not persuaded this reasoning applies to all lawyers-turned-marketers, but it’s certainly true for many.) It’s circumstantial evidence that social media success stories don’t exist.

Actually, though, I agree with Niki. I think social media success stories do exist, but we just aren’t hearing about them because the successful ones are out being successful, and because the real stories are a lot less amazing-sounding than the marketing consultants want them to be. They don’t involve teachable tricks, just lawyers being awesome on the internet like they are in real life.

Maybe Niki will have better luck with her future installments, which will include Pinterest, blogging, and BigLaw. I hope so, because if social media is so awesome, it shouldn’t be so difficult to find some examples. And when she does, I hope they include the detail we need to determine what success means. Social media marketers almost never say anything like “Joe Smith can trace half his clients and 55% of his fee income to his social media marketing,” together with some idea of how many clients Joe Smith has and what his total fee income might be.

That’s what I’d like to see.

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  • shg

    Welcome to the big gap in logic dilemma. It makes perfect sense to marketers and social media gurus that numbers on the internet translate directly into cases in the law practice.

    One thing that strikes me as rather surprising is that Niki didn’t ask you before using you as an example of a guy getting fabulously rich off his blog. Another is that you also assume there must be people out there getting rich, even though you don’t actually know of any.

    • Well, that wasn’t quite what I meant, but I suppose I do think there are some lawyers with high-volume practices making lots of money from clients they bring in using social media, SEO, billboards, and television ads about how they’re The Hammer or whatever and then spend as little time as possible on each file. I have some problems with that approach to law practice, however, whether it involves social media or tribes or anything else.

      • shg

        But you *know* this or you assume this? Or you’ve *heard* people claim this? Or so many people do it that *someone must* be making money on it.

        Am I getting through here? Do you have any hard evidence that this is true? Not just some kid saying 80% of his practice comes from the internet (which tells you nothing), but real evidence?

        I’ve been around a while. There are guys who I trust who tell me they got a few cases here and there, but that’s not a practice. Who is bringing in $1,000,000 per year off the internet (except Alexis Nealy, of course). And I know it’s done squat for me, and my blawg gets a hit or two. So, if there’s someone winning this game somewhere, who? Where? Where are the hard numbers and the evidence to back up the claims of the internet miracle?

        • jsv

          My experience has been somewhere in the middle. I generate about $20-$40k a year directly from my blog, at least for the two years I’ve been running my own practice. That’s not big bucks, and it wont sustain my practice, but for me its nothing to sneeze at. It still gets 200-300 hits a day (though only about 50 a day within the state I’m licensed), and considering I only post once or twice a month, the return on investment has been fair. I get probably one inquiry a week, but they’re usually either not my niche (business torts) or lower value cases. The real value I’ve seen has been (1) referring some of these cases to other attorneys and creating a new relationship in the process, and (2) creating a tool to network with more senior attorneys and provide them something of value (as in, “I wrote a post on that issue, here’s the link”). Now that my past cases are generating enough (and higher quality) cases, I’m not sure how much effort I’ll put into blogging going forward, and it certainly hasn’t been a get-rich panacea, but I’d say the time I put into it was definitely worth it, especially when I count more than just the value of the cases it directly generated.

          • shg

            That’s great. And I’ve met many terrific young lawyers through the blawgosphere (I have a blawg too). But it still a long way off from the practice I’m talking about.

        • I know from my own experience that social media can lead to high-quality clients, and I’ll give you what hard numbers I have. According to my records, around 50% of my intakes were the result of my website, Google searches, or my consumer law blog. Based on my firm’s website statistics, some of those website-based intakes were probably for people searching for me by name (which I attribute mostly to offline networking), but many probably weren’t.

          I did not track fee income according to referral source, but I don’t recall reducing my rate for any clients, no matter how they reached me. And while I did have low-value cases, they were all for my usual fees. I never did high-volume work. I do know, because I’ve gone back and checked my intake notes, that some of my most-successful settlements resulted from clients who found me through social media or people who knew me primarily through social media. Others of my most-successful clients found me through referrals that had nothing to do with social media.

          So while I can’t say what percentage of my fee income came from clients who found me through social media, I’m comfortable calling it a worthwhile option for getting clients. My hunch is that clients who found me through social media accounted for a majority of my fee income, but that’s just a hunch, and it’s quite possible it is nothing more than confirmation bias.

          In short, I know social media can generate quality clients, at least in debt collection defense (flat fee, with some hourly) and FDCPA (contingent fee). I have had less success generating clients for my tech startup business law practice through social media, although in fairness, I haven’t really been trying. To the extent I am marketing myself in that practice, it has been through regular old networking, because I know that works, and it takes less time and effort to get to the point where you can see results.

          What I believe is that if you put a lot of time and/or money into social media (without wasting it on hacks), you can bring in clients. In other words, I don’t believe it is substantially more or less effective than any other kind of marketing. There is nothing magic about social media, nor is there anything inherently defective about it.

          • shg

            I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing, Sam. I’ve gotten a grand total of one client via the internet, and my blawg gets a few hits. But then, what I look for in a quality client is likely very different than what a younger lawyer looks for. I’m trying to be kind here, so don’t push me.

            • It’s quite possible we aren’t. I’ll add a few qualifiers, just to be sure I’m not confusing anyone. Based on my experience as a lawyer with <10 years of experience, I am confident that it is possible to generate quality clients and some pretty good fee income by blogging, at least in the areas of debt collection defense and plaintiff FDCPA work. (Based on my relationships with FDCPA lawyers with >15 years of experience, I’m quite confident it’s possible to earn some very good money on those cases, for what it’s worth.)

              When I say “quality,” by the way, I’m talking about responsive, dependable clients who show up on time, are easy to work with, and who are honest about the details of their cases. I’m also talking about clients with good cases that I think I can win or settle favorably.

              I’ve written quite a bit about how difficult I think it is to achieve any results from blogging, as well as how to go about it if you want to try. It won’t work for everyone, and it might not work for any other area of law, for all I know. I’m just reporting the results I’ve gotten and sharing what I think I know.

              • shg

                Since it’s hard to discuss such subjective characterizations as “pretty good money,” let’s use Jeff’s (above) numbers. He says he’s getting $20-40k a year off the internet. To the hungry lawyer, that’s money he didn’t have before, and may well sound pretty good. But let’s put it into perspective.

                What does he have to do to earn that $20-40k? Is it $100k worth of work? Is he getting low-rent work that impairs his ability to take better cases that come via personal referral? How many hours are spent on the phone with callers to get that work? How many free consultations? How many internet clients stiff him, grieve him, complain, whine, call in the middle of the night, demand constant hand-holding ? How many happily pay the bills and how many dispute every charge?

                My experience with people who “find me on the internet” is that they are often far more demanding, belligerent, difficult and irrational than the ones who come via referral. These exact a price as well in time and temperament.

                Let’s assume that all of the clients gotten via the internet are fine, happy, normal and pleasant people, paying normal rates and demanding nothing more than any other client. Is $20-40k sufficient revenue to sustain a law practice? Is it enough per year for five years? Ten? The assistant manager at Dairy Queen makes more than that, so it this good enough?

                Like you, I believe (though I can’t swear) that there are niche practices, usually involving small fee cases or odd, hard-to-find practice areas, where the internet provides a great resource. But these are the tail, not the dog. And I’m fairly confident the tail doesn’t wag the dog. Even on the internet.

  • True story…

    For whatever reason, Leo and I are ranked #1 on Yelp if you search for “lawyer” in Philadelphia:

    http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=law+firm&find_loc=Philadelphia%2C+PA&ns=1#find_desc=lawyer

    And my partner Leo is ranked the second best landlord / tenant lawyer in Philly:

    http://www.avvo.com/landlord-tenant-lawyer/pa/philadelphia.html

    Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to be the best Yelp lawyers in all of Philadelphia, right?

    What it’s done for us…

    – Tons of calls about landlord tenant work. From tenants who can’t afford to pay their rent, but they want us to go into court and argue they shouldn’t have to because their toilet seat was broken for half a month.
    – A lawyer who called and asked if we would trade all our estate planning work for their landlord tenant work. Uhhhh… no. I don’t think we’ll be doing that.

    Despite these huge and very important accolades, they have not provided good cases. We are turning down about 95% of the people who found us on Yelp or Avvo so we can focus on our bigger cases.

    The best cases I’ve gotten have come from other lawyers who I’m close with, friends, and family.

    Just my two cents.

    • Getting a reputation for landlord-tenant work is basically the worst thing ever. Fortunately, we have a very good (and free) hotline in Minnesota, but I still get plenty of calls and have to refer them over.

      Also, I agree 100% with your post. I think you got straight to the heart of the matter. The first criminal defense lawyer I worked for ordered business cards by the case, and spent every night hanging out at his favorite bars. Who do you think the other patrons called when they needed a lawyer? Him, of course, because they probably had a beer with him a couple of nights a week. (Somehow he managed not to acquire a drinking problem.)

      • shg

        My first partner, twenty years my senior, was a great guy. Everybody loved him. He hung out in bars. All the time. When he was on trial, I would regularly get a call from the judge after lunch asking where he was. His lunch generally consisted of a quart of vodka.

        He eventally became disabled and then died of alcohol related causes. Sorry to be such a downer, but not everyone who hangs out in bars manages to avoid a drinking problem.

        • Fortunately, there are a lot of things that substitute nicely for bars, like coffee shops, your church, the gym, and maybe even Facebook.

          • shg

            How long before someone dies of Facebook related causes? Don’t you care about these poor addicts?

  • Sam, you have definitely hit on the real problem here. The internet traffic may be good but a lot of it results in wasted effort, time and is just simply a huge distraction and power drain.
    However, having a good website and maybe a blog does help with the decent new clients. In many cases I have new clients call who are already convinced that they want to employ me due to my website and the stuff about me on the internet. So that is a plus.
    But your article was just what I was talking with my wife about at dinner the other night; namely, that a lot of it is a waste of time and my personal energies.
    So I am not sure what to do except to be smarter on phone calls for people picking your brain and demanding free advice. Not sure what the solution is but it your post confirms a lot of my misgivings and concerns.

    • What makes it a horrible thing to offer advice to someone who needs it? Treat them well and they will give you a call when they truly do need an attorney. If the advice you provide is useful, wont they continue to share that information and pass on the name of the person who has all the information. Networking can be online or offline and is effective so long as you are memorable and can actually help those who ask for it. This is very similar to the story about the lawyer at the bar.