Lawyers are not relevant to the vast majority of people with a legal need. This from legal industry analyst, Jordan Furlong (@jordan_law21).

With a few exceptions (principally criminal defence work), lawyers are simply not relevant to 80% to 85% of all individuals and businesses with legal issues. We’re off the table: we’re briefly considered and quickly dismissed. We need to recognize and absorb the fact that a huge amount of legal activity already takes place entirely without our involvement.

Rather than seek the help of a lawyer, people deal with it themselves, do nothing, or get non-legal help from a friend or family member. These folks are both consumers and business people, we’re not talking only those who cannot afford a lawyer.

And this was before the rise of alternative legal solutions such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.

Lawyers and law firms are marketing themselves across the Internet like crazy. But are they connecting with people? Are they getting people to consider retaining them? Or are lawyers just competing for the shrinking 15% of the pie up for grabs.

I think it’s the latter.

When I took to the Internet as a practicing lawyer in 1996, I began answering people’s questions on AOL. Thousands of people with substantial personal injury, medical malpractice, and employment claims were seeking the counsel of lay people they had never met.

For the most part these folks had no intention of contacting a lawyer. They did not trust lawyers. They didn’t know a lawyer. They had no idea they could see the best lawyers in their town for free and without any obligation.

This despite lawyers spending a small fortune on yellow page and television ads trying to reach these folks.

Eighteen years later, don’t we have the same thing going on? Lawyers are spending millions on Internet marketing but don’t appear to be connecting with the vast majority of people with legal needs.

What’s going on? Lawyers can blog and engage people across social networks the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

To me, it feels like lawyers aren’t really trying to connect with and engage people in a real and meaningful way. Sure, lawyers have blogs. But most lawyers use blogs not connect with people, but to draw search traffic to a web site. Heck, some lawyers have others “write” their blog.

Lawyers use LinkedIn, but primarily as a profile. Few lawyers use LinkedIn as a vehicle to answer people’s questions and engage people in their community.

Facebook? Though Facebook is the most popular social network for Americans to engage and nurture relationships, the vast majority of lawyers take pride in saying they don’t use Facebook. Those that do say they’d never use it for business reasons. As if engaging people socially always has to be about business.

I know young lawyers who got their practices off the ground via Craigslist and Twitter. That’s going out where the people are.

I can’t imagine anything finer than blogging and social media to mingle with people who will ultimately need legal services. What better way to establish trust than to get out where people are engaging each other.

When I got out and engaged folks on AOL in the late 90’s I got work. Work from people who had not intended to seek the help of a lawyer.

Who am I to know, but it seemed to be all about trust. The more I got out and mingled with people on the Internet, the more people saw me as a good person who was sincere in the desire to help.

The Internet is a the great equalizer for lawyers. Not just enabling us to get work that would otherwise go to those with big marketing budgets, but in the way it puts us, as lawyers, on equal footing with real people.

Real people with personal legal needs and business legal needs. Legal needs that right now are not going to any lawyer.

For lawyers willing to give of themselves and engage with people, social media and blogging appear to provide an excellent opportunity to reach the 85%.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Marvin Kuo

  • Paula Marie Young

    Nice post. I wish more lawyers understood how best to use these tools. They are very powerful. So many people could use our help.

    • Social media is really a God send for lawyers and the people who would use a lawyer if they trusted them. The people are already on social media. Most lawyers are not, and those who are use social media as a marketing tool, as opposed to a trust building tool.

  • Patrick Fannon

    Excellent post, Kevin. As a marketing professional at a medium-sized law firm, it has proven somewhat difficult to garner attorney buy-in to the power of social media use and blogging, but I am slowly but surely winning some conversions. Though we are primarily a business-to-business firm, I believe that the principals you’ve espoused hold true regardless. I tell attorneys that if they put the time and effort into it, and leverage the platforms properly, that they will ultimately build relationships and reap both personal and professional rewards. I think once one or two begin and notice how engaging and enjoyable it is, more will follow their lead.

    Do you think social media and blogging in the manner in which you describe is as successful for professional service attorneys as it is for, say family law, personal injury, or estate-planning attorneys?

    • Thanks Patrick. That’s the ironic part, social media and blogging works at least as well, if not better in business law than in areas of the law such as personal injury or family law.

      In the business to business world, lawyers get hired based in relationships and their word of mouth reputation. Blogs and social media accelerate relationships and reputation. They allow a lawyer to have a reputation online that’s the equal of their offline reputation.

      Individual lawyers in the business to business space are bringing in millions of dollars more in revenue per year because of their online activity. I can name many. It’s a shame a lot of lawyers don’t slow down enough to learn what those lawyers are doing. It would make all the sense in the world to them.

      It’s not about content and pushing content at people hoping that they see you via search or social media. It’s about listening to the relevant audience and engaging them. It’s a a skill and an art – but one that is handsomely rewarded.

      You’re right about having a champion or viral positive in the firm. When lawyers start leaning on another’s doorway in the evening asking how the lawyer got a speaking engagement, media coverage, and a meeting with a new client and find out it’s the result of blogging/social media things start to get interesting.

      Hang in there, you’re with a good firm, and graduated from a great school in Villanova.

  • Andréa Michele, MA

    Kevin you are 100% correct that many lawyers aren’t trying to use social media to connect or engage. I believe part of that is the old fashion mentality of only wanting big name/corporate clients and don’t see regular folks as “billable business”. Times are changing and u never know who knows who. I know a solo attorney that lives on Facebook, which has garnered him media attention and more clients. I often check out Legal Zoom’s FB which does a terrific job of engagement. Attorneys are both afraid of ethical implications and not willing to try new. My approach would be, if I was a legal marketer would be to use their “ego” as a means to garner more social media engagement. Using FB/Twitter as a way to show lawyers are great people doing regular people things, then people get interested and start telling friends about a great attorney/firm which eventually will lead to business. People hire or recommend who they relate to. Sad as a paralegal I hardly refer firms because I know my folks won’t trust them but I recommend the attorney who blogs/Facebook because he is relatable. Sorry I’m long winded and this is a topic I’m passionate about, didn’t mean to go on!

  • Andréa Michele, MA

    Edited “Legal Zoom” — draw back to typing on a smart phone

  • Athini Nompumelelo Nobetsiki

    Nice post,i would like to be a lawyer i am in grade 11 this year, but i do not know what law i will be studying in university. I would like to know how can i make a choice of what law i want to study