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ABA Survey shows blogs a leading form of client development

The number one way that people find a lawyer per a survey conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services should come as absolutely no surprise.

“People with personal legal matters are far more likely to turn to trusted sources instead of impersonal sources to find a lawyer…” ‘Trusted sources’ include friends, co-employees, business associates, relatives, and so on.

How do you, as a lawyer, get referrals through other people’s ‘trusted sources?’ Through relationships with others and having a strong word of mouth reputation.

Where’s does that leave blogs and other social media when it comes to how people find a lawyer? Near the top of the list.

Rather than looking at blogs and social media as something new, look at blogs and social media as accelerators of relationships and your word of mouth reputation.

Lawyers using blogs and social media effectively are getting work via ‘trusted sources.’ Why? Because they’re enhancing their reputation and building relationships in an accelerated fashion.

Funny thing about the ABA though. A person employed by the ABA called me a couple weeks ago to let me know blogs didn’t do so well in the survey. Then the ABA Journal runs a story on the survey, ‘How People Find Lawyers: Referrals Are Popular, Blogs Not So Much, Poll Finds.’

Why? Only 15% of the people surveyed said they would use ‘blogs’ to find a lawyer for a personal legal matter. Whatever that means.

The ABA misses the boat. I wouldn’t go to ‘blogs’ to find a lawyer. And I’m the CEO of a company which both consults with law firms on blogging and social media and develops social media and blog solutions.

Like everyone else I go to people I trust. Let me give you two concrete examples — examples in which blogs and social media played a role.

This morning on the ferry the CEO of a good sized web development company asked me for the name of a good lawyer in a niche area of the law. I gave him the name of a lawyer I have come to know first though her blogging and then in person. She was the real deal and someone who could help him or could refer him to someone who could.

I felt comfortable that her blog would reinforce in the CEO’s mind that she was a good lawyer. I knew by her blogging and using social media she stayed up to speed in her niche area and was well networked. Both made me, a trusted source, feel comfortable making the referral.

Also this morning, I had a legal issue our company needed counsel on. I reached out to one of our clients who blogs on the issue. I know he’s a pretty good lawyer from his blog and from personal exchanges.

Did I go to blogs to find a lawyer for our company? No, I went to a trusted source — this lawyer. His blog just played a role in his being a trusted source.

Why does the ABA read the survey the way it does with regard to blogs?

It may be a symptom of the ABA’s decision not to have their leadership use blogs and social media to build relationships with members and enhance the ABA’s reputation as an organization that is relevant to the every day lawyer. The ABA has done little, if anything, to get its leaders using blogs and social media in a strategic way to improve its bottom line.

When you don’t have a working understanding of a concept, what you say about the concept tends to be off.

As to the headline in the ABA Journal?

I counted 13 sources for where people turn to find a lawyer that scored lower than a ‘trusted source.’ Why single out blogs?

Was the headline created to draw more traffic to the ABA Journal online by baiting me and other bloggers to write about the story by singling out blogging as the one that scored lower? Perhaps the headline was created to bait the blog and social media nay sayers?

I don’t know. I guess it baited me.

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  • http://www.sofloridaestateplanning.com david shulman

    It baited me too.

  • Will Hornsby

    Kevin, Wish I may, wish I might. I love the dueling headlines and have been laughing all night about your post title. But let’s be clear, by no means does the report show that blogs are a leading form of client development. What we agree on is that the decision to find a lawyer is complex, textured, and often involves the lawyer’s reputation, which can be enhanced, indeed created, by blogging.
    Those who have had a chance to read the report will see that the survey raises more questions than it answers, as I believe all good research does. It gives us a baseline of information that those of us who understand the value and potential of technology need to work off of and further explore. The report indicates that fewer than one out of five people are very or somewhat likely to turn to blogs as a source when looking for a lawyer for personal legal services. (It is quite likely this is different for business legal services.) In and of itself, this does not tell us a lot.
    However, when we look at interactive, community-building vehicles, which I think includes blogs, we see that large numbers of people have not yet considered these to be resources for finding their lawyers. As the report indicates, perhaps this is because these models are not yet mature and not widely used by lawyers or maybe because legal problems are too intimate to share online. If the answer is the former, we can expect online models, including blogs, to be used as client development tools more so over time. If the latter is true, the models are not likely to evolve as client development tools in the eyes of legal service consumers.
    Maybe blogs should not be considered one of the interactive, community-building vehicles that have been characterized as Web 2.0. Maybe they are little more than vanity vehicles that enable their authors to express their perspectives. If so, then maybe it is legitimate to disregard them as any sort of client development model. But I hope they are more than this. If they are interactive, if they are forums for exchanges of ideas, then we should fully expect that they have a valuable, and direct, role in client development. We should expect people to use blogs as a resource in their decision-making about selecting a lawyer.
    Let’s agree to use this survey as the initial effort to peel this onion, explore the potential of technology and better assess the complexity of the decision-making process. As the architect of the survey, the drafter of the report and the ABA employee who gave you the heads-up on the results, I can safely say that the survey and report have nothing to do with the extent to which the ABA leadership participates in technology-based communications.
    Despite your devious headline, I appreciate your interest in the survey and your contribution to the conversation on these issues. I look forward to seeing you at TechShow next month.

  • http://kevin.lexblog.com Kevin OKeefe

    Thanks for the comment Will. But the bottom line is that the ABA survey stated the obvious. That people find lawyers from trusted sources. Ask any practicing lawyer what that means and they’ll tell you it means by word of mouth and by reputation.
    We don’t need to study the obvious Will. We don’t need a baseline only the ABA believes means anything. The ABA does some good things, but is well known for committees and inaction. This study and the ABA’s desired conclusions seem more of the same.
    You think as a practicing lawyer that I waited for an ABA study in the mid 90′s to conclude that being active online in engaging consumers to enhance my reputation and get work by word of mouth as well as help people. No, I knew that in a week of being active online. If I waited for the ABA to tell me how to help people as a lawyer and how to get legal work online, I’d still be waiting now 17 years later.
    You think lawyers who actually use blogs to get work from trusted sources because they established relationships and enhanced their reputation are waiting for a study? Hardly.
    Will, the ABA survey did endose blogs as a leading client development tool for lawyers, whether the ABA knows it or not. The ABA survey and the ABA Journal said referrals are the leading way people find a lawyer.
    Lawyers know how to get referrals – through relationships and word of mouth. How do you build relationships and enhance your word of mouth reputation? Today, much of it is done online — through blogging in conjunction with other social media.
    I am not certain the ABA even understands how blogs are used by lawyers to engage and connect with real people. I’m not certain the ABA understands how blogs influence people’s decision when hiring a lawyer. That lacl of understanding appears to be the reason the ABA cannot see the obvious.

  • Will Hornsby

    Kevin, it’s a shame you are not willing to work through the implication of the research. Perhaps that’s because you’re a successful businessman, but I always thought you shared some dedication toward improving access to legal services.
    Let’s look at reputation, as an example. We looked at several online models that people in need of a lawyer for a personal legal matter might turn to in order to assist them in their decision about finding a lawyer. I (and the ABA), frankly, had no preconceived notion about the responses to these questions and how likely people are to turn to the various models. What we learned was that people tended to like sites with consumer ratings of lawyers. It’s clearly and overtly about reputation here. People are looking for lawyers they can trust. No surprise here. That’s why the reaction to blogs and social networking models does surprised me. I would have thought if people were looking for reputation, more of them would indicate they would go to blogs and social networking models.
    The report clearly indicates that one possible explanation for this result is that few lawyers who are in small practice settings and are likely to provide personal legal services are blogging or using social networking options as part of their practices. In fact, what we found is that a higher percentage of people are interested in turning to blogs to help find a lawyer than the percentage of solo and small firm lawyers who have blogs. I would think that this information could be used constructively by a guy whose business is to have lawyers blogging.
    Instead of working with us to visualize the utility of the research as it applies to you and your work, you’ve chosen to rant about the ABA. Maybe that’s good for your business, but I don’t really get it and find it a little disappointing. But you don’t need someone from the ABA to tell you that.

  • http://www.mikkelborg.com Shelley Buckholtz

    So, when I forwarded this article, I glanced at your title and thought WHAT? That is not what the ABA’s survey concluded and the title of the ABA’s article was actually the opposite of your headline. However, then I actually read your article/post and discovered your reasoning and duel points with the contrasting headlines. Nonetheless, I was disappointed that you did not attack the ABA’s data source: calling people on their land lines to find out about the effects of social media, blogs, and ah um the 21st century method of correspondence? Who has a land line and who actually answers it? I am on the do not call list so they would never reach my household. That to me is the story and the flaw of the survey.

  • Will Hornsby

    Shelley, If you have a chance to read the report, you will see that the survey was conducted by Harris Interactive, that it uses weighting procedures to assure demographic balance and that it is statistically significant. Also, those who do surveys are not subject to do-not-call restrictions, which apply to commercial calls. Essentially the only way that the landline method of reaching survey respondents would be biased is if, for example, a 25 year old woman college graduate with a household income of $40,000 from the eastern US who has a landline telephone is inherently different in her perspectives on finding a lawyer from a 25 year old woman college graduate with a household income of $40,000 from the eastern US who does not have a landline phone. Simply put the methodology is sound.

  • http://shmsoft.blogspot.com/ Mark Kerzner

    Excellent, I am completely convinced and put this on my blog :)

  • http://kevin.lexblog.com Kevin OKeefe

    Will, you’re totally missing the point.
    Blogs and social media establish trust, just not in the way you look at blogs. Look at me and my company. We get work by reputation and word of mouth. How’d that happen? From law firms reading blogs? Hardly. But from me using my blog to engage others to enhance my reputation and accelerate my word of mouth reputation.
    I am totally committed to improving the access to legal services. But I am acting on it, not conducting surveys and studying the issue.
    Let’s not study a survey together. Let’s act together to provide access to legal services.
    You’re saying the ABA has found there is “a higher percentage of people interested in turning to blogs to help find a lawyer than the percentage of solo and small firm lawyers who have blogs.”
    So more people are interested in getting information from solo and small law firm lawyer blogs, but there are not enough solo and small firm blogs.
    We also know from solo and small firm lawyers who are blogging how much work they are getting and how many people they are helping. We don’t need a survey to find that out.
    How about the ABA and LexBlog work together to develop a program to begin this year to provide solo and small firm lawyers dedicated to improving the access to legal services? I am in Chicago for 3 or 4 days the week of April 11. Who do I meet with to discuss this with? Who at the ABA has the authority to truly act on a proposal to make legal services more accessible?
    Not ranting about the ABA Will, I am stating how most lawyers feel about the ABA. They’re not sure how the ABA is relevant in their lives. They’re not sure how the ABA makes legal services more accessible.
    Imagine how lawyers felt when they found out that the ABA paid Harris Interactive to tell the ABA the leading way people get lawyers is to go to a trusted source. You could have yelled out the window to find that out.
    Also note that the ABA decided to single out blogs as something that people don’t turn to when they need a lawyer, the implication being that blogs are not effective for lawyers looking for work or looking to provide access to legal services. Look at the headline in the ABA Journal, “How People Find Lawyers: Referrals Are Popular, Blogs Not So Much, Poll Finds.”
    Among 13 other alternatives that scored lower than turning to a person you trust for a referral, the ABA decides to select blogs as the one item that people don’t use much. Very, very strange when you’re telling me that the ABA committee who conducted the survey found there are not enough blogs by solo and small firm lawyers to meet the public’s needs.

  • Shelley Buckholtz

    Will, I respectfully disagree about the land line use in the survey. I recognize that my perspective is different. Approximately 40% of my clients are Microsoft and Amazon employees who have legal benefits through their employer. Not one of them in the last two years has had a home land line. All of them have direct lines at work or a cell phone, and of course email. Now, why they choose me off the list of providers on their legal network, usually because of my location first and second they like me when they talk to me on their CELL phone and they usually review my social networking profile. If a 25 year old on the East Coast has a land line then so be it, but I haven’t found one here in Seattle.

  • http://www.christophermckinney.com CHRIS MCKINNEY

    Will -
    I don’t have a landline so I guess I don’t count. But in all fairness only people that are slightly more ahead of the curve tech-wise and more likely to use the internet when looking for a lawyer would be they type not to have a landline at home so I’m sure that didn’t skew your data at all.
    But beyond that issue, the survey has problems b/c it asks the wrong question. It really is not a question of whether clients find lawyers through human referrals OR online reputation and educational materials such as blogs and social networking. They work in tandem and are much more difficult to untangle than the survey would lead one to believe.

  • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

    “It really is not a question of whether clients find lawyers through human referrals OR online reputation and educational materials such as blogs and social networking. They work in tandem and are much more difficult to untangle than the survey would lead one to believe.”
    Circle takes the square…

  • http://www.myshingle.com Carolyn Elefant

    Uh, excuse me – you don’t need a committee to help improve the quality of legal service provided by solo and small firm lawyers. There’s a blog for that – MyShingle.

  • Will Hornsby

    Okay, folks, I’m in for another round.
    First, regarding the methodology and use of landlines, I tried to explain that, but for those of you without landlines who are feeling left out here, please consider the possibility that enough of the 300 plus million people in American continue to have landline phones for us to find a sufficient sample of people to measure their views. And just because they have landlines it does not mean they are different than you when they are like you in every other respect. Someone on another blog indicated that she did not know anyone with a landline. Someday we may come to the point where they are obsolete, but in Illinois, for example, there are about 5.9 households and 6.2 landline phones. I reiterate to you that the survey methodology was done in a way that reflects viewpoints across the population, even if they couldn’t reach you. If you continue to have doubts, please consult your local statistical social scientist.
    For those of you who raise the issue that the survey has the wrong questions and that the decision to find a lawyer is a complex one, let me direct you to the first thing I said on this thread, to Kevin: “What we agree on is that the decision to find a lawyer is complex, textured, and often involves the lawyer’s reputation, which can be enhanced, indeed created, by blogging. Those who have had a chance to read the report will see that the survey raises more questions than it answers, as I believe all good research does. It gives us a baseline of information that those of us who understand the value and potential of technology need to work off of and further explore.”
    To be constructive about this point, please do not hesitate to share with me your ideas about how we can further explore this issue, from the consumer’s perspective. Bonus points for those who make suggestions that do not directly advance their own business interests.
    In Kevin’s last post, or perhaps I should say most recent post, he makes the point that we do not need to study issues, but to act. He and others have advanced the view that we don’t need to research the obvious. But they miss the point that research is the foundation for both policy and action. For example, in the mid-1970s, the American Bar Foundation conducted a study that explored legal needs in the US. The research concluded that people who were poor, uneducated, had lower incomes and were women had a difficult time finding affordable legal services. Totally obvious and intuitive. Yet the study was an influence, some believe a major influence, in the decision of the US Supreme Court to permit lawyers to advertise. I do not think that it is an understatement to conclude that research led to a decision that has created one of the most substantial changes in the practice of law in the past century, which, in turn, has give rise to and shaped the multi-billion dollar industry of law practice management and legal marketing, to some extent, including yours, Kevin.
    Regarding the point about the need for research, or lack of need, to state the obvious, the great thing about good research is that you don’t know the outcome going into it. We found 80 percent of people would turn to trusted sources and 20 percent to impersonal sources. Is it a surprise that this figure has not changed in the past 20 years? Most things have changed. Why hasn’t this? What if we had found 60/40, 51/49 or 98/2? Would it still be obvious? If we go beyond the headlines (and I can tell who’s clicking on the survey), we find some things here that are may be not so obvious, at least to me. I’ve read the Yellow Pages are dead. Is it surprising the survey found that more people would turn to the YPs as a primary way to find a lawyer than would go online? We looked at perspectives on unbundled legal services. I was surprised that 70 percent of people were unfamiliar with the concept. We asked what people would do if they self-represented. I was surprised at how many disliked the option of paid online legal services.
    Kevin also questions whether the survey was a valuable use of ABA member dues. One of the values of the ABA is to collectively do what individual members may not be able to do. Efforts may be unaffordable for individual practitioners or the cost may not be worth it. To give it perspective, this survey costs about three cents per member. If I were in a practice providing personal legal services I would find this information extremely valuable. For example, I would see that people find client feedback sites more favorable than other online models. I personally do not care much for client feedback sites. I think they can be manipulated and distorted from people from both sides of a case. Nevertheless, it is cheap and easy for a practitioner to mount an aggressive campaign to secure ratings. If I were in this space the survey would verify to me that this effort is worth some time and costs. Google knows this. That’s why its local search feature gives priority listing to those with multiple feedback. I would also find the information about unbundling of value and would give thought to how I could introduce that to my practice as a client option. If I represented people with low incomes, an entitlement-based practice, for example, I would find it of value to see that about a quarter of them turn to the Yellow Pages as their primary way to find a lawyer, three times the overall rate. So, yes, Kevin, I think the survey is of great value to a huge number of ABA members and hope they agree. Some will and, like you, some won’t. That’s my 3 cents worth.

  • http://www.reallifepractice.com Nora Riva Bergman

    OK, I have to jump in here. In 2000, I was the executive director of a voluntary bar association. The big discussion among my members at the time – and at the ABA conferences I attended – was whether attorneys needed to have a website. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard, “What do I need a website for? I’m never going to get any good clients from a website.” I think that’s where we are right now with blogs and social media. I second Gyi’s comment. Blogs & social media presence build credibility; they work in tandem with personal referrals.
    In Kevin’s post, he shares the story of the referral he made on the ferry. He wouldn’t have made that referral if he wasn’t comfortable that the attorney’s blog would reinforce her credibility with the CEO. And I’d venture to guess, the first thing that CEO did when he got to his office (or from his phone) was to Google the attorney’s name and check out her blog and online presence.

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