There is No Such Thing As Online Marketing


“I’m thinking about trying online marketing.”

I still hear this from lawyers all the time. But there is no such thing as online marketing. There is just marketing, some of which happens online because there is almost no meaningful line between offline and online activity anymore.

Almost everything we do now has offline and online components. We may plan to get together with friends over Facebook. Then we get together, have a great time somewhere offline, and post the pictures back on Facebook while we are out. Similar things happen with legal marketing.

At some point, someone in your network (let’s say it is someone you only know offline) will be in a position to make a referral. Once that new referral has your name, they are probably going to Google it right from their phone. They may even ask for a referral over Facebook or Twitter.

Nothing about that is remotely cutting edge or groundbreaking. Having a law firm website and a Facebook account are roughly as cutting edge as email. (In fact, the bigger news lately is people leaving Facebook, not joining.)

I’m not saying lawyers must go all in on social media marketing. (Probably a bad idea, anyway.) But having an active presence online is just part of being in the world today, especially if you are trying to get people to give you money. You need an online presence because everyone is online, just like you need a phone number because everybody has a phone. Calling it online marketing is meaningless in a world where everyone is connected — or can be — all the time.

I feel compelled to point out that same ethics rules sensibly apply to both. That should be obvious, but some lawyers still seem confused. The rules may be slow to change, but that is a feature, not a bug. With some time and perspective, it has become apparent that the existing rules are general enough to work just fine.

To treat offline and online marketing as separate things is to ignore the reality of the world today. If the people you want to sign your retainer agreement cross the line between offline and online as easily as pulling a phone out of their pockets, then you should too.

Featured image: “Offline Online Keys Showing Internet Communication Status” from Shutterstock.


Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Great post, Sam!

    Having just started a solo firm 11 months ago, I fully agree with the blurred lines between online and offline marketing. The most important information that I received on marketing was this: “Google runs your business.” It’s so true.

    Whether that means paying Google for adwords or blogging for SEO, our potential clients want to be able to review you before they buy — just like they would on Amazon.

    Sadly most lawyers don’t understand this so their marketing efforts fail.

  • Completely agree with the principle here Sam – marketing is marketing.

    I guess when most lawyers (especially those of a particular generation) say they are going to try “online marketing” they are probably talking about a couple of likely candidates:
    1) some kind of advertising campaign online (like adwords); or
    2) a social media effort.

    Since those things are online specific and require new knowledge/technical skills, I imagine that’s where the distinction lies in the mind of the speaker.

  • Hey, I’m the marketing consultant for Gregory S. Young Co., LPA in Cincinnati.

    I really agree with you, Sam, on the point that marketing is marketing, because any marketing consultant or analyst worth his salt is up-to-date on modern forms of marketing including using the Internet. At the same time, Chris Hargreaves here in the comments is right, too: using the internet as a marketing medium does take a specific skillset which many lawyers–especially ones who do their own marketing–don’t have. It’s possible for an attorney (or anyone, really) to market their business without ever touching a computer; some lawyers still wear solely by phone book ads. So I don’t think it’s so much a matter of “online marketing” as its own breed of animal. it’s more like picking and choosing a medium and who you have handling that medium.

    Handling a merketing campaign which focuses mainly on online referral sources or ads does take some technical know-how, so it’s easy to understand how lawyers might consider it something different entirely. The line here is blurred enough that “online marketing” is both a part of overall marketing while also being a specific kind of marketing which needs its own know-how.

    • Writenow

      Correct. Attorneys are traditionally a little dim when it comes to anything beyond referrals and late night ads. Kind of surprising for a bunch of people holding advanced degrees, who work with the public. But, oh well.

  • Writenow

    Every stat I checked showed FB user growth show acceleration. Please cite your source that states the reverse. Thanks.

    • Leading up to July 2014, when this was posted, all the buzz was about how teenagers were abandoning Facebook so it was going to die a slow death as its user base aged. Here’s one, and you can find many more by searching teenagers don’t use Facebook and similar terms.

      Most of that sort of talk seems to have died out in early 2015.