illie Keeler played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers over 100 years ago. At 5’4″ he didn’t look like much of a player and the 30-inch, 29-ounce bat he used remains the smallest in major league history.
So when he hit, it was most always a single. But my, what a singles hitter he was: 2,513 of them, a .341 lifetime batting average, and 200 or more hits in eight straight years, a record he still holds with Pete Rose. When asked what his secret was he replied: “I hit ’em where they ain’t.”
For lawyers marketing on the Internet, it’s just the opposite. You go where they are. ‘They’ meaning people, prospective clients or anyone else who may be impressed by a lawyer’s knowledge, care and experience.
The number of Americans looking for legal information on the Internet is staggering. The static information in the form of articles or FAQs is not enough. Each and every day, thousands post questions to message boards, newsgroups and listservs in search of legal direction.
How do you find these places?
- High traffic sites with a horizontal market. A ‘horizontal’ is a Web site focused on broad segments – a large number of interest areas. AOL was founded on community and has a ton of message boards. iVillage, the leading site for women, has numerous message boards on issues ranging from divorce to sexual harassment. MSN, About.com and other Web sites listed in studies as highly trafficked are also good places to look.
- Niche verticals. A ‘vertical’ is a Web site focused on one segment, such as one offering legal information or even a specific type of law. Lawyers.com and FindLaw have hundreds of message boards on various areas of the law in their community sections. Some are specific to a state. Do a search for your area of the law and message board. See what you find.
Before Web sites became the rage, newsgroups were the discussion area of the Internet, reminiscent of the popular bulletin-board systems that preceded the rise of the Internet. Though not as busy as before, there are some newsgroups that remain quite active. The best way to access newsgroups is at google.com under the groups section. Do a search under “law” or your area of practice and see what you find. The general law moderated group, immigration and bankruptcy newsgroups receive a lot of questions.
‘Listservs,’ coining the name of a mail list software solution, are online discussion groups via e-mail where someone sends an e-mail to the discussion group’s e-mail address and the message is distributed to everyone on the mailing list. Though not as prevalent as a few years ago, there are some active ones out there. There are five Email Forums/Listservs at lawyers.com on personal injury, medical malpractice, employment, and family law. You can search for more lists at Law Lists Info and egroups.
If you are looking to be brought in as counsel in area where you have expertise or obtain work by referral from other lawyers, look at lawyer’s lisetservs. They are popping up everywhere as a way for lawyers to exchange information. The ABA and state bar associations have listservs for various sections. Lawyer associations like ATLA and state trial lawyer’s associations have very acative listservs.
Lurk (not post but just read other email postings) for awhile to get a feel of things. When you feel comfortable jump in.
What do you do when you get there?
- Answer questions with general information on the law. Lawyers can’t ethically give specific advice, but may provide general information on the relevant topic. People are just looking for some direction. They are generally thrilled a lawyer took the time to provide general information or ideas on where they should go for further direction. Just telling folks they can often talk to a local lawyer at no expense in an initial phone call can help tremendously.
- Leave a signature line. You are there to market yourself, so leave a trail on how to find you. That’s done by creating a signature line at the bottom of your answer with your name, Web site and email address. It is not just the person who you answer who will see your signature line. It’s the thousands of others who will browse for years to come. Note that to eliminate spam, you may want to add a “xxx” entry in your email – most folks will know to exclude the entry when emailing you.
- Leave a disclaimer. If the site you are on doesn’t provide a disclaimer, kindly tell people your answer is not legal advise, you are not creating an attorney client relationship and that they need to talk to a local lawyer to protect their interests. Not only is this the right thing to do for people seeking help, it goes a ways to protect you as a lawyer.
- Bring questions and answers back to your site. Archive the questions and answers back on your Web site. People come to lawyers’ Web sites not to get info about the lawyers, but to look for information that can help them. There is not a better way to help people than to share answers in your own words. Even if the message board is not drawing people who would become your prospective clients, you will create sorely needed content for your site.
Is it rewarding?
Most lawyers went to law school to help people in one way or another. As years go by and the demands increase, we wonder what the heck we got into. An email or two a day from people you have never met thanking you for caring goes a long way in reminding you that the law is a noble and rewarding profession. Share those emails with your staff. It’s incredibly uplifting for a law office.
When I began to help people on the Internet six years ago, I was not only blown away by the number of questions, but by the incredible thanks I received. It was moving to say the least.
Yes, Willie Keeler was small in stature but he had a big impact on baseball. You too, as a small firm lawyer, can have a big impact on the Internet by going where the people are.