Social Media and the Pitfalls of Consumer Legal Marketing

By on June 12, 2012 in Advertising, Legal Marketing, Social Media

Last week in sunny Naples, FL, I joined Brian Tannebaum to speak to the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The topic? Social media and online advertising. We talked a lot about blogging, Twitter, and scummy SEO tactics. But I want to expand on a theme that permeated our talk, and the discussions I had with many Florida lawyers afterward: that blogging and social media are worthless as tools for direct client acquisition.

Online Advertising vs. Social Media

For many practices, online advertising can make a lot of sense. The tracking and analytics offered by online ads–whether pay-per-click on Google, online display, or Avvo-sponsored listings–makes the ROI of a marketing campaign far easier to measure than traditional Yellow Pages or newspaper ads. It’s an easy and effective way to get in front of consumers who are looking for a lawyer, particularly in areas where potential clients are unlikely to have referrals.

But applying this marketing mindset to social media and blogging is a train wreck. Potential clients aren’t going to “like” your law firm Facebook page. Filling your Twitter stream with a one-way torrent of posts about how great you are is a one-way ticket to being ignored (or ridiculed). And while it is possible to blog on legal topics for a consumer audience, it is very hard to get right. Most consumer legal blogs descend into nothing more than marketing.

Referrals and “Long Copy”

Where blogging and social media shine, however, is on the referral front. Properly executed, these tools allow a lawyer to take relationship-building out of the limits of one’s local geography. They allow for connections–like the one that Brian and I have made–that would have been next to impossible pre-social media. And from these relationships comes the potential to have both a more connected and fulfilling professional life, as well as a deeper and more broadly-distributed referral network.

There’s also the simple fact that a well-written blog and active social media presence makes it far easier for those who’ve been referred to you to learn about you–and hopefully be impressed with your competence and approach–before picking up the phone. There’s an old advertising adage that “long copy sells.” And it’s particularly true with a considered purchase such as legal services. The more that people can find out about you, the more confident they will be in hiring you.

This may lead to some discomfort among the more reticent types in our profession. But as Brian stressed in our talk, attorneys must differentiate themselves. It’s not sufficient to rest on one’s laurels. This differentiation may come in the form of specialization. It may come from a more humane approach, or a willingness to share more about oneself on the personal side via Facebook. But being the cipher found in so many law firm bios? Not an option.

The Role of Marketers

For firms engaged in online marketing, it may make sense to engage a marketing consultant. But proceed with care. While the quality folks can bring order to a firm’s SEM campaigns, set up smoother, more reliable client intake processes and help ensure that websites are properly optimized for the search engines, consultants can also offer a quick trip to spamminess.

You can’t just hand over the reins; as New York personal injury attorney Eric Turkewitz memorably put it, “outsourcing marketing =  outsourcing ethics.” It doesn’t take much time to supervise your marketers and understand what they’re doing. And to be particularly cautious of any SEO “strategies” that go beyond technical fixes of your website or best practices for linking from your blog.

But social media consultants? Outside of getting technical help to get started or be more efficient, there should be no need whatsoever. Most of those offering social media consulting services are in fact selling the marketing side of social media. And while that might be appropriate for a consumer brand, it doesn’t work for lawyers. At all. Social media in the law is an extension of a cocktail party online.

And as Brian put it in Miami, does anyone need a cocktail party consultant?

Josh King


Josh King is General Counsel & Vice President of Business Development at Avvo. He is responsible for Avvo's legal, business development, business operations, customer service, finance and human resources functions. He is also a frequent writer and speaker on interactive media and professional ethics issues. Prior to joining Avvo in 2007, Josh spent over a decade in the wireless industry, in a mix of legal and non-legal roles: Vice President, Corporate Development at AT&T Wireless, Director of Business Development for Clearwire, and General Counsel for Cellular One of San Francisco. Josh started his legal career as a litigator in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Comments (6)


  1. Danzig can’t be bothered to do things like “research” or even “reading Wikipedia”…

  2. Thomas Greer says:

    My firm started using Facebook and twitter a couple of years ago and it has been a positive experience. Your article makes a good point that people don’t want to read about how great your firm is over and over. Most people are asking “what’s in it for me.” So I think it’s important to provide useful, practical content that people can use, as well as provide interesting and entertaining content.

  3. Susan Stein says:

    When utilized correctly Facebook and mord so Linked in can be very beneficial to attorneys! The key to getting marketing support should be to conduct an overall firm marketing/networking strategy! ( yes that includes coverage @ cocktail parties”) This includes SEO, PPC, content marketing, social media, advertising, groups, organizations, attraction marketing, competitive analysis, and operations effectiveness! If you don’t turn the calls/clicks into clients there is no ROI to track! It is important that you utilize a marketing firm with a background in the legal arena to stay abreast of current news within the industry!

  4. Deborah Christie says:

    Your article provides a lot of great advice. We work with the legal industry and find most law firms are struggling with what to do when it comes to social media and online marketing. I would add the point that if you are going to invest the time and effort in social media, blogging and the like, you need to make sure your website is not out-of-date. You do not want to get the attention of possible new clients only to have them not contact you because your website projects a poor image or has old information on it.

  5. Highly energetic article, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

  6. This website has some very helpful info on it! Cheers for helping me.

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