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Online Reputation Management

Do you, as a lawyer, pay much attention to your online reputation? You should. Because, in 2018, legal consumers are online consumers, as the following statistics clearly show:

  • 96% of people with a legal issue use the Internet first to find answers with regard to their problem.
  • 38% of people looking to hire a lawyer turn to the Internet first. (29% ask a friend or relative, 10% go directly to the local bar association, 4% rely on business directories like the Yellow Pages).
  • Once legal consumers have narrowed down their search to one or more potential lawyers, 74% of all legal consumers will visit that lawyer’s or law firms’ websites first, before taking action.
  • 74% of all legal consumers end up contacting a lawyer they found on the Internet, and of those 74%, 87% end up hiring that lawyer.
  • 70% of law firms have generated new cases through their website in the last year.

In these circumstances, Online Reputation Management (ORM) is more than highly recommended.

But how do you start managing your online reputation? After all, as the team of Blue Ocean points out: “Reputation, by its very definition is a nebulous, intangible and complex concept. Trust, along with an excellent reputation as a legal resource, cannot be directly measured like income and expenses.”

The Wikipedia describes Online Reputation Management as “the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing information about that entity, primarily online. (…) Specifically, reputation management involves the monitoring of the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback to try to solve problems before they damage the individual’s or brand’s reputation.”

In other words, ORM is about influencing how you are perceived on the Internet. You can affect this perception through multiple channels:

  • Your website often will be responsible for a potential client’s first impression of you.
  • Make sure to use testimonials.
  • You can publish a blog to help establish you as an authority in your field.
  • You can engage people via social media and discussion groups, by answering questions and offering free advice.
  • Online consumers typically also look for reviews on third party websites. It is recommended to respond to those reviews. (More on that below).
  • There are search results in search engines.
  • Not to be forgotten are your profiles in business directories.

Practically speaking, the first step is finding out what is being said about you and your firm. So you can start by doing an online search about your firm. Make sure, too, to find out what is being said on online review sites, as online consumers are eager to know what the experiences are of others who have used your services. You want to augment positive reviews, and to address negative reviews.

Addressing negative reviews can be tricky, especially since there are ethical considerations. You must make sure you never reveal any confidential information! As a rule, the best response to a negative review is to not respond with specific details, but to issue an apology instead, and to ask for personal feedback and to be contacted privately to address the matter.

In 2018, addressing fake news is also a concern. Make sure you do not give out false information about yourself (or your clients), and make sure to address any false information about you or your firm that might be available online.

Apart from addressing any factors that might damage your reputation, you can also more proactively start building a positive reputation through the channels mentioned above: your website, testimonials, blog articles, engagement with potential clients via social media and discussion groups, professional profiles in business directories, etc. Here, too, however, it is important to remain aware of ethical considerations, which may be specific to the bar association you belong to. Most bar associations do not allow lawyers to directly solicit clients. Some bar associations do not even allow lawyers to actively ask for reviews or testimonials.

 

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Digital Marketing for Lawyers, part 2

This is a follow-up article to an article we published three months ago, which also dealt with digital marketing for lawyers. In it, we explained why digital marketing is important for lawyers and we also focused on some of the tools lawyers have at their disposal: websites, blogging, SEO, social media, reputation management and reviews.

Marketing often is something that lawyers see as a necessary evil. To make matters worse, online marketing is substantially different from traditional marketing. Some of this was discussed in our ‘Why Social Media Matter‘ article. In it, we explained that “the old ways of turning visitors into customers are not the most effective in an online paradigm. In the new online marketplace, everybody offering products or services must realise that they also are publishers, and that potential customers are content consumers. The way to turn website visitors into customers is to turn them into regular content consumers first.”

In this new marketplace, lawyers must publish websites and blogs, and engage with potential customers on social media. They must take things into account like user experience and website design; mobile functionality and local search presence. They have to focus on online intake of new clients, on customer service and client experience, as well as on reviews, reputation and authority. And most importantly, they have to work on how to turn website and blog visitors into regular content consumers, before they can be converted to clients.

So, practically speaking, where does one start? The first step is to know your audience and competitors. One of the advantages of the online marketplace is that we can have better access to all the pertinent data. We can learn who visits our website or blog, as well as who we are connected with on social media. This allows us to create visitor profiles, which then in turn allows us to better accommodate their wishes and expectations. It is important to keep the focus on potential customers, when determining what content to provide. At the same time, it is also important to keep track of what the competition is doing, so we can a) differentiate ourselves sufficiently, and b) remain competitive.

The next step is to then define an engagement strategy. The adage that content is king still applies. Know where your potential customers are on social media, and offer them relevant content. What has changed in 2017 is that the content people are looking for is no longer limited to quality text content. They also want visual content: infographics, e.g., are more popular than ever before, as is video content. So, make sure you use those. (In a future article, we’ll deal more in depth with content marketing specifically).

The way to further finetune your strategies and to find out what works for your law firm is, again, to diligently keep track of the relevant metrics. Find out what pages on your website and blog are popular. Discover how people found them. Learn what posts on social media led to visitors of your website and blog.

If you are familiar with some of the more traditional marketing techniques, then Teresa Matich’s article on “How to Take Your Old School Marketing Techniques Online” on the Wishpond blog can be useful. She illustrates how online marketing uses different tools, and that we have to move:

  • from business cards to websites: 96% of people with a legal issue turn to the Internet first, and nearly 40% of people needing a lawyer look on the Internet first to find one.
  • from public speaking to blogging: you build a reputation by publishing high quality articles on the Internet.
  • from the phone book to online ratings directories: people no longer just want to find a lawyer, they want to know whether he or she is any good, and they will look for online reviews.
  • from bus stop ads to Facebook ads: people looking for a lawyer spend just over a quarter of their time doing so on social media, so it makes sense to advertise on them.

 

Alex Barthet, a Miami based lawyer, gives some additional useful advice, based on his personal experiences with online marketing.

  • Claim your online profiles: online services like Google, Yelp, and Avvo let you create profiles. Often these are among the first places potential clients go looking.
  • Also claim your social profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Be careful with paid profiles: they usually offer very little extra value.
  • Use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising carefully, and make sure to determine a maximum budget that cannot be exceeded.
  • Don’t fall for sales pitches from marketing companies that want to lock you into long-term contracts.

 

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On the lighter side – July 2017

Sometimes Law and Technology combine in ways that one does not immediately anticipate. Here are some recent items that have been in the news.

A hardware keyboard for lawyers

Lawyer Brian Potts got frustrated when he was writing a brief and had to insert a section symbol (§) into the text. As the symbol is not on the keyboard, it takes just enough steps that have to be undertaken to interrupt one’s train of thought. So, it dawned on him that having the section symbol as a key on the keyboard would be easier.  He realised that there were other things, too, that lawyers use every day, which would make his life a lot easier if he could access that functionality straight from his keyboard.

Potts created the LegalBoard, which has specially designed function keys and keys on numeric pad that can be used to insert commonly used legal words or symbols, or to perform specific functions, like

  • Adding a section symbol, a paragraph symbol or a copyright symbol.
  • Or adding words and phrases that lawyers frequently use (like court of appeals, plaintiff, appellant, etc.) with a single keystroke.
  • Adding a bullet.
  • Turning italics, underline and bold on or off with a single keystroke.
  • Changing the line spacing.
  • Inserting a footnote or comment with a key stroke.
  • Turning track changes on and off.
  • Using the find function.

A software keyboard for lawyers

Emily Montgomery is an attorney in Las Vegas and a graduate of UCLA Law, who had a similar idea. She came up with the Citepad, which is a software (on-screen) keypad, rather than a physical keyboard.  It also comes with buttons for commonly used tasks involving citing legal references, inserting some often-used symbols, and some formatting, etc. Citepad can work with e.g. Lexis Nexis and Word, OpenOffice,  Google Docs, and is available for Mac OS and Windows 10.

Napping Pods

Some big law firms in the US have been installing napping pods, and they are well-received. The “energy pods” are lounge chairs with a domed privacy visor and they can play “relaxation rhythms” while the user snoozes. After 20 minutes, the pods use vibrations and soft lights to wake the user.

Wearables

Lawyers are using wearables, like smart watches, to help their practice, in three different ways. Smart watches are used to keep connected (retrieve email, etc.). Some law firms are experimenting with Virtual Reality Headsets, e.g., for interviewing witnesses, or for multisite meetings. Inspired by dash cams, some are experimenting with smart glasses to record evidence in situ.

An AI ‘Workspace assistant’ for lawyers

A legal software provider recently announced the launch of Workspace Assistant, which allows lawyers to perform time management functions using the Amazon Echo or other Alexa enabled devices. So, it is now possible for lawyers to just say, ‘Alexa, Track My Time,’ and it does. At present, it can perform time management functions like tracking billable hours and controlling time entry. As this functionality is hosted by an existing legal service provider, confidentiality aspects are covered by the agreement you have with the provider.

Emoji Law

Did you know there already is such a thing as ‘Emoji Law’? At present, there are three relevant legal aspects to emoticons. A first is how the courts will deal with questions of interpretation raised by emojis used in communication. Courts have already ruled that emoji can convey content. (Noteworthy in this context is that Emojis change depending on the version of the OS of the device: one study showed that people interpreted an earlier implementation of a grinning emoji to mean “ready to fight” while the later version is more clearly smiling and happy. Therefore, someone on a newer iPhone sending that emoji to someone using an older version of iOS could unintentionally appear threatening).

A second aspect has to do with intellectual property that underlies the small, digital pictographs themselves. Emoticons are graphic works, and as such are protected by copyright.

Finally, the topic of emoji is also relevant in eDiscovery. Recent court decisions stated that messages sent by SMS, MMS or instant messaging all had to be included in the discovery process. At present, however, nearly all text-based legal research tools fail to capture visual communications.

 

 

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