Are individual lawyers relying too much on their law firm’s marketing professionals, as opposed to taking charge of their own marketing?

Building a book of business as a lawyer has always been about building a name for yourself and building a network of relationships. So marketing departments in law firms can help, but they cannot turn a lawyer into one with a good book of business. This takes initiative on a lawyer’s part. Marketing professionals would probably agree.

But today with many law firms struggling, AI/software soon to be doing the work some lawyers are doing and corporations (LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Avvo and others) picking up a good junks of the transactional legal services market, it sure seems that lawyers would be foolish not to be scrambling to build a name for themselves.

Large and medium size law firm leaders, and the lawyers employed in these firms, who think they’ll withstand the changes taking place sound a lot like the newspaper publishers and media players of 10 years ago. Or maybe like Macy’s, the nation’s largest traditional retailer, who is closing stores as people turn to the net for shopping.

A senior lawyer in a 400 lawyer firm told me a couple months ago that he doesn’t expect his firm to survive, at least in its present form. “In-house counsel may get fired for not using Cravath, but not for failing to use his firm,” he explained in making the point that rates are going down, in-house counsel are bringing efficiencies with technology and corporations are bringing more work in-house.

The Internet is a fabulous place for a lawyer to build a name and relationships. But it’s not going to happen with a group blog lacking passion (especially one inside of a website), profiles of lawyers and driving traffic to websites and content.

The Internet works best for lawyers when they learn how to engage influencers, prospective clients, clients and referral sources in a real and authentic way. Personal law blogging and the use of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, not for attention, SEO and traffic, but to establish yourself as a trusted authority in a niche and build relationships is the key.

What had to be the pinnacle of employment in sports media, ESPN just laid off over 100. Many were household names. I am sure the sportswriters and announcers who worked their tail off to get to ESPN never envisioned ESPN running into trouble as a result of the Internet overnight changing the way sports is broadcast and delivered.

Turns out that companies like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish are losing subscribers. People are turning to the net, mobile apps more than anything, for sports.

Change can happen — and fast. Chasing partnership track at a medium or large law firm can sound great as a young lawyer. What happens though when things start to soften and then dramatically change all around you? It’s not as if you just slide over to the other ESPN (large law firm).

Sure, you can work in larger law, but while there, use the firm as a platform to build a name and relationships via the Internet, personally. It’s in your mutual interest and you’ll be in a position to more than support yourself in the future.

  • Jeff Bell

    This is a really good question and a very thought-provoking piece. As I see it, LegalZoom wishes to re-make and re-model the U.S. law firm, and the role of lawyers is unclear. LegalZoom and Wevorce are expanding legal service providers by including non-lawyers to do some work for customers. That’s not good for lawyers. Avvo is the white pages and yellow pages online for lawyers. AVVO wishes to be an advertising intermediary much like Facebook or Google or Snapchat. They desire to become what Jaron Lanier calls, “a siren server” where they capture all the value of the data generated by citizens and lawyers. As Mark Britton said at the Lawyernomics conference, AVVO isn’t looking to replace the law firm. They just have no interest in the financial success of lawyers nor law firms. It is a commoditization play. Fixed fees is code for “commoditization.” Where are the tools to serve citizen clients better? Rocketlawyer is doing something in Europe, but unclear what it is in the USA. At LegalShield, we have a different vision. We are building out a FREE law firm and lawyer profile ecosystem by which we will funnel our members for legal services. We provide feedback from real clients to all lawyers and FREE online classes to address any customer service issues (FREE CLE too). Anyway, we believe both lawyers and citizens are win. Thanks for the great article.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jeff. Each of the companies I mention and more are eating into the legal services pie, at least as lawyers have known it in the past. Even Avvo, as you allude to, has fixed fee legal services they’ll provide. They may use lawyers, but lawyers need to recognize they are no longer competing with the lawyers down the street, they are competing with what is likely to become a publically traded company handing out legal work to be done at reduced rates.

      I am not too familiar with LegalShield, appears to be ala prepaid legal/legal insurance.

      Having practiced for 17 years and now having been in business for another 18, I see a place for good lawyers who are well known with established relationships. These lawyers don’t need to rely on anyone to get their work, even their law firm. To attain such status, lawyers are going to need to wake up and learn how to use the Internet – strategically and effectively.

      • Yes, we were Pre-Paid, but our model is per capita for our dedicated law firms and hourly or flat rate for members of the referral network. We compete with Hyatt/Arag on one side (about half of the 50,000 new memberships each month) and LZ, Avvo and RL on the other (the other half). I agree with you, and.what we are building will fulfill some of your vision.